It is rare, these days, that you get what one could call a “thespian” taking over the reins of “Saturday Night Live.” Jude Law, after all, just recently wrapped up a stint playing Hamlet on Broadway, so at first glance you wouldn’t necessarily think that he would make an ideal host (at least based on the show’s recent track record, if not what would actually make a great host objectively speaking). However, then you remember that Jude Law is really quite funny (his last movie role, after all, was his nice supporting turn as Watson in Sherlock Holmes), and you also realize that he’s here promoting a film that no one has heard of and is getting dumped in March (“Repo Men”), which makes things much more comfortable. Sure, Jude Law is a really great actor, but he’s here on the same terms as every other “SNL” host, so it’s unlikely that the show is really going to become that much more classy or, well, good as a result of his presence. 

A review of an “SNL” that managed to live up to, but not exceed in any way, those expectations after the jump… 

It’s been a while, I think, that “SNL” has built a sketch so much around a physical likeness. There weren’t any particularly funny jokes in the Cold Open, which dealt with Eric Massa’s embarrassing departure from politics over allegations of groping his male aides, but Bobby Moynihan looks a lot like him when he puts on a bald wig, and that was pretty much all the sketch needed. It’s rare to see Kristen Wiig in a straight role, but she served as a decent counterpoint to Moynihan’s deliveries. The sketch had no depth, but that was sort of its charm: it even explained the entire situation ahead of time so there wasn’t even any surprise. It wasn’t particularly strong, but it was a solid start to a fairly solid evening. [Grade: B] 

Meanwhile, Jude Law made a good impression with his monologue. Regardless of where you stood on Zack Galifianakis’ monologue last week, it was clear that he was comfortable in the format, and Law is very comfortable on stage in this sort of capacity. Thusly, he was game for a reference to Ashlee Simpson (whose lip synching incident was during his last hosting gig), and had a lot of fun playing into his thespian persona in terms of recreating what it’s like to play Hamlet. Law is very self-aware of what that persona represents, and so he had a lot of control in the monologue that many others seem to struggle with. Not as funny as Zach’s, no question, but perhaps a bit more even and polished. [Grade: B+] 

Of the night’s commercial parodies, of which there were three, two of them were new to me: the “Ford: We Make Hybrids Too” ad was fairly droll, while the Broadview Security ad was clever once it got into the kinds of men who could break into your home (Your Rabbi! K.D. Lang! Etc.!). The Under-Underground Records commercial, meanwhile, is a rehash, although one that remains pretty unfunny until you realize that it’s a parody of an actual commercial. [Grades: C- for Ford, B for Broadview] 

In case you missed it, news broke this week that Betty White will be hosting the show on May 8th, much to the joy of her various Facebook supporters. In that case, though, I wonder why the show bothered to do a “Password” parody (“Secret Word”) now rather than saving the sketch until White (who met her husband and made a name for herself on the game show) would be available. Law’s Russian character had its moments, sure, but it seemed like a missed opportunity to use a few months down the road (not that “SNL” has been shy about repeating skits as of late. In the end, though, perhaps it’s for the best: Wiig’s character Mindy Grayson ruining the game stopped being funny after the first time through, and outside of some nice throwaway racism (my favorite kind!) the sketch was pretty flat. [Grade: C+] 

I’ll admit that I’m still a little confused about what was, at least to my eye, a parody of Vicky Christina Barcelona. You see, I get the joke: Jude Law plays a creepy Spaniard who wants to whisk two American tourists away to murder them, which is how a real life version of Woody Allen’s film would probably go (or like his previous film, Match Point, went). I just don’t know why 2010 seemed like the right time to do it, or why it seemed like the sketch lost all of its energy once Law tried to put on the accent. If you’re going to do a Woody Allen parody, I need more than setting a pretty thin sketch inside one of his stories, and this one didn’t go beyond that. [Grade: C-] 

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that I rapped/sang along with the entirety of the latest Lonely Island Digital Shot, “Boombox.” "Incredibad" is a really fun comedy album, and a lot of it is downright catchy: “Boombox” is something I could include in that designation, helped by Julian Casablancas (The Strokes) singing the chorus. What’s interesting is that it follows the usual Digital Short formula: it starts out a little weird, with its boiled goose and the like, but it devolves into old people having sex (which, of course, the show had a lot of fun with). However, while this pattern bugs me in normal Digital Shorts, I think it works a lot better in song form: it keeps things from seeming too “over the top” since the entire song is sort of indulgent and bombastic. Combine the great song with the enjoyable visuals (Samberg’s haircut, Fred Armsen as the Spanish guy doing the Bartman), and you get a really fun segment, albeit one a little bit damaged by the audience being so grossed out by the idea of old people kissing. Get over it, audience. [Grade: A-] 

