Here's the thing about this week's Jason Segel-hosted episode of Saturday Night Live: despite my self-imposed edict to try and be more positive about the show this season, I found myself actively disliking a lot of the episode while I was watching it. There weren't enough jokes, and many of the jokes that were present felt lazily constructed or not quite on target. I give the show credit for taking some chances and trying to do some new things this week, since often the tendency is to fall back on a lot of familiar sketches -- especially leading into a break. But the show felt off to me, and I was ready to declare it one of the biggest disappointments of the season so far.
And, yet, looking back on this week's show while writing this recap, I have a kind of goofy affection for a lot of what was done. Segel wasn't always used to the best of his abilities, but he was a game and earnest host. The Muppets showed up an awful lot, which may or may not have tapped into childhood nostalgia and lent the whole episode that "let's put on a show!" vibe that made the original Muppet Show so much fun. This wasn't the funniest episode of the season, but it was relentlessly positive and upbeat, so it's hard to be cynical about it.
- "Cold Open: Mitt Romney Shake Up" - Things didn't get off to a great start this week, with a low-energy sketch that may have been doomed with its own premise: to show that Mitt Romney is boring, the sketch itself was kind of boring. There may be a funny idea here, but this approach might not have been the best way to execute -- especially this early in the show, when SNL should be coming on with something to prove. It doesn't help that Jason Sudekis is quickly becoming as bland as Romney himself, and the prospect of watching him square off in sketches with Fred Armisen's Barack Obama does not hold a great deal of appeal for me. Hopefully, SNL finds a way to make sketches centering on two very square guys funny. Even more hopefully, Herman Cain gets the Republican nomination. That guy's nuts. (Watch the "Mitt Romney Shake Up" video)
- "Jason Segel and The Muppets Monologue" - Things picked up pretty quickly with the monologue, partially because first-time host Jason Segel came across as so earnest and sincerely excited to be on Saturday Night Live, but mostly because it was the first of many appearances by The Muppets for the night. It's amazing that I'm not completely burned out on The Muppets at this point, because they have literally been everywhere in the weeks leading up to the new movie, but the monologue made good use of them. I've grown weary of the "song" monologue, but this one had The Muppets thinking they were hosting the show, so I didn't mind. Some of the camerawork and comic rhythms felt a little off, but I think that can be chalked up to the complexities of trying to make that many puppets work on a live TV show. (Watch the "Jason Segel and The Muppets Monologue" video)
- "Regis Philbin Auditions" - SNL loves to do "spot the impression" sketches these days, I'm guessing because so many members of the cast are so good at doing impressions. The problem with these sketches, though, is that there's never any real content -- the impressions become the joke, and there's nothing more to it. So while there were a few funny impressions (Taran Killam's manic Ashton Kutcher was particularly good, and I liked Abby Elliot's take on Zooey Deschanel, plus it's always good to see Jay Pharoah's Denzel Washington), most got whisked off the stage after delivering one or two sound-alike lines of dialogue. This being the night's big lead-off sketch and all, there needed to be more actual jokes. (Watch the "Regis Philbin Auditions" video)
- "Kissing Family Thanksgiving" - Saturday Night Live has done this "kissing family" sketch a couple of times already (with both Paul Rudd and James Franco), and I'm not really a fan. It depends solely on shock value for laughs, and while I applaud the commitment of both the cast and the guest hosts, it's not enough to carry a sketch. What makes it worse is that each time it gets repeated, the show hasn't really a figured out a way to make it evolve or develop: it's just the family kissing some more, often in increasingly silly and unrealistic ways (like having dad Fred Armisen and mom Kristen Wiig spin in circles a few times before kissing). For a sketch originally built on surprising the audience, there's no longer anything surprising about it. (Watch the "Kissing Family Thanksgiving" video)
- "Kemper Pedic Bed" - The joke in this is so obvious, but it still made me laugh -- mostly for the sheer number of variations it came up with on "things to have Jason Segel do that look like masturbating." Kudos to the sketch for never coming right out and saying it, either, as SNL has a tendency to explicitly spell out the subtext in their sketches. I know it may seem like a reach to praise the show for not doing something that it already shouldn't be doing, but, let's remember, I'm all about the silver linings this season. (Watch the "Kemper Pedic Bed" video)
- "Andre the Giant Gets an Ice Cream Cone" - There's no real joke here other than Jason Segel's very funny Andre the Giant impression, but that was enough here. It was incredibly short and to-the-point, and it put Segel front and center in his very own sketch. I don't think I laughed, but I'm pretty sure I was amused at the very least. Or brought to the verge of amusement. (Watch the "Andre the Giant Gets and Ice Cream Cone" video)
- "Retirement Party" - Let me be up front about this: I don't think this sketch worked. But for at least the first half, there was an odd feeling that we were watching something odd and funny and original come together in a way that SNL rarely does these days. It felt like a "story" sketch, instead of just a premise or a character or a game show or talk show or any of the dependable fallbacks that the show has these days. Unfortunately, it all kind of fell apart in the second half. Kristen Wiig's character just kept repeating the exact same joke without taking it some place new, Jason Segel's secret wasn't worth the buildup (which I know was the point, but it wasn't even worth the joke-not-worth-it) and too many cast members started mugging. It was an interesting failure, though, and Saturday Night Live doesn't have many of those. The sketches that don't work usually don't for very obvious and surface reasons. (Watch the "Retirement Party" video)
- "Digital Short: Seducing Women Through Chess" - I like the Digital Shorts that recreate '80s VHS tapes, but the style was most of what this had going for it. The jokes didn't really cut it for me. The only real surprise was seeing Olivia Wilde show up for a second, making me wonder how long it will be before she hosts the show. (Watch the "Seducing Women Through Chess" video)
- "New Jack Thanksgiving" - I don't know. I mean, I get what SNL is going for with these sketches, but it's such a narrow and specific sub-genre of music that's been out of favor for almost two decades, and the sketch isn't all that good at pinpointing exactly what it is that makes that music very funny. I like the sketches that give every cast member a chance to do something, but I sometimes wish it would give them something more than this. (Watch the "New Jack Thanksgiving" video)
- "Blue Jean Committee" - Listen, I recognize this sketch wasn't very funny. At all. For some reason, it wasn't really trying to be, which is an odd choice for a comedy show. It was still one of my favorites of the night, for the same reason I still like the Will Ferrell "Goodnight, Saigon" sketch from a few years ago. Every time a new "fan" in the audience was revealed -- whether it was Paul Rudd, or Florence (of And the Machine), or, finally, the Muppets, it was a reminder that it must be a ton of fun to be on Saturday Night Live for the week. The way so many elements from the episode came together in one sketch made me tremendously fond of the sketch, and I can't really defend it. Plus, I defy you to get "Massachusetts Afternoon" out of your head. (Watch the "Blue Jean Committee" video)
- Original Air Date: 11/19/20
- Host: Jason Segel
- Musical Guest: Florence and the Machine