It Certainly Does Zuck: Jesse Eisenberg Meets His Maker On ‘SNL’

This past weekend’s SNL could have been the funniest of the season and it probably wouldn’t have mattered.  That it wasn’t the funniest of the season also will not matter years from now.  No, what this episode is being talked about for, the reason that it will ultimately be remembered, is that it featured the first public meeting between Jesse Eisenberg and the social network magnate he portrayed to the tune of a Best Oscar nomination.  It was a worlds colliding, fabric of the universe fraying, I’m seeing double (four Zuckerbergs!), moment (although Andy Samberg’s presence as a tertiary Zuckerberg carried much less weight and meta-significance).  It was awkward, sure, but that was by design, as the two ‘bergs, Eisen and Zucker, seemed rather comfortable with each other, indeed, giving the sense that they may, in fact, be bros.  The tone was less confrontational and more self-congratulatory, as if Eisenberg and Zuckerberg had successfully pulled the wool over our eyes, that the real Zuckerberg is not an unnaturally focused, perennially scowling, monotone misanthrope, but a laid back, dorky, goofball visionary, and that perhaps Zuckerberg was in the on the joke the whole time.  Now, that’s not the case, but if there’s any sense of animosity between the two ‘bergs, then Zuckerberg is a far greater actor than anyone is giving him credit for (and by all accounts he’s a terrible, terrible actor).

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But what interests us is less the significance of this meeting (albeit, it was kind of cool), but what it demonstrates about SNL.  Which is its considerable cultural relevance.  Perhaps even more than the occasional appearance by presidential candidates and lame duck governors, Zuckerberg’s cameo proves that, no matter how hackneyed and lethargic the sketches are, SNL is still an important destination, and making it onto the show is something of an apex.  Now, appearing on SNL doesn’t guarantee any kind of longevity, there have been plenty of flashes in the pan who had a cup of coffee on the show in the midst or towards the end of their fifteen minutes of fame, but for everyone one of those blips you have two more Barbara Streisands or Paul McCartneys or Rudy Gulianis or Mark Wahlbergs or Cookie Monsters (okay, we’re obviously a little biased with that last one).  And at the moment, there might be no one bigger, at least more elusive than Mark Zuckerberg, who has mostly sat in his silicon [valley] tower, content to remain above the fray, only briefly commenting on The Social Network, and avoiding invective when doing so.  But what he has done here is something of a magnificent coup, using the very movie that tarnished his image to recuperate it; by distancing himself from the film and now playfully acknowledging it, palling around with his evil cinematic alter ego and displaying no hard feelings, Zuck doesn’t seem like such a bad dude after all.  And it’s critical that he used SNL as the platform to do this, choosing an institution that still has some kind of “street cred,” garnering the good vibes that you don’t get for sitting down with Oprah.  And for SNL it’s a massive boon, luring someone who at times has seemed more reclusive, at least more recalcitrant, than many of the celebrities and politicians who have famously stopped by Studio 8H unannounced.  It goes to show that, despite a shaky season comedy-wise, the zeitgeist still resides at 30 Rock, Saturday nights at 11:30pm.

And what about that comedy?  Well, who really cares right?  Well, we do.  And what we found was that the show indeed reached its pinnacle with that historical meeting of the ‘bergs.  What frustrated us most with this episode was that they twice chose an object for parody that we were jazzed about, two things we felt were ripe for the sketch treatment and were especially relevant to us, and both times it seemed like they went for the easiest joke.  Which doesn’t mean they weren’t funny, but it’s a risk-reward scenario.  They went with the low-level of difficultly, and while they were somewhat successful, the payoff wasn’t as great as it could have been.  We’re talking about, first, this Mr. Wizard sketch that shows Eisenberg and Nasim Pedrad, as two of Mr. Wizard’s “students,” using a lesson on static electricity as a means to grope and fondle each other, learning about sexual arousal instead.  We credit Eisenberg and Pedrad for not holding back with the heavy petting, but we felt it was, not surprisingly, a bit too broad.  It’s not that we have a problem with raunchy humor, it just needs to be earned.  And there might have been greater joys to be found in playing off the specifics of the Mr. Wizard character, especially when you have such a skilled comedian like Bill Hader in the title role.

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The second sketch that proved to be a disappointment was their parody of VH1’s Don’t Forget the Lyrics.  Full disclosure, I was somewhat opposed to this sketch from the outset because I’ve been working an idea for a Don’t Forget the Lyrics sketch for a few weeks now, and was supremely bummed out that they got to it first (although, it’s good to know that my fears that the VH1 show is too dated or obscure were unfounded).  But even Jason Sudeikis as Mark McGrath was a bit of a let down, as his interpretation of Mr. Sugar Ray failed to lift the sketch beyond its “the contestant completes the lyrics with increasingly personal and thus hilarious details” premise.  It was funny, but it somehow missed the nuance of making fun of that show.

The funniest moments of the episode came from “Weekend Update,” with Fred Armisen portraying beleaguered Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, adding to another political leader to an impressive repertoire that already includes Barack Obama, Michael Bloomberg, David Paterson and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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Not quite as good (but, as you know, we’re extremely impartial when it comes to Fred Armisen on “Weekend Update”), but still a standout was Kenan Thompson as poor, Oscar-less, filthy rich Tyler Perry later in the segment:

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The rest:

– At this point do we need to talk about the Digital Short when it’s just a Lonely Island music video?

– We were somewhat surprised, somewhat pleased, to see a new version of TCM’s The Essentials (which previously revealed to us the lost Wizard of Oz character, in one of our favorite sketches of the season).  But the “Bride of Blackenstein” was a little one-note for us, although it sounded like the studio audience was going wild for it.

– We also didn’t really go in for this Skins product placement sketch, but that’s mostly because a) we’re fans of the original BBC series, and b) we think the uproar over the MTV version somewhat misses the point (but that’s probably a post for another day).

– Didn’t get this.

– Another Herb Welch.  Fine, amusing, but completely safe.

But during the whole show, you were wondering to yourself “Will we see Zuckerberg again?”  So here you go, what you were all waiting for, the goodnight!

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(Hulu doesn’t normally feature the closing credits, so obviously they understood (and then somewhat amplified) the magnitude of Zuckerberg’s presence).

And next weekend Dana Carvey returns!  However, the circumstances are a lot different now than they were when Carvey came back to host in 1996 and 2000.  A) It’s not an election year, and B) Carvey’s brand of humor, the canny impressions mixed with catchphrase laden caricatures, has somewhat fallen out of favor, at least to us.  We still stand by our assertion that Carvey is one of the all-time great, most versatile cast members, but,  after disappearing from the public eye for a long time, his more recent appearances have forced us to reconsider our feelings towards him.  Nevertheless, at the very least we know we’re going to get a host who can do the job, and if he doesn’t have anything to promote than perhaps he has something to prove.

And, well, this one is always good:

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Filed under Analysis, Interweb, Saturday Night Live, TV Killed the Music Video Star

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