Monday, March 5th, 2012

SNL Recap: Lindsay Lohan is Comedy Poison

SNL, you have some explaining to do.

After a streak of wonderful episodes hosted by talented actresses — Zooey Deschanel and Maya Rudolph — SNL hit a new low last weekend with an uncomfortable and at times baffling episode hosted by near-human-being Lindsay Lohan. Under normal circumstances, I consider it unfair to blame a host for a bad episode — usually, they have relatively little influence on the episode that ends up getting produced — but considering Lohan’s repeated begging to Lorne Michaels to host the show and her admission that she had brought her lawyer into the writers room to screen sketch ideas, I have no other choice. Lohan’s appearance on the show was nothing more than a blatant attempt to restore her image. We mustn’t let her get away with this.

The episode suffered from an odd structural problem. Jack White’s first musical number arrived one segment early, and the latter half of the show featured two previously aired commercial sketches, which leads me to believe that there was a last-minute cut from the lineup. It’s a shame we’ll never get to see that sketch in which Lohan plows through a playground full of children in her Range Rover, but it’s in a better place now, playing air hockey in heaven with “Crazy Christians.”

The real tragedy here is not that this was a weak episode of SNL, which can happen with great hosts sometimes, but the fact that Lorne so willingly folded to Lohan’s demands and permitted external censorship of his writing staff. I realize that TV is a business, and that after 37 years there is hardly any sanctity left in the writers room. But if you’re going to burn an episode, do it for someone better than Lindsay Fucking Lohan.

What Hit:

Monologue. The episode had a moderately strong start with some light jokes targeted at Lohan’s wild side — an alarm the moment she stepped off stage, Kenan Thompson checking her pupils for dilation, Kristen Wiig frisking her. Jimmy Fallon and Jon Hamm made cameos, and Kenan made a reference to Good Burger. I was thinking this would be the start of a night of shaming for Lohan, but I was sorely mistaken.

The Real Housewives of Disney. In this well executed clash of context sketch, the women of the cast played death-glaring and eye-rolling Disney princesses in a Real Housewives show. Wiig’s drunken Cinderella was a lot of fun, and I particularly enjoyed Jasmine’s (Nasim Pedrad) woes, in which she cooked Abu and accidentally had sex with Iago, who had imitated Aladdin’s voice.

Psychic Awards. I don’t imagine this sketch was a hit with most people, but I still enjoyed the sillyness of an awards show for people who already know the winners and make tributes to those who will die in the upcoming year. I appreciated the simplicity — they got in and out in three and half minutes — and the actors seemed aware of the piece’s one-note nature.

Weekend Update. Seth Meyers’ jokes weren’t all winners this week, including an inexcusable Chuck Norris joke, but cameos by Update favorites James Carville and Snooki made for a great deal of fun. Hader’s Carville was more bizarre than ever, declaring himself “King of the Snakes” and describing his penis as his head with his glasses off. And Bobby Moynihan’s Snooki traded in the orange jokes for a bounty of chest hair.

‘70s Album. This short pair in the tail end of the show is exactly the kind of fun burst of humor I wish SNL did more often. Nothing too complex here… just a guy poking around in a fireplace.

What Missed:

Shephard Smith and Mitt Romney Cold Open. While this was admittedly among the better of the neverending chain of Romney cold opens, largely thanks to the Norman Batesian portrayal of Shephard Smith and the creepily identical five Romney sons (including a cameo by writer and “Seven Minutes in Heaven” star Mike O’Brien), overall I feel SNL hasn’t been any more successful finding humor in Mitt Romney than Mitt Romney has been with dogs letting him pet them.

Scared Straight. By now these Scared Straight sketches have crossed over into meta territory — the only things that really make them funny to us are the lengths Kenan will go to get the others to break, and the weird ways Jason Sudeikis will jump back on his desk at the end. The only thing that justifies their existence now is when a host will be particularly fun to see in a prisoner jumpsuit — Zach Galifianakis in a Hannibal Lecter mask, Betty White, etc. Therefore, Lindsay Lohan’s inability to deliver her lines (or memorize them, for that matter) with any level of intensity whatsoever sunk this sketch. Her lack of commitment made the references to AIDS and rape that much more uncomfortable.

Delinquent Girl Teen Gang. I wanted to get behind this sketch for its specificity — I wasn’t even aware there was a genre of films in which 60s girls danced defiantly in the street. Maybe there isn’t. Unfortunately, this sketch trudged along far too slowly, and despite the high points — Fred Armisen’s increasingly shaken up Babette and the name “Skipper St. Junt” — this sketch never really went anywhere.

