SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE had a generally dispiriting start to the second half of its season, with an episode proving once again that just giving the writers some time off in no way guarantees that they’ll come back with better material. The show used host Jennifer Lawrence in almost every sketch, and she did her job with eagerness and notable cue-card skill, but it never gave her a single stand-out character or even a moment to call her own.
SNL had a solid month of pop culture events to catch up on, and tried to cover 3 of them immediately, in a Piers Morgan Live cold open that had Jason Sudeikis as Lance Armstrong, Bobby Moynihan as Manti Te’o, and Kate McKinnon as Jodie Foster. (The sad thing for the real Te’o is that being depicted as a popeyed buffoon, as he was here, is probably the best he can hope for in the foreseeable future.) McKinnon had Foster’s mannerisms nailed, including the actress’s hall-of-mirrors version of an old Molly Shannon character, but her material got no further than almost-but-not-quite saying “gay” or “lesbian,” and Sudeikis’s arrogant Armstrong won the laughs.
The writers showed their confidence in Lawrence by pretty much letting her handle the monologue solo (aside from silent reaction shots from Bill Hader as a mostly scowling Tommy Lee Jones, who seemed a close relative of his Lindsey Buckingham). Her bit was mostly a set of toothless gags bashing her fellow Oscar nominees, taking off from her supposed swipe at Meryl Streep in her Golden Globe acceptance speech. It was very David Spade circa 1995, except without the genuine edge that could have made it more than merely cute. (Although the “Hey, Quvenzhane Wallis, the alphabet called–it wants its letters back” line was worth a laugh.)
Apparently because the writers couldn’t come up with anything new for a young actress to play, the show brought back the Girlfriends talk show from earlier this season with Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong, last seen when Anne Hathaway hosted. This time Lawrence was the cool girl Strong preferred to Bryant (Lawrence had been to New York 2 or 3 times, and flirted with piercings and the possibility of being bi), while Strong–who had all the good lines–proclaimed her guinea pig love and insisted that her mom coat came from the teen department of Burlington Coat Factory.
There were 2 movie-themed bits. A Hunger Games press conference sketch felt both dated and inside-y (lots of detail about Katniss’s wasp attack), but it gave Lawrence a chance to be comfortably in a character she knows well, and got some laughs from hapless Peeta (Taran Killam), accused of using performance-reducing drugs. Peter Jackson deserved the pretaped trailer for his 18-part Hobbit saga, aimed at clay pigeons but nonetheless funny, especially when Lawrence as the Elf Queen had to choose between identical white dresses, and the dwarves spent one full movie struggling to put together an Ikea bureau.
The other theme of the night was bad service, first in a pretaped commercial for a Starbucks brand coffee-maker that got your order wrong and criticized you to another coffee-maker, then in a sketch set in a diner that featured jocular insulting waitresses–except for Lawrence, who was genuinely nasty. The piece went on too monotonously long and had no ending, but there were a few bright moments at the start. (Lawrence was much better at being mean here than she’d been in her monologue.)
Update was pretty much a wreck, with more Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o jokes plus the return of Bobby Moynihan’s Anthony Crispino, the guy who gets every story wrong (he’s Roseanne Roseannadanna for morons), which in this case included the hilarity of his announcing that Fargo, instead of Argo, had won the Golden Globe.
That put us into the last half-hour, which led off with a Top Dog Chef sketch that fatally lacked the craziness that could have made it a memorable 12:50AM bit. It played the wacky premise far too straight (and if you’re going to go to the trouble of having a “Tom Collie-cio” judge, shouldn’t Sudeikis at least be bald? Or not wearing a furry cap?), with the only highlight the beat where everyone went nuts when a doorbell rang. Things didn’t improve with the return of the sketch featuring Moynihan and Killam as early morning hip-hop radio hosts, with Lawrence as the would-be rapper on hand who could never quite manage to rhyme–the performers, though, brought a lot of verve to the piece.
The most conceptually interesting sketch of the night was the 12:45AM piece, a parody of the European soft-core porn movies from the mid-1970s that turn up on paycable in the middle of the night. Technically, it was very well worked out, including the flat, dead-air dubbed dialogue (although the actors should have been mouthing French, or nonsense syllables, or anything but English). The problem was, it just wasn’t very funny. The final sketch was a parody of the Ken Burns school of Civil War documentaries that seemed to have been sitting in someone’s desk for 10 years–it existed only to throw around the words “balls” and “titpic,” and despite the brief presence of Hader as Abraham Lincoln, never managed to find its way into being a Lincoln parody.
Not a strong night at all for the show, and a waste for the most part of Jennifer Lawrence, who proved in Silver Linings Playbook that she can be very funny indeed, given the right material. It’s hard to have much hope for next week, when noted thespian Adam Levine hosts (over/under on where in the show the Voice parody falls?), with musical guest Kendrick Lamar.