Saturday Night Live: Ben Stiller Was There

Eddie Murphy was a no-show. Prior to Saturday, the internet was ablaze with rumors that he’d return to the show that launched his career for a cameo, but it never materialized. Apparently Murphy has boycotted Saturday Night Live for years over comments David Spade once made about him, and is waiting for an apology from Lorne Michaels. And it’s probably just as well. It would have been depressing to watch him slide into the frame and utter one of his legendary SNL catchphrases, all for a cheap round of applause. Either host the whole episode, or not at all, I always say! (Actually, that’s the first time I’ve ever said that.)

Meanwhile, we saw plenty of Murphy's Tower Heist co-star Ben Stiller. For such an unassuming star, Stiller provokes a lot of strong reactions in people. People really hate him! For me, he’s a throwback to radio-era comedians like Jack Benny and Bob Hope. He has his shtick and he does it well, but I neither get particularly excited or particularly annoyed by him—he’s just there. Which, funnily enough, is the same way I felt about the third SNL episode of the season.

The show was back to its politically-themed cold opens with a sketch in which Jason Sudeikis played an uncharismatic Mitt Romney who failed to impress a bored press corps. Instead, it was Chris Christie, played by Bobby Moynihan, who got all the attention as a New Jersey wiseguy who called the reporters “meatballs.”

The monologue was actually pretty good, because it featured a Willy Wonka wonderland of Jewish foods (playing off Stiller’s Jewishness and the breaking of the Yom Kippur fast). It played out very much like one of my typical fever dreams. Unfortunately, the clip isn’t online due to music rights issues (they use the tune to “Pure Imagination”), but the set was pretty great—it featured a mustard fountain and giant matzoh balls!—and kept me sufficiently entertained.

The trio of commercials that played throughout the episode parodied those investment firm ads in which an actor meets and has a conversation with an aged version of himself. The joke in each variation was that the younger version ended up having sex with the older version. (In an airplane, to make it even more shocking!) Here’s what I thought about these commercials: PHBLLLLFFFFFFFFFT. That’s the sound of me giving them a raspberry. First of all, those commercials are old. Do they even run anymore? They feel very turn-of-the-millennium to me. Secondly, and more importantly, they were not funny. Yes, even when the future-selves were dressed in fat suits.

The sketch parodying Hank Williams Jr.’s recent visit to Fox and Friends was like shooting low-hanging fish in a barrel, but satisfying all the same. I guess my one observation here would be that SNL is clearly grooming Taran Killam to take over for Jason Sudeikis as the show’s all-purpose leading man, yet the guy just isn’t particularly funny? Imagine what Phil Hartman or Will Ferrell could have done with that buffoonish Steve Doocy part. (Though Killam does make more of an impression one than the other dude, who I was sure they would cut, yet who reappeared this season. What's his name again?)

Then there was an Andy Samberg sketch in which he did a terrible impression of Hugh Jackman on a talk show called Best of Both Worlds. The joke was that Jackman acts both manly (as Wolverine) and “feminine” (in his many Broadway shows). I’ve made the same observation about Jackman before, but this sketch came off as unfunny and homophobic. Just because Jackman himself showed up (as Daniel Radcliffe, for some reason?) didn’t make it any more acceptable. Bill Hader’s Clint Eastwood did make me laugh, though.

Samberg did have a redemptive sketch in his V-neck face-off with a weird, swarthy Stiller character. V-necks: rich, untapped comedy goldmine!

It’s funny, Foster the People writes very catchy songs, but I’ve always thought of them as a kind of dorky, uncool band. So, fittingly enough, they had Kenny G. playing tenor sax on “Houdini,” their best song. It all made perfect sense to me, even if it left a lot of other people scratching their heads.

"Weekend Update" featured a new character from Kristen Wiig: Nan Washingtom, a party planner who's obsessed with her single idea of throwing a pancake-themed party. Kind of derivative of several other Wiig characters, though I enjoyed Wiig’s wiig. The big moment came a little later, with a pairing of Stefon and Derek Zoolander. I was indifferent to the entire thing. Is Stefon over? Discuss.

