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The season premiere of Saturday Night Live was all about having the enormous new cast gel together and the second episode was, let’s face it, all about host Miley Cyrus. This week, with Bruce Willis at the helm, it’ll be interesting to see how the cast reacts to a host with A) no known comedic chops or B) nothing to plug or generate PR for. Now is the time to get a sense of what the 39th season of SNL will look like. Here’s hoping it’s better than last week.
Once again, I’ll be writing the recaps “live,” meaning I’ll watch the sketch and immediately write a short blurb reviewing and recapping it. For each segment, I’ll rate it on a scale of 0-5 stars. At the end of the piece, I’ll share some quick overall thoughts and the best/worst sketch of the night.
NASA Shutdown: * * ½
The idea of combining the government shutdown with Gravity, the biggest movie event of the fall, is a genius one. But once that punch line is revealed, the sketch doesn’t quite know what to do with itself. It didn’t parody Gravity or say anything witty about the shutdown, it just…existed. While Kenan Thompson and Kate McKinnon provide some funny fodder as two NASA janitors (the only essential workers) who are no help at all to two marooned astronauts lost in space, the whole thing never really, if you pardon the dumb joke, took off the way it should have.
Opening Monologue: *
I’m not sure the point of this monologue. First Willis tells the audience about his kids and then plays the harmonica. That’s about it. It seems like the host came to the table asking to show off his musical skills and this is about all they came up with. Once again, Bobby Moynihan is wonderful in bringing a great energy and humor to the stage but there was just so little here. No jokes, no nothing. Just harmonica playing and family photos.
24-Hour Energy Drink: * * *
I was a part of my university’s theater program and, while I never dated any of the actresses, I know that theater people can be a tiring bunch (sorry theater people, I love you!). So I get where the sketch is coming from and I really enjoyed parts of it from Strong’s overly emotional actress to Kenan Thompson’s wonderful reaction shots during his girlfriend’s off-Broadway play. But the skit did seem very light on ideas other than “wow, actresses are a handful!”
Black Ops Command Center: * * *
On paper, I really like this sketch. Casting Bruce Willis as a wannabe action hero is inspired and the set-up is quite funny too. Willis’ increasingly clichéd battle plans are reminiscent of a sanitized version of Anthony Peter Coleman’s ‘Nam flashbacks and worth three stars right off the bat. Once again, MVP Moynihan shows up and knocks his few lines out of the park. But Willis’ delivery is waaaay too fast and mumble-y. It’s a shame ‘cause he ruins the flow of the sketch and renders some very funny dialogue somewhat unintelligible.
The ‘Ol Barbershop: * * *
I really like character based sketches that rely on unique personalities and interactions rather than set-up-punch-line jokes and I could totally see a few great reoccurring sketches about Thompson and Pharaoh’s old barber characters. But like in Black Ops, every time Willis opened his mouth he slowed the sketch down to a crawl. Besides, I don’t think he even looked at the other actors in the sketch and away from the cue-cards.
Boy Dance Party: N/A
You know what, I refuse to rate this sketch. I have a feeling everyone will go gaga over this one. It’ll get shared on Twitter/Facebook and have its 15 minutes in the cultural zeitgeist. And, to its credit, Boy Dance Party was a very well produced “digital short” (can we call them digital shorts post-Samberg?) and Willis and company seemed to be having a blast. But something about the whole thing just seemed like a desperate attempt to duplicate The Lonely Island. Was it good? Was it bad? Does it even matter? This was a sketch tailor-made to be social media fodder and I think, on those terms, it succeeded. On mine, I don’t think it’s worth a second watch.
The Lady Gaga Show: * *
With Lady Gaga, there is so much comedic territory to mine but this sketch felt oddly dull and vapid. Vanessa Bayer plays Gaga, but sounds more like Jacob The Bar Mitzvah Boy’s older sister. Willis plays Michael Kors (for whom I don’t have any frame of reference) but acts more like a semi-offensive gay stereotype than any marginally realistic impression. McKinnon’s Penelope Cruz impression is always welcome, too, along with a brief but hilarious Aidy Bryant cameo, but the whole thing just seemed pointless and rather bah-ring (as Jacob would put it).
