In week three of Saturday Night Live’s 38th season, each show seems to crackle with promise.
Am I the only one who sees a renewed zest in the enterprise? Maybe it’s because it’s an election year. Maybe it’s because behemoth stars like Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg have departed, leaving other cast members to flourish. Maybe it’s because Seth Meyers is most likely in a farewell tour as head writer. (Right? RIGHT?) Or maybe it’s my imagination, and these are the types of complimentary sentences you want to crumple up as soon as they trot out a sketch with Fred Armisen in drag. To the power rankings!
Long Island Medium. Kate McKinnon is either the unsung hero, revelation, or new find of the current cast. She’s perhaps as fearless as rising star Taran Killam, and perhaps as versatile with impressions as, uh, Taran Killam. Anyway, she’s got crazy eyes, which is awesome. And Long Island Medium was funny because it lampoons what SNL lampoons best: Bravo shows and Long Islanders. “As I always say, I may be a medium, but at Chico’s, I’m a large. You may not be laughing, but your grandparents were!”
Aliens/I Miss My Kitty Kat. I predict most critics will hate this one-note sketch; no doubt cooked up by some writer and Bobby Moynihan watching Alien and Aliens back-to-back on Tuesday night desperately needing a sketch for rehearsal. Maybe a cat was nearby. Maybe he read mysteries. Anyway, Moynihan is a scientist in space who misses his itty bitty widdle kitty cat he misses him so much! Moynihan nails this just like “Drunk Uncle,” and by the time he mistook the cat for a neck pillow, I was rolling with laughter. Fuzz Aldrin was just the cherry on top. No doubt SNL will now trot the kitty-cat guy out every other week beginning next week, and will infuriate us all by the season finale, but this one was a winner. No, you’re not too cool to laugh.
Bond 50. Not gonna lie, these silly “compilation” TV commercial spoofs that are simply excuse to give the cast a chance at impersonations always work for me. Diane Keaton (Vanessa Bayer) and Ellen DeGeneres (McKinnon) were standouts. Also, Daniel Craig didn’t stare directly at cue cards during this pre-taped sketch, so that’s a win!
Winners & Losers (Weekend Update) The sharpest political material this week occurred in Seth Meyers’ extended “Winners and Losers” bit. The variations on “Really” have worked so far two weeks in a row; they give Meyers a break from too many jokes in succession and prevent flat Fred Armisen characters from showing up to give commentary. “Is there anything more exciting than Joe Biden thinking it’s now up to him to save the day?”
Daniel Craig’s Monologue. A send-up of Craig’s action-movie status, paying tribute to his victims “in memoriam” spurred a few laughs largely because it wasn’t a song-and-dance or questions from the audience. Craig seemed naturally comfortable in his monologue, even milking some laughs. (“You think this is too much fog?”) In sketches, he was less invested.
Cecilia Gimenez. McKinnon had no business making a one-off joke like the Spanish painter of the ‘rounded-Jesus’ a standout, but dammit, she did it. Kate was at her most delightfully crazy, and probably a tad insulting, but her goofy impression had me rolling.
Weekend Update. Solid and short – besides the callouts, the QR gravestone joke and the MGM Grand joke also worked. Only one problem (see below).
A Sorry Lot We Are. Solid spoof of morose and downtrodden British soaps, except this sketch was watchable. Aide Bryant’s flirty has-been and Bill Hader’s droopy baritone stood out in a brief and solid sketch.
Construction Misfit. First sketch of the night gave Daniel Craig a chance to act against type, with over-the-line, bizarre, and not-quite-right catcalls in succession of his three colleagues’ chummy quips to passerby women. Sudeikis got to inject his gruff, blue-collar guy into part of the sketch, so that was a plus. (JEFF!) Craig was at his best in this one. Maybe he had a limited week?
MSNBC. I think I would have preferred this Obama debate analysis spoof to the actual cold open. Sudeikis delivered a delightfully insane Chris Matthews, and possible star Cecily Strong slipped into Rachel Maddow’s impression, flanking McKinnon’s quiet conservative goofball (crazy eyes with glasses!) and Kenan’s Al Sharpton. (I know.) But it was funny.
Debate (Cold Open). This was funny, but – stop me if you’ve heard this about SNL before – it drug on too long. Jay Pharaoh’s Obama is great, and it’s obvious he’s looking for a visual hook besides his guttural “ums.” He twitches his smirk back and forth, and may have found it. The sketch worked when they went “inside Obama’s head,” proving him to be preoccupied with his anniversary, interspersed with cuts to a grim Mrs. Obama. But, true to form, the writers tried to adhere too closely to the actual debate content rather than taking a thought and running with it. If they need to cram so many themes – Romney’s lies, reference to PBS, Obama’s anniversary, Lehrer’s running monologue, the thin air – isn’t it best to create a running sketch, rather than a 12-minute cold open? Despite all that, it wasn’t bad. Just long and slightly confused.
Big Bird (Weekend Update) Saturday Night Live has a long history with the Muppets, and I wanted this to be good, really, I did. (Also, the availability of Big Bird should have meant the one PBS joke in the Cold Open was scrapped, but we’re splitting hairs.). However, it was not. The visual of Big Bird offering commentary was the funniest part. After that, it lapsed into a sketch that made fun of bird stuff, like “ruffling feathers.” The bird gets better material on Sesame Street!
Fred Armisen in Drag. Bad enough that Armisen’s Penny Marshall somehow took the cap-off role in ‘Bond 50.’ We get this one, too? Bill Hader almost broke, so that was amusing.
The musical guest was, of course, Muse, and they were fine. I’ll warn you, I fast-forward through all musical acts not named Pearl Jam. Yes, I am horribly closed-minded and set in my ways, but, you know, we’ve all got our things.
Next week! Christina Applegate! How quickly can she surpass the belly-laugh total of an entire season and a half of Up All Night? (Over/Under: End of Cold Open.)