Monday, November 12th, 2012

'SNL' Recap: Anne Hathaway Is a Team Player

It's great when an SNL host has nothing to prove.

Sure, it's fun to play into expectations surrounding a new host, and to wonder how his or her specific skill sets might factor into an episode: Will Bruno Mars do anything other than sing in sketches? Will Louis CK's style work in the SNL format? Meanwhile, with a repeat host, those concerns are lifted. Whether it's a former cast member (Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler), or a longtime friend of the show (Alec Baldwin, Jon Hamm, and now with three episodes under her belt, Anne Hathaway), a host who is familiar with the process can ease back and have a bit more fun. The night becomes less about what the host needs to do to survive and more about letting the writers and cast members work their magic.

Some of my favorite SNL episodes over the years have celebrated the ensemble, and that only happens when you have a host who is a collaborative team player, a rising tide that lifts all ships. Last episode — with its high frequency of big-cast sketches and generous screen time for all cast members (especially recently underused ones like Taran Killam and Aidy Bryant) — was just that. The Dark Knight Rises and Les Miserables star banked on her impersonation prowess and moment-to-moment chemistry to bring out the best of the SNL staff without letting any A-list ego get in the way. Hell, she even thanked the pages during the goodbyes! Most celebrities can't even see those mythical, blazer-wearing sub-humans.

While at times the parodies felt too broad and the premises too thin, Anne Hathaway won the night with a team-player performance, securing the actress as a reliable go-to SNL host.

What Hit:

Romney Cold Open. In what must be one of the final appearances of Jason Sudeikis' Mitt Romney on SNL, the cold open brought us the presidential hopeful lamenting his loss on his balcony over a few quarts of milk. Easy, Mitt. The piece felt like an excuse to get in a few last digs at the disillusioned Romney campaign and family, with the gag of Taran Killam playing three of the Romney sons hitting the hardest. The script could have used more jokes, but the sketch accurately reflected the country's somber, post-election mood.

Monologue. In a not-so-subtle nod to her role in the upcoming Les Miserables film, the whole cast joined Anne Hathaway on stage for a parody of the show-stopping "One Day More." Yes, the song is one of the most parodied Broadway hits of all time, and I'm not so sure the "castmembers looking forward to Sunday" jokes made it past the harmonious belting. But musical monologues can get away with being more "fun" than "funny," and the cast's always-surprising voices and Tim Robinson waving the Mexican flag were satisfying enough.

Girlfriends Talk Show. The highlight of the night was this sketch featuring best friends (Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong) hosting a girls talk show, with Bryant jealous of Strong's new, cooler best friend (Hathaway). SNL has scored big in recent years by subverting the talk show format with grounded relationships (Abby Elliot's hilarious "What Is This?" comes to mind), and seeing this friend-triangle unfold was a delight, especially Bryant's insecurity and pathetic attempts at cool-ness: "Looks like clothes dead women are found in!"

Mokiki Sloppy Swish. In SNL's first real attempt at a music video in the post-Lonely Island era, Kenan Thompson sang a reggae rap about the feral New York drifter Mokiki (Taran Killam) and his signature dance, the "Sloppy Swish." Another musical bit that's more "fun" than "funny," I wouldn't hold my breath for the Sloppy Swish to go viral. That said, Killam's physical comedy is always great, and the solid directing helped elevate this song about an acid-vomiting drifter to a worthy SNL digital short.

Homeland. Depending on whether or not you watch Homeland, this sketch was either hilarious or confusing, and that's because there was no game other than a broad parody of the show and the impersonations of the characters. The gamble seemed to pay off, due I suspect to Homeland's steady growth in popularity and the strength of the performances. Hathaway's unstable Carrie and Bill Hader's forgiving Saul were standouts, and Nasim Pedrad's slowly-crossing-frame move worked nicely in her cameo as the teenage daughter.

McDonalds Firing. In another full-ensemble sketch, Bobby Moynihan and Cecily Strong played brash soon-to-be-fired McDonalds employees telling off their coworkers. At times the rant felt a little mean-spirited, but most of the jokes and the honest reactions by the rest of the cast were amusing — especially when the two performed a choreographed high-five and Hader asked, "Did you guys rehearse this?"

