‘SNL’ & JGL: Full of Sound and Fury Signifying…What, Exactly?

Well, there was no denying that the energy level was turned up to 11 on this weekend’s Saturday Night Live, with a burst of adrenaline that was no doubt due in great part to Joseph Gordon Levitt’s raucous enthusiasm, and, perhaps, with the scathing reviews after last weekend’s January Jones episode, the cast and crew felt they had something to prove.  And they came out and put on an entertaining, upbeat, cue card independent show.  But was it actually any funnier?

Well, yes, it was.  But was it the “best episode of the season,” the superlative that many blogs have given it, so soon after they did the same for the Taylor Swift outing?  That assertion, like the Taylor Swift platitudes, is debatable.  Certainly though, there was no arguing it was better, and, at the very least, not nearly as lazy.  But in this case, let’s not confuse enthusiasm for a good sense of humor, or entertainment for comedy.  They’re definitely related, but one does not necessarily equal the other.

Over on his EW blog Ken Tucker provided an excellent commentary that’s quite similar to my own take (so if you’re in a rush and can only read his review or ours, read his), noting that while Levitt’s frenetic monologue performance of “Make ‘Em Laugh” from Singing in the Rain was impressive (especially his two off-the wall backflips followed by a well-executed pratfall) and a crowd pleaser, it didn’t exactly make you laugh.  It was almost more like a successful awards show opening number than a sharp, funny SNL monologue.  That being said we’ll be lucky if all future hosts can provide as much talent and effort as “regular Joe”  (However, with that kind of energy, one has to wonder if JGL was on more than just regular joe).

With two great performances in the show it seems that overnight Kenan Thompson has turned into something of a fan favorite, with Vulture going as far calling him this season’s MVP.  The first performance in question is the return of Thompson as the James Brown-esque Diondre Cole in “What Up With That?” the BET talk-show spoof we saw earlier this season.  Videogum called it a “triumphant return,” but both Tucker and Jumped the Snark agree that while it’s a fun, catchy, eager sketch and that Thompson does yeoman’s work, it doesn’t quite add up, with Tucker remarking “Thompson sang and danced up a storm, to much boisterousness and little effect.”  Even more than the first “What Up With That?” Thompson worked himself up into a frenzy, hardly sitting for the whole six minutes and a half minutes (yes, six and a half minutes); it was an admirable, effective and, yes, impressive performance, one I wasn’t sure Thompson was capable of.  If the point of this sketch was to encourage applause than it succeeded marvelously.  However, if the point was to elicit laughs, then I’m not quite sure it hits the mark.

Another strike against “What Up With That” is that the best aspect of the bit is clearly Jason’s Sudeikis’ turn as a red track-suit clad, brillo headed, neck chain wearing, popping and locking back-up dancer.  And finally, the lovely Mindy Kaling, in NYC for a few days (yes, we follow her on Twitter), was gracious enough to pop up as one of the celebrities who are ignored by Cole.  Except, as Kaling fans, we would have preferred to hear her speak, as we know we can rely on her for a few good laughs.  It was one thing to feature a silenced James Franco the first time around, as he lives in New York and not letting him speak seemed to be a joke about his good looks, but don’t tease us with Kaling.

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The second Kenan Thompson “hit” of the night was in the Digital Short in which he played “Reba McEntire” aka a black guy who found a red wig in a dumpster and then embarks on a sexual and musical partnership with Andy Samberg, who believes Thompson to be the real McEntire (not sure if Samberg is supposed to be playing himself or a hip-hop star version of himself).  It was about as slick and well-produced as anything that SNL has ever done, and, again, featured top-notch performances.  But the end result was underwhelming, much more successful as a music video than a comedy sketch.  Once again, Tucker agrees,” If only this convoluted notion had resulted in some sort of funniness about hip-hop or country music or something. It was well-shot and choreographed, but again: lots of effort, few moments of mirth.”  Sometimes I wonder if Andy Samberg and the Lonely Island creative team wouldn’t be better off-putting their efforts into creating music videos in earnest.  The production values are always impeccable, and the music more than passable; but often it’s the comedy aspect that falls short.