When we get to Weekend Update, the show always becomes somewhat uneven. A fine example is the two back-to-back Tiger Woods joke: the one about viewers returns to golf along with Tiger Woods felt observant, while the joke about Ari Fleischer creating a “we were looking for WMDs in underpants” line was lazy. And since Kenan Thompson’s Whoopi Goldberg “Poise Pad” segment was just pee noises, Update really comes down to “Really!?! With Seth and Jerry,” where Jerry Seinfeld appeared to complete the twosome for one of the patented “Really?!?” segments that Amy Poehler did with Meyers. There were, however, two problems. The first is that Seinfeld was there, in part, as passive advertising for “The Marriage Ref,” which makes me a little sad. Secondly, and more problematically, it was about Eric Massa, and basically repeated all of the Cold Open’s jokes. I get that it’s funny, and Seinfeld’s exasperated readings were fun, but it was more than a bit repetitive, and kept it from seeming “special” compared to the potential that was there. [Grade: B-] 
 

There are some sketches that I tend to respect more than enjoy, and I think the show’s take on the Twilight Zone’s “Nightmare at 20,000ft” is a fine example of this. On the one hand, I like that they did a pretty straight parody, and that it committed to the rather odd “Dude in costume on wing doing variety of weird random acts including hanging out with Pearl Jam” punchline. On the other hand, however, nothing beyond Pearl Jam really made me laugh, and it’s a sketch without anything really close to an ending. I will admit that I’ve only seen the Simpsons parody of the story in question (“Nightmare at 5 ½ feet”), so perhaps there were some subtleties I was missing, but in the end I give them points for oddity if not necessarily entertainment. [Grade: B-] 

Law got multiple chances to play himself on this night, but the “Hamlet” sketch was certainly the most direct example of this phenomenon. This is a sketch that’s all about impressions, so it really varied: as always, Bill Hader’s Al Pacino is a lot of fun (especially his penchant for calling people by obscure movie roles, like “"Mousehunt"’s Nathan Lane”), and Andy Samberg’s window-shattering commitment to his Nic Cage was an enjoyable diversion, plus Jason Sudeikis got to pay Sam Elliot as Sam Elliot seems to always be in movies (most recently in "Up in the Air," in fact). However, the sketch didn’t amount to much: Law didn’t get any real material, and the odd opening/closing remarks made the sketch feel really inorganic, like something out of a low rent improv theatre. Still, the impressions were up to snuff, so there’s your sketch really. [Grade: C+, losing a half letter grade for ending on a poop joke]  

Unfortunately for the show, it sort of ran out of steam at this point. I have absolutely no patience for Fred Armisen’s “I can’t find my *insert item*” stenographer sketch, which is just lazy and frankly unfunny: Law had nothing to do, Armisen has no depth to the bit, and no amount of facial expressions in the world can sustain humour long enough to keep that sketch alive. Meanwhile, I thought that “Talk Show with Ravish” had a couple of fun jokes (like the idea of a father pushing his son into being a talk show host in Letterman’s image, and the complete lack of real people in Jay Walking with Ravish, but the actual interview with Law sort of didn’t amount to anything. I think there’s the potential for a clever sketch, but the show is so concerned about establishing a formula that it ends up seeming pretty lame due to wanting to show the structure rather than investigate the potential humour. [Grades: D- and C+] 

As for the musical guest of the evening, Eddie Vedder remains a really compelling vocalist, and the band went with a fairly low key set (“Just Breathe” and “Unthought Known” from "Backspacer") that highlighted the quality of that voice. I could have done with hearing “The Fixer,” which I really enjoy, but they went with newer singles, and I can’t exactly blame them for that. Plus, frankly, picking songs they knew would sound strong live and let the band show multiple sides of their new album was a smart strategy, so they deserve some points for putting together a couple of great performances. 

 

Other Thoughts 

*** I was kind of hoping that Pearl Jam would get a third performance spot during the credits or something: I don’t know what the criteria is for that, but to me being about hear something “classic” would have been worth dropping one of the weaker sketches on the evening. 

*** A pretty light evening for Kristen Wiig, who only played one “out there” characters in Secret Word: the rest of the time she was playing it pretty straight, which is pretty rare. It’s nice to get a break from the overexposure every now and then, but I’ll be interested to see if that continues in the weeks ahead (she might be filming a movie or something). 

*** In Defence of “Alfie”: the film made another $25 million internationally, which still puts it at a pretty steep loss but keeps it from being a complete disaster.

 

Did Jude Law make you laugh? Were you happy Seinfeld showed up?