Weekend Update. Seth Meyers charmed us with some great jokes about David Petraeus' book title, the pantsuit industry, and watching sports at home… with wives. Jay Pharoah got a segment as President Obama (after seeing his Obama cold open cut last week), taking a cocky victory lap. The jokes were great ("A Hispanic gay woman is born every eight seconds") and Pharoah's Obama has improved… though the frequent grinning was distracting. Bill Hader and Fred Armisen appeared as gay fishermen from Maine in a segment that didn't get laughs until the two started seductively teasing each other. Bobby Moynihan returned to the Update Desk this season with a delightful post-election rant about "Jewspapers" and trying to "vote with a Groupon." We laugh at him now, but in a few weeks the real drunk uncles of America will unleash their rambling wrath upon us all.

Allergies Ad. The 10-to-1 this week was an ad for Flaritin, a fake-Claritin for people who make up allergies to get attention. The premise was funny but a little one-note… likely justifying its placement at the end of the show rather than after the monologue.

What Missed:

Ellen. Kate McKinnon gave us a sample of her excellent Ellen Degeneres impression a few weeks ago in the Bond Girls video, but unfortunately it wasn't strong enough to sustain a whole sketch, especially when that sketch is a game-less broad parody and too many lines are getting stifled by loud music. There were a few silver linings, notably Taran Killam's audience fan wearing the same outfit as Ellen and Anne Hathaway's cameo as a pitch-perfect Katie Holmes. You can't find the sketch in its entirety on NBC.com or Hulu due to its use of licensed music (a legal issue that ironically got the real Ellen in hot water a few years ago), but you can watch a clip of the sketch here.

American Gothic. Hathaway joined Jason Sudeikis as the subjects of the famous Grant Wood painting in a mission-impossible sketch in which they couldn't pose correctly. To be fair, many of the physical gags were entertaining — the corn puppet, the back-to-back news anchor pose, etc. — but the premise felt a little easy and Hathaway wore down my tolerance for silly faces during the Homeland sketch.

While I considered this episode to be better-than-average, I can't say it was particularly memorable. Save for the amazing Girlfriend Talk Show sketch, most of the sketches were simply pleasant and a little one-note. Nevertheless, Anne Hathaway was a powerhouse talent, and it was great to see her blend so effortlessly with the rest of the cast. This was a real team win for SNL.

What did you think? Were all the big-cast sketches a reflection of Anne Hathaway's team-player style, or were they a sign of weakness that the host couldn't carry sketches on her own? Have we seen the last of Jason Sudeikis' Mitt Romney? After that line in the monologue about being on the show for eight seasons, do you think Sudeikis is working on his exit strategy? And now that the election is over, do you think the spike in appearances by Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong is a signal that the newer cast members will finally get some more screen time?

I’ll see you next week, when Jeremy Renner will host with musical guest Maroon 5.

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

Sponsored Content
  • Itsonreserve

    I had sort of a soft spot for the American Gothic sketch, but I think it's just because Sudeikis seemed really happy to be free of Romney duty at that point of the night. He seemed really into it. As for the sketch itself, it was definitely a weaker one.

    • eavoss

      That's interesting. Now that I think about it, Sudeikis always seems more comfortable in "mission impossible" structures, playing some kind of stagehand or director or talent that's ruining a shoot (the boom mic guy messing with Julia Louis-Dreyfus comes to mind). Perhaps it's because it gives him a little more room to improvise with how he delivers his lines and performs the physical gags.

  • http://twitter.com/bowenyang Bowen Yang

    Hm? Taran Killam, underused? I'm still not sold on him, and some of that has to do with Nasim and Vanessa losing screen time in favor of Taran giving off the same self-satisfactory air that's a little reminiscent of Jimmy Fallon's early days on the show. Best part of this episode was Nasim's close-up facial expression in McDonalds Firing. Close second was Aidy's gruff repetition of "Roach Warehouse."

