Monday, December 5th, 2011

SNL Recap: Steve Buscemi is the Creepy Creepy Guy

Heading into last weekend’s SNL episode, I worried that host Steve Buscemi, an actor I picture playing crooked wise guys in Fargo, Reservoir Dogs, and Boardwalk Empire, as well as scorned bottom-feeders in Adam Sandler movies, might not translate to the SNL speed. I must say, however, that Buscemi was a finely supportive host, playing a perfectly perplexed straight man in some sketches while falling back on his innate creepiness in others.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great night for the regulars. The lineup was loaded with bits that were successful in the past (Surprise Lady, Miley Cyrus, Keith Morrison, “Sex” Ed Vincent) but didn’t hit very hard this time. Weekend Update, the commercial, and the digital short were underwhelming, and the bright spots — the monologue, Coach Bert, and the 10-to-1 sketch — didn’t shine bright enough to save the rest of the show.

What hit:

Obama Cold Open. In the first Obama sketch of the season, a very not-Jay-Pharoah Fred Armisen apparently stopped trying to do an impersonation of the president (giving us warm memories of when Gerald Ford looked a lot like Chevy Chase before any of us were born) and just let the sketch’s writing speak for itself. And while the jokes weren’t all there, I enjoyed Obama’s power chart, in which he was listed under Tyler Perry and Verizon Customer Service.

Monologue. After a few jokes about his background playing supporting character roles, Buscemi gave advice to a number of stereotypical characters, like Chance, the magical black man who gives advice and the dude who loses his girlfriend in a movie and says “Bro… take care of her.” It was nice to see the monologue have a fully formed sketch concept, especially a funny one.

Miley Cyrus Show. Vanessa Bayer’s return as the bubbly, culturally unaware pop star had a new twist in light of Cyrus’ wild side — Cyrus munched on Doritos, giggled through her “comedy monologue,” and brought on as a guest a guy she met at Burning Man (Buscemi). The stoner humor weakened the sketch, and the whole thing would have been bust if it weren’t for Maya Rudolph’s hilarious cameo as Whitney Houston.

Coach Bert. In the night’s strongest sketch, Buscemi played an assistant college basketball coach who faced an investigation on the grounds that he looks a little creepy and a he’s bit of a loser. Hats off to Seth Meyers (who wrote the sketch) for a funny and edgy-yet-totally-appropriate comment on the recent scandals — never mind what Colin Quinn tweeted, or tweeted but really didn’t mean.

Ornaments. In one of the most bizarre (and therefore most brilliant) 10-to-1 sketches of the season, Buscemi and Kritsen Wiig hung up a number of Christmas tree ornaments, each with its own weird story or explanation. There’s no real structure or concept here, just pure comedy.

What missed:

Frozen Mexican Dinner Commercial. This commercial advertising Mexican food for constipation relief didn’t do enough to elevate the concept from any more than a lame poop joke. I did appreciate the choice to make Paul Brittain a maraca player in a rock band, however.

Digital Short: Batman. This week’s digital short had Andy Samberg as the raspy voiced, randomly appearing and disappearing Batman of the Christian Bale era and Buscemi as Commissioner Gordon. Having Samberg pop into frame ad infinitum is a well blazed trail for the digital shorts, and after two and half years, the Dark Knight jokes feel a little dated.

Dateline. Normally I enjoy Bill Hader’s creepily intrigued Keith Morrison, but now the long, drawn out “Oh’s” and “Eh’s” are a little too predictable to justify dusting this one off. The dramatic “I must paint you!” line was a nice twist, however.

Weekend Update. Despite two brilliant jokes about ghost-powered nightlights and robots recognizing their reflections, too many of Seth Meyers’ jokes were weak, and Kenan Thompson’s Herman Cain didn’t do anything new with the embattled politician that we haven’t seen in those tired debate sketches. I loved Bobby Moynihan’s Drunk Uncle character, but it took a little too long to get off the ground.

Surprise Lady. Wiig appeared to be taking her cues from Melissa McCarthy in her reprise of Sue, the lady who can’t keep a surprise. Unfortunately, dumping a water cooler on her head and jet-propelling herself around the room with a fire extinguisher were certainly no ranch dressing blast to the face. I don’t think anyone will complain if Sue doesn’t make a return.

Sex Ed Couples Therapy. Another character suffering from the law of diminishing returns was “Sex” Ed Vincent, Paul Brittain’s painfully straightforward sex therapist. I loved the character when he first appeared last season, but now his creative bedroom solutions — “the credit card,” “bumps on a log,” — didn’t have the same potency as his “infinite swirl.” Not that I’ve tried any of these or anything.

Overall, I can’t fault SNL for the sketches that didn’t hit — I would’ve bet that Keith Morrison and “Sex” Ed Vincent would have been more successful too. While the episode was weaker than ones from recent memory (Emma Stone, Jason Segel), there were plenty of strong moments tucked throughout the night. Hopefully next week, when Katy Perry will host with musical guest Robyn, those moments won’t be as hard to find.

What do you think? Am I being too hard on some of the recurring characters we saw during the night? Was Steve Buscemi used effectively in the episode? Did you mind Fred Armisen giving up trying to emulate Obama in favor a more straight-forward delivery? Did you find the Coach Bert sketch inappropriate?

Erik Voss is a writer and performer living in Los Angeles. He performs with his improv team Natural 20 at the iO West Theater.