Weekend Update: * * *
When Meyers and Strong were at the desk and exchanging jokes, Weekend Update seemed on fire. Their repartee was top-notch and the jokes (like “Insiders are saying that Prince Harry may soon propose to his girlfriend Cressida Bonas, who, judging by her name, is a mid-priced Toyoda Sedan”) were really hilarious culminated in an escalating battle of Kardashian divorce jokes. But when guests joined the Update desk, things slowed down. While the audience seemed to eat up Thompson’s Chaplain Barry Black, it left me with a resounding ehhh. I did like seeing new cast member Wheelan play outside the Bro stereotype and his jokes were mostly funny, but it too seemed underwhelming. More of stand-up comedy fodder than Weekend Update character. Half and half on this week’s Update, but I’ll give it a thumbs up just for the anchors’ material.
Armageddon: * *
Out of all the weird characters introduced last year, I really wouldn’t have guessed that we would ever see Moynihan’s man-child, cat-loving Kirby again. But he’s back! This time inserted into a scene right out of Armageddon. I love Moynihan but I’m not sure if Kirby is incredibly annoying, one-note and borderline creepy or whimsical and fun. The jury’s still out. I won’t say I didn’t laugh at his description of Fuzz Aldren’s floating kitty remains, but I won’t say I’ll be sad if we never see Kirby or his kitty-cat ever again.
Centauri Vodka: *
Pro: This sketch was thankfully short. Con: I now have the image in my head of Bruce Willis as a centaur. Pro: That image in and of itself is funny. Con: That image in and of itself is funny for all of five seconds. Pro: It’s great to see Nasim Padrad and newcomer John Milhiser be allowed some screen time. Con: They’re given nothing to do. Pro: Did I already say this skit was thankfully short? Con: Everything else.
Protective Son: ½
Remember when, a few sketches ago, I wrote that Kirby was one of the least likely SNL characters to reappear this year? Well Eddie, Taran Killam’s bully character from last year’s terrible “Glice?!?!” sketch, was truly the last character I ever wanted to come back. I know he’s supposed to be annoying and crass and un-PC, but the whole sketch was annoying and crass and un-PC in a thoroughly un-enjoyable way. I enjoyed Willis (in his best performance tonight by miles) playing a bumbling pharmacy owner with a mix of pathos and pent-up rage and boy did I take pleasure in seeing him slap Eddie at the end of the sketch. But this just went on too long with nowhere near enough payoff. I hope we are permanently chun with this character – wait, wait, I mean done. Done! *%^$#$ Now look what this sketch has made me do!
Beer Pong: * * * *
Talk about a great prerecorded skit. The set-up was simple: two frat boys (Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney) try to teach two new pledges the rules to their unique take on beer pong complete with original drawings of fantasy roller-coasters and pen-pals. Think beer pong explained by 7-year-olds. The execution and performances were great and the whole thing had a fantastic, fresh energy to it. This is what I’ve been waiting for all night.
EMeth: * * *
(Reprinted from the Tina Fey episode recap) Right on the heels of ECigarettes is EMeth, the most technologically advanced way for me to “ride the ice pony anytime I want.” The premise here is simple and sweet (and thankfully doesn’t overstay its welcome at only a minute or so long). I’d usually give this sketch a very average two-and-a-half star rating but Kate McKinnon’s manic energy pushed it up a half star rating for me. That shot of her grocery shopping alone ups it in my book. And, no surprise here, Aaron Paul comes in for one line near the end. I wonder why they didn’t integrate him more?
Sigma’s Beer Pong, by a mile.
It’s gotta be what Hulu is calling Protective Son. I pray to Lord Michaels that we’ll never see Eddie again.
Musical Guest: Katy Perry
Perry’s first song, “Roar,” looked and felt as if the Rainforest Café started doing dinner theater. Now I didn’t write “Roar” but isn’t the song about vague female empowerment and less about jungle animals? Besides, no one looks badass in a dime-store elephant costume. Second was “Walking on Air,” a very generic, superficial electro-pop number filled with white-clad dancers, a heavy-duty fan, a large white sheet, and a seizure-inducing strobe effect. This might be someone’s cup of tea, but it isn’t mine.
Bruce Willis was a middle of the road SNL episode with some great moments, some memorable moments and a lot of mediocre and annoying moments. At this point, after three weeks straight of live shows, I’m glad SNL is taking a week off to rest. From the material produced tonight, they need it.