    • http://twitter.com/bowenyang Bowen Yang

      Maybe I'm just rooting too hard for the girls, but SNL now has its biggest and strongest female ensemble without all the weight being carried by a single member (Kristen Wiig). It'd be a shame if they kept Nasim, Vanessa and Aidy as benchwarmers just to expend all this effort into making Taran a star.

      • eavoss

        If anything, SNL has been investing in Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong more than other cast members this season. (This coming from a nerd who has been Nate Silver-ing screen time for each cast member for the past few years.) Vanessa and Aidy are likely losing roles to those two more than to Taran Killam, who has been present this season but relatively absent in recent weeks.

        Killam is far too polished to justify comparison to Jimmy Fallon. For me he looks more like early-years Will Ferrell — Groundlings character work and a lot of hustle. We'll see if he has it in him to go the distance.

        • http://twitter.com/bowenyang Bowen Yang

          Of course! I'm always awestruck by your screen time tallies when hiatuses roll around, so I trust you implicitly on the matter.

          And yeah, I was gonna touch on how Cecily and Kate are being showcased very, very heavily. I just think that SNL has something here with its female cast (and new-ish crop of writers) that's just waiting to explode and really amaze people.

      • http://twitter.com/alexhanly kencosgrove

        I agree that there's not enough Vanessa and Nasim, and that's too bad, as I find both of them hilarious.

  • KS

    Anyone else think the Ellen sketch was fantastic??? The only thing that mattered was how strong McKinnon's impression was, I think it was more than enough to hold up the sketch. I think she's phenomenal.

    • Evan Roche

      Agreed! She's already a favorite cast member of mine!

      • KS

        I just keep watching it and the laughing is starting to take a physical toll on me.

      • KS

        I keep watching it and the laughter is starting to take a physical toll.

    • Ian

      It was a spot-on Ellen, but kind of dull as a comedy piece. it reminded me of Norm Macdonald's Letterman sketch, in that it was a great impression, but ultimately there were no jokes to speak of.

    • eavoss

      I think you can get away with MAYBE one sketch per episode that relies solely on impersonation — which is a little uninspired from a writer's standpoint. It was frustrating to see that in both Homeland AND Ellen. Also, notice how we have no other way to refer to those sketches other than the name of the show they're parodying. That says a lot.

    • david

      I loved the part where she "pranked" the lady as the Doctor. That was hysterical.

  • http://twitter.com/mcamike Michael McAllister

    I'm loving what Bobby Moynihan is doing this season – each week he brings something to the show that just cracks me up. He's my pick for MVP so far.

    • eavoss

      Yeah, this has been a big season for him. With Drunk Uncle, Chris Cristie, and the astronaut who missed his kitty cat, he's had a ton of great moments.

  • http://twitter.com/alexhanly kencosgrove

    Pharaoh's Obama was cringe-worthy on Weekend Update. There was way too much pandering to the crowd, trying to get a laugh where there wasn't one to be had.

    And on an unrelated note, I wonder how long before Rihanna does hosting and musical guest. Given her acting debut in Battleship, as well as her prior contributions to Shy Ronnie, it seems like a no-brainer to me.

    • eavoss

      If you really want to cringe, check out his cold open that was cut last week, thank god: http://www.hulu.com/watch/421181. Feels bad hating on the guy week after week, but he needs to just trust the writers and stop distracting from the jokes with his stupid tics.

      • http://twitter.com/alexhanly kencosgrove

        One of the few times I'm actually okay with being in Canada and having no access to Hulu. I remember taking years to finally warm up to Kenan though, I felt as if he wasn't given good sketches until a few years ago.

      • david

        – what was up with his "nyeeah" noises during the Ass-Dan sketches? And I'm sorry – but Principal Anderson is cringe worthy. Can't believe he was kept and Paul Brittain was given the boot. Lord Windemere is 10x better than anything JP has ever done.

      • anyonebeentoanSNLdress?

        Do they not yell "Live, from New York, it's Saturday Night!" at dress rehearsal?

