Halloween ‘SNL’ & Jon Hamm: Tricks, Treats and the Return of the Old Guard

Last week we hypothesized that the Halloween episode of SNL hosted by Jon Hamm would either be the best of the season or the laziest.  Hamm, making his third hosting appearance, has already proven to be a go-to, top-notch host, one that brings out the best in the cast and crew.  But, on the other hand, what often happens when the show is blessed with a skilled host is that they relax, relying too much on the host’s charm and natural comedic talents (see: Galifiankis, Zach).  However, what we were treated to this week was something in between, and something, in hindsight, typical of a third hosting go ’round.  During a debut performance the material can often be safe, figuring out if the host has what it takes, a bit of a feeling out process.   If that host succeeds, then when he or she comes back for a second stint the crew is energized, knowing that they have someone who will deliver.  You could see that confidence, motivation and excitement in Hamm’s second hosting job last winter.  But when a host comes back for the three-peat, the crew is now so comfortable and at ease that they’re willing to taking more chances, throwing more caution to the wind.  So what you receive is not mainstream yuks and recurring sketches, or weary, unmotivated punchlines and recurring sketches, but a sense of adventure laced with apathy for the viewer.  This is what happens when you have a host who no longer needs to prove himself, who has tenure, which is why so many of Alec Baldwin’s shows are peppered with offbeat sketches, some that delight (like last season’s bizarre “Timecrowave“) and some that crash and burn (like “Arizona Evenings” from the same episode).  Judging from this past weekend’s show, it seems that Hamm is now in that class.

You can see that freewheeling, consequence-free spirit throughout the show, in most cases to mixed results.  “I Didn’t Ask for This,” a talk show about people who are the subjects of embarrassing YouTube videos, felt simultaneously relevant and behind the curve.  “Audition,” with Kristen Wiig outlining what she will and not do on stage, offered  a stray funny line, but it was mostly a strange, head scratching entry so early in the show.    Perhaps the most sketch that most typified the we can get weird because we got Hamm spirit was “Highway Cops,” ostensibly a throwback to an NBC action-drama, but really just an excuse for Hamm and Jason Sudeikis to share a motorcycle (and, eventually, a kiss), interspersed with Kenan Thompson as a widowed black police chief.  It seemed to have the attitude of “let’s just try this and see what happens”  (something from the Will Forte school of comedy), and while it felt made up on the spot, we have a soft spot for any sketch featuring Jason Sudeikis in a mustache.

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What was most perhaps most telling about this sketch, although likely purely incidental, is that while Hamm and Sudeikis are off picking apples and investigating old mills (and smooching), the two younger cops, played by SNL rookies Taran Killam and Paul Brittain, are foiling the bank robbery  That same sentiment can be applied to the show itself.  Last week the show was temporarily handed over to the new class, letting them play around with their peer Emma Stone, and the new kids proved up the task.  But this week, with old friend Hamm back in town, the veterans took back the stage.  And much like “Highway Cops,” it felt like the senior members of the cast were not taking their jobs entirely seriously, not phoning it in, but also not afraid to get sidetracked by the fall foliage.  Meanwhile, the JV team continues to work hard, waiting for their moment.

Interesting to note as well is that the one recurring sketch was another Vincent Price Halloween special.  Like most of the sketches of the night, it featured the older members of the cast, but the fact that it was the only true recurring piece perhaps demonstrates that with Hamm they feel confident taking more chances with original sketches, instead of plugging the host into reliable, if less ambitious, familiar sketches.

It’s also worth remarking that they went to the digital short, Shy Ronnie as Rhianna as “Ronnie and Clyde,” immediately after the monologue (we’re not considering this a true recurring sketch, since they changed the scenario so much).  Perhaps they felt they needed to start strong, and knew this short would be a hit, with a built-in audience.  But, similarly, perhaps they knew that much of the show was going to be original, off-kilter material, so they had to start with something familiar, like a snuggie (also, can they just rename this segment “An SNL Music Video?”).

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What Sketch Did SNL Rip-off this week:

Well, actually, this week they sort of ripped themselves off.  “Back to the Future auditions,” in honor of the 25th Anniversary DVD, are basically the sequel to the Star Wars 20th Anniversary Home Video screen tests from Kevin Spacey’s early 1997 episode.  However, it’s been nearly 14 years, and this new entry, with Bobby Moynihan as Sam Kinison (as Marty McFly) and Hamm doing a particularly terrific Robin Williams (as Doc Brown), was our favorite part of the night, so we won’t complain.

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Part 2

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And Part 2

Sketch That Should be Retired Before Ever Recurring:

“Darlique and Barney,” an entry into the well-worn mixed gender lounge singers genre.  It had some fun moments, especially a real go for broke performance by Hamm (as Charles Nelson Reilly, apparently), but it’s never going to approach the success of Bobbi and Marty Culp, or the real McCoy Marty and Elayne.

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Bill Hader.  In addition to his reliably exasperated Vincent Price, Hader stole the show with his uncanny Alan Alda auditioning for the role of Biff.  Also, his James Carville, while always excellent, was extra winning this time, replete with a sparkle of mischief and a hint of insanity.

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The show is dark this weekend but then returns with back to back starlets Scarlett Johansson and Anne Hathaway.  Johansson will be hosting for her third time, so let’s see if they operate with the same devil-may-care attitude they did with Hamm.  Then again, with a couple more young female hosts on the way, maybe they’ll  let the kids out to play.  At the very least, a variation on Marble Columns is pretty much assured.

You’re doing a great job, Scott!

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Filed under Analysis, Lady Holiday, Makes You Think, Mancrush, Saturday Night Live

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