It's interesting every time Saturday Night Live is willing to take a chance and experiment with a guest host. Sometimes, it can blow up in the show's face. Sometimes, they can discover some previously untapped comic potential from an actor or musician that catches everyone by surprise (Justin Timberlake has benefited from this a great deal). Most times, though, it's just a mild success or, more often, a mild failure. Such was the case with this week's guest host, current James Bond actor Daniel Craig.
Craig wasn't really the problem this week, though he wasn't revealed as a secret comedy star, either. He was game enough, but the material wasn't quite there to support him. No one could figure out just how to make him funny, save for trying to juxtapose his tough guy image with comedy. It never really worked. The best part of this week's episode was just how much screentime was given to the new featured performers -- none more than Kate McKinnon, who showed up in almost every sketch. She has a weird energy that could serve her well on the show, but I worry that a lot of her characters and impressions are going to start resembling one another very soon (it's the Kristen Wiig Problem). I'm pulling for her, though, so it was great to see her step up and take the spotlight this week.
- "Cold Open: Presidential Debate" - This was a big week for SNL, politically speaking, with the first presidential debate taking place and offering up a lot of opportunity for comedy. Chris Parnell returned to play moderator Jim Lehrer, while Sudekis did his usual thing as Romney and Jay Pharoah continued to get new exposure as President Obama. There was a thesis of a sketch here -- that Obama's poor debate performance had to be the result of some factor, whether because he was planning his wedding anniversary or affected by the Colorado altitude, but there wasn't much of a payoff. The throwaway lines about Romney were what worked the best (including him taking credit for killing Bin Laden), because they acknowledged that while everyone was focusing on Obama's flop sweat, Romney got away with spitting out a bunch of outright lies. I wanted this to be better. (Watch the full "Cold Open: Presidential Debate" video)
- "Daniel Craig Monologue" - The episode continued to struggle during Craig's monologue, during which it became apparent that no one was really sure what approach to take in making the host funny. He showed an "In Memoriam" video compiling clips of all the people he's killed on film, but it mostly just amounted to scenes from his two outings as James Bond. It was a funny idea that didn't really go anywhere, and it left Craig with very little to do. It wouldn't be the last time that happened in the course of the night.
- "Construction Workers" - Here's a sketch that had the opposite problem of the monologue: rather than giving Craig little to do, the entire sketch rests on his shoulders and gives him a premise that even the funniest of hosts probably couldn't have sold. He's a construction worker who is terrible at catcalling female passers-by. That's literally it. It's hard to tell if the whole thing fell as flat as it did because Craig was out of place or because the material was so bad. I guess it doesn't really matter. This was bad, and putting it first was a mistake. (Watch the full "Construction Workers" video)
- "Bond Girls" - I liked what this video piece was trying to do, because it made use of the fact that the host plays James Bond much better than the monologue and, even more so, because it gave the female cast a chance to do the whole "spot the impression" bit that the show is so fond of doing these days. That mostly just amounted to different impressions from Vanessa Bayer (Diane Keaton and Molly Ringwald) and Kate McKinnon (Jodie Foster and Ellen DeGeneres), all of which were very good even if not much thought was put into making them funny within the context of a Bond movie (ok, maybe they did with Diane Keaton). I would have liked to have seen more impressions, actually, especially when the other two (Nasim Pedrad as Lea Michele and Fred Armisen once again doing Penny Marshall for way too long) were a disappointment. (Watch the full "Bond Girls" video)
- "Mars Mission" - Yikes. I'll be honest: I thought the first few minutes of this were amusing, when the writers and performers did a great job of spoofing the generic Aliens-style "blue collar workers in space" vibe we see in so much contemporary science fiction. As soon as the actual premise was introduced -- Bobby Moynihan playing an annoying character he clearly hopes will catch on who misses his kitty cat -- the rest of the sketch consisted of nothing more than waiting for it to end. (Watch the full "Mars Mission" video)
- "MSNBC Debate Fallout" - The night's second political sketch found new featured performer Cecily Strong stepping in to play Rachel Maddow (formerly played by Abby Elliott). It wasn't the sharpest political satire, but Jason Sudekis's Chris Matthews is pretty good in that it gets to the heart of what makes him funny (Darrell Hammond used to play him very well) and Kate McKinnon got another good role as conservative pundit S.E. Cupp. It was a deep cut, but McKinnon did another great job with the impression. I'm a little tired of Kenan Thompson's Al Sharpton, but there he was, too. I can appreciate that the show tried to make fun of the nonsensical media analysis of the Presidential debate, but the jokes weren't always there. (Watch the full "MSNBC Debate Fallout" video)
- "A Sorry Lot We Are" - The night's requisite "Daniel Craig is British!" sketch. The cast got to do some funny voices and the satire of British drama was amusing, but "amusing" is the best this one could muster up.
- "Loving Couple" - In theory, I should have disliked everything about this sketch, from the fact that it featured yet another character in which Fred Armisen plays a woman to the broadness of the "romance" faces to impending knowledge that this character will most likely show up again. And, yet, this was one of the few pieces of the night that seemed to come alive, probably through sheer force of will on the part of Armisen's overcompensating energy and loudness. All the sex face stuff was lame and Daniel Craig didn't really know how to fit into the sketch again, but I liked just how awful (but still somehow realistic) Armisen's character was. That was the stuff that worked. (Watch the full "Loving Couple" video)
- Original Air Date: 10/6/12
- Host: Daniel Craig
- Musical Guest: Muse