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This just might be a good one, folks. While most people know Edward Norton from serious, intense dramas, he’s flexed his comedic muscles starring in comedies like Keeping The Faith (which he also directed) and Moonrise Kingdom. Or how about his killer Modern Family cameo a few seasons ago? He has skills and nothing to promote, which are all good signs in my book. But, in a way, he’s playing with a stacked deck. There’s an overly large cast that hasn’t quite gelled enough to produce a cohesive show. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Like always, 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.
Cold Open: * * *
As political satire, this sketch, revolving around Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius (Kate McKinnon) explaining the pitfalls of the Affordable Health Care website, was unsurprisingly toothless and benign. But, that’s not a shocker given SNL’s recent track record. Their last cold open spoofed Gravity more than it did an entire governmental shutdown! But as a sketch about poor website capabilities, the cold open was surprisingly funny. Perhaps it was McKinnon’s reliably high energy, but I couldn’t help laughing at the site’s helpful links to Kayak.com where “you can purchase an airline ticket to Canada to get cheaper drugs,” or the doctor-themed porn sites like “WebM DDs.” Great? Maybe not, but it was the funniest cold open of the year so far.
Monologue: * * ½
Let’s try something different. I’m just going to walk you through my stream of consciousness while viewing Edward’s monologue: it’s amazing Edward hasn’t hosted before, between making cameos in multiple episodes over the years (Selma Hayak’s monologue comes to mind) and doing really well in diverse roles from comedies to dramas. Well, that’s because he’s been doing method-acting research for 13 years! Oh, a Chris Kattan reference. Maybe it’s just the sheen of nostalgia, but I sure miss Mango. And here’s Alec Baldwin. This may be a baaaaad sign. Bringing beloved hosts back as cameos is often the sign of a sinking ship. But, who doesn’t love Alec on SNL? Answer: Nobody. And who doesn’t love a Neil LaBute joke? Answer: Only me and a handful of drama nerds. Norton’s Woody Allen impression is killer, the rest just sound like Edward Norton. Alec Baldwin reenacts the stoned Capt. Picard double take viral video. And, oh, what fresh hell is this? Miley is back? She’s back?!? Is this déjà vu? Why, God of SNL, why do we need more Miley and more wagging tongue jokes?
Autumn’s Eve Feminine Products: * * * * ½
There’s a joke that went around my Twitter feed like wildfire a couple weeks ago that goes, “If you say ‘Pumpkin Spice Latte’ three times in front of a mirror, a white girl in yoga pants and Uggs will appear and tell you her favorite things about fall.” I’m from New England and know very well the Pumpkin-spiced fever that infects a certain type of girl every fall. The Autumn’s Eve commercial parody took that premise, gave it a great spin and didn’t overstay it’s welcome, which is about all you can ask of an SNL commercial. It didn’t reinvent the wheel, and perhaps relied just too much on the Tina Fey produced commercials back in her tenure, but the writing and execution were spot on and hilarious.
School Visit: * * ½
I like seeing Edward Norton play the straight man in the form of a cop named Officer Rosen (yet no joke about a Jewish policeman?) and it’s great to see Nasim Pedrad get the lead in a sketch. But, unfortunately her character is a bit too annoying and one note. Here, Officer Rosen is trying to teach a group of school kids not to accept candy from strangers, but the kids have trouble grasping the concept. The idea is funny and it built nicely with help from a great supporting cast (Kenan Thompson and a new cast member I couldn’t quickly identify made me laugh the hardest) but something about School Visit never quite worked for me.
Halloween on ‘The Steve Harvey Show’: * * ½
I generally dislike the Steve Harvey Show sketches because A) I don’t watch Steve Harvey or know if Thompson’s take on him is even trying to be accurate in the slightest and B) I usually hate one-joke sketches like this, especially ones where the joke is so old fashioned and corny. On today’s show, Steve has a costume shop owner who’s a big fan of “punny” costumes like two eggs with horns and pitchforks (Deviled Eggs!) and a box of cereal with a bloody knife (Serial Killer!). Think rejected jokes from the Carrot Top Halloween Special. But what sells this sketch is Harvey’s inability to grasp the meaning or joke behind these lame costumes. It ran a bit too long, but I can’t say I didn’t laugh at Harvey’s increasingly outlandish guesses (“Murder box?” “Jeffrey Dahmer Toast Crunch?”).
