We comedy nerds can complain all we want, but jocks will always have a place on SNL. Almost every season, Lorne Michaels invites a few famous athletes to give reading cue cards a shot, and while hosts like Charles Barkley or Tom Brady aren't exactly the most adept at sketch comedy, they bring in big ratings. And this is just my opinion here, but pro athletes also tend to have an amiable stiffness that can work well in a live-TV setting. I loved Barkley's sketch earlier this season when he played a burly lesbian coming out to his shocked friends and family, a relatively straightforward man-in-dress sketch that ended up being poignant, and it worked entirely on the strength of Barkley's deadpan line deliveries. So while I initially dread watching athlete-hosted episodes, by the end of them I'm usually on board.
That's exactly what happened this week when Peyton Manning's little brother Eli swung by 30 Rockefeller Plaza for 90 minutes of weirdness. The writers seemed to have recognized Manning's limitations and wrote sketches that enhanced his appeals, resulting in a consistently engaging run of sketches. Even though I wasn't laughing out loud necessarily, Manning came off as an entirely sweet and upbeat dude who seemed up for anything. To use insider-y athletics lingo, Eli Manning was a great sport!
[Apologies to international readers for these embedded clips, Hulu can be a bit of a jerk.]
Cold Opening: Fox and Friends
Not much to say about this parody of Fox & Friends, mainly because the real Fox & Friends is ALREADY a parody? What began as a pretty funny conversation among blowhard idiots ground to an awkward halt with Fred Armisen's awful (and boring?) Rupert Murdoch impression. Oh well! Moving on...
As I said, Eli Manning is about as stiff as they come, but his nervousness and aw-shucks personality went a long way toward winning me over. It was cool yet slightly awkward (j/k VERY awkward) when he pointed out his actual wife and offensive line sitting in the crowd and she was supposed to frown on cue about the fact that they'd all been in the delivery room together. The running gag about Eli Manning's New York experience actually being pretty limited was charming, especially when he recommended that a tourist can find NYC's best pasta at a New Jersey Olive Garden. But mostly the monologue was just an exercise in getting to know a guy who doesn't talk on camera very often (or comfortably).
Ad: Amazon Mother's Day
This Amazon.com ad made me laugh: For Mother's Day you can buy your special lady anything her heart desires, so long as it's 50 Shades of Grey. Because women love literary porno! The succession of women being walked in on while masturbating was funny every time. "Is that Joel McHale?" And how weird was it when the next commercial break featured a Kindle ad? Was the preceding parody an ACTUAL paid product placement, do you think?
Madden NFL Motion Capture
I liked this sketch and not just because it involved tons of spandex. This was where I realized I really liked Eli Manning: Every one of his proposed "touchdown" dances was really silly and weird, and I laughed out loud at the dropped-sandwich one. We also got Taran Killam doing a quick Tim Tebow and Kenan Thompson's Ray Lewis was pretty great also. But see what I'm saying? All Manning needed to do to pull off this bit was just be energetic and committed, so the writers definitely knew how to highlight his strengths here. (So did the costumers!)
Text Message Evidence
Here's a sketch that started off slow but ultimately proved pretty entertaining. The entire joke was that some dude's horny text messages were read aloud in court in the dryest possible way and Eli Manning nailed it. His recreations of emoticons and that cell phone pic of him holding a banana by his crotch were genuinely funny (and possibly a cheap shot at Brett Favre?). But yeah, this sketch wasn't laugh-out-loud hilarious as much as simply admirable. I liked it though, I was charmed.
Finally, an organization in which Eli Manning will help kids beat up their older brothers! I was halfway expecting a Peyton Manning cameo, but I'm glad they didn't go that route. This was just quick 'n breezy and it worked.
Herb Welch: Occupy Movement
The latest in a series of Herb Welch sketches, I'm not sure this one brought much to the table. We've seen this so many times now: The doddering old local news reporter mashing a microphone in people's faces and muttering incomprehensibly. There was an opportunity here to say something interesting about the occasionally freakish OWS protesters, but nothing truly interesting happened. I loved that Herb still had an Ash Wednesday mark on his forehead, but other than that this sketch left me pretty bored.
