Monday, October 28, 2013

Saturday Night Live: The Ed Norton episode

Watching Ed Norton jump through the hoops required of an SNL guest host with such aplomb
led me to ponder the differences between a great host and a popular one.

In the great AND popular host category, Christopher Walken, Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin and Jon Hamm have managed to kill it on stage and earn enthusiastic invitations to return simply by virtue of being great actors. In a second category of popular hosts are people like Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan (who, thanks to a three-year sting in the mid-aughts, is almost a five-timer), Miley Cyrus, and Justin Timberlake (I'm aware I'm in the minority in thinking he's not that special as an SNL host. I'm not saying he's bad, but can we agree he gets A LOT of praise) who often get glowing reviews if they don't mess up.

In the midst of all this, I was thinking about how even though Ed Norton did a great job unlikely he'll ever get the attention for a great hosting job that someone like Justin Timberlake does even when he does a mediocre job. It's a shame because I think it's more impressive and fun watching a primarily dramatic actor do a redneck accent or an overexcited virgin than watching a popular teen idol marginally succeed at his quest to be liked by a youthful demographic who already likes him or her.

Outside of Norton, this week was notable for me in that it gave the opportunity for the three underused repertory cast members to shine: Aidy Bryant successfully avoided her go-to valley girl character for a whopping three sketches. Maybe she does have some range after all.
Similarly Jay Pharoah carried a sketch without resorting to doing an impression, and Pedrad (who did shine a lot in her first 4 seasons but hasn't had a lot to do this season) got the lead role in a character-based sketch. Pedrad excels at off-beat original characters similar to Kristen Wiig but thanks to the writing staff's restraint, Pedrad hasn't gotten the chance to run any of them into the ground.

In my opinion, the best sketch of the night was the "12 Days a Slave" parody. It was pointed, sharp, and full of odd moments of humor throughout. Hardly fifteen seconds went by without a solid joke.

I think sometimes SNL can be overly comfortable with regional stereotypes which is why the  exterminators sketch left a sour taste in my mouth. The sketch also failed because it didn't develop any of its three comedic concepts (1 People having a meeting  rudely interrupted, 2 Eccentric exterminators, and 3 Diabolically smart possums) well enough for any of the three angles to be

I thought the sketch about warning about the dangers of strangers was another big hit for me and had a good kernel of truth as I always felt like elementary school health and safety classes taught information that could be easily challenged (i.e. say no to weed, etc). The props department must have been lazy to not come up with any large desks.

I don't understand why the sketch about the virgin waiters was called "Ruth's Chris." Is that a reference to "Ruth's Crisp Steak House"?  Why do they need a brand name of a restaurant (who might or might not be comfortable with being used in a sketch) for the audience to associate that type of waiter with. I had a similar complaint about Target Lady (as in: Does Target, in particular, have crazy cashiers? If Target isn't specifically being satirized, why use the name?). Although it got humor from a couple crude places, I appreciated the enthusiasm of the quartet of virgin waiters. With over half (3/5 to be exact) of SNL's cast having been there for less than two years, it seems like the writers are trying to mix and match their 15 sketch actors as much as possible so that they might find some chemistry in the group.

Taran Killam's quasi-digital short took too long to get to its first joke although it seemed kind of sad which isn't a good thing if there's not a comic level to that sadness.

The Wes Anderson film, although very culturally specific, was wonderfully constructed. It was the kind of sketch you can watch multiple times and pick up something on new each repeated viewing.

The Rain Man parody looked good in concept but, unfortunately, didn't escalate anywhere. It's an example of a sketch that probably could have been improved if it went through another pass.

On the whole though, this was the kind of episode that was worthwhile thanks to Norton and cast members stepping it up.

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