It’s getting harder and harder to write these SNL commentaries; not because I don’t have anything to say, but because I’m afraid that I’m going to sound redundant, as it seems that I have the same reaction almost every week. Occasionally there’s a funny, or at least a buzzworthy, sketch, or a Digital Short that goes viral, or a host that either succeeds beyond expectations or crashes spectacularly, but for the most part, week in and week out it’s becoming the same show. Starting to feel like a broken record.
James Franco had a fairly successful debut as host last season (although I can only seem to remember the glossy Gossip Girl send-up “Murray Hill“), but in the period leading up to this weekend’s show (indeed since Franco was announced as the anchor in the Blake Lively-Taylor Lautner-James Franco hosting triumvirate) it seemed there was a feeling that Franco was going to be some sort of SNL savior, that he’s developed into a comedy wunderkind. Now, his turn on General Hospital may be generating laughs, but it’s not necessarily comedy (in fact, if you listen to Franco, it’s “performance art“). And the very reason he was hailed for his comedic performance in last year’s Pineapple Express and his subsequent SNL hosting gig was precisely because he was playing against type. Before that time he was identified more with his previous characters: the quiet cool of James Dean, Freaks & Geeks sensitive bad boy Daniel Desario, and petulant, moody Spider-man friend turned enemy turn friend Harry Osborne. Franco was so successful in Pineapple Express because it was somewhat unexpected. However, now it seems that he’s planted himself in the comedy camp, or at least as some sort of genre chameleon or Renaissance Man, moving between comedy, serious drama (Milk), daytime soap operas and Columbia University. And with this shift, we’re now less surprised with Franco’s comedy aptitude, and then perhaps set the bar a little too high for his second SNL go-around.
Which is not to say he was anywhere near January Jones territory, not even in the same stratosphere. He was enthusiastic, confident and capable. But he also spent the majority of the broadcast squinting severely which gave off the impression that either a) he was struggling to see the cue cards without the use of prescription lenses, b) his eyes are particularly sensitive to the bright studio lights, or c) he was really, really high. His giggly demeanor and off-beat rhythms didn’t help dissuade the viability of option C. During the monologue if felt like I was looking at French Stewart, not James Franco. But he clearly felt very at home, and up for anything (including making out with Will Forte).
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