Rihanna: "Talk That Talk"
I don't know about this, you guys. I don't have really strong feelings about Rihanna either way, but this performance was one of the most dreadful SNL performances I've ever seen. I'm not sure if it was a bad sound mix (likely) or that the song is terrible or that Rihanna was on tons of downers, but something was just OFF about it. It seemed like a really weird cable access performance and Rihanna herself looked SO over it. Nothing about the stage set-up made any sense to me: A rope spiderweb that obscured the backing band? LED backdrop? Laser rave lights? Drunk backup dancers? No idea what was going on here.
I'm just going to smile politely until Seth Meyers leaves. We're just going to have to agree to disagree about him.
Commentary: Tanning Mom
Kristen Wiig's makeup was NOT dark enough! Not by half! Seriously, the true horror of Tanning Mom's face was not adequately addressed here. That said, Wiig is tops so I was laughing, especially at this line: "I have the look every woman dreams of: Wile E. Coyote right after something blows up in his face." Plus the toast trick was VERY impressive.
Commentary: Sacha Baron Cohen as The Dictator
For what amounted to a four-minute advertisement for a movie, this bit was fine. I'm not completely won over by jokes about terrorism, torture, antisemitism and fascism, but I enjoyed Cohen's commitment to his character's awfulness. Plus the Martin Scorsese cameo was fun. "You promised me that Hugo would be under two hours!"
And it's not online, but right after Weekend Update ended, SNL aired a brief clip from when the Beastie Boys performed on the show, in remembrance of Adam Yauch. A genuinely classy and moving gesture on SNL's part and a reminder of just what an institution of frequently good taste SNL's been for the past 37 years. Credit where credit's due.
Game Show: What Is This?
While I'm VERY happy that Abby Elliott got her own starring role in a sketch, this one was only sorta successful. The premise of a game-show host ensnaring the dude she's dating into addressing the state of their relationship on national TV was pretty flimsy, but Elliott's character's increasing desperation (and Manning's character's increasing awkwardness) got funnier as it went. Solid, but not totally LOL-worthy.
Quick question: Has anybody ever seen Kate McKinnon and Katee Sackhoff in the same room? Just wondering if the erstwhile Starbuck has been pursuing a secret sketch-comedy career lately? They look so alike! Anyway, this sketch had two interesting angles: Making fun of the Swedish and brutally lampooning Chelsea Lately. For me it only worked in the latter sense. Swedish jokes are as hacky as it gets (they're all blonde and speak in jibberish!), but the Chelsea Lately jabs were amazing. From the panel of hacky, one-note comedians to the dwarf sidekick to the host's aggressive sexual banter, this sketch cut right to the bone and Kate McKinnon did a great job balancing jibberish dialogue with English buzzwords. The Swedish Khlardashians thing didn't make any sense (was this supposed to be a science-fiction parallel universe or something?) but at least I wasn't bored.
Rihanna: "Where Have You Been?"
Again, what was going on with Rihanna? Is she tired of life? Sorry to sound so harsh, but it's like she told her choreographer, "Less. Easier. Make it as boring and unpleasant as the song." Sorry guys, not into it.
Miss Drag World
I'm not sure what to make of this. Aside from just being an excuse to get Manning into drag, the sketch didn't really go anywhere. Anyone who's seen even an episode of RuPaul's Drag Race knows this isn't how drag queens dress or behave. I guess it was mildly amusing to see Manning's character devolve into Tennessee Williams-esque theatrics, but this sketch still felt like it was written by straight dudes who think manly men in drag is inherently funny. Try writing actual jokes next time?
Cheech and Chong and Robert
This Turner Classic Movies sketch nicely played up Manning's squeaky clean, squaresville image: He played Robert, the original third wheel who'd hang out with Cheech and Chong but always bow out whenever pot entered the equation. Not the most spectacular premise, but I still liked the joke of a responsible yuppie hanging out with Cheech and Chong all the time. It's too bad this sketch was nearly ruined by the "...and then he changed his name to Mitt Romney" button. Way too lazy, SNL.
Overall Eli Manning's stint on SNL wasn't a classic for the ages, but he proved that the Giants aren't the only team he plays well with. He seemed like a good guy who had a lot of fun and sometimes that can go a long way.
... How do YOU think Eli Manning did?
... Best sketch of the night?
... Is Rihanna okay?