Archive for December 5th, 2010

Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Season 36, Episode 8

For some reason, Robert De Niro hosting a December episode of SNL has become something of a minor tradition; I didn’t even completely remember that he did this in Decembers of both 2002 and 2004, but it happened, and with Little Fockers looming, he returned for his third time. Unlike this year’s other three-timers, ScarJo and JoHa, De Niro hasn’t really displayed much surpise affinity for live sketch comedy. If anything, he’s one of the less natural recurring hosts of the past decade, clearly card-reading and sometimes stumbling over his lines, although also pretty game to play around for someone who is visibly uncomfortable even on talk shows.

Maybe the show was rewarding De Niro’s simultaneous reputations as legendary, cranky, and a potential good sport by playing it a little safe in his most recent gig: he played himself three times, and four of the night’s seven proper sketches featured recurring characters. Yet this hesitancy actually sort of paid off: it wasn’t a home-run episode, but nothing really fell flat.

Well, maybe the Mr. Produce sketch, one of the few attempts at originality of the evening, didn’t really work, lacking a clear comic premise/relationship as De Niro played a gruff cooking-show host dealing with his college-flunking pill of a son, played by Andy Samberg. And the return of Bobby Moynihan’s awestruck-except-in-the-face-of-celebrity little kid probably wasn’t necessary, but it didn’t go on too long and it’s an okay concept.

Anyway, the missteps made the use of other recurring sketches feel welcome rather than tired: Bill Hader’s Vinny Vedecci is reliably amusing and weird (Moynihan had better luck playing Vedecci’s drunk little son: “give me my mony, I kill you Robert De Niro!”), and What Up with That actually altered the formula ever so slightly, benefiting from De Niro’s ease with irritability — his barking “you messed up!” at the end of the sketch was a show highlight for me.

If the show was on the cautious side, it gave De Niro himself some space to loosen up. He seemed more game than ever, appearing in almost every segment, including areas where the host need not tread if he or she isn’t feeling it: the cold open (which was actually pretty funny?! The second show in a row?! It seems like maybe the writers are feeling their way through this not relying on Armisen’s weak Obama impression thing!), the Digital Short, and even his own fake commercial, one of my favorite bits of the night:

Appearing almost as often was Andy Samberg: as the son in Mr. Produce; in his usual Digital Short as part of a funny (if somewhat inexplicable) Weekend at Bernie’s spoof; hanging upside down to good effect in a Weekend Update Spider-Man bit; reprising his one-note but still pretty hilarious Blizzard Man character; and featured heavily in the night’s other, more successful bid for a non-recurring sketch, the last one where he and Sudeikis find out who they have to screw to get a drink around here. Strange, but kind of neat, that one of SNL’s all-out silliest, least actorly comedians would get so many scenes with such a non-comedic host.

In fact, at the outset of this episode, I was wondering why they keep getting De Niro to promote these Fockers movies rather than SNL alum and actual comedian Ben Stiller (whose single 1998 hosting gig was pretty swell). Though Stiller actually turned up in two sketches, De Niro acquitted himself perhaps better than ever before (although I did enjoy his duet with Kermit the Frog back in 2004): fun, a little awkward, and very New Yorky.

Episode Grade: B

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