Posted by Jesse January 31st, 2010 at 04:00pm In SNL
Jon Hamm’s first gig hosting Saturday Night Live, around this time last year, was held in almost weirdly high regard. It was a decent episode, to be sure, but I feel like most of the appreciation stems from (a.) general Mad Men love, (b.) the fact that January Jones made him look even better in retrospect, and (c.) the hilarious ad for “Jon Hamm’s John Ham.” But as with Justin Timberlake, who hosted a completely mediocre episode that was inexplicably well-liked, only to come back and host a second episode that was nearly as good as everyone thought the first one was, Hamm made a triumphant return to the SNL stage this week, backed by some of the season’s best material.
I was afraid that Hamm’s quick return would mean a lot of clumsy rehashing of what worked about last year’s episode (or maybe even what didn’t), but the writers found an excellent way of sorta-reprising “Jon Hamm’s John Hamm” with “Hamm & Buble,” a pork-and-champagne-themed restaurant based on Hamm’s creepily insistent mispronunciation of musical guest Michael Buble’s name.
Throughout, the show played up Hamm’s capacity for well-dressed menace and/or sleaze, as in an unusually excellent monologue showing clips from his pre-Mad Men career, including a hilarious reference to Martin Lawrence’s ill-fated monologue from some fifteen years ago. I have to give it to Hamm: something about his dashing good looks seems to inspire the writers; they even attempted a second political sketch after the characteristically limp opener about the State of the Union address. The Hamm-assisted riff on newly elected Massachusetts senator-hunk Scott Brown was probably the most inventive political sketch they’ve done since The Rock Obama.
The show got even better and weirder after a strong Weekend Update. For example:
This is the kind of weird quick-hit sketch the show really nails but doesn’t attempt often enough. Stranger still, the sketch was chased ten or fifteen minutes later by a follow-up:
OK, not as laugh-out-loud hilarious, but put together, these sketches definitely have a Kids in the Hall/The State sort of vibe — that sense of well-earned confidence in what makes the writers laugh, rather than hacky devotion to certain sketch formats or familiar characters.
Though the episode was refreshingly low on those — only “Game Time with Randy and Greg” came back, and though I’d still be happier if they didn’t redo this one, the third time was funnier than the second — it did contain a few terrible bids for new characters. Kristen Wiig practiced a new catchphrase with her “don’t make me sing!” lady, though the combination of old-timey-ness and bizarre dancing cats at the end made it more tolerable than some of her other thin-premise wonders. Fred Armisen, meanwhile, continues to rifle through his drawer of bad-drag characters, this week finding an incompetent court stenographer (although, again, as far as lousy sketches go, this one at least had an amusing touch, in this case an aside from Kenan’s judge about how “no one is good at their jobs”).
Those overlong bum sketches and some uninspired Buble music (apart from his fine sketch singing) kept the episode from A-range territory, but it was probably the funniest 90 minutes SNL has managed so far this year. Hopefully Hamm’s inevitable third go-round will be funnier than Timberlake’s.
Episode Grade: B+