In yesterday’s SNL appetizer post I surmised that last night’s show had a 50% chance of being funny. However, immediately after making this less than bold proclamation I realized that I should have at least given the odds at 51%, and more accurately probably around 75%. With SNL returning after a week off, having proven they perform best with a little rest, and under the capable reigns of Jon Hamm, the odds were certainly in their favor.
And had I thought it through yesterday and gone with the 75% estimation I would have been right, as about 3/4 of the show was (surprisingly or unsurprisingly, I’ll let you decide) solid. From the moment Hamm stepped out onto the stage for his monologue you knew you were in good hands (sorta like the way I feel during the opening credits of any Quentin Tarantino movie). Obviously the easy thing to do here would be to compare Hamm’s hosting performance to that of his Mad Men co-star, Ms. January Jones. Of course, that’s entirely unfair, because Jones was clearly over-matched and out of her element, and Hamm has already demonstrated his hosting prowess. There’s really no reason to compare a Picasso to a Bazooka Joe comic. We already know which is going to come out on top (well, I guess in that scenario it depends on the criterion, if we’re talking about which is the superior work of art or which serves as a better gum wrapper. But I digress). However, we’ll indulge that comparison briefly, because, like Jones’, Hamm’s monologue employed some Mad Men parody, and to far better results than the “Mad Mennies” bit in Jones’ monologue. As Hamm’s big break has been his role as the mysterious, stoic Don Draper, he showed some clips from his earlier “roles,” but in each of these Hamm maintains the personality of the debonair Draper. The first clip, a Saved by the Bell parody titled “Late for Class,” was the best (if only for the spot-on opening credits. Oh, the early 90s!), but the second, Hamm on QVC giving Kristen Wiig the same tough love treatment that Don gives Betty Draper, and the last, Hamm as Draper doing Def Comedy Jam, were nearly as good. By the time Hamm said “stick around, we’ll be right back,” he didn’t need to. We were sold.
But hold on, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Before we delve into the post-monologue sketches we must acknowledge the cold open, which, as anticipated, was a take on President Obama’s State of the Union address, but, unanticipated, was actually funny. They didn’t focus on the applause assault from Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi as I had imagined, but instead deftly mixed in real footage of congressmen with a clever and trenchant address from Fred Armisen’s Obama. I think that Armisen’s Obama is better than he gets credit for, both in the accuracy of the physical appearance and vocal inflections, as well as the actual content of that delivery. However, SNL has been relatively kind to Obama in terms of highlighting the shortcomings of his first year as president, but with this cold open it seemed that they had sharpened their blades, as this Obama brazenly confronts the democrats failure in securing Ted Kennedy’s vacant Senate seat (pandering to the House by admitting that Dem candidate Martha Coakley “deserved to lose” and “stunk up the joint”). They also well characterized Obama’s no doubt beleaguered stance on the Health Care bill, as he remarks,”If you want it, pass it, I’ll sign. It’s your call. I really don’t care anymore.” So yeah, it was good; relevant, yes, but more importantly, bitingly funny. However, the now critical flaw with the political cold opens still holds true: in this age of The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and The Soup, not to mention the Internet, political humor on SNL now always seems a little behind the pace, a day or two too late. There wasn’t too much time between the State of the Union and last night’s show, but the inclusion of Brendan Fraser hysterically clapping at the Golden Globes, while somewhat inspired, comes on the heels of countless other Fraser jokes, remixes and mash-ups. If the cold open is to be as relevant and powerful as it once was, it needs to find a way to be more immediate.Vodpod videos no longer available.
But the best sketch of the night came later, after “Weekend Update.” In a quasi-call back to last season’s “Jon Hamm’s John Ham,” Hamm affixes his name to another ham-related product, this time a high-class pork and champagne restaurant. And, of course, to fulfill the necessary champagne pun, Hamm abducts musical guest Michael Bublé, creating the moniker Hamm and Bublé. This sketch allowed Hamm to play another version of “Jon Hamm,” and showed that Bublé has some comedy chops as well (which isn’t news to anyone who has seen him guest host Live! with Regis and Kelly. Am I right???). It was enjoyable to see Hamm in this slightly psychotic, ham-loving and success-obsessed persona. Like Don Draper, but with more reckless aggression and a less cool. As Hamm demonstrated in his last hosting turn and throughout this episode, he’s up for anything, and more than willing to play with his image.Vodpod videos no longer available.
