The final sketch on Saturday Night Live is almost always the weirdest. It’s typically reserved for the kind of high-concept idea that wins over high-ranking elements of the writers room, but is too strange to run any earlier. Very few people probably went into last night’s episode, hosted by a Hunger Games co-star who was born after Pearl Jam’s Ten came out, expecting a show comprised of 75 percent final sketches. Those people must have the gift of clairvoyance, though, because that is exactly what happened.
Josh Hutcherson, as it turns out, is no Taylor Lautner. He’s not just a star from the current monolithic YA movie phenomenon, asked to host SNL in a transparent plea for younger viewers. Rather, he is a versatile performer who is able to handle every odd request thrown his way. Can you do a fey Southern accent, Josh? Yep. Can you credibly pull off some breakdancer posturing? Uh-huh. It’ll suffice to say that not once was the young host reduced to a walk-on part in his own episode.
There’s a procedure for first-time hosts who may or may not get a second time. It’s almost the same rigmarole as when an athlete hosts. Every effort is made to prop the young star up and take the least amount of risks possible. Instead, something in this host must have let the writers feel confident weaving out an episode of wall-to-wall wackiness, knowing he could handle it. Hutcherson has kind of a Young Will Forte thing going on, which was only made apparent when he appeared in a late sketch sporting a MacGruber mullet. As the reigning King of Final Sketches, Forte most certainly would’ve approved of last night’s show.
Florida Fail of The Week
Like last week’s Rob Ford festival, the cold open this week set aside politics for topicality with the hot mess that is George Zimmerman. Taran Killam’s Piers Morgan, introduced as “the tiny little fool of news,” devotes his show to Zimmerman, who was arrested again this week. Like Rob Ford, Zimmerman is SNL gold, and the staff leaves nothing unmined, including an extended riff on the dude’s name, with Beck Bennett as similarly monikered Men’s Wearhouse guy George Zimmer. (Verisimilitude alert: Zimmer no longer works for Men’s Wearhouse. I guarantee it.)
Bold Choice of the Week
The monologue is where the show addressed The Hunger Games, and it wisely ended up being the only time throughout the episode. It was a refreshing departure from franchise protocol, and one of the reasons the show was far from being one long ad for Catching Fire. (Although there were not only commercials for Catching Fire in between sketches, but for its soundtrack too.) The idea of the cast fighting each other to the death like characters in the movie yielded at least one decent inside joke calling out new cast member Noël Wells’s lack of airtime. The only problem here was that seeing Kate McKinnon dressed like Effie Trinket reminded me how ridiculous it is that Elizabeth Banks, who plays Effie in the series, hasn’t hosted SNL yet. Get it together, SNL!
Too Recent Replay of the Week
Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong are back with Girlfriends Talk Show. Again. Already. (Keira and Morgan last appeared in Miley Cyrus’s episode in October.) Hutcherson joins his co-star Jennifer Lawrence in the ranks of Girlfriends guests, doing little more here than radiating enthusiasm. The sketch is basically a platform for Aidy Bryant, a lovelorn high schooler who has 911 as one of her Fave Five phone numbers (a solid 2007 signifier) because she’s allergic to bees and yet irresistibly drawn toward them. It’s an amiable retread, which turned out to be an inaccurate preview of where the episode was headed.
Virtuosic Performance of the Week
It’s rare that you see a perfectly constructed sketch that also features a standout physical performance. The best sketch of the night announces its premise immediately. Kenan Thompson warns business apprentice Hutcherson that the CEO of the fastest growing start-up in history, whom they’re about to meet, has the IQ of a genius, and the body of a baby. This “baby boss” character must be Beck Bennett’s signature standby, something he did during his audition for the show. It’s too nuanced, and frankly masterful, to be something one of the writers pitched, and that he happened to have on deck. Bennett mimics the limited physical range of an infant who is barely getting the hang of movement. His face is agog with wonder, the lower jaw jutting out just so, while he flaps his arms against the ground, or smooshes spaghetti into the face of a deadpan Taran Killam. With this memorable sketch, Bennett can safely kiss his New Guy anonymity goodbye.
