Posted by Jesse December 21st, 2009 at 02:29am In SNL
Perhaps in a Christmas/rerun/rehash state of mind after working around that “Very Gilly Christmas” special on Thursday, perhaps exhausted after a rare three-week December run, perhaps just laziness as usual, Saturday Night Live brought out the recurring characters in full force on this week’s show. Not counting Update or the Digital Short, eight sketches made to air; six of these were reprisals, many representing third or fourth go-rounds, mostly with a Christmas slant.
When you’re doing six recurring sketches in a single night, you’re bound to be using at least a few that don’t work, but you’re also likely to hit upon at least a few good ones, assuming the existence of the latter (and I do: as much as I complain about them, plenty of recurring characters on SNL have worked just fine). This batch half-dozen had just about every combination, save, thankfully, the Sketch That Should’ve Never Made It to Air in the First Place Nevermind Several Times. Here’s the breakdown:
The Pointless Reprisal: The overly-affectionate family sketch, with family members making out in all combinations and making a guest feel uncomfortable, wasn’t exactly a high-water mark last season, but I can respect the wholehearted execution of a one-joke premise. I know some people detect a homophobic subtext (or actual-text) to this sketch’s humor, and I see that point, as a lot of the joke depends on no one particularly expecting to see Fred Armisen to plant an open-mouth kiss on Bill Hader or whoever. But for me, the laughs come not from thinking two dudes kissing is gross, but the unembarrassed way in which so many different cast members lock lips and/or tongues — while playing family members, no less. All that said, there’s no reason to repeat it because it offers almost zero opportunity for variation, it all sort of pales next to that sketch from a few years ago where people chew food for each other, and I hope we’ve seen the last of this.
The Uninspired Run-Through: Kristen Wiig’s baby-handed Lawrence Welk dancer is one of my favorite of her various repeated grotesques, but, again, there was nothing new in this third go-round apart from a bid for the character to appear in a future holiday compilation. Same goes for Mark Wahlberg Talking to Christmas Animals, although this bit is so funny, so strange, and so short that even an uninspired version is sort of fun.
The Luck-Pusher I liked the semi-nonsensical hubris of What Up with That more the second time, and I must admit I chuckled at this week’s third try, so I wouldn’t mind seeing it continue to pop up. But to do it three times in seven episodes seems greedy. The spontaneity and weirdness gets muffled when they herd everyone out there once a month.
The Old Reliable: The Vincent Price holiday specials may follow a strict format, but the rotating old-timey guests impersonated by the cast members give it enough potential to keep going; it’s also not showy or popular enough to get beaten into the ground with repetition. Hader does his thing maybe twice a year, and it’s almost always in good fun.
The Recurring Sketch That I Totally Love Because I’m Shocked That It Actually Comes Back, In a Good Way: Will Forte is the master of these sketches, and he and Bill Hader have found a particularly good one in the vaguely Kids in the Hall-y sketch about a small group of deranged old guys who work at some kind of office. Their first time out, predicated mainly on Forte and Hader calling each other “fartface” repeatedly, bombed in kind of a breathtaking way last season, but the characters have persevered and totally own the last-ten-minutes experimental zone. Their Christmas sketch, my favorite of the night and unlikely to appear in future holiday compilations, is embedded above.
As far as the stuff that wasn’t recurring at all: uh, it wasn’t half-bad; maybe that should tell them something. OK, that James Franco Christmas tree salesman thing was a little wan, but his monologue was amusing, and the frat-boy hazing sketch was a nice bit of Sambergian silliness (I don’t know if he had a creative hand it, but it sure felt that way). The Digital Short spoofing Yo Gabba Gabba took a tired premise — a twisted version of a children’s show! Crazy! — and made it genuinely disturbing, and hilarious. The only real flop was Fred Armisen’s talk show bit, and it died because it managed to feel like a bad recurring sketch about thirty seconds into its single-joke half-premise. In other words, look for it to come back in January.
Grade: C+/B- depending on how generous I’m feeling about all of the recurring stuff and/or how much I care that for a band that is supposedly epic, Muse was totally uninteresting to watch.