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Monday, April 15th, 2013

'SNL' Review: Vince Vaughn's Forgettable Night

It seems a little unfair how unexcited viewers were headed into last weekend's episode of Saturday Night Live, hosted by Vince Vaughn. The Swingers and Wedding Crashers star is a reliably funny guy, and his fast-talking wiseass personality really should have been enough to build a strong episode around. Sure, Vaughn doesn't have a movie coming out until the summer, but the cross-promotional component to SNL has never seemed important to us before.

Yet the night had the energy of the ninth hour of a telethon. Even Vaughn seemed to sense it based on the way he worked the room during the monologue, dishing out hack crowd-work schtick and holding one man's phone hostage on the condition of his enthusiasm. Vaughn's attempt to play warm-up guy failed: even during inspired sketches, the studio audience remained relatively stonefaced with its response.

There's really no one to blame in this situation. The sketches, for the most part, featured some playful concepts. The cast stepped up and delivered. Vaughn, while failing to play any memorable roles, still hit his mark. It just goes to show you that SNL isn't as much the predictable formula that we make it out to be. Sometimes, they can have all the right ingredients, but the lightning still misses the bottle.

What Hit:

Gun Control Cold Open. While I'm usually hesitant to get on board with a flat-energy presidential address cold open, I appreciated this press conference with Bill Hader and Jason Sudeikis filling in as senators Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin describing the toothless gun control compromise they managed to negotiate. Hader and Sudeikis' give-and-take won me over as they listed the bizarre loopholes — Papa John's "buy a pizza and get a free gun" is still allowed on weekends and during the Super Bowl; none of the restrictions apply to Florida. The sketch was short and sweet with a enough strong jokes to get the episode started on a strong footing.

Al Pacino HBO Biopics. This isn't the first time this season that SNL has skewered Pacino's thespian prowress (re: You're A Rat Bastard, Charlie Brown), but it was fun to see one of Hader's more entertaining impressions in so many different contexts: Ted Kaczynski, both Menendez Brothers, and Oscar Pistorius ("Say hello to my little legs!"). Also, it was a wise move to diffuse the blackface tension when Hader played Dr. Conrad Murray with a black judge who okayed it as "cool."

Stormy Skies. The first of three clever sketches that fell flat with the studio audience was this soap opera produced by the Weather Channel, with lovers delivering their lines like forecasters: "Moving south, we're looking at a good 8 to 10 inches." The concept was a little cheesy, but the jokes were all there, along with some fun gags of a green screen projection on the dress and Aidy as a background gawker in the storm outside, so this sketch is a win in my book.

History of Punk. While light on laughs, I enjoyed this short film rock documentary about a Sex Pistols-esque British punk band called Ian Rubbish and the Bizarros, whose frontman (Fred Armisen) had a surprising soft spot for Margaret Thatcher. The idea of such an anarchic rocker defending one of the country's most bullishly conservative figures because she reminds him of his mother is pretty fun, and Armisen's delivery carried the piece: "She was spot on about the Euro, and don't you forget it!"

Short Term Memory Loss Theater. Even before the audience caved when the actors started breaking, I loved this sketch, specifically how quickly Bill Hader's pledge that his amnesiac actors would remember all their lines fell apart. Fred Armisen's confused wandering got the better of Hader, who broke as he angrily fed the other actors their lines. While the repeated gag of the actors trailing off occasionally resulted in an awkward, blue-ball effect energy-wise, I was impressed at the high-concept premise and how well the cast pulled it off.

NBC Sports Theme Song. After a lull in the middle of the night, the episode nearly regained its footing during this late sketch with Jason Sudeikis and Tim Robinson teaming up as the Tesh brothers, who pitched to an early 90s NBC sports an NBA theme song with unnecessary lyrics on top of the catchy instrumentation: "B-b-b-b-b-basketball, gimme gimme gimme the ball, 'cause I'm gonna dunk it!" The song was fun but admittedly had short legs, so I appreciated the turn with Sudeikis and Robinson trashing the office when the execs didn't like the lyrics.

