A Review by "HelloStuart," Amateur Critic and Pregnant Man
After a ridiculously long wait, I'm thrilled to see Christopher Walken host for the first time in five years. Simultaneously odd and charming, the Oscar-winning actor is pretty much a safe bet for a good show, much like Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin at the top of their respective games. It's hard to pinpoint what makes Walken such a great host, but it probably has something to do with his weird vocal patterns, which somehow makes everything he says sound like some abstract one-liner. The musical guest is Panic at the Disco, the emo-pop quartet led by androgynous singer-songwriter Brendon Urie.
And now, the sketch-by-sketch analysis:
COLD OPENING: President and Senator Clinton (DH, AP) elaborate on the revelation of their $109 million income, and then try to explain their earnings in the most faux-humble way possible. Assuming that this will snowball into yet another Clinton scandal, Hillary fakes her bow out from the presidential race and essentially tells the media to f*** themselves. Just like real life.
MONOLOGUE: Rather than do his usual song n' dance routine, Max Zorin fields audience questions that he wrote himself; problem is, he won't answer them. This was a bizarre twist to an old recurring gag, but it worked because no other host could pull off being so daffy and indecisive.
"Annuale": Yeah, it's that hormone-rampage ad spoof again, and it's just as funny the second time around.
"Grease Rehearsals": A high school drama teacher (Chris) censors the living hell out of an otherwise nondescript performance of the classic sock-hop musical. The teacher dissects the lyrics of "Greased Lightning," changes them into something less offensive, then choreographs a musical number of complete nonsense. It may seem like some basic improv exercise, but my description doesn't give it justice.
"Kevin's Farewell Party": While getting a company sendoff, a bland, middle-management type (JS) is weirded out by his colleague Eric (Chris), whose initial social awkwardness mutates into sociopathic behavior. Again, Walken plays the heavy and runs with it; there's a certain unpredictability to this one-off character, and from a comedy standpoint it pays off in spades. I'd love to have that portrait, though…
DIGITAL SHORT: Bill and Andy interrupt Lorne's power lunch with Senator Chris Dodd to present "Laser Cats 3-D." In what I'm assuming will be the final chapter of the trilogy, our two heroes must save the cat population from Mayor Top Hat (KT), but tragedy provides a daunting obstacle. I don't know if this was the funniest of the three (I enjoyed them equally), but I did get a good chuckle out of "Laser Dog" (i.e. a puggle puppy) and Walken's odd costume.
"Excited Sue": The name says it all- a very manic lady (KW) nearly thwarts a surprise birthday party for one of her relatives (CW). This smells like a potential recurring character, and though Kristen has her zany side, Sue veered into an annoying, Cheri Oteri-type territory that I deeply afraid of.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Panic borrows Vampire Weekend's string section for their current single, the Beatle-esque "Nine in the Afternoon."
WEEKEND UPDATE: In a segment that was heavy on the usual jokes and light on the quirks, the only guest commentary of note was by transgendered mom-to-be Tom Beatie, who invited Amy and Seth to a male-friendly baby shower. Granted, it's not really noteworthy as much as it was somewhat expected, as male pregnancies only seem to happen once every 20 years or so, but I liked that Andy didn't play him over the top.
"Walken Family Reunion": Apparently everyone in Chris' family has the same tics and mannerisms as he does. Yes, this was a cheap excuse for the entire cast to do their best Walken impressions, but is it wrong to have a little fun every now and then?
"Indoor Gardening Tips": A man (Chris) with a severe trepidation towards plants attempts to share his advice on raising and nurturing fauna. His coping mechanism is plastic googly eyes, which delivers an interesting metaphor for the gardener's neuroses. It's another showcase for Walken in a night dominated by his presence, but this sketch finds Walken's approach tailor-suited to some abstract, albeit clever character analysis.
"Top Chef": On the Chicago-based reality series, one contestant (Chris) is completely flummoxed by the premise of the show and the challenge that is offered. The faux-hawk joke was cute, but Walken's presence sort of worked against him, like if he'd never seen the show and felt like going on a Woody Allen-style rant.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: The boys from Nevada give us a fresh interpretation of a track from their first album, "I Write Sins, Not Tragedies."
"Larry King Live": Larry (FA) helps promote another inessential book by Jimmy Carter (DH) that will be bought by many and read by very few. Fred gives up the senile element of his King impression to play straight man to Carter's mortified stammering. In spite of that, this sketch didn't really impress me at all.
To elaborate on something that I said before, Christopher Walken has a tendency to act on instinct and make the slightest movement seem entertaining. The producers of SNL quickly realized that if he pulls the reigns of a particular show, he will make everyone and everything around him funnier. Tonight was no exception; granted, there have been better shows hosted by Walken, but the effort and dynamic doesn't change. I've been told by my old buddy Mel that Panic is not a strong live act (especially on TV), which made tonight's performance a surprise of sorts. Maybe it was the extra rehearsal time, or perhaps a desire to prove themselves to a broader audience, but Panic's performance was driven by energy if not substance.
Sketches/Segments That Will Probably Be Removed in Repeats: "Annuale," Weekend Update, "Top Chef," and "Larry King Live."
Next Week: Ashton Kutcher hosts for the third time, with musical guest Gnarls Barkley.
"HelloStuart" got on the Kansas City Royals bandwagon about twenty minutes before you did. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.