This week's Saturday Night Live was the last episode of the new season before the show takes a short (two-week) break, and while it was yet another tremendously uneven outing (keeping the streak alive at four-for-four), I thought it was probably the funniest of the season so far. It was nowhere near consistent and failed to meet the criteria I laid out last season -- at least two good sketches and no bad ones (there were several sketches this week than can only be described as the worst) -- but there were individual lines here and there that offered some big bright spots.
I'll admit I was nervous about 300 star Gerard Butler hosting the show, primarily because his appeal as a movie star has eluded me and he's never struck me as being particularly...what's the word?...funny. He turned out to be a big, happy surprise -- for me, anyway -- due to his tremendous enthusiasm and commitment to even the lamest of bits. From his opening monologue, a lame bit where he performed a song from Phantom of the Opera while people attacked him with swords (because he was in both Phantom and 300, see?), you could tell that he was genuinely excited to be on Saturday Night Live. That's a rarer thing than you'd think; every host says it, but it's just lips service right before they plug their latest movie. When someone is really happy -- as Butler was -- you can tell.
I hate to say this, but am I crazy for thinking that Shakira's performance of "She Wolf" was the funniest thing of the night? It was like watching someone's drunk aunt dance at a wedding.
- "Sports Show" - The show continued to repeat itself early on in this week's episode by bringing back Bill Hader's alien sportscaster. It's an idea that's way funnier in concept than in execution, despite Hader's considerable gifts. The whole thing just kind of laid there. (Watch "Sports Show" video)
- "Beauty and the Beast" - Here was the week's first bright spot. Not a perfect sketch, but the first one to have me laughing all night, whether it was Kristen Wiig's reaction to Butler (under impressive makeup, considering how quickly it was applied) saying "transformation" or his replacing the word "beast" with "six." It was short, had an idea and executed it -- though having everyone sing "Beauty and the Beast" to end the sketch was a non-punchline that smacks of the laziness that's been irking me so far this season. Still, not a bad sketch. (Watch "Beauty and the Beast" video)
- "Update: Colorado Balloon" - Well, SNL, here was a chance to do some material about one of the week's biggest stories and this is the way you choose to cover it. Do I applaud you for taking the high road and blowing off this nonsense? Or am I disappointed that you couldn't come up with something stronger? This is hurting my mind grapes. (Watch "Colorado Balloon" video)
- "Update: Gerard Butler" - It's rare that the guest host sit in for an "Update" segment, so I was happy to see Gerard Butler show up for this; once again, his enthusiasm and genuine excitement to be hosting came through. Plus, there were a few really funny lines delivered by "Update" anchor Seth Meyers (though none as funny as an earlier "Update" joke about NBC not having $2 million). (Watch "Update: Gerard Butler" video)
- "The Spartans" - Sure, it felt like a cheap cashing-in on host Butler's biggest and most well-known film role despite being several years after the fact, and it tried to compensate by including some clumsy political commentary, but I still thought "Spartans" was a decent sketch. It was basically one joke -- that all the Spartan army is secretly gay -- but there were a few funny lines. Bobby Moynihan raising his hand made me laugh, too. It's all about timing. (Watch "The Spartans" video)
- "What Up With That?" - If I didn't already have the sinking feeling that SNL is going to repeat this sketch a bunch of times, I might consider it my favorite of the night. Kenan Thompson-centric sketches are rarely a highlight, but I liked the absurdity of the conceit: a talk show never gets going because the host won't stop singing. Not sure why James Franco agreed to sit in for a wordless guest spot, but at least it featured the only Abby Elliot of the night. Jason Sudekis' dancing was another nice touch. This is the kind of sketch that's funny as a one-off, where you can someday say "remember that sketch about the talk show with the singing?" Instead, it's likely to become a staple of the season and destroy its own legacy. Just watch. Watch "What Up With That?" video)
- "New Secretary" - Ugh. The only thing as bad (if not worse) than sketches built around Kristen Wiig making a face are sketches where Kristen Wiig does a voice. This wasn't funny when she introduced it last season with Steve Martin, and it isn't funny now. Sketches like this make me think Wiig (who I still believe deep down is funny) is becoming this cast's Molly Shannon. Double ugh. (Watch "New Secretary" video)
- "Daveheart" - Hey, Gerard Butler is Scottish! Hey, we already did a 300 sketch! What's left? I know! A dopey Braveheart parody! A typical late-show sketch, made somewhat worse by an odd sense of pacing. Still, Butler managed to sell it -- his shriek every time he thought a goat was a dragon (which, by the way, is funny) made me laugh. Of all this season's hosts so far, I found Butler to be the best surprise and the most able to salvage less-than-stellar material. (Watch "Daveheart" video)
- Original Air Date: 10/17/09
- Host: Gerard Butler
- Musical Guest: Shakira