Last Call II. Kate McKinnon reprised her tipsy end-of-night barfly Sheila Sovage (who also played footsy with Louis CK last October). The details were especially hilarious this time around ("raised in Shanghai, deflowered in Wilmington, Delaware"), along with the awesome physical gags of squirting the tequila shot and McKinnon climbing into Vaughn's sweater and making out with his chin. It's a shame that Vaughn's best performance of the night had to come at the end of it.

What Missed:

Monologue. I was amazed at how much a studio audience that was quiet for the rest of the night was giving Vince Vaughn for what was essentially 8 minutes of aimless, pandering crowd work. It's to Vaughn's credit that he received the response he did, but beyond his motormouth charisma, this monologue had nothing going for it.

Weekend Update. A sub-par news segment this week, more misses than hits, although I did enjoy Seth Meyers' Cookie Monster joke. Kenan Thompson and Jason Sudeikis gave some redemption as LL Cool J and Brad Paisley defending their uncomfortable "Accidental Racist" collaboration, but Kate McKinnon's monkey lady Marina Chapman proved to be a bit of a let-down.

Junior Prom. Something felt off in this sketch about a wealthy man (Vaughn) who donated $100,000 to a junior prom so that he could dance with the boys to instill confidence in them. Perhaps it was the fact that the kids were being played by fully-grown adult actors, so the contrast between them and Vaughn didn't read as clearly. There were some funny moments throughout — Aidy snapping at Hader, Vaughn slapping the wrong person — but it all seemed to happen randomly without any connecting pattern.

It's a shame this commercial for a awkwardness-preventing bathroom cobra didn't make it into the live broadcast. It's better than most of the sketches that did.

Despite my enjoyment of — or at least appreciation for — most of the sketches, overall the episode was a bit of a letdown. The roles Vince Vaughn played could have easily been played by any host, really, and although I don't mind the writers trying out higher concept, non-host-specific sketches, we were left with an aimless, forgettable episode. That said, it was nice to see Bill Hader and Jason Sudeikis play some more starring roles after serving mostly as straight men and facilitators in recent weeks, as well as Tim Robinson get some more screen time.

What did you think? Did you side with the studio audience on that run of three poorly received sketches in the front half of the episode (Stormy Skies, History of Punk, and Short Term Memory Loss Theater), or were they funnier than they were given credit for? Was Vince Vaughn doomed to have an awkward SNL episode, or are there roles you think he would have been better suited to play? Was it even possible for anyone to host a halfway decent episode in the wake of Melissa McCarthy's near-perfect show last week?

I'll see you May 4, when Zach Galifianakis will host with musical guest Of Monsters and Men.

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

  • Tim

    The monologue was by far the funniest part of the show.

    • Michael San Filippo

      I've heard several people trash the monologue, but I liked it. I thought Vaughn carried it with his charisma, and (like McCarthy's last week) it was a nice break from traditional monologue formats.

  • zen weapons

    Although I agree on the hits and misses (except the monologue, which I found a refreshing change of pace) I was really surprised by this episode. My wife and I went into this episode with low expectations though since neither of us are big fans of Vince Vaughn. He won us over with the monologue and as far as the sketches, they were mostly original and clever concepts.

    Solid episode, can't wait for Zach Galifianakis

  • Carson

    Great episiode. New ideas! Fun concepts! Minimal recurring characters! I'll admit, I think I liked it more than last week, where I feel McCarthy was great, but was really just vamping through a lot of underwritten sketches. It's fun for a bit, but it's never fully satisfying if the writing seems ambivalent. This week there were some noble failures, but I will always be a cheerleader for shows that emphasize original writing.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=21722013 Matthew Jerome

      Agreed.

  • flashback1969

    History of Punk was funny at first, but went on WAY too long.

  • theBULL

    I thought the monologue was great. It was different, seemed to get actual audience members involved (maybe they weren't) and it took balls for Vaughn to go out there and deliver. A great change of pace.