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  • http://www.collegehumor.com/user:328495 Chase Mitchell

    Aside from Coach Bert, Drunk Uncle was the funniest part of the night. Moynihan killed it. Best non-Ass Dan moment he's had since he was that guy who dropped the mic at the wedding reception. As for that cold open, I actually felt the opposite, that it was hard to focus on the writing (which was good) because I was so distracted by how little effort Armisen is putting into his Obama these days. I love Fred, but if he doesn't want to be playing the president anymore, why is he?

  • fabulousrobots

    I am so glad someone else liked the Sheila and Sheila skit. I read too many negative reviews of it Sunday, but I loved how weird it was. I thought Kristen Wiig was amazing too–she does those bizarre, glassy-eyed women so well.

  • iamjustryingtolive

    Maybe my memory is starting to go (at 24 wtf) but I had never seen Hader's Keith Morrision before and for me it killed. He nailed it in every aspect. Likewise, Sex-Ed hit for me bc I'd never seen it, although, it did feel like a tim and eric kind of thing with the dated graphics, etc. Jay Pharoah is improving week by week but I don't see it from Brittain (ron paul excluded) and Killam (witholding final judgement for community). Those two are feeling the pressure to be the next Ferrell. There will never be another. Drunk Uncle was great (where has Bobby been all season?). The coach sketch may have been the sketch of the season so far. I do have one major gripe: its becoming hackneyed to throw a mustache on someone and have it be creepy. The coach sketch, Sex-Ed. I want a clean faced creep who earns that title through the mannerisms and the writing rather than a stick-on mustache.

    • http://eavoss.com Erik Voss

      @iamjustryingtolive I'll agree that Pharoah has improved this season, though to be fair he's been given relatively little to do (the most significant roles he's gotten this season was the brief cameo as Denzel Washington last week and as Chris Rock a few weeks back). Taran and Brittain have had more weight on their shoulders (Brittain as Ron Paul, Lord Wyndemere, Sex Ed Vincent; Taran in Les Jeunes de Paris and as a supporting character in pretty much every sketch) and have handled the pressure with ease. Out of the three I'd say Taran has the most star potential.

    • http://www.shutupshelley.net/ Shelley

      @Erik Voss I totally agree about Taran Killam having the most star potential of those three. I mean I really like Paul Brittain, and Jay Pharoah (who seems like a super talented guy) has improved a lot within the SNL format from last year, but Taran Killam is straight up awesome and has been a consistently strong presence from the start. I think the same of Vanessa Bayer, but that's not what you guys were talking about.

  • Anthony Coro

    I normally think "drunk guy" humor is lazy and cheap, but "Drunk Uncle" was fantastic. Some great lines there. I disagree on the digital short and Nightline though–maybe not the timeliest DS but certainly a bizarre, funny concept. Even though Nightline was a retread I think they really brought some life into it, and it had been a while since the last one anyway. Coach Bert was definitely the best of the night. Also, if you had put Sue as a highlight, I would have officially had to fight you, Voss. 10 rounds. Let's all be thankful it didn't come to that.

    • http://eavoss.com Erik Voss

      @Anthony Coro I considered listing Sue as a hit, just to spite you. But hey man, I got kids.

  • akivaddict

    Can someone explain what happened during the cold open? Time card in the first five minutes of the show? Couldn't be. What happened? It felt so rushed after the 5th list item. (I realize they can't have lengthy explanations for each one without the sketch lasting forever, but it seemed like a flub of some sort.) Any explanations, oh wise "connected" people.

    P.S. Brittain and Killam are killing it. Love em.

  • theBULL

    I thought the Whitney Houston cameo was pretty bad, considering that Maya's impersonation was kind of weird, and she flubbed her lines, and at points it actually felt like she was improvising whatever when she messed up.

    Sheila and Sheila was pretty weird, and never really funny. I feel like there was a similar sketch when he first hosted, so that's why they did this kind of sketch again. I could be wrong. The whole sitting in an armchair and showing X-mas stuff is pretty routine. But yeah, never funny besides the occasional Wiig stares, which is becoming a fallback if something doesn't work.

    I actually found the Herman Cain bit funny. Funny jokes and Kenan had me laughing, and I couldn't figure out why besides Kenan's delivery and having fun with the bedroom jokes.

    Drunk Uncle. Fantastic.

  • http://videoshare.tumblr.com Firas Alexander

    I was happy to see Maya Rudolph's Whitney Houston again she was adorkable. I sort of disagree about the sex-ed vincent sketch. Yes it was less funny, but I didn't mind them bringing him back. Otherwise I actually thought this was a funnier episode than the Jason Segel one, but I seem to be in the minority there.

  • grovberg

    I'm usually pretty bored by the 10 to 1 sketch (weird for the sake of weird just doesn't do it for me anymore), but the ornaments sketch was the funniest thing I've seen on SNL in a very long time. Amazing from top to bottom and used both performers to their strengths.

    Coach Bert went on a little too long (as SNL sketches are required to do) but was otherwise spectacular. Sudekis absolutely nails that character.

    I have a theory that Sue was actually supposed to be a subtle parody of the "continually raising the comedy stakes" sketch structure that just wasn't able to become outlandish enough. But that may be a reach.

    It's probably unfair to call Fred Armisen the laziest performer in comedy, but he's certainly in the running.