In a culture saturated by best and worst lists, it’s easy to fall into the trap of labeling everything you see either “brilliant” or “awful.” Sometimes, though, entertainment is solidly middle-of-the-road — and that was certainly the case with Zach Galifianakis’s third SNL hosting stint. It never soared to the heights of his first few outings, but it was a solidly funny night that featured a few inspired moments — and, perhaps more importantly, only one outright clunker of a sketch. That’s a pretty good batting average as far as Saturday Night Live goes.
The night got off to a slow start with another Fox & Friends cold open. As funny as Bobby Moynihan’s dumber-than-dirt commentator can be — I loved how he thinks the “W” in WNBA stands for “worse” — the sketch itself is the very definition of low-hanging fruit (“hey, those guys on Fox News sure are conservative!”). And if the funniest thing about a bit is the stream of one-liners that quickly scrolls by as it ends, it may be time to reevaluate the rest of what’s happening onscreen.
But when Galifianakis actually took the stage, he set the tone for a night that would be kookier and more surreal than the average SNL installment — if not generally funnier. His monologue was a formless jumble of goofy nonsequiturs (“I once got urinated on in a parking lot at Cracker Barrel. Craigslist!”) that should be familiar to anyone who’s seen Galifianakis do Saturday Night Live or standup before. While every joke — or “joke” — didn’t hit, it’s always nice to see a host fully own his or her comedic sensibility; this was Zach G’s version of walking out in a too-big pair of heels.
“Game of Game of Thrones” elevated a Sketchwriting 101-level premise — nerd knows everything about Game of Thrones, but nothing about the real world — with committed performances (especially Bill Hader as host “OJ Samson,” who’s had a “long, hard life”) and surprise cameos by both Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and a saucy photo of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But though I love Thrones — and usually roll my eyes at sketches that go for cheap laughs by putting male actors in wigs — I was surprised to find I actually preferred the next live sketch, which provided a better outlet for Galifianakis’s odd energy.
The bit revolved around a Jennifer Aniston Look-Alike Competition that Zach G had obviously lost. From there, though, things got less and less obvious — we learned that contest entrants Bobby Moynihan and Taran Killam had also outranked Galifianakis, that Killam can actually do a pretty killer Aniston impression, and that the event’s actual winners were… “Radley Cooper” and “Ted Pelms,” a.k.a. the other two members of Galifianakis’s Hangover wolf pack. (Poor Justin Bartha never gets to play with the big boys.) As much as I was hoping to see Aniston herself show up, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms were a pretty good consolation prize — especially when they started singing what they believed to be Friends‘s theme song. Alas, the rights to that very song (“That’s What Friends Are For”) are probably what’s keeping the sketch from being posted online — so what the hell, here’s “Game of Game of Thrones” instead.
Of Monsters and Men did their twee Icelandic thing, embodying Galifianakis’s “be yourself” spirit just as he did in his monologue. Their performance of “Little Talks” was fun, bouncy, and filled with kicky hats, though the lead singer did sound a little nervous at the beginning of it. Side note: That singer’s name is Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir . Could she be a Game of Thrones character as well?
Weekend Update featured appearances by a trio of the fake news desk’s most reliable characters: Bill Hader’s masterful James Carville, Cecily Strong’s social justice-obsessed Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party, and Fred Armisen as “guy gasping one word over and over.” Of the three, Carville made me laugh most consistently, mostly because of the contagious joy that fills Hader’s face any time he slips into that shiny bald cap and Swamp Thing. Grab an alligator buddy and your ghost of a grandma — we’re gonna talk gun control, cajun-style:
And then came the night’s major misstep: a sketch set at Times Square’s M&M Store that initially seemed like another one of those “Bobby Moynihan and Cecily Strong insult everyone they work with” bits. I was glad to see something new instead — then disappointed that the premise basically boiled down to “Zach Galifianakis insults everyone he works with, only this time, it’s racist.” The night’s other low point — that weird sketch set at Michael Jordan’s wedding