There were more cameo stars in the first 15 minutes of tonight’s SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE than regular cast members, and since SNL has enough regulars for a small city, that’s saying something. It all got Paul Rudd’s third stint as host off to an energized start, which the show predictably proceeded to dribble away fairly quickly–no fault of Rudd, an accomplished and likable sketch performer.
The cold open, a “condensed” parody of this week’s hit The Sound of Music Live telecast, was a welcome reminder of the days before the cold opens were reserved for tepid political sketches, and when Kate McKinnon bounded on stage dressed like Carrie Underwood’s Maria von Trapp, the heart leaped for all the satirical possibilities in store. No one had the nerve to parody Underwood, though (and Taran Killam’s Captain didn’t go after Stephen Moyer either), a massive waste of the premise. Instead, the sketch turned out to be an occasion for the return of Kristen Wiig’s deformed Dooneese, from the Lawrence Welk Show parodies–which is what this turned into, complete with Fred Armisen showing up as Welk. Wiig got some big laughs with her prop tiny hands, but a really clever Sound of Music piece (Wiig could have been a sensational Elsa) would have been so much better.
Wiig is in the cast of the upcoming Anchorman 2, which just so happens also to star Paul Rudd, and the monologue brought on the movie’s heavy artillery: Will Ferrell, Steve Carell and David Koechner, along with the night’s musical guests One Direction. A fight-to-the-death between the two groups a la Anchorman‘s famous scene would have been nice, but instead we got a group sing of “Afternoon Delight,” which was cute if not hysterically funny.
Things mostly went downhill from there. The post-monologue sketch would almost certainly have been the cold open if Wiig hadn’t provided star power for the Sound of Music parody. It was a very flat iteration of Kenan Thompson’s Al Sharpton talk show bit, where the joke is that he can’t read cue cards or understand technology, this time with Rudd given almost nothing to do as a commentator on the government’s healthcare website.
The night’s 11:55PM sketch was so odd that it could have aired an hour later, with Rudd and Vanessa Bayer as a couple finalizing their divorce terms who alternated between very literal wordplay gags (her new boyfriend’s name isn’t “Duncan,” it’s “Dunkin’,” but not Dunkin’ Donuts–it’s Dunkin’ Danish) and exuberant dancing to the Fleetwood Mac song that’s his lawyer’s ringtone. Rudd and Bayer were fine, but like so many SNL sketches it didn’t build to anything, just repeated its twin premises again and again.
Thinking of premises repeated ad infinitum, Update featured the almost instant return of Killam’s Jebidiah Atkinson (“Run things into the ground much?” either the character or the performer asked Seth Meyers), the waspish old-time critic who this time went after Christmas TV shows and movies (on It’s A Wonderful Life: “Every time this movie airs, an angel blows his brains out“). It was still funny, but no doubt diminishing returns will set in–and as if to prove that fact, the segment also gave us the 11 millionth appearance of Bayer’s Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy, a schtick that has seriously run its course.
NBC Standards & Practices evidently starts relaxing at 12:30AM, which was when we got an entire sketch about the size of the penis in Michelangelo’s David, which much to the discomfort of Rudd’s model was very small. The best thing about this one was Jay Pharoah’s totally incongruous interjections from the side of the frame. A piece with Rudd as a newly-svelte Santa Claus who was no longer remotely jolly to his elves didn’t go big enough to be very funny. There was a genuinely amusing idea in the sketch with Cecily Strong as a sophisticated mistress who’s visited by memories of all her cultured lovers–as well as Rudd as a guy who had sex with her in the back of an airport Papa John’s–but the writing went for easy gags about Rudd being a slob instead of going anywhere interesting with the concept.
It wasn’t a big evening for the pre-tape group, with one mild piece starring Rudd as One Direction’s embarrassingly adult #1 fan, and a movie trailer for a “black” Christmas movie made for white people that was more conceptually amusing than laugh-out-loud funny, although it had a nice punchline where Rudd, like Tyler Perry, was revealed to be playing several different characters–including one who was actually Jay Pharoah.
The night wound up with Ferrell and Koechner returning (with Rudd and Killam) for a true golden oldie: a “Here’s To Bill Brasky!” sketch (“His ejaculate can cure leprosy!”), which had once been run into the ground too, but now has been gone for so long that it was a lot of fun to see again.
Rudd is an experienced host, but next week brings a true veteran: John Goodman (currently superb in the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis) hosts for the 13th time, with musical guests Kings of Leon.