Wes Anderson Horror Movie: * * * * ½
I don’t want to say too much about this fake-trailer for a new Wes Anderson-directed horror flick because it really should be seen rather than read about. Everything in this parody works from the pitch-perfect production design to the casting (Edward as Owen Wilson and Noel Wells as Gwyneth Paltrow is inspired) and even down to the music choice, credits and Alec Baldwin’s narration. With this and the Girls trailer on the first episode, this new batch of cast members is proving very adept, maybe even better, at this kind of reproduced content.
Critter Control: * ½
Brooks Wheelen gets a starring role as a pest management man sent to help an office with their possum problem. The audience seemed to enjoy this one but it kept me scratching my head. Where, exactly, were the jokes? Sure, the Critter Control man had some outlandish dialogue vaguely reminiscent of a southern-soaked version of last week’s Kirby. But I didn’t get the point of the whole thing and didn’t get how the SNL production staff couldn’t come up with a better mullet wig for Mr. Norton.
Drug Deal: * ½
And I thought Critter Control was one-note and too long! I get it, Edward Norton can do a Rain Man impression…except that his Rain Man is unable to do anything else but simple math. Other than that concept, the sketch offered little more than a joke that felt 20 years too late.
Weekend Update: * * ½
There’s not much to say about this week’s update. The jokes were only so-so and the only guest was Anthony Crispino, a hit-or-miss character that, to me, is usually a miss. Last week’s update was great. This week’s…not so much.
12 Days Not A Slave: * * *
Less of a parody of the new film 12 Years A Slave and more of a general jab at race relationships, the 12 Days Not A Slave sketch features Jay Pharaoh as an ex-slave who doesn’t quite understand the racial climate of the post-Civil War South. There were many things that didn’t quite work here, from Norton’s rushed and awkward delivery to a few tired jokes, but something about this sketch worked for me. I think it was a combination of Pharaoh’s great comic energy, finally freed of impressions, and a concept that was, while far from boundary pushing, at least slightly edgy for SNL standards. Hell, even ANOTHER Miley twerking joke didn’t bother me here. In fact, dare I say it, it actually worked! I have a feeling I’m going to be an outlier here, but I’ll stick by 12 Days Not A Slave, not because it was an outstanding sketch or that it totally worked, but because it had a funny idea and actually tried hard to make it work.
Ruth’s Chris: *
I’m sure around three in the morning Norton, Pedrad, Strong and O’Brian laughed themselves sick coming up with ideas for how a strange bunch of virgin waiters would talk about sex. But, live on stage its feel flatter than week old soda. Strong showed the most promise here, but that’s fishing for a compliment.
Halloween Candy: * * * * ½
Now wasn’t this a weird, wacky and absolutely wonderful sketch! The epitome of the often-absurdist 12:55 skit, the Halloween Candy bit was very simple and very, very strange. But, between the non-sequiturs and occasional bursts of extremely dark undertones, I couldn’t help but laugh at every ridiculous detail that somehow felt strangely grounded.
Best Sketch: I loved Halloween Candy, but I think I’ll give the upper hand to The Midnight Coterie Of Sinister Intruders or Wes Anderson Horror Movie (as Hulu as dubbed it) for the divine concept and even better execution.
Worst Sketch: Ruth’s Chris. I have a feeling this might be the first entry in my next Worst Of list.
Musical Guest: Janelle Monáe
From a purely musical perspective, I’m not Janelle’s biggest fan, but hot damn, she’s a firecracker performer. Her first song “Dance Apocalyptic” featured an updated Motown beat, some James Brown-inspired moves and a retro-tastic production. The second, “Electric Lady,” was a bit more laid back and memorable. I tell you what, after two songs, she’s growing on me by leaps and bounds.
I give Edward Norton props. He was game to play all sorts of characters and, on a whole, stood up to the task of SNL host quite well. When the show was good, it was really, really good. So good, in fact, I’m willing to forgive a few stinkers. It’s not saying much perhaps, but this was the best show of the season so far with three sketches that will surely still stand up by the end of the season.
Image Courtesy of NBC Universal