It's always interesting when someone like Steve Buscemi hosts Saturday Night Live, because while he's a well-known and respected actor, he's not really a big star or anything, and you never know which direction the show is going to go. Will it give him interesting and odd character parts in which to disappear? Or will it not really know how to use him and sideline him with the usual straight man parts so often afforded to the guest host? Though the former was hinted at during the monologue, SNL went the latter route this week. That's too bad. To be honest, I was surprised we didn't see any of Buscemi's work parodied -- no Reservoir Dogs, no Fargo, not even Boardwalk Empire, the HBO series he was ostensibly promoting by appearing on the show.
There was an interesting phenomenon taking place this week that's indicative of the split in the season so far. There were several repeat sketches (of stuff we haven't necessarily seen in a while, but a repeat is a repeat) and a handful of original ones, and the original sketches were so much better than the familiar ones that they almost saved the entire episode. Overall, this week's show didn't work, because too many of the sketches fell flat or died (remember: two or three good sketches, no bad ones and you've got a successful show), but the new stuff was so interesting and often funny that I wish the message would come through already. This is the direction in which the show needs to go. They've been placating the audience with "remember this?" sketches for too many seasons now, and it hasn't gotten them anywhere (except very high ratings, of course). I want the show to be more willing to take chances. That's when it's great.
- "Cold Open: Obama in One" - As much as I'm trying to be positive this season, it's hard not to get disheartened when SNL opens with a sketch like this one. It felt lazy, for lack of a better word, and was a chilling reminder that the presidential election is still a year away. We've got a bunch more of these to look forward to. (Watch the "Obama in One" video)
- "Steve Buscemi Monologue" - There's an idea at work in host Buscemi's monologue that I like this week, but it never goes to the places I would like it to go. Buscemi is a famous character actor, so the bit about all of the most common supporting character "types" in movies showing up in the audience was reasonably clever; unfortunately, it played like the writers had made a list of them and called it a day. What's worse, there was no thought or build worked into the order. The fact that Kristen Wiig as the "final girl" from a horror movie -- a trope that has been parodied countless times -- showed up so late proved that the order was almost arbitrary. I did like Nasim Pedrad as the hip-hop granny, and Jay Pharoah's sassy judge, and Andy Samberg saying "You take care of her" and Kenan Thompson not fully disappearing from the frame. I guess I liked more than I thought. (Watch the "Steve Buscemi Monologue" video)
- "Frozen Mexican Dinner" - Like the weekly Digital Shorts, I tend to have high standards with SNL's commercial parodies -- probably because they're short, have the luxury of being pre-taped and at least come with some sort of built-in concept. That means that when a commercial is as uninspired as this week's, it's particularly disappointing -- not because it's that bad, but simply because it isn't better. (Watch the "Frozen Mexican Dinner" video)
- "Miley Cyrus Show" - I'm still a fan of Vanessa Bayer's Miley Cyrus impression (though the constant cutaways to Jason Sudekis as her dad, Billy Ray, constantly kill the momentum of the sketches), but this is a sketch that has need to change or evolve for some time. It hasn't. Like so many of the oft-repeated sketches on the show, it's always the same, and while I understand the appeal of writing such a sketch, it doesn't work as well in the execution. Saturday Night Live episodes shouldn't be interchangeable. (Watch the "Miley Cyrus Show" video)
- "Digital Short: Batman" - I'm pretty indifferent towards the Digital Short this week. There were things to like about it: Steve Buscemi makes a pretty convincing Gary Oldman, Paul Brittain's Aquaman popping up was funny, Andy Samberg's ridiculous Batman voice was ok (even if it's already been done a few other places, perhaps most notably by Danny Pudi on Community) and I liked the last line. And, yet, I don't remember it as being one of the highlights of the night, which might say more about me than about the sketch. (Watch the "Digital Short: Batman" video)
- "Coach Bert" - I still don't know if SNL has figured out a way to make the current rash of sex scandals very funny, but this was a much more successful effort than Jason Sudekis ranting about Penn State during "Weekend Update" a few weeks ago. It worked better because it mostly avoided jokes directly about rape (although Jay Pharoah's line about "I wish I had been [molested] [I'm paraphrasing]) might have rubbed a lot of people the wrong way), and the constant build of experts being brought out at the press conference kept things moving in a good way. Steve Buscemi's reactions were funny, as was the joke about Birdman having a million friends. The song was overkill, though, because Saturday Night Live. (Watch the "Coach Bert" video)
- "Dateline" - Bill Hader has done his impression of Datline's Keith Morrison several times before (though it has been a while, I guess), and it is very funny -- especially when you actually try and watch a Keith Morrison interview and can't get Hader's "Ohhhh?" out of your head. But there's nothing more to the sketch than that, and it's not enough to carry the whole thing. Oh well. (Watch the "Dateline" video)
- "Sex Ed Couples Therapy" - Man, going through these sketches again is a reminder of just how mixed this week's show was. I don't think I loved this Paul Brittain video piece overall, but, at the same time, I kind of loved it. It's not terribly funny (though the demonstrations of the different gay sex acts he gives are amusing), but I like how odd it is, and how much it feels like a character piece belonging totally to Brittain. It's like they gave him a camera for a week, and he went off and made this piece. Sometimes I wish SNL had more sketches like this, so that we could get several different comic voices inside of each episode instead of everything being homogenized into a single "SNL voice." Parts of this actually felt like an old Mr. Show sketch, and that can't be interpreted as anything but a compliment. I only wish it had made me laugh more. Still, it's great to see Brittain getting a showcase. He's not used correctly very often, but when he is (I'm thinking of his Mother's Day sketch from last season, or "Wyndemere" from a few weeks back), he almost always kills it. I hope he's able to stick around and find his place. (Watch the "Sex Ed Couples Therapy" video)
- "Surprise Lady" - It's hard to find something new to say about this incredibly tired Kristen Wiig big. I didn't really think it was funny the first time, so it's hard for me to be super positive about it after 10 go arounds. Like an old Matt Foley or "Superstar" sketch, we're basically just waiting around for Wiig to run through a wall or fall down or something, but at least Chris Farley and Molly Shannon had a gift for physical comedy. If the show never did this character again, I would be ok with it. Actually, more accurately, I wouldn't even realize it had gone away. (Watch the "Surprise Lady" video)
- "Ornaments" - Well, at least they saved the best for last. This was a really funny sketch: good jokes, great deadpan delivery by Steve Buscemi (nice to see him getting to be funny for maybe the first time of the night). Even the Kristen Wiig bits worked. This is one of those sketches I could see becoming part of some future SNL holiday compilation, if those things were still produced. Further proof that when doing something original this week, the show was almost always interesting and often funny. Let's hope some of the right lessons were learned. (Watch the "Ornaments" video)
- Original Air Date: 12/3/11
- Host: Steve Buscemi
- Musical Guest: The Black Keys