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First off, I love Paul Rudd, so I have a good feeling about tonight. He’s a great actor, capable of over-the-top comedies (see his work in the Judd Apatow cannon) to subtle dramaties (see his work with Neil LaBute, like Shape of Things) and even has an impressive stage resume, so he’s capable of this kind of live performing. For the Lady Gaga-hosted episode, the writing was, almost, unanimously good but it fell on its face the next week when Josh Hutcherson hosted. They’ve had a few weeks off, and surely Paul will bring more to the table than the Hunger Games star, so perhaps we’ll get a return to form. What I believe we will get is a barrage of Holiday special guests, especially some of Rudd’s fellow Anchorman buddies, who are no stranger to studio 8H. Yes, I’m talking about you, Mr. Farrell.
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.
Condensed Sound of Music Broadcast: * ½
There was so much to make fun of in the recent broadcast of The Sound of Music, from Underwood’s stiff acting to the overbearing audio hiss but what did SNL take away from it? I guess nothing as they didn’t even try to mock the special, instead jumping into a recurring Kristin Wiig character Judy or Dooneese or Judice (the Internet couldn’t make up its mind on the correct name, but you know, that Lawrence Welk lady with the small hands and giant forehead). There’s no denying Wiig can be funny, but many of her characters were weird, dull and unfunny after their first outing. Although this is the first time Judy/Dooneese/Judice has been seen outside of the Welk universe, it just felt stale and unnecessary. Why not just do a solid Sound of Music spoof? And why are Wiig and Armison in starring roles so early in the show?
Opening Monologue: * * * ½
After being dwarfed by musical guests Beyoncé and Paul McCartney, Rudd says he is happy to get the spotlight all to himself. But before he can bring up Anchorman, musical guest One Direction comes onstage to steal his thunder. And then, just as you’d expect, Rudd is joined by his own “man band” consisting of Farrell, Carell and Koechner. After trading insults, they all sing “Afternoon Delight” together. This was a terribly obvious monologue and light on jokes too, but it was pretty visually funny to see the Frat Pack dueting with the hottest boy band since the ‘90s…so, I guess we have that.
Politics Nation: *
It seemed SNL got an early Christmas gift with the Obamacare website. But after milking to death in a few sketches already, they seem to be running on empty. Here’s another one where Al Sharpton talks about the site’s failure with Paul Rudd, playing an unpaid HuffPo contributor. But where was the humor? Or political insight? And what’s the point, that Al Sharpton is stupid? Thankfully, this was very short but one of the most confusing and pointless sketches of the season.
Dan Charles: One Direction’s #1 Fan: * * *
Finally, Paul Rudd gets to be funny! Here, in this prerecorded sketch, he plays One Direction’s #1 fan, a middle aged man named Dan Charles. I liked the premise, especially because there was a certain improvised feel to his interactions with the preteen 1D fans waiting for the band at the stage door. I’m not sure I’ll remember this sketch in a few days, but it had some genuinely funny moments and a slightly creepy undertone that was hard to ignore. Plus, seeing Rudd jumping up and down, singing along to “Best Song Ever” is pretty flippin’ entertaining.
Divorce Meeting: ?
Am I on drugs? Did someone slip something in my dinner? What was this sketch about? Was it funny? This may be hysterical. It may also be a lifeless piece of un-comedy. I just don't know. It’ll take me a few more viewings of it to decide how I feel about this supremely bizarre sketch. Get back to me in a few days.
Weekend Update: * * * *
The actual Update jokes were pretty tepid (I think I laughed more at the over-the-shoulder of a Mohawked Biden than at any punch line) but what made this Update sing were the guests. First was Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy. I know Jacob is a one-note character and that he’s probably been done to death, but I must admit, I love his one note (“it ain’t no Xbox 360!”). Overdone or not, he’s one of my favorite Update guests and makes me laugh during every single outing. Next was Jebediah Atkinson. I expected to see Atkinson again but boy did they bring him back quickly (“Run things into the ground much?” he says to Meyers with a winking nod to those reviewing the show). But Atkinson is an inspired character and Killam’s delivery just killed even on the more mediocre jokes. For the first three quarters of the monologue, every joke landed spectacularly. It weakened by the time he got to talking about Jesus, but hey, by that point I was just happy to be, quite literally, laughing out loud.
