SNL: Tears, F-bombs, Nirvana, and Best of All, Martin Short

By Price Peterson

Dec 17, 2012

Saturday Night Live S38E10: "Martin Short & Paul McCartney"

Martin Short has always been one of the best things we've got going for those of us humans who enjoy laughter. Major "no duh" statement, I know, but it can be hard to remember the reality of Martin Short's awesomeness due to how infrequently he appears in the national spotlight. I mean, yeah, he's not exactly a hermit, but he's also no Steve Martin who splits his time between everything all of the time. Even better, Martin Short is definitely in the coasting-and-accepting-paychecks part of his career (ugh, those Old Navy ads), but he still manages to do some of the weirdest and riskiest alt-comedy of anyone of his generation. Like, do people even appreciate how bizarre Jiminy Glick was as a character? Or Short's stint on Arrested Development? I shouldn't even have to mention how incredible Clifford is. Point is, Martin Short is a household name, but he operates with just enough subversive weirdness to make him seem like a bit of a comedy dark horse, and on this week's SNL he brought that weirdness full force. He was terrific!

If we're being honest, the entire episode wasn't quite as solid as last week's Jamie Foxx showcase (another example of a sketch veteran bringing his A-game), but this week's more holiday-centric episode felt more like a traditional variety show. Tons of guest stars, lots of music, a dead-serious and devastating tribute to tragic events of the past week, a possible Samuel L. Jackson F-bomb, a quasi Nirvana reunion. I mean, it was a full show! But for me, Martin Short was the best part. Let's talk about it!

[Apologies to international readers for these embedded clips, Hulu can be a bit of a jerk.]

Cold Open: "Silent Night"

Oh, just the New York Children's Chorus singing a somber rendition of "Silent Night." If you weren't sobbing by the time they got to "sleep in heavenly peace," then I don't know what to tell you. Seriously, I don't know why I look to a comedy show to so perfectly address certain IRL tragedies, but SNL is just so very, very good at it. Understated, devastating, and perfect.

Martin Short's Monologue

I truly wish this was online because Martin Short's opening monologue was just about as perfect as you can get, and perhaps the show's highlight overall. After some extremely funny and weird jokes, he segued into charming banter with Paul Shaffer ("Which show do you work for again?") before gallivanting around the studio greeting tons of guest stars (including Kristen Wiig, Tina Fey, Tom Hanks, Jimmy Fallon, and Samuel L. Jackson) and then planting a kiss on Lorne Michaels. Just a very fun and funny opening monologue.

The Tony Bennett Show

This sketch is not yet online and I can't even seem to find a picture of it. Did it even happen? Maybe I dreamed it? Anyway, it wasn't extremely stellar, but it WAS nice seeing Alec Baldwin doing his Tony Bennett impression (alongside Martin Short as Tony Bennett's clingy younger brother). Yeah this sketch, assuming it happened, was more fun to watch than funny.

Royal Family Doctor

I loved this sketch so much. The gynecologist assigned to treating Kate Middleton during her pregnancy was briefed on the protocol for handling a royal pregnancy, and Martin Short's character was as over-the-top silly as possible. I laughed so much at all the euphemisms for ladyparts: The Royal [Ahem], Her Downton Abbey, The Kingmaker, The Chunnel, Judi Dench, and Thomas's English Muffin. It's no surprise that straight-man Bill Hader could barely keep it together, particularly when Fred Armisen came in to do his Cockney Queen routine ("I'm 'ere to get me Judi Dench warshed"). Ugh, so good.

You're a Rat Bastard, Charlie Brown

This was a pretty standard SNL showcase for celebrity impressions, but the thing that made it work was how specific it was: The actors chosen for spoofing are mostly known for their hard-edged New York personas. But the best part was how it was filmed to look like an actual stage show, complete with hilarious cutaways to confused/disapproving children in the audience. Oh and the Fran Drescher "voiceover" had me LOL-ing for sure, but I'm easy like that.

Paul McCartney: "My Valentine"

This nice-seeming old lady did a pretty good Paul McCartney impression. Not sure if the man responsible for so many of the Beatles' hits would ever write a song like this, but whatever. Perfectly pleasant.

Weekend Update

Seth Meyers did Weekend Update jokes.

