I don't think that anyone could have imagined back when Daniel Radcliffe was plucked from obscurity to play boy wizard Harry Potter that he would one day be a grown, hairy man hosting Saturday Night Live. And, yet, here he was: grown, hairy, British, incredibly nice and sincere and happy to be there. This week's show was a sharp contrast to last week's Charles Barkley-hosted episode, in that the show last week was built around the fact that Barkley is not a particularly talented performer -- it worked (sort of) in spite of the host, not because of him. This week, however, Radcliffe managed to be the thing that came off the best. He was rarely funny, but he committed one hundred percent to everything he was in (including a funny piece as Casey Anthony's new dog on "Weekend Update") and overcame some uneven material to always be the bright spot in just about every sketch (there were exceptions to this rule, of course).
- "Mitt Romney Cold Open" - There's nothing all that funny about Jason Sudekis's Mitt Romney impression, but that's because there's not much that's actually funny about Mitt Romney. He is a robot without a soul; that's pretty much it. I perked up a little, then, when it seemed like the angle that SNL would be taking on Mitt Romney going forward would be that he is an alien attempting to approximate human behavior. I thought it would be so great if the show felt daring enough to liberate itself from reality a little bit and essentially create a "character" for Romney that didn't depend entirely on the week's news cycle. Unfortunately, the cold open abandoned this conceit halfway through to specifically address this week's news cycle, and it turned into a sketch about how Romney can only communicate in the language of firing things. Not great, but at least it was sort of an idea. The opener ultimately didn't work because it was too long and because it only halfway committed to two separate concepts, but I'll take a sketch with multiple ideas over a sketch with none. I didn't have to wait too long for one of those, anyway. (Watch the "Mitt Romney Cold Open" video)
- "Daniel Radcliffe Monologue" - Daniel Radcliffe seems very nice and very sincere, and he brought those qualities to pretty much every sketch in which he appeared this week. His monologue had some funny ideas that didn't totally come together -- that was a theme this week -- and I wish that the show would have come up with some more ideas for terrible Harry Potter-themed sketches. It was a much funnier idea that what the show actually ended up doing for its inevitable Potter sketch.
- "Target Lady" - It's a bad sign when something as tired as a "Target Lady" sketch is being rolled out so early in the show. While the episode wasn't as weak as this sketch would indicate, it was very heavy on the funny Kristen Wiig voices, which doesn't usually make for the best shows. Like every host to appear in "Target Lady" sketch before him, Daniel Radcliffe was stranded here, with unfunny material and costuming that smacked of desperation. I supposed teenage girls might have enjoyed when he ripped his shirt off, but everybody else probably had a hard time finding something to like here. (Watch the "Target Lady" video)
- "Ricky Gervais Promos" - So many of the sketches this week were somewhat wanting, with premises full of potential that was usually only half realized. This Ricky Gervais sketch was a good example of that: Jason Sudekis's impression is funny enough and pinpoints some of Gervais' more self-satisfied affectations, and the fake promo seemed to have a handle on the whole "This isn't your parents' awards show" vibe that NBC has been using to promote the Golden Globes. But it never quite took it far enough, and the fake awards shows never got quite silly enough. Also, the last bit about the BET awards? Pretty racist. (Watch the "Ricky Gervais Promos" video)
- "Headz Up App" - This is now the second week in a row to feature an "app" sketch, and I'm wondering if we're going to see a whole bunch more. I get the appeal; it feels relevant and current (because APPS!) and is a totally flexible structure on which to hang some comedy. There wasn't much special about this week's "app" sketch, but it was short and inoffensive. If nothing else, Bobby Moynihan's fall off the bull provided me with the biggest laugh of the night. I had to rewind it and watch it more than once. (Watch the "Headz Up App" video)
- "Harry Potter Epilogue" - I don't know how much of my disappointment in this sketch came from the fact that the monologue had already taken the air out of it and how much was the sketch itself. While the sight of Daniel Radcliffe in his flannel shirt made me chuckle, the rest of the sketch was mostly just name-checking characters and references from the Harry Potter universe. Like in every sketch of the night, Radcliffe was enjoyable to watch even if he wasn't terribly funny, but much of what was surrounding him felt like it was going through the motions. (Watch the "Harry Potter Epilogue" video)
- "Spin the Bottle" - Not a ton for me to like here, except Bill Hader's possibly dead homeless guy. On some level, I could relate to this sketch; not being able to kiss Abby Elliott has been one of the more frustrating experiences of my life, too. (Watch the "Spin the Bottle" video)
- "You Can Do Anything" - My favorite sketch of the night, but also the most frustrating. SNL really tapped into something with this sketch, making fun of our whole culture of self-made celebrities -- or, as Bill Maher says, "Everyone wants to be the show, no one wants to see the show." There were a bunch of really funny lines ("I tried, and that means no one should criticize me!") and some great observations, but the whole sketch felt like it had to keep spoonfeeding us what made it funny. In a better version of the sketch, the song that Jason Sudekis sang would have sounded just like one of those garbage emo songs that the untalented masses upload to YouTube every day (or like the ones Lana Del Rey sang -- YIKES). Instead, his song was cartoonishly simple and bad, so that every single audience member understands that he does not actually have talent. I know SNL is writing for a much, much wider audience than something more niche like Portlandia, but it's hard to see just how well-observed the satire is on that latter series and not wish that more shows were like that. (Watch the "You Can Do Anything" video)
- "2112" - Like the "Exit Polling" sketch (which we'll get to in just a minute), there were some choices made for TV that kept this from being as good as it might have otherwise been. The premise was solid enough, and I liked how slowly the comparisons to Earth in the past and the future got very, very strange (like Kristen Wiig saying that back in 2012, she remained Caucasian all night while sleeping). Unfortunately, the way the thing was structured meant that it had to keep cutting back to the alien audience of the future reacting and laughing, as though we wouldn't otherwise understand the conceit that the things the 2012 "actors" were saying were no longer true in 100 years. Those beats continually stepped on the laughs and disrupted the pace of the sketch. Get rid of all that, and you've got something pretty funny. (Watch the "2112" video)
- "The Jay Pharoah Show" - I got a little excited when the title card for "The Jay Pharoah Show" came on screen, because it meant that not only was he getting his own showcase sketch, but his name was even in the title. If the sketch were to break out, that would be huge for him. Having seen it, I don't think there's much chance of that happening. Actually, the sketch was like a concentrated examination of what's wrong with Pharoah on the show: we don't know who he is, save for a guy that does pretty good Will Smith and Denzel Washington impressions. That's literally all he did during "The Jay Pharoah Show," so we still only know that much about him. I'm still pulling for him to find his place and succeed in the cast, but this felt like a pretty big missed opportunity. (Watch the "Jay Pharoah Show" video)
- "Exit Polling" - Here's a sketch that actually felt hindered by the constraints of TV. It feels like a sketch that belongs on stage, oddly enough, because the pacing would have been better. Ultimately, that's what the problem was -- it was well written and performed, but it needed to move more quickly. Every time there was a pause to switch camera angles or whatever, it messed with the flow. The pauses between setups and punchlines were too long, especially when the joke needed to be how quickly and casually Kristen Wiig asked such personal or bizarre questions. Had it been tighter, this would have been the best sketch of the night by a pretty wide margin. Even with the lame punchline. (Watch the "Exit Polling" video)
- Original Air Date: 1/14/12
- Host: Daniel Radcliffe
- Musical Guest: Lana Del Rey