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So to hear Kenan being talked about as the season MVP, especially based on these sketches, is a little surprising.  He has had great moments, like as prison inmate Lorenzo McIntosh, of the Scared Straight program, and his Charles Barkley is quite reliable, but it’s hard to see him breaking out and managing to be a workhorse and consistently funny like Sudeikis and Kristen Wiig (for all the hassle we give Wiig, we never doubt her talent).  Also, it’s still hard to divorce Thompson from his work on the Nickelodeon tween sketch comedy show All That, especially when he does he a character like Jean K. Jean and it just seems like he’s channeling a latter-day version of Pierre Escargot.

In non-Kenan sketch news, the show continued to rip-off the classic Will Ferrell/Ana Gasteyer “Family Dinner” sketch, as they did last year in the Hugh Laurie hosted episode.  This time they swapped Thanksgiving for Christmas, and Abby Elliott for Casey Wilson, but the results were the same, a lot of noise with not much to show for it.  The Ferrell sketches seemed to have a point or a perspective, but these just seem like an excuse to yell. “Thanksgiving Dinner” is not available online, but I was going to embed this one anyway:

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Nothing especially hilarious from most of the rest: a typical classic game show spoof, a new episode of “The Mellow Show” with Jack Johnson highlighted by a cameo from musical guest Dave Matthews as the Prince of Darkness Ozzy Osborne, and a women’s talk show in which an insensitive, unqualified and evidently hearing impaired male producer (Fred Armisen) substitutes for the usual female host.  Oh, and a visit from NBC environmentalist in residence Al Gore on “Weekend Update (because, in case you didn’t get it yet, it was Green Week on NBC).

Speaking of Dave Matthews, is that Ruben Studdard in the DM Band?  Tough times for the Velvet Teddy Bear.

And finally, we saved the best for last, because SNL did.  Once again, and Tucker agrees with this too, Jason Sudeikis was able to take a mediocre premise and the left for dead 12:50am time slot and make it work, just like he did last weekend with “Cloud Gazing,” Like with that other last sketch of the night he was tasked with doing all the work, except this time the host was supposed to be emotionless, as Levitt channeled in his Lloyd Dobler in a parody of the iconic Say Anything-“In Your Eyes”-boom box over the head-love will conquer all climax (as opposed to the unintentionally cardboard performance by Jones last week).  Sudeikis, as a neighbor of Diane Court who takes a curious interest in Dobler’s/Levitt’s expression of true love, takes the simplest sentence, phrase, word, shrug, look, and makes it worth rewatching.  Forget about the Digital Short, they should just start putting a slate before the last act of the night, “The Jason Sudeikis Sketch.”  The piece is not on Hulu because they used the Peter Gabriel tune, so here’s a version from YouTube with the warning that it will no doubt be removed sometime in the near future.

Perhaps because the monologue and the Say Anything sketch were unable to be posted online, they instead added a sketch from the dress rehearsal that was cut before showtime.  It’s a reprise of the commercial featuring Will Forte and Kristen Wiig as country singers Clancy T. Bachleratt and Jackie Snad, hillbilly crooners who only sing about Model T cars, toddlers, jars of beer and spaceships.  It’s the kind of polarizing absurdist Forte humor that we kind of despise.  Either you love it or you hate it, and we hate it, but we’ll let you decide for yourself.  And since the Say Anything sketch is probably gone by now, and somehow you’ve read this far, you deserve a little something extra.

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Final finally, as I’ve been plugging Ken Tucker throughout this whole post, he wrote a pretty spot-on review of the show in last week’s EW.  Not sure I agree with the grade (B-, I think I would have opted for a hard C), but I do concur with the sentiments.

Next week: Blake Lively.  After Regular Joe, we’re no doubt heading for a letdown, at least in regards to endorphins.  However, if Lively is as excited about SNL as she is about Gossip Girl, then maybe she’ll surprise us.

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3 Comments

Filed under Analysis, Good Humor, Other people's stuff, Saturday Night Live

3 responses to “‘SNL’ & JGL: Full of Sound and Fury Signifying…What, Exactly?

  1. Pingback: SNL: Blake is Lively, Astronaut ‘Tater Chips, and the Muppets are Just Killing it Lately! « Jumped The Snark

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  3. Pingback: Jude Law is One of Our Finest Actors, and a Look Back on the Last Three Weeks in ‘SNL’ « Jumped The Snark

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