Michelangelo’s David: *
Earlier, I mentioned Rudd’s film Shape of Things, where he played a chubby grad student who gets caught up in a manipulative relationship. That film opens with Rudd and his future girlfriend looking at a naked male statue in a museum and commenting on the meaning behind the nudity in the work. I mention this, not really because it has anything to do with this dire sketch, but so I won’t have to write about it. Can we just forget this one existed?
White Christmas: * * *
Are you white? Have you ever wanted to enjoy a Tyler Perry-esque Christmas film aimed at black audiences? Well this is the film for you! You get all the black holiday movie staples like “women snapping peas, a gun-toting grandma and a guy wearing a necklace over a turtleneck,” but done with white people! This sketch made me slightly uncomfortable at times, it’s true, but seeing Rudd in a Madea-like costume was pretty hilarious and the reviews (“for the first time I talked to the screen and it felt great”) were inspired. Was it as good as some of the season’s earlier faux trailers/ads, absolutely not. But it was solid and solidly funny.
Santa’s Workshop: * * ½
My favorite SNL Christmas sketch is the one where Alec Baldwin does a North Pole riff on his Glenngary monologue. This sketch, although not Mamet-themed, had some similarities in that it had a somewhat dark theme played amidst a cheery, childlike ensemble. Here we have Santa, who lost 100+ pounds and is now on a diet and exercise kick, berating his elves. But why is he such a jerk? It’s never really explained as we’re treated to news of St. Nick’s exercise routine and his new girlfriend (“There’s his ho-ho-ho,” one of the elves says), a bartender at Chili’s. I like dark, weird sketches, but this one just didn’t really go anywhere with its uncomfortable premise.
Ghost of Flings Past: * * * ½
Cecily Strong is a lonely housewife who is fantasizing about all her old flings. Amidst the handsome, sophisticated men is Victor (Rudd), a dorky guy she met at an airport Papa John’s. The sketch didn’t have a ton of meat on its bones, but Rudd created a really funny character that was both somewhat grotesque but still likeable.
Bill Brasky: * * *
I guess these Bill Brasky sketches were reoccurring in the mid-to-late ‘90s. Original writers/star Will Ferrell, David Koechner and Adam McKay (the Anchorman director) are back writing and producing this so-called sequel to a sketch last seen in ’98. If you knew this set-up before tonight’s broadcast, it might be a welcome return to a classic SNL skit, but, as a newbie to the concept and characters, it fell somewhat flat. Some of the jokes were funny but I’m not sure why this sketch needed revisiting.
Best Sketch: I laughed more at both Weekend Update guests than anything else in the broadcast, so I’ll have to go with that.
Worst Sketch: My knee-jerk reaction was Michelangelo’s David, but I think the Al Sharpton sketch beat it out by an unfunny hair.
Musical Guest: One Direction
I’d heard about “Story of My Life” before the broadcast, but I’d never actually sat down to listen to it. I was surprised how far it was from the boy band-y sound of “That’s What Makes You Beautiful.” In fact, it was more Mumford and Sons Lite (well, very, very lite) than Backstreet Boys. Their second number, “Through the Dark,” was another folk/pop ditty featuring a driving acoustic guitar riff. The song was less memorable than “Story” and the vocals, when singing solo, weren’t terribly strong, but, both songs really, weren’t nearly as painful as I expected a 1D song to be.
This episode surprised me with its mediocrity. You had Paul Rudd, Will Ferrell, Kristin Wiig, David Koechner and Steve Carrell in the house. How could this not be anything less than hysterical? Those guys could make whatever-the-21st-century-equivalent-of-a-phone-book-is funny. But while this episode had some funny moments, none really stood up or lived up to the big names I just mentioned.