Digital Short: Afros. I really enjoyed the music for this digital short — which I have to assume Jack White had a hand in — but the huge afro visual was too basic a concept for it to really hit home for me.

B108FM. Taran Killam and Moynihan’s performances as hip hop disc jockeys at 5 in the morning in snow-covered Minnesota was certainly a lot of fun to watch, but I can’t say there was much to laugh at here. Once again, Lohan’s poor delivery sucked the wind out of the sketch.

House Sitter. Lohan played a house sitter for a strange woman who is haunted by mysterious phone calls. I enjoyed the absurd dialogue in between the calls — particularly the specifics of “topless forest” and “a dog with human teeth” — but from the first moment Wiig screamed “Who is this?!” into the phone, I knew we were going to see that same gag over and over, and I tuned out.

Buddha. In one of the most annoying 10-to-1 sketches of the season, Andy Samberg played the spiritual sage who mocked people behind their backs. I suppose it’s not easy coming up with puns for Buddhist adages, but I bet they could have come up with something better than “Buddha lika da Boob-a.”

Of course, Lindsay Lohan’s poor delivery and cue-card scanning can’t be to blame for all of the weak sketches. Some of them weren’t very good concepts, either. But I have to wonder if the writers felt less inspired this week because they were dealing with an uncooperative host, the way material-picky Ben Stiller brought down the whole episode in the fall.

For me, the saving grace of this episode was Bill Hader, who let his freak flag fly in his performances Shephard Smith and James Carville, which might have been two of the most delightfully bizarre things we’ve seen on SNL all season.

What did you think? Was Lindsay Lohan’s performance as bad as I’m making it out to be? By using the show solely for publicity, is Lohan guilty of some crime or on the same level as pretty much every other SNL host with a film or TV series to plug? And what do you think was cut from the lineup to account for the early musical segment and the two previously aired commercial sketches?

I’ll see you next week, when Jonah Hill will host with musical guest The Shins.

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

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  • http://throwingthings.blogspot.com Adam Bonin

    Agreed. Agreed on the cue card reading, on the overall lameness, and on Scared Straight veering into the crude and unfunny.

    What happened at the end of that skit to cause everyone to break? I couldn't tell.

    • Joon

      @Adam Bonin Sudeikis first scratches his butt and then jumps onto the desk which makes stuff from the desk fall. Best moment of that sketch.

    • http://eavoss.com Erik Voss

      @Adam Bonin It has become a bit of a tradition for Sudeikis to try to slam down on the desk, hoping it will crack up Hader and the rest. It hasn't in the past few instances, so the sketch would have this slow fade energy at the end. But the pencils falling got them this time.

  • B Westof@twitter

    I really dug B108FM. Otherwise agree.

  • Just One Thing

    I don't think you can blame Lohan. They just had a seriously poor week here.

  • http://www.twitter.com/pablogoldstein Pablo Goldstein

    I understand the business aspect of SNL and that sometimes (OK, more like 50% of any given season) they have untalented actors to promote something, but Lohan had nothing to promote! Though it really shouldn't come to a surprise that Lohan's PR team has no idea how to make her look good. It felt like Lohan was too distracted by her awful plastic surgery to concentrate on the cue cards.

  • Emerson Dameron@twitter

    Add the SNL writers and cast to the list of people burned out on coddling Lohan.

  • Zack Stovall

    I came in expecting an orphanage bus wreck and only got a mild fender bender. I was impressed they were able to put on a show with her on stage at all. The worst sketch of the night (Scared Straight) was the one that relied most heavily on her. Kudos for getting through it without quitting at 12:30, I say.

    • Just One Thing

      @Zack Stovall Worse than the rude Buddha? You've got to be kidding us.

    • Zack Stovall

      @Just One Thing True, Rude Buddha was no good, but I found myself laughing more at Sanberg lowering his head and plowing through an ungood sketch than Lohan babbling through one that's been at least passable in the past.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jason-Nafziger/1625377858 Jason Nafziger

    I liked the cold open because it didn't rely strictly on repeating/elevating something from the news cycle and actually played around with the characters of the people being portrayed. The monologue was decent (I don't think the Jon Hamm bit was a joke) and Real Housewives was funny. Other than that, nothing stands out.

    The '70s CDs thing would have been good if they had left the joke at the blackout. Why stick a stupid title at the end?

    Lohan was terrible. One of the worst hosting jobs in a while and it's even worse given the fact that she's done so much better before.