  • http://www.facebook.com/teaflax John Thelin

    I thought the girlfriend talk show sketch was weak as hell and to me, it seem to mainly play on the fact that Aidy is a big girl. Maybe I'm overly touchy about perceived weightism, but nothing in the delivery or writing popped enough for me to drop that concern.

    I'll be subtitling the episode into Swedish in a day or two, and I'll let y'all know if there's anything fun and/or interesting in the scripts. (I did Louie as well, but except for some dropped Weekend Update bits, there was nothing there – remarkably/sadly the Lincoln sketch was the one cut for time).

    • eavoss

      I think you might be reading too much into Girlfriend Talk Show. There was nothing in the script or the deliveries that made reference to Aidy's weight. The focus was on how she felt being replaced by a new, cooler best friend. Maybe from an audience perspective, Aidy's appearance was consistent with that spurned character. And even though Aidy nailed the role, really any of the other women in the cast (Nasim, Vanessa, Kate) could have conceivably played the part, because "weight" was irrelevant to the game of the scene.

    • graybull

      I second that. Maybe the worst sketch of the night, aside from the cold open. The concept was good, but the "jokes" weren't funny. Bryant was good, but the material just wasn't up to par. It seems like this has happened a lot lately. Meanwhile it felt like Cecily Strong was doing her "girl you wish you hadn't started a conversation with…" character, which seems to be the only character she has.

  • Anthony Coro

    I loved everything except Ellen and Homeland this week–but even they had redeeming qualities in Anne's hysterical impressions. I hope this turns out to be the breakout stint that puts her in the top tier of hosts with Timberlake and Hamm to the general public, because she's been amazing all three times.

    I have to say, this season is probably the most I've consistently enjoyed a string of episodes since the Ferrell years. Not every episode or sketch has hit its mark, but I absolutely love that they're not going the easy route of packing the shows with recurring sketches, they're letting the newbies (especially Cecily) shine, and besides maybe Fred and the virtually-absent Nasim and Vanessa, the older cast members (especially Jason) seem revitalized for some reason. And let's not ignore the elephant in the room–the absence of Kristen Wiig is a very large component of what makes this season feel so fresh and fun. (I beg of you, Lorne Michaels: please do not turn Kate McKinnon into Wiig 2.0. Please.) I hope they can maintain the momentum even after the election, and I'm optimistic since, unlike in 2004 and 2008, the political stuff hasn't drastically outshone the other material because pretty much everything has been entertaining for one reason or another.

  • Burgess

    Wait, wai- wait a second. Did I see the same show? 'Cause I thought the whole affair was really flat and I found Anne Hathaway fantastically phony and ingratiating. She even managed one of those simpering, Julia Roberts "I love my life" moments as she closed out the show. She certainly couldn't carry the Oscars and I don't think she carried SNL. I'm not seeing any great comedic timing or talent in Anne Hathaway; seems to me the girl's forgotten how to play herself. Maybe I'm letting my distaste for her color this episode, but I felt the writing really lacked and no stand-out sketches emerged. Easily the worst episode of season 38 so far.
    Eavoss – Nice use of the term "Nate-silvering.". I quite like that.

  • http://twitter.com/FirasAlexander Firas Alexander

    Strongly agree with the rundown of the episode, but I didn't think American-Gothic was a miss. People always complain (other people, not necessarily on this site or this reviewer) about the lack of variety in sketches, i.e. it's always a talk show or a bar, etc. but I thought this was a really original format and the jokes really hit for me. Anne Hathaway really is one of my favorite of the recent crop of newer hosts for me. Just a great episode overall from the entire SNL staff.

  • david

    came to a similar conclusion. Girlfriends was the highlight by far. Glad to see some of the new cast getting such big air time – but I must confess – I'm missing Vanessa Bayer and Fred Armisen a lot this season. Kate McKinnon is abundantly talented, and appears to be positioning herself to become the next cast star. Nasim Pedrad is almost an after-thought these days and I wonder how much longer she'll be on the show. Jay Pharoah's Obama is decent, but other than that he brings little to the show.