    The Stormy Skies was a sketch I didn't find funny, but I didn't care because I appreciated them trying to do something different.

  • TS Idiot

    I thought it was a good episode in general – not as good as Melissa McCarthy, but she's a gem of a host. I really enjoyed him coming out into the audience to speak with folks who plainly weren't cast plants, it gave a 'what's going to happen?' vibe to the proceedings (and he gave the phone back at the end!). History of Punk was a brilliant idea done pretty well – the look, feel, music all worked quite well. Junior Prom was…odd…kinda creepy, kinda amusing at times. Al Pacino was great. How could they not put in Bathroom Cobra!? It even comes with a scented candle! Miguel wasn't too bad as musical guest – great voice, so-so songs…overall, a solid B.

  • Alejandro DeJesus

    The Latino themed characters on SNL are flat, one dimensional, and blatantly racist. Good thing Latinos aren't a large portion of the viewership. Who cares about the largest and fastest growing minority group in the nation, amirite?

    • eavoss

      The only possible example I saw of a racist Latino stereotype was in the Al Pacino biopics sketch, in which Pacino played the Menendez brothers. But the fact that he played them as one-dimensional Latino stereotypes was the joke. It was preceded by the announcer sarcastically saying "And he makes a really bold choice with his accent!" Notice the pattern of Pacino's cultural ignorance in his portrayal of the Italian cruise ship captain and appearing as Dr. Conrad Murray in blackface.

      Not to pick a fight here, but it really bugs me when people accuse things of being blatantly racist without providing any evidence and using vague terms like "Latino themed."

      • ErikVoss=SNL Butthurt

        The Marina Chapman "skit "was pretty racist

        • eavoss

          Why, because Kate was using a Colombian accent? I can't say I found the character all that funny, but the joke of the sketch obviously wasn't "Colombian people are monkey-like," it was "Hey, this woman was raised by monkeys, I bet she's pretty crazy."

        • ErikVoss=SNL Butthurt Butthurt

          Excellent username.

          You're right about other times SNL not having a joke for latinos other than their accent (Shakira last week is a good example).

          You're wrong this time, that wasn't the joke. This is actually an example of SNL actually finding a different angle for a latino character.

          Anyway, again, I do still partially agree with you.

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

    I agree, the monologue was excellent. You're right that people complain when the hosts go for the tried and true "audience questions" or song monologue formula, then when you see a host do something really different they still complain. I enjoyed the episode quite a bit, even if the studio audience didn't agree.

  • David Pulsipher

    I agree with others and disagree with you Erik – the monologue was the funniest part of the night. I think you nailed everything else though, oddly enough. Sometimes I wonder if we just have vastly different sense of humor (e.g. you enjoy principal frye, me – one of the worst reoccurring sketches). But you are absolutely right on the overall energy of the show.

    Just curious – are you rethinking your assessment of the monologue considering it's apparent reception to your readership?

    • eavoss

      Not really. I'll admit it was the best received segment of the night, and Vince Vaughn was never funnier than during the monologue. My objection was to the laziness of the piece, which still stands. Vaughn essentially walked around for 8 minutes delivering the same schtick he uses in his movies — which is entertaining, of course, but nothing special or novel at this point. It's SNL! Don't do crowd work just because you know it'll go over well… show us something new! I guess I'm just being a snob.

  • ManfredYon

    Do you think maybe the monolouge was greatly beefed up with charisma and getting right into the audience because perhaps these….(I don't know the word, cereberal? complicated cocept) sketchs got the some reaction of amusement rather then outright whooping in the dress earlier run through? They do that in front of a crowd as well, right? That would be my guess.

    Good episode, very clever, well executed, but yeah…something just wasn't bouncing. The only real miss for me was rich guy at junier prom, but I wanted to like it…I was invested, I just wasn't quite sure what was happening. Maybe you need a crazy energetic host to do it, like martin short or something, put a little fire and danger into the crazy