Posted by Jesse March 9th, 2009 at 10:02am In SNL
When Dwayne Johnson first hosted SNL (as The Rock) in 2000 and again in 2002, I admired his gameness and good humor, but I felt like he hammed it up slightly — that he seemed just a little too conscious of how cool it was to see a professional wrestler give this comedy thing a try (that said, the sketch with Neil Diamond advertising his album of duets with Bigfoot is an all-time great). Now that attitude has been co-opted to some degree by Justin Timberlake, who in the most recent Johnson-hosted episode contributed his latest in a series of slightly smug surprise appearances — and Johnson, after growing into his acting career, has emerged a pretty nimble comedian.
Having the erstwhile Rock poke fun at his hyper-masculine image by singing and dancing in the monologue isn’t exactly a new idea, but it worked here because Johnson really is a pretty graceful physical performer, as he further illustrated playing a hostile Hawaiian restaurant employee. Again, neither the core idea nor the execution was exactly inspired, but Johnson’s ability to punctuate his complete disdain with some smoothly bowlegged dancing was key to the sketch’s success.
All night, in fact, the Rock, er, Johnson (can I compromise and just call him The Dwayne?) was placed into sketches where his performance was absolutely key, and fairly specific to his skill set, without any of them turning into gimmicky bits based around the Dwayne playing himself. I wonder if a few years ago a sketch like “The Rock Obama” would’ve been filled with more explicit wrestling references and catchphrases; as it played out on Saturday, the Rock served the concept rather than vice versa.
Even the night’s, and one of the season’s, funniest sketches, which on its surface is a virtuoso showcase for Bill Hader, depends on Johnson’s ability to play the straight man:
Think about this. This guy does not do sketch comedy every week. Yet he was sitting right next to Hader and didn’t break character with a giggle. This, to me, seems incredibly difficult, because I can barely look at a frame of Hader making those alien faces without cracking up. Also, the way the writing of this sketch jumps right in and reveals the explanation of the premise as the sketch proceeds is fairly masterful.
I also liked the episode-ending sketch where Johnson played a lighthouse keeper trying to get busy with Kristen Wiig. It had nothing to do with his persona or anything, but lighthouse gags usually make me laugh, as do old-timey sea captains and tools on jetskis.
If anything slowed the episode down (besides the anemic Ray LaMontagne performances) it was the length of some of the sketches and, especially, Weekend Update. The Timberlake/Biel cameos were kind of cute, I guess, but I’m past the point of needing to stop the show cold to acknowledge what a good sport Justin Timberlake is, especially when The Rock is out there proving the same without breaking a sweat.
Episode Grade: B+