Commentary: Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy

I appreciated Vanessa Bayer's character here, not so much because it was particularly hilarious, but because of how uncomfortably accurate it seemed. Mazel tov.

Commentary: Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started a Conversation With at a Party

Wow, this character is turning out to be pretty amazing right? Cecily Strong has done this before, but I think this was the best installment yet. Checking her texts got me every time. What a truly gross person!

What Up With That?

I'm on board for this recurring sketch and have been from the beginning. It's always been a perfect marriage of live TV insanity and rapid-fire comedy. Maybe its absence had made my heart grow fonder, but I really loved this one. Jason Sudeikis smoking a cigarette. Grinchina the Female Grinch. Samuel L. Jackson dropping what SOUNDED like an F-bomb, and then Kenan Thompson ad-libbing for him to settle down because "That costs money!" For the record, Jackson insisted he didn't actually say the whole word, but I felt like *I* heard the full word, and it's not like Jackson's tweet afterward made things clearer:

Anyway, who cares? This was a really fun sketch, and if more live-TV F-bombs are what it takes, then go for it, everyone!

Paul McCartney & Nirvana (sort of): "Cut Me Some Slack"

I'm truly and honestly not sure how I felt about this collaboration between Paul McCartney and the surviving members of Nirvana. When they did it the other night for that Sandy benefit, I figured it was a one-off for charity. But two's a trend, and it's a trend that weirdly depresses me. It's not even like I'm the hugest Nirvana purist, but I wish they could've collaborated with someone who wasn't Paul McCartney, you know? Nirvana and Paul McCartney go together like toothpaste and orange juice. OR, they could've at least covered "Rape Me." I probably would've enjoyed that.

Old Friends

This pleasant sketch wasn't particularly amazing, but Fred Armisen's interplay with Martin Short and their bizarre one-upsmanship over how sad their lives have become really kept my attention. This was more of a smiler than a laffer.

Holiday Pageant/"Wonderful Christmas Time"

This sketch started out fairly traditional: Martin Short and his "brother" played by Paul McCartney were doing a bad audition for a Christmas pageant while also bickering, and then it all segued into McCartney doing a real performance of "Wonderful Christmas Time." For those of you who enjoy that particular Christmas classic, it was probably a total delight. Me, I hate that song with every fabric of my being, and it was just as grating with a children's choir as it is with that awful synth-funk instrumentation in the original. Get out of here, that song. Entertaining idea though!

Okay, so I'm not the biggest Paul McCartney fan, but I respect the man, and I obviously love Martin Short. All in all, I thought SNL pulled out all the stops for its last episode of the year and I appreciated that immensely. A fitting hiatus send-off for sure.

How did YOU think Martin Short fared? What was your favorite sketch of the night?

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  • youngnan Dec 20, 2012

    IT started excellent with "how does a man sit on a piano?" and What's up with that was just perfect, f bomb and all.

  • AkiraHideyo Dec 19, 2012

    Martin Short is truly a comedic icon. He and Sam Neil were both role perfect on the TV miniseries, Merlin, many years ago. Timeless classic show.

  • katikool Dec 18, 2012

    I still love What Up With That! Kenan Thompson and all the bit characters (Sudeikis doing the running man!) are all so enthusiastic it's just infectiously fun and it always gets a few chuckles out of me. I'm just easy, I guess.

    I also didn't even realize I liked Martin Short until this episode! What is wrong with me???

  • radrobd Dec 18, 2012

    Sorry but I disagree. "What Up with That?" is not funny. It gets less funny every time it airs. Even Jackson's F-bomb couldn't save it.

  • JohnCouto Dec 18, 2012

    I don't find Keenan Thompson funny at all. I like him in the show, but not when he's the main point of a sketch. Eh, idk.

  • StJamesBlonde Dec 18, 2012

    I truly enjoy reading your recaps Price. SNL was good, not amazing but a solid good. Best moments: opening monologue, surprising guest stars and Sameul's F-bomb along w/ Kenan's adlib. I do agree with you Martin Short was a great host and by far one of the better ones because in fact he knows a thing or two about comedic timing.

  • milkhaswings Dec 17, 2012

    I enjoy Martin Short's comedy more than most, and he certainly helped make this one of the finer episodes of the season. I just hope Short gets back to taking some more dramatic roles; his work on season 3 of Damages was absolutely stellar.

