Let’s face it, “Saturday Night Live” fans: 2013 hasn’t been kind to the show. We’ve had three not-really-that-good-at-all shows thus far, with the pieces never really coming together to produce a solid, nevermind stand-out, episode. Will Christoph Waltz be the unlikely savior? I say “unlikely” not because he isn’t talented, but because I’m sure there are a lot of people tuning in tonight. Those reading this recap will probably know of his recent roles in “Inglorious Basterds” and “Django Unchained”, but the average viewer more familiar with the oeuvre of last week’s host Justin Bieber? Hard to say.
Then again, the idea of choosing a host based on skill rather than fame is one I applaud. In every major role in an American film (yes, even including “The Green Hornet”), Waltz has brought a comedic edge to his intense performances. For him to end up a great host wouldn’t surprise me in the least, just as it wouldn’t surprise me to see musical guests Alabama Shakes tear the roof off of Studio 8H when they perform tonight. The law of averages states we’re in for a good show tonight. Then again, maybe “SNL” will just troll me and have Waltz play a character named “Ryan” in the latest installment of “The Californians”.
That’s why we do these liveblogs here at HitFix, to find out in real time how things play out. We also do them so you can just read the grades, get angry, and sprint on down to the comments because I gave something a “B” instead of a “B-“. It’s a grand tradition, not unlike “SNL” itself. Come back at 11:30 pm EST and we’ll get going.
Carnival Cruise Triumph: Let’s start off the night with some good poop humor, everyone! Cecily Strong and Jason Sudeikis are the cruise directors on a ship with no working toilets. Ship comedian Reggie Davis (Jay Pharoah) tries to keep spirits up, but really, all he has is a Chris Rock impression and fear of feces on the walls. Trying to read the stranded passengers some uplifting news, but even that backfires. How about a magician? Nope. All he does is make passengers wish they were chickens and not on a stranded boat. Hey, there’s an animal man named Dan, who has a monkey! Dan Fienberg is gonna love this…nope, they ate the monkey. No one tell Fienberg this happened, even though this was a pretty strong opening sketch. It went on about three minutes too long, but at least there were plenty of laughs to be had during its length. [Grade: B]
Monologue: Waltz insists that Austrians have a wonderful sense of humor. He wants to avoid clichéd German humor, so we get a sample of what was “rejected”, including an Octoberfest-looking couple doing Abbot and Costello routines and “Casual Hitler”. Instead, he wants to sing “Smile, Damnit, Smile”, and somehow it’s scarier to see him do this versus hunting Jewish citizens in Nazi Germany. That was an insanely short monologue, especially compared in length with the opening sketch. But Waltz has a ton of energy, which can hopefully be focused later on. [Grade: B]
What have YOU Become?: Oh boy, we’re having some technical difficulties here, which is throwing the audience off slightly. Just as in the monologue, Waltz is pushed to the side as each contestant is forced to come to depressing revelations on live television. Aidy Bryant continues her strong upswing with a mom who initially bypasses the expected response explodes during the follow-up, and eventually turns the tables on the host. Here’s a sketch that featured a standard trope (the game show) and a familiar comedic pattern (going around multiple times to each contestant), but managed to make each iteration slightly different, offered up a good twist ending, and eventually let Waltz shine in both his revelation and subsequent tap moves. That might be of the best sketches this calendar year. It wasn’t flawless, but it was pretty damn great. [Grade: A-]
Papal Securities: Waltz is Pope Benedict XVI, wondering about how to pay the bills after resigning from the Papacy. What seems like a one-note joke (hey, it’s Waltz as the Pope!) turns into a funny series of vignettes in which Benedict settles into retirement. (He cooks while wearing a “Bless This Mess” apron! He plays in a garage band!) The “No Other Testimonials” was a nice touch to comment upon the historic nature of this resignation without making an overt reference to it. Man…is this what a good “SNL” looks like? It’s been so long! [Grade: B+]
Tippy: I’m all for more Nasim Pedrad in my “SNL”, but Tippy feels like a character leftover from the Kristen Wiig era. It’s got the Pedrad twist, in that it’s a socially awkward person desperately trying to ingratiate herself into everyday conversations. And…that’s it. It never goes anywhere, and yet it seems to take forever in going nowhere. Sprite can’t be happy about having Tippy wandering around the room carrying their beverage. (Then again, Sprite probably paid for a short film this week, so I’ll just shut up.) I like Pedrad, and have liked characters of this ilk in the past. But this one was a misfire. [Grade: C]
Djesus Uncrossed: “He’s preaching everything but forgiveness!” Anything that brings back Taran Killan’s Brad Pitt impression is OK with me. If it happens inside a sketch in which Jesus claims the “H.” is silent? Every better. I can imagine this will be the sketch that everyone will talk about tomorrow, with half the talk about how bold this sketch was and the other half proclaiming that everyone involved will be going to hell. Since this was really about the Tarantino brand of revisionist revenge films, I’m going for the latter. But expecting a sane discourse about this sketch? Don’t hold your breath. [Grade: A-]