    Help us, Jonah Hill, you're our only hope.

  • http://shatnerian.wordpress.com jduncanhansen@twitter.com

    I haven't seen that much blatant cue-card reading since David Spade was on the show.

    Loved Real Housewives of Disney, particularly Vanessa Bayer's Snow White high-fiving the dwarves. I loved the cold open, even if Hader's Shep Smith bordered on homophobic (his wrist at one point was literally limp). But the Norman Bates references made me love the sketch and the Romney boys as a creation from the mind of Stephen King was great.

    I still don't think they've nailed Romney. The take seems to be he's a super-rich out of touch nerd who nobody's all that excited about but I just think they're more there. It almost reminds me of Norm McDonald's Bob Dole in that they really hit on one thing about the guy and just beat it to death.

    • Emerson Dameron@twitter

      @jduncanhansen@twitter.com Agreed. Romney has a barely suppressed rage that they thusfar haven't tapped into.

    • http://eavoss.com Erik Voss

      @jduncanhansen@twitter.com The more I think about it, I don't know if they ever can nail Romney. Some politicians just aren't ripe for direct impersonation, yet unfortunately SNL has to do these kinds of sketches anyway because people have come to expect it from them. It seems that after Bush, no one will seriously consider for national office a raw, unrehearsed figure, leaving us people like Obama, Kerry, Romney, etc. The best we can hope for is another Palin fiasco.

  • Brian Boone

    I kinda got the feeling that Jon Hamm was on call to be emergency host. Just in case.

    • http://eavoss.com Erik Voss

      @Brian Boone Hamm and Fallon, I would say.

  • Carla Snowden@facebook

    Lohan's a mess and shouldn't be anywhere in front of a camera until she gets her life together. Watching the show last night, I felt a lot of pity for her. I'm not really a huge fan of Scared Straight but I was actually giggling at Kenan last night until Lohan started talking. She was clearly nervous and unsure in her delivery. It made me feel bad considering one of the great parts about her on previous SNL's was how comfortable and confident she appeared.
    It was as much a publicity stunt for Lorne Michels as Lohan and hopefully he learned his lesson.

  • Rishabh Bablani@twitter

    No words for Taran Killam's Prince Charming? That laugh he did was awesome.

    I also kinda liked the butt-dialing sketch, specifically Wiig's dialogue when she wasn't freaking out.
    "These are throw pillows. Please do not throw them unless you're upset, and then I ask that you only throw them at other throw pillows." Not verbatim, of course.

  • Robert Dixon@facebook

    I liked a bit of the scared straight. Mostly the every kiss begins with rape. But Lohan killed most of the show, and not in the good way.

  • Anthony Coro

    The only real thought going through my head the entire night was disbelief that this was her FOURTH time hosting. And then I just wept for humanity.

  • razzleplooza

    I thought "Afros" was a win.

  • http://twitter.com/joshung Joshua Ungerleider

    I didn't think the show was that bad, but I agree that Lohan didn't do much but take away from the show.

    Surprised that they actually ran out of white guys for the opening sketch. I think the "psycho" reference was okay, but would have been better if it was only done once, and it would've had a more "wtf" vibe.

    I think the teen dancing girl sketch was done just so the writers could get the oral sex joke (Constance Lingus) in, still not sure why that sketch needed Armisen to play that part though, no reason they couldn't have let one of the actual women to play it.

    But the whole show had a feeling that SNL was trying to convince us that Lohan is an integral part of SNL history.

  • Denisse@twitter

    top 3 worst snl hosts: Lindsay Lohan, Zooey Deschanel, and Charles Barkley. hands down- the worst.

    • Anthony Coro

      @Denisse@twitter Did you just start watching SNL in 2012 or something?

    • http://eavoss.com Erik Voss

      @Denisse@twitter Top all-time worst SNL sketches: The second fireplace guy sketch from the Lindsay Lohan episode, the Rude Buddha sketch from the Lindsay Lohan episode, and the goodbyes from the Lindsay Lohan episode. Hands. Down.

      All joking aside, I'll give you Lohan and Barkley (though I thought Barkley passed with a C+ in January), but Zooey was marvelous. You can hate her schtick but it worked nicely in the SNL format.

      My Top 3 Worst would be Paris Hilton, Stephen Segal, and Michael Phelps.

  • Erik Archer@facebook

    Don't know what all the complaining is about. It was every bit the train wreck we wanted it to be, it really is one the all time bad episodes of anything. The B108FM sketch was funny because it's so true to the format.