Posted by Jesse November 21st, 2010 at 03:07pm In SNL
After ScarJo and Jon Hamm both returned to high expectations and low rewards, it was Anne Hathway’s turn to follow up a successful SNL hosting gig. But Hathaway’s episode from 2008, while decent, wasn’t quite a best-of-season candidate; maybe that’s what allowed her, the writers, and the cast to kick up such a solid episode this time around.
How often you can say this about SNL since the 2008 election? It immediately got off to a strong start with a funny cold open. Seriously! It happened! Taking a page from the amusing-then-tired Hardball opening-sketch format of the mid-aughts, Abby Elliott played Rachel Maddow, interviewing Nancy Pelosi (Kristen Wiig), John Boehner (Bill Hader), and Kenan Thompson (Charlie Rangel). It wasn’t so much a feast for spot-on impressions, but it did have, get this, good jokes! Of different types! Boy, that was a good feeling, to actually laugh at a politically themed cold open. Remember when this used to happen all the time?
Hathaway seemed particularly amped to be back during her monologue, and jumped into the first of several impressions during the Miley Cyrus Show bit (recurring a little too fast, but the Miley Cyrus industry is providing enough material to change up the jokes to some degree, at least for now), a spot-on Katie Holmes. Her Alanis Morrissette bit at the end of the show, in the “Horse Play” soundtrack ad that reprised the bunny-movie soundtrack ad from a few seasons ago with less weirdness/hilarity, was less close but also established a strange mid-to-late-nineties niche for her, I assume because she was totally into Dawson’s and Alanis as a teenager.
I’ve often found Hathaway a little studied as an actor — a little more technically proficient than inspired — and this was true, to an extent, of her hosting gig, where she mixed more sustained impressions (of Holmes, or Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz bit), straight-woman material (as Kate Middleton), and short bursts of accented craziness in smaller parts. But it worked: it was like she did her homework to ace the SNL test, and it pretty much worked. This variety also made her feel a little more present than her 2008 episode, in which she was similarly game but receded into the background a little.
It also helped that the show happened to give us a bunch of solid sketches this week, as if to make up for the disappointing thinness of the Hamm and ScarJo episodes. Only one sketch really fell flat: the reprisal of Penelope. This character that started out with a simple (if over-emphasized after pretty much one airing) conceit and joke: the behavior of a chronic, irritating one-upper. But as the sketch has been repeated and repeated, what used to be the kicker joke of one of Penelope’s nonsense one-ups coming true has become a running gag about how she really does, say, shrink and float through soap on a stick of celery. If Penelope had appeared exactly twice, first in the normal guise and second in the surreal one, this might be funny, but by this point it’s a waste of time, a dead-air opportunity for hosts (usually female, for some reason) to play it straight and irritated.
Apart from that Penelope detour, though, it was pretty much all decent or better. There were some unquestionable highlights, like the inspired royal-family sketch with Kate Middleton discovering her future in-laws to be tough-talking limey thugs and the ad for Mega-Mart’s twelve-minute Black Friday stampede in the making, with promises of freshly waxed floors, free box cutters, and seven copies of a secret unpublished Harry Potter novel. There were a lot of fake ads, actually: Horse Play and Camel Tame and the TSA, all pretty funny.
Such was the show’s freshness that even long-time cast members like Fred Armisen (who by this point typically slows the show down more than almost anyone) and Bill Hader (who is hilarious but sometimes struggles to do more than his funny recurring characters and occasional impressions) were particularly well-used: they both killed in the royals sketch, Hader had a nice showcase as the elderly, confused, angry news reporter, and one of Armisen’s patented awkward-weirdo characters actually worked in the Wizard of Oz deleted scenes.
Even Weekend Update was better than it’s been for most of this season. In fact, the episode was so solid that a pretty strong six-minute bit was cut from dress and put online, featuring another short burst of Hathaway craziness:
If this sketch has been subbed in for that Penelope run-through, this would’ve been… oh, wait, this already was definitely the best episode of the season.
Episode Grade: B+