Saturday Night Live: Ben Stiller Was There

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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?

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