  • turmoil23 Dec 17, 2012

    weird thing is the show is 15 seconds recorded, they had time to beep it

  • JT_Kirk Dec 17, 2012

    To be honest, Price, I'm glad Martin Short doesn't stick his face into everything. A little of him goes a long way, he can be a brilliant actor but he rarely knows when to rein it in - facial expressions, broad characters, odd voices, he generally takes them way beyond where they should have landed to be funny. Yet you look at his guest role on Law & Order SVU a few years ago and he's able to convey such a wide range from light and safe to utterly, gloriously evil. But Jiminy Glick was at large times unwatchable, and Short quickly (as evidenced in a few returning characters of his in this SNL) fell into the SNL repetitive trap from 30 years ago.

    All that said, Jamie Foxx's episode was the lowest point for the show, and you're one of the very few people I've seen to have enjoyed that one.

    Opening the show on a children's choir singing such a somber song was rough, I got what they were going for but man, that set a sad tone. All I was left with though was "why are these kids awake so late?" which was repeated at 1am.

    The monologue was pretty good for what it was, it was great to see Paul Shaffer back on SNL having fun too.

    The Tony Bennett Show sketch needed another pass at writing, and it felt like Alec Baldwin wasn't bringing his A-game to one of his standards, while Short kept coming and going with his material, and sticking hard to his cue cards.

    Royal Family Doctor felt a little icky after the nurse's suicide from that prank last week, the overarching joke was weak but some of the gags within were funny.

    Oh, that Charlie Brown sketch, if ever there was a need for a tighter piece of writing, that was halfway to brilliance but felt bogged down by the limitation of having to cram a bunch of impressions in. Fran Drescher as the "wah wah wah" adult voice was funny though.

    I tried to give My Valentine a chance, but it wasn't working for me so I passed about a minute in.

    Seth Meyers mangled easy news jokes and yelled at the camera. The Bar Mitzvah Boy gag lost its way in the character, if that character had delivered something more it could have been genius, instead it was merely an exercise in repetition. Not seeing what you are enjoying out of this Girl You Wish You Hadn't... gag, it was funny once for the first few seconds and now is just a female wannabe-drunk uncle.

    Don't get why anybody can stand What Up With That, it was terrible the first time when it was making a point, and now it's the same identical joke over and and over and over ad naseum. I must give props to my behated Kenan Thompson here though, he was able to pick up the pieces fast when Samuel L. Jackson swore on live TV, Thompson was able to stay in character even as he was clearly surprised by it. I also don't know what SLJ is getting at with that tweet. On the west coast, they blanked the whole word and its following obscenity (assuming there was one).

    Cut Me Some Slack, it was nice to see Paul McC play something with teeth, but it was an odd grouping with Nirvana, and I didn't realize how surprising it was to see Dave Grohl behind the drums again. Apparently there's an itunes studio release of them doing this together, so it's a thing they're pimping.

    Old Friends felt like a brilliant piece of rolling improve that forgot to go somewhere, each line was cute but if they had taken the gag around town it would have been even better, spent the day together being broken bizarre people to each other and the world it would have been a more solid sketch.

    Holiday Pageant was a sketch that needed to get past its joke, and using a segue to an actual song was one way but I do feel like it could have benefitted from more nuance as well. Wonderful Christmas Time is a very shallow tune, a decade back I heard it the first time in a store and for that season I heard it LITERALLY EVERY SINGLE DAY IN STORES! So it's cute enough but boy does it wear its welcome hard.

    All in all, this didn't feel like the disaster that the Jamie Foxx one felt (deference to Mr. Peterson), but hardly a home run either, more like a middling 6 out of 10 episode.

  • brag0031 Dec 18, 2012

    "Cut Me Some Slack" is on the soundtrack to Dave Grohl's new film. Look for the story on The AV Club's website.

  • Whedonrules Dec 17, 2012

    "Happy X-Mas (War is Over)" is as superior to Paul's fluff as John Lennon was to Paul in The Beatles.

    The BEST Christmas song however is The Kinks "Father Christmas".

  • shocker713 Dec 18, 2012

    So...not at all then?

  • IndianaMom Dec 17, 2012

    I was confused as to why Paul did a Valentines song in the Christmas episode.

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