Two recurring sketches that definitely need to be taken out behind the barn and shot are Wiig’s Shanna and the Juggalos gathering parodies. Shanna, who talks like Marilyn Monroe, makes a trio of guys horny, except for one guy, but then does gross things that disgust the trio but not the one guy who initially found her hot. Does that sound like a confusing and illogical premise for a recurring sketch? That's because it is.

As for the Juggalos parodies, the first time we saw this sketch it was a revelation. Now it’s become the equivalent of Stefon's "Weekend Update" appearances: Just a list of random, outrageous things that don’t belong together. All the comedy has been drained. Can’t SNL just try some new ideas? Give it a rest, already!

Finally, the episode ended with Stiller’s tired Bruce Springsteen impression, and a trailer parody of Moneyball that made it about juicing, and therefore was called Tiny Balls. Get it? Groan.

Note, once again, Taran Killam in the Brad Pitt leading-man role. (Note also how forgettable he was in it.)

All in all, a mediocre episode. What did you make of it?

QUESTIONS:

... Will SNL survive the departures of Kristen Wiig and Jason Sudeikis at the end of this season?

... Did you notice how Fred Armisen seems to be taking a diminished role? Do you think he’s ready to fly the coop, too?

... Does Taran Killam have the star power the show seems to think he has?

... Which of the newer cast members are the strongest? The weakest?

Comments (16)
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Taram Killam is great.That Eminem sketch on last year's valentine show was amazing.!



SNL will bounce back, the trouble is us, The viewers.. we are a hard-to-please bunch!!

we spend time listing sketches that should be removed just because in one or two saturday nights they were not up to par. Some sketches you need to quickly be in the know to get, some not so.



For a saturday night, Stefon is always hilarious.



..And yes, i have noticed how Fred Armisen seems to be fading in the backgrounds!



I wont miss Gilly but when Kristen Wiig depart, i will definitely miss Junice!.. i have nightmares about those hands.
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SNL is so weak right now,only tradition is holding this show on TV and each week they are tearing its reputation down
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I thought the episode was just okay. As to question #1, SNL will always be able to bounce back when people leave, it has survived the departure of Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, Adam Sandler, etc., etc. It will certainly survive the departure of Jason Sudeikis.
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They are my favorite cast members. I miss "what's up with that".
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i don't really get why people hate ben stiller, there are so many people who are more hatable... steve carrell, for example. i thought some of the sketches were funny and some werent, don;t hate ben stiller, dont love him, he;s just there. and usually funny.

quite frankly i dont get what everybody loves about kristen wiig and am looking forward to not seeing her on SNL (i know mine is not the popular opinion)
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The Hugh Jackman sketch was the funniest part of the show I actually found myself laughing quite a bit (except at Stillers Mandy Patinkin which was odd), And Stefon is always and will always be hilarious to me!
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Two Sides was the only skit to make me laugh, and I laughed the whole time.
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I didn't realize that Kristen and Jason were leaving at the end of this season.
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I thought this episode was better than the first two. At least I did not skip whole sketches or the musical performances. I thought the monologue was horrible (the one part I almost skipped). I love Foster the People and Kenny G was playing a soprano sax not a tenor. I don't think there are many sketches that should last longer than a few repeats.
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Oh, thanks for correcting the instrument.
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i think that half of the cast will leave after this season. fred, suds, and wiig are going to bolt. not to mention keenan is not getting much screen time either.
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I liked the episode. Especially the second half of the episode from the snl digital short onwards.
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Killam is pretty much going to be the star of the show once the big guns are gone, unless they get someone REALLY good next season. You'd better get used to him.
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Come on, Killam is one of the best impersonators around; he killed last year's valentines day episode with that Eminem get up.
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Not a bad episode. A HUGE improvement over last weeks episode. It also kept Ben Stiller to a minimum, which is good. Ironically, I love Stefon and the Underground commercials.



I don't mind Taran Killam. I think he's the strongest of the new cast members. I like Vanessa too. Paul is dull and Jay never appears, so I don't have a strong opinion.



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