Last week, I felt dispirited by Saturday Night Live‘s incessant recycling of years-old ideas when they had Paul Rudd at their disposal. This week, almost every sketch was some sort of rerun: Bill Hader did Julian Assange for the third time in three weeks; Fred Armisen bid farewell to Larry King; Weekend Update favorites came back for a Christmas song on Update and elsewhere in the show with the Kardashians; DJ Supersoak and Lil’ Blaster made a return appearance to promote Under-Underground Record’s Crunkmas celebration. Even in the traditionally more original final half-hour, sketches without recurring characters were pretty much conceptual reruns: this isn’t the first time the show has offered an alternate It’s a Wonderful Life, or found a silly angle on prank shows like they did with Jeff’d.
And yet: something about this week’s revisitations felt far more fresh and inspired than last week’s. It’s not that the show took particular advantage of Bridges himself; actually, he was absent for much of the show’s first hour. But Julian Assange, Miley Cyrus, and the Under-Underground Records crew (including the perpetually maybe-dead Ass Dan) are still fun characters, and the writers and performers seem to still care about writing new jokes for them. The familiarity was actually kind of nice — a glimpse into a world where the show’s recurring characters don’t summon so much dread from me.
In fact, when the show did a purely non-recurring sketch with Bridges prominently featured — that weird, lame, repetitive historic gift-wrapping sketch toward the end of the evening — it faltered and turned in the worst moment of the night. So a character-heavy, Bridges-light, Tron-free evening may not have been ideal, but given that glimpse of the alternative, I was pretty happy with it.
The other Bridges appearances mostly contributed a variety of middling impressions: Nick Nolte on The Miley Cyrus Show, and then, to better effect, Dog the Bounty Hunter on Larry King. Middling impressions seemed to be a theme for the night: Jeff’d is the sort of sketch that takes the opportunity for the cast to trot out a lot of quick-hit celebrity goofs, only aside from Andy Samberg’s vocally spot-on Billy Bob Thornton, the impressions weren’t all that tight. The same could be said of Fred Armisen’s Larry King; in terms of diction and vocal resemblance, noted non-impressionist Norm MacDonald actually did a much funnier King on SNL, while Armisen’s version is one of those bits where the writers have the subject say stuff other people think about him, rather than really act the way Larry King acts. Still, the jokes themselves were decent, and surprisingly mean, so the sketch worked pretty well.
More puzzling, impressions-wise, was Taran Killam’s Weekend Update bit where he played Brad Pitt as a weatherman. He had a lot of Pitt’s gestures and aspects of his voice down, but is Pitt known for saying “blegh” or whatever it was Killam kept doing? I’ve seen a lot of his movies and I only sort of understood what he was getting at with that. Also: Brad Pitt as a weatherman is a little too close to what if Denzel Washington worked at a customer service desk — and at least Jay Pharoah’s Denzel is top-to-bottom excellent.
Speaking of Pharoah, he continued an unfortunate trend of basing his comedy on making weird noises with his mouth, pretty much the only unfunny part of the Crunkmas bit which otherwise had me laughing until crying, as I often do when the show takes pointless but fruitful aim at the Insane Clown Posse subculture. It’s a joke based largely on listing extremely goofy things, but it works on me just about every time.
There were other grace notes, too, in areas that don’t always excel: a quick, funny political cold open, and a sweet monologue where Bridges sang a non-joke duet with Cookie Monster (the subject of a mock-campaign to host the show a few weeks ago). It was no classic, but with so few bum moments, the whole thing amounted to a pretty decent holiday party.
Episode Grade: B
December 19th, 2010