Newfangled Dance Craze of the Week
Introduced over the soundtrack of Mobb Deep classic “Shook Ones Part II,” the first of three digital shorts of the night focuses on subway dancers. Matchbox 3, whose name reminds me that I haven’t even thought of Matchbox 20 in like five years, is a dance crew who specializes in crowded subways. Viewers don’t need to live in New York to get what’s funny about dance moves like The Funky Periscope. New Yorkers, though, will appreciate how thoroughly the three actors nail the cadence and rote showmanship of subway performers. “Enjoy the show,” indeed.
Painful Travel Season Reminder of the Week
Hats off to the photo editor for finding exactly the right Mitch McConnell and sad-Bieber photos to punch up the Weekend Update jokes. The real hero of Weekend Update, though, was Aidy Bryant, resting her case with the seasonally appropriate character, The Worst Lady on An Airplane. With a neck pillow fastened on tight, and bags full of stinky foods at the ready, Bryant turned her holiday travel tips segment into a cackling supervillain’s monologue. It will be a cathartic experience for anyone who’s ever sat next to a human nightmare on an airplane, or is bracing themselves for such an experience in the coming winter weeks.
But Why? of the Week
There’s a moment that occurs during karaoke when you suddenly realize you had no idea what the lyrics to a familiar song are about. This eighties-tastic sketch illuminated just such a situation by acting out The Outfield’s “Your Love” while lip synching it. Lo and behold, this song is actually about a bro trying to score with one of his older sister Josie’s friends. I have so many questions, the first of which is: why? How did this sketch occur to a person? More importantly, how was said person able to convey what works about it to the other writers? Kudos to the costume designer on finding so much geometrically challenged, pink-laden sweaters.
Fireable Offense of the Week
The latest firing sketch, this time at a Best Buy, rather than McDonald’s or Barnes & Noble, was the weakest sketch of the night. It still had some laughs, though, mainly from Killam’s murder-eyed Andrew. Hutcherson is too smiley here, for a manager who’s meant to be annoyed, and Breaking Bad fatigue may have ruined the word “bitch” for me forever. But there were still fun, sketch-saving details like the mysterious orange stuff on Beck Bennett’s face that made him look like he’d been “eating Garfield’s butt for an hour,” and the fact that Vanessa Bayer’s adult Baby Jessica wears a nametag that reads “Baby Jessica.”
Off the Rails Digital Short of the Week
In a sketch recalling Mr. Show’s Superstar Machine, Kyle Mooney’s private little dance while ironing convinces his friend Beck Bennett that he’s got the goods. This surreal bit has its own internal logic and an increasingly accelerated timeline. In the same night Bennett has Mooney joining the top dance crew The Nightcrawlers, alongside an elderly lady named Professor Skills, and soon, he’s eclipsed them. On just about any other episode, this would have been the final sketch of the night.
Not Quite Dead On Arrival of the Week
Next we venture off into a Southern animal hospital where the incompetent employees leave a trail of dead animals in their wake. Coming on the heels of the previous sketch, it keeps the theme going that SNL is through the looking glass tonight. Although the concept is a little underdeveloped, the cast always arrives at the beats with aplomb, delivering news of the deceased pets ever more offhandedly.
Microcosm of the Week
The secret weapon of the new cast, Mike O’Brien gets a spotlight moment tonight as an investigative reporter delivering a hard-hitting homemade report entitled “Bugs: Where the Heck Do You Gotta Be?” Outfitted in crazy Sam Donaldson eyebrows, O’Brien travels around the city, interviewing bugs and real-time editing the footage by asking his editor to put in tuba noises when a large bug goes by. This idea is just so incredibly dumb, but it would take a heart of stone to not laugh at it.
Sight Gag of the Week
SNL all-star Vanessa Bayer had a fairly low-key night, so it was nice that she got a showcase eventually. What do you do for a final sketch in an episode full of final sketches? In this case, the answer is have Hutcherson bring home an enormous turkey as his Thanksgiving dinner date. Instead of going over-the-top to affect turkey mannerisms or whatever, Bayer plays turkey Elice fairly straight. In fact, she honestly acts the hell out of the scene until you find yourself sympathizing her plight. And just when it seems like the sketch has settled into its tone, the show closes with the bizarre sight gag of an enormous turkey running out of the house. It’s an unpredictable end to an episode nobody saw coming.