Zack Gala…Gale…Galifinikia…Galif…*looks on Google*…Zach Galifianakis is unquestionably a comic force – his role in The Hangover has been highly regarded and is expected to be his breakthrough role, while his role in HBO’s Bored to Death was similarly enjoyable. But when it comes to why Galifianakis makes such an interesting “Saturday Night Live” host, the reason is quite simple: he is a comedian. 

It’s a simple fact that, combined with the rather great Vampire Weekend, makes this an episode of “SNL” that I’m actively execited about, which is both extremely rare and extremely dangerous. On the one hand, it means there is plenty of potential; on the other hand, it means that the show has that much further to fall. 

Full details on just how far “SNL” managed to fall from those expectations after the jump… 

I went through a calamity of errors trying to watch SNL tonight, including the realization I left my Macbook charger at home and that turning off the lights in one of the rooms in my current location shuts off the internet and thus the television, so I missed the Coldd Open. However, according to Twitter, it sounds like I was better off: Jaime Weinman wrote that “this SNL opening sketch is excruciating. In point of view, joke style and take on politics it's literally on the level of a Leno monologue.” Burn, no? The Obama sketch, featuring Harry Reid at the very least, did nothing for me in the thirty seconds I saw, so I figure it’s worth skipping if you’ve got it sitting on the DVR. [Grade: D-, based on Twitter feedback]  

From the monologue on, this is an episode that leans heavily on its host: if you find Galifianakis funny, then you probably enjoyed his monologue which was effectively a scattershot standup routine. It seems like he is basically testing material, which is fine if you like that material; personally, I think he’s quite funny, so this was an enjoyable monologue. However, the lack of structure kept it from adding up to anything, so while I enjoyed the idea that he Febrezes his beard, or his “Hoobastank is here!” gag, it wasn’t an all-time classic or anything.[Grade: B] 

Next up came two sketches that were entirely one-dimensional, which seems like poor planning: the kissing sketch relied entirely on a single joke that might shock the audience  
(a family who kisses one another way too often) and drove it into the ground before the disturbing “making out with a corpse” conclusion, while the “Bidet” sketch was a word that isn’t as funny as they made it out to be, and the skit relied too heavily on the word rather than the elaborate plan they seemed to be hatching. If they’re going to go with these kinds of sketches, they need to be later in the show when we’re tired enough to mistake them for real humor. [Grades: D for both] 

“Zach Galifianakis: On TV for Over 30 Years” was just a lot of fun: you had him behind Brian Williams, you had him on the set of Dr. Oz, you had him on the set of 30 Rock and Law & Order, and you even had young Zach in the audience at SNL thirty years previous. No, the sketch wasn’t complex, but it was effective, and I’ll take that most days. It’s clever enough to seem like it took more than a few minutes to come up with, and the delivery (especially on the sets of the NBC shows) is more than worth it. [Grade: B+] 

I’ll also give the Today Show sketch some credit for providing some continuity as Zach makes an appearance in the window to stalk Hoda. And to be honest, and a little bit depressing, this might have been the more “complete” sketch of the night: Wiig’s Kathie Lee is still pretty spot-on, and they did a lot with both the movie titles turned into insults and Zach’s stalker potential. It wasn’t good, per se, but it wasn’t objective, and that says a lot. My one issue is whether they couldn’t have perhaps taken some tweets from Twitter live at the time of airing in order to bring a nice bit of realism: surely someone was tweeting something negative about “SNL” that would have been generic enough to read off. [Grade: B-] 

In terms of Weekend Update, there wasn’t much in terms of great lines, although we did get another installment in the running “Huh, because that’s what is on their state flag!” jokes. The two “interviews,” however, weren’t terrible: Forte’s “Herstory” song was clever at points (basically all those unrelated to the running joke about High Schools who turned him down), and I thought that Kenan’s Mo’nique was actually maybe his best impression in a while. The voice was good, the intonations were solid, and the commentary on Oscar speeches never got too trite. [Grade: B] 

But then Kenan lost all of that goodwill with the unfortunate “What’s Up With That?” The problem is not that the sketch has no pleasures: seeing Frank Rich (a New York Times culture writer) sitting there trying to keep a straight face was enjoyable, and I always enjoy Jason Sudeikis’ dancing. The issue is that they are the same pleasures: every time there’s a celebrity guest (here Paul Rudd) whose appearance is wasted, a gag that we enjoy because it’s a cameo, but which seems like a waste of someone funny in a sketch that isn’t really that enjoyable. It’s the same sketch every time, and the idea that this is a good thing is sort of unfathomable. This grade will keep getting longer so long as the show keeps driving it into the ground. [Grade: C-, although it would be a D+ if not for the great line “the sexy and seductive Frank Rich.” Comedy gold.] 

There was nothing about the CNN Situation Room sketch that was even close to being subtle: it’s about how reliant they are on new media and audience reporting, and how that opens them up to some questions about the legitimacy of their journalism. That’s a good idea for a sketch, but it never really came to fruition: the “Galifianakis dancing in English and French” were sort of pointless, and I’d rather they had tried to do something clever with the various social media sites (like Chat Roulette, which is rife for parody) than just place them into the context of CNN, especially when they didn’t have any really interesting content or impressions therein (the Amanpour was particularly bad). [Grade: C] 

Unfortunately, the show ended on a low note: Pageant Talk was listless, with a few faces from Kristen Wiig and Zack’s line readings being the only things close to highlights. It seemed like Zach was given quite a few skits that felt like Horatio Sanz rejects, the sort of characters that are funny in theory or funny for a single line but never really add up to anything. Here, the sketch never got off the ground, and the constant pageant talk/wife anger was just too one-dimensional to make any lasting impression. [Grade: D] 

Thankfully, as Galifianakis disappointed, Vampire Weekend did quite well: “Cousins” is a fun first single, but “Giving Up the Gun” is a great song and it worked better than I expected in the “SNL” context. If you have not yet listened to their newest album, Contra, I’d suggest checking it out: really solid stuff.  

Other Thoughts 

** The one benefit of this episode of “SNL”: I can now spell Zach Galifianakis consistently…tonight. We’ll see if that stands in the morning. 

** Next week brings Jude Law and Pearl Jam, which I’m hoping goes somewhat better, but I have very little faith in that potential.

 

What'd you think? Did Zach Galifianakis come through? Or was he the victim of the "SNL" writers?