Immediately after “Hamm & Bublé” there was a closet organizer commercial, which would have seemed rather standard if it was for Huggable Hangers, but instead the organizer was Will Forte in a spandex suit, looking like a blue Green Man. Getting doused with water, dirt, peanut butter and cheese, with a non sequitur testimonial from a creepy goatee’d Jon Hamm in the middle, this seemed like the absurdity that would normally be found towards the end of the show. Which then made sense later in the show when they referred back to this sketch, with the closet organizer actor being recognized at a bar by another Hamm persona. I’m not sure how this was originally planned, but by bringing back the man behind the human closet organizer they retroactively improved the original commercial and created a smart two-man sketch for a sequel. These continuing threads are things that SNL doesn’t often do, but devices that other sketch shows like The State, Kids in the Hall and, most notably, Mr. Show often utilized, and it would be nice if they tried more of this. It just serves to deepen the importance of some sketches, instead of just a random series of jokes and gags and characters. I distinctly remember the sketch when Eddie Murhpy’s Buckwheat is ostensibly murdered, then later “Weekend Update” reports the story, and the narrative continues further in a scene with Buckwheat and Alfalfa. Because it wasn’t just a one-off, but a semi-storyline, those sketches have stuck with me all these years.Vodpod videos no longer available. Vodpod videos no longer available.
The other stand-out was, not unexpectedly, the Digital Short, featuring Hamm as a greased up, long-haired mythical sax player named Sergio. It was a good mix of weird and funny, and while it was one of the highlights, there’s something about the Digital Shorts that often miss the mark, and this one fits into that trend. I’m not quite sure what it is, but it might be that they’re frequently too high concept, too left-field for their own good. Where they have two or three comic twists, maybe only one would do just fine. We’ll think more on this. Either way, enjoy the wonder that is Sergio:Vodpod videos no longer available.
Now I said about 3/4 of the show was high quality, which means that roughly 1/4 left something to be desired. In that shameful quarter is another “Sports Show.” Hamm does a good job mimicking Bill Hader’s alien, but this sketch probably shouldn’t have been brought back a second time, let alone a third. And rounding out the bottom 25% is “1920s Party” which was basically a sorry excuse for another Kristen Wiig eccentric, stylized, schizo character. Unfortunately, instead of these characters coming off as funny, or even just interesting or appealing, they’re pretty much just annoying at this point. Which is a real shame because a) Wiig is a real talent and b) this sketch seemed to have promise until it was derailed by the Wiig kooky character train, trying to force feed us a new catchphrase, “don’t make me sing.” I think I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: the sooner Wiig leaves SNL the better. You can already feel the crowd turning against her, and for someone who rose up so fast, and deservedly so, I’m hoping the show doesn’t drag her back down (ironically, by requesting she perform the same kinds of characters that help her ascend so quickly in the first place).Vodpod videos no longer available.
Oh, and “Court Stenographer” wasn’t so bad. Seeing Armisen all dolled up similar to his Penny Marshall look, jackhammering the typewriter keys, I feared this was going to go the way of “Riley.” But it mostly worked, even if the air was pretty much sucked out by the end and you could feel the silence in the studio.
If I had one complaint it would be that this felt a little Jason Sudeikis light; but perhaps that was because Hamm was the real star, and didn’t need the cast to carry him, leaving little room for another alpha male (or perhaps Sudeikis was too busy prepping his Pete Twinkle). You can probably go ahead and pencil in Hamm for a return engagement next season.
And also, where has Bobby Moynihan been? Seems that Moynihan moments have been few and far between lately.
SNL is new again next week with Ashton Kutcher, back hosting for the fourth time (Really, the fourth time? Why is it that I can’t remember even one sketch he’s been in?), I guess to promote Valentine’s Day (the movie has literally 34 stars, they couldn’t get anyone else? Why not Kutcher’s That 70s Show castmate Topher Grace? What’s up with him?). So, considering that the writers won’t have another break after exerting themselves this past week, and factoring in the loss of Hamm’s charisma and talent, I’m putting the odds of a funny show at 40%. Of course, I reserve the right to amend that prediction up until the cold opening bell.
Now who feels like a Bubbly Ham? Or how about a Ham Bubbly?