Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Season 34, Episode 20

Posted by Jesse April 13th, 2009 at 10:01am In SNL

There are a couple of tired sketch formats Saturday Night Live writers never seem to tire of throughout the years, to the point where I wonder if they seem their mustiness and repetition as a challenge to somehow produce the well-written exception to the rule. That’s the only justification I can think of for a sketch like the one from this weekend’s episode where Fred Armisen (in drag) plays an actress who keeps screwing up takes on a commercial set by playing her scene as raving drama rather than inane comedy. I can’t remember the last time this oft-used formula actually worked. Typically, there are a few chuckles at whatever causes the first “cut!” and then a sharp decline as the sketch goes nowhere. The flubbed-takes format is inherently diminishing: reduction disguised as escalation.

Another favorite tactic: take a recurring character, and then have the host play more or less a copy of that character. This weekend, Zac Efron was given a particularly tricky assignment of that ilk: he had to play Cody Gifford, son of Kathie Lee Gifford, who is not just an overused SNL recurring character (in the fourth-hour-of-Today sketches, which I’m told by people who have actually seen the fourth hour of Today are, at least, pretty accurate) but an actual person. This gave Efron’s imitation of Kristen Wiig’s tics a particularly weak copy-of-a-copy effect.

Actually, this effect was there all night, as Efron proved to be a poor man’s Justin Timberlake through and through. He nailed the part where he gamely makes fun of himself; the High School Musical sketch may have been obvious (and less inventive than last fall’s Night School Musical sans Efron), but it did the job, and I’m surprised it was stuck behind Weekend Update:

But elsewhere, Efron seemed amateurish — which Timberlake has too, actually (anyone remember the first time he hosted? It kinda sucked, I swear, and more on that when he hosts a third time next month!), but Efron lacked the key energy that can sell the audience on someone who may not have great comic chops. Many of his lines were soft-pedaled — not just by his wan delivery, but by the writers, too

And yet for all of the clumsiness of the episode, there were highlights: a smartly employed gimmick sketch about underage drinking; a strange riff on old movies with the underutilized Casey Wilson doing some fine physical comedy running alongside a train with Olympian power; and the triumphant return of Jon Bovi on Weekend Update, a recurring bit that probably shouldn’t work but absolutely kills because Forte and Sudeikis clearly love doing it so much.

The entire episode could be encapsulated by the new Gilly sketch. On one hand, we have a recurring character without any depth or range, seemingly based entirely on catch phrases, tics, and repetition, accompanied by a limp Efron performance. But the side material in this sketch was sort of inspired: as with last time, Forte’s low-key admonishment, Kenan’s ever-mounting irritation, and the deliberately paced weirdness all work for me, even when the sketch itself doesn’t, really. So went the episode: many showcase pieces fell flat, even as good jokes came through on the margins.

It also benefited from the complete opposite of Zac Efron: the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, making their SNL debut. (Weird trivia: though they didn’t appear before tonight, the band actually got a career boost from SNL way back in 2002, when the dude from the Strokes wore a YYY’s pin during his appearance. Karen O did not return the favor this evening, but let’s be fair: the Strokes have probably just slipped her mind, just like they slipped everyone else’s around 2004 or so.) Their performances of “Zero” (shiny new single) and “Maps” (gorgeous old-school single) didn’t quite capture the electricity of an actual Yeah Yeah Yeahs show, but they were slick and enjoyable enough to bump the episode’s grade up a notch.

Episode Grade: C+


  • 1. sara  |  April 13th, 2009 at 10:12 am

    Jon Bovi cracks me up so hard. I just love how delighted Will Forte is the whole way through, playing this daft, giggling idiot. Also, I’m entertained whenever anyone sings, really. The High School Musical sketch really worked for me, because, seriously, those kids are getting a terrible education! Now what’s the capital of Texas?

  • 2. jesse  |  April 13th, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Also, Zac Efron looks like Jared Leto with stupider hair: discuss.

  • 3. Craig  |  April 13th, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    I think the multi-take format last worked for me in Phil Hartman’s “Fobody’s Nault” sketch, but that was mostly because he did a really great empty blowhard actor character.

  • 4. Rebecca  |  April 13th, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    What did you think about the Foot Rub sketch? Clearly, it was buried at the end of the night because of all the innuendo, but I thought Zefron was pretty game in it. Actually, I liked his dorky German exchange student in the Gilly sketch too, and I am developing quite a fondness for Bobby Moynihan.

    I haven’t seen the HSMs, but sue me — I think Zefron is pretty funny in the 17 Again trailers. He seems to have a semblance of self-awareness and comic timing.

  • 5. jesse  |  April 13th, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    I liked the foot rub sketch, but mainly because of Sudeikis. Efron just seemed wan to me in just about everything — the Gilly sketch is where I really felt like his punchlines were muffled.

    I think I’d rather see a movie where Efron turns into Matthew Perry than vice versa. But then, I am old.

  • 6. TV Blog Coalition - April&hellip  |  April 20th, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    […] Jesse took issue with the tired old re-hashed formulas employed by the SNL folks on the most recent Zac Efron-hosted debacle. (TiFaux) […]


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