Recap: 'Saturday Night Live' - Jon Hamm and Rihanna
The World Series is currently in full swing for Major League Baseball. A Jon Hamm-hosted episode of “Saturday Night Live” may not qualify as important as a game between the Giants/Rangers, but one could make the argument that for their respective audiences, there’s as much excitement surrounding each. Hamm’s first appearance on the show blew people’s minds. The second confirmed that his first outing wasn’t a fluke. Will the third time be as charming as Don Draper himself? (You know, when he’s not in a drunken haze stealing ideas post-Clio Awards.)
Musical guest Rihanna will also appear tonight. Sadly, that probably rules out another installment of “Hamm and Buble,” though I must confess than I prefer my pork covered in Nutella…ella…ella…ay…ay…ay. Last time out, Rihanna rocked out with “Shy Ronnie,” proving she had comic as well as musical chops. Hamm + Rihanna sounds pretty harmonious on paper. But how will it play out? Onto the breakdown!
[Full recap of Saturday's (Oct. 30) "SNL" after the break...]
“Cold Open:” Joe Biden addresses the nation from the White House. While the sketch far exceeded most this season, that’s not exactly a high bar to clear. His comparison of the plight of most Americans to the Chilean miners crisis is a few weeks too late, but does yield some pretty funny jokes. His short checklist for overall happiness (“Are you above ground?”) mirrored the succinct-but-funny open. Know hope! (About “SNL” at least.) [Grade: B]
“Monologue”: Of the 400 possible monologue topics, “Jon Hamm trying to come up with ad campaigns” probably isn’t the funniest, but it’s probably the easiest. Unfortunately, when half the monologue consists of dead air as he “thinks” of the slogan, the energy at 30 Rockefeller just dies. Still, I like to think of him looking in the mirror each morning before leaving for work and saying, “Wham, Bam, Thank You Hamm!” into the mirror. [Grade: C]
“Digital Short”: Shy Ronnie in the house, and here early in “Ronnie and Clyde.” Pretty much a step-for-step repeat of the short’s premise, this time set during a bank heist. But the song was once again catchy, Rhianna’s in-song admonishments (“No one in the bank can hear you!” “Use your outside voice!” “Boner alert!”) were on-point, and Samberg’s schizophrenic Ronnie is gold when used sparingly. [Grade: A-]
“Vincent Pryce’s 1960 Halloween Special.” I have a soft spot in my heart for this sketch, although saying so in the sketch might provoke Liberace (the gay Sean Connery to Pryce’s Alex Trebek) to say something risque. Throw in Hamm’s serviceable JFK and a pilled-up Judy Garland inspiring him to put a man on the moon, and you had a great iteration of this skit. [Grade: B+]
“‘Back to the Future’ Screen Tests.” Just an excuse to have people do impressions of celebrities that didn’t make it into the movies. But when the impressions are this great? Bring it ON, people. Jay Pharoah got a chance to do his dead-on Eddie Murphy, Hamm did a surprisingly great Robin Williams, and Bill Hader’s Al Pacino rocked the funniest incorrect line reading in recent memory. (“GREAT, Scott!”) Total win. [Grade: A]
“Casting Agency.” The less said about this atrocity, the better. As Don Draper told Peggy Olson: You’ll be shocked by how much this sketch never happened. [Grade: F]
“’Back to the Future’ Screen Tests, Part II.” At this point, I wouldn’t mind if we just did another 20 minutes of this, some live Rihanna music, “Weekend Update,” and call it a night. Hader’s Alan Alda was brand-new, as far as I can recall, and killed. The only semi-unfunny one: Taran Killam’s Pee-Wee Herman, which gets points deducted since everyone in America as a Pee-Wee impression in them at this point. [Grade: A-]
Rihanna apparently took a page from Kanye West’s playbook and dressed up the set for her performance of…well, I’ll just straight up admit I don’t know this song. Sounds like it should be called “What’s My Name?” Though given her undulations onstage, it could also be called “Dry Hump My Mic Stand.” Either way, this fairly non-descript track doesn’t match up to her earlier, better work. Cool set, though. [Grade: B-]
“Weekend Update.” Oh, Garth and Kat: I’m sure you kill when it’s Thursday and its 3:00 am and the cast/crew are goofy from exhaustion. But Lord, it reads as little more than Fred Armisen trying to make Kristen Wiig laugh while an entire nation looks on semi-horrified. As for the rest of “Update”? Just there. [Grade: C-]
“I Didn’t Ask For This.” Pretty weak, until Sad Don Draper got Auto-Tuned. OK, it wasn’t actually Don Draper, but no “Mad Men” fan watched this and didn’t think about “The Suitcase.” That alone bumps this sketch up from forgettable to passable. [Grade: B-]
“Highway Cops.” Nominally, this sketch was about two highway patrolman that keep forgetting to arrive at crime scenes, forgoing those for romantic jaunts around the countryside. But I wish the sketch had stayed more with Kenan Thompson’s police chief, who had a series of bizarre yet funny conversations with a picture of his deceased wife. There lay the true comedy, “SNL,” not in gratuitously homoerotic “C.H.I.P.S” homages. [Grade: C+]
“Darleek and Barney.” A cheap, nightclub-set ripoff of The Culps, but with Jon Hamm channeling Charles Nelson Reilly and both partners trying to blur the line between fake anger and real anger. The in-house crowd seemed to eat up the punch line note with each iteration, and both Hamm and Wigg were on their game in terms of execution and chemistry, but the actual material was just filler. [Grade: C]
Rihanna’s back, with her currently single “Only Girl (In The World)”. The song’s much stronger than “What’s My Name?” and this mix has a much stronger guitar line than the single does. But mostly, I’m checking out the light/projection show going on all around her. Honestly, look for more performing artists to take the lead from West and Rihanna throughout the rest of the season. The only downside? In both numbers, there were so many performers onstage that Rihanna could barely move. [Grade: B]
“Greetings from American America.” Wow, OK. That happened. It was like it was suddenly the mid-90s and David Spade was doing “Hollywood Minute,” only now it was in the form of Paris Hilton’s animated talking dog. Has this bit been in the vault for a few years, while the show waited for an 85-second slot to appear in its live broadcast? Given some of the topical references, no. But maybe it should have stayed buried nonetheless. [Grade: F]
Final impressions: the weakest of Hamm’s three appearances, by far. Some good sketches, but not a solid overall ep. The problems in this episode seem to reflect those the show is having in general right now. The new faces on the show have hardly been used, and some of the show’s returning players have seen little face time this year, either. In addition, more than half of what actually worked this week was pretaped (“Back to the Future,” “Ronnie and Clyde”). If “SNL” can’t produce a good effort with a guest host this multitalented, should we be worried?
Did Hamm not rise to the challenge? Did “SNL” let him down? Or did this Halloween show scare you with how good it was? Leave your thoughts below!