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.
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.
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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