The Jamarcus Brothers: The two brothers have a new CD to help couples get in the mood. Wait, there’s three brothers, including Englebert (played by Waltz). “If you close your eyes, you can hardly tell which one is the adopted white virgin!” coos the woman (Strong) into the Jamarcus Brothers’ groove. Honestly, even if the sketch had been terrible, I probably would have given in a “B” for Waltz’s wig and moustache alone. I’m going to Englebert for Halloween this year. That’s all there is too it. The sheer glee Waltz brought to this has been missing on the show for far too long from its host. Jennifer Lawrence was OK, but largely unmemorable. Adam Levine and Justin Bieber spent most of their time looking petrified. Waltz has the benefit of better material, but it’s also more than possible than the material is better because the writers actually had someone who could do more than stand there and look good. [Grade: A-]
Alabama Shakes take the stage to perform “Hold On”. Full confession: the first few times I heard this on the radio, I thought it was a Jack White song. (On the flip side, I thought the lead singer of Silversun Pickups was female for the first dozen times I heard “Lazy Eye”. So. I’m gender-blind in my idiocy.) I always loved “Hold On”, despite being so clueless about who was singing it. I love its simplicity above all else, which lets lead singer Brittany Howard’s vocals soar without impediment. But mostly, I just wanna know more about the keyboardist’s muttonchops. Those things are GLORIOUS. They aren’t as glorious as Waltz’s sartorial get-up in the last sketch. But still! [Grade: A-]
Weekend Update: Senator Marco Rubio comes on to explain “Water Bottle Gate”. If you didn’t see him needing another bottle of water upon retrying the speech at the “Update” desk, well, I would love to watch movies with you. You must be surprised at everything! Afterwards, Kate McKinnon comes on as a woman near the place where the meteor crashed in Russia. McKinnon was great as a great-grandmother in “What Have YOU Become?”, and she’s great here as well. She started out this year on absolute fire this season, but has receded somewhat since. Tonight, with the exception of Vanessa Bayer, there’s been a much better balance overall in employing the vast female comedic talent in this cast. (Really, almost everyone has been employed tonight, as each sketch has averaged nine primary players, seemingly.) Her character’s death wish got so elaborate and extensive that by the end I simply surrendered to the wonder of it all. (“Bear with me…no, in my dream, I have a BEAR WITH ME!”) Finally, Stephen A. Smith comes on to discuss the state of the NBA, but really just talks about his extensive friendships with the members on the Los Angeles Lakers. What takes this to the next level is Seth Meyers eventually turning on Smith and having a side conversation with someone off camera, refuting everything Smith says point-by-point. C’mon, “SNL”: make it easy for me to give you up. You’ve been terrible all calendar year, but you just might be having the classic episode I longed for at the outset of this recap. [Grade: A-]
Regine: “You should see her without make-up: it’s the same!” Oooh boy. Well, here’s one way to get things to come to a screeching halt. We’ve seen Regine before, which means we’ve seen this sketch before. Regine will be rude, crude, socially unattractive, and do things that are “wacky” because it’s a man in women’s clothing. Did we just suddenly run out of all the good material? Are we in for a world of pain in this last half-hour? Hopefully, this is just a blip on the radar. Still, with only two poor sketches thus far, it’s really hard to complain too much at this point. And hey, if “SNL” is going to air a sketch that clearing makes the cast amused, at least it’s this and not “The Californians”. [Grade: C-]
Fox And Friends: Wow, has this ever aired this late in the show? Who cares? We’re going to get THE CRAWL in a bit! In the meantime, we listen to the three hosts “debate” Obama’s State Of The Union address. Monyihan’s clueless anchor is a continual delight. (“My favorite ‘p’ word is ‘pasghetti!”) However, interviews with Ted Nugent and a UK health official aren’t nearly as fun as watching the Killan, Bayer, and Monyihan interact with each other. The crawl is great as always (“Mumford’s daughters are NOT in foster care"), but there was something off about this iteration of the sketch. Also, where the hell was Waltz? His absence was probably explainable, but odd all the same.This was a "C" level sketch almost single-handedly saved by the crawl. [Grade: B-]
Alabama Shakes take the stage again to perform “Always Alright”. This band is a bit like The Black Keys and Mumford And Sons: if you like one song, there’s a damn good chance you’ll like them all. Obviously, this isn’t “Hold On” with different lyrics, but it’s so well within the same spectrum that it will appeal to those already sold on the band yet not do much to draw skeptics in. Me? I’m a fan, even if “Hold On” has more emotional heft. [Grade: B+]
Secret Admirer: Well, this is happening! I’m not sure I like it, and Lord knows the audience is as creeped out as much as everyone in the sketch itself. The 12:55 am sketch is a fine time to try something off-the-wall, but there’s something desperate and off-putting about this. It doesn’t help that Waltz has trouble with the cue cards at various points. The reactions the various males have to Waltz’s line of questioning is pretty funny, but overall there’s an ick factor here that the sketch never really overcomes. [Grade: B-]
Best Sketch: “What Have YOU Become?”
Worst Sketch: “Regine”
Biggest Takeaway: Sometimes, the stars align. And while this didn’t end up being a truly classic episode, it was probably the best one all season. Waltz’s accent could have been something of a liability. Instead, the show leaned into it, came up with some interesting solutions, and in doing so created sketches that were only possible with the host included in them. That’s all we can really ask.
What did you think of Christoph Waltz’s performance? Was this a highlight or lowlight of the season? Were you excited to hear that Kevin Hart will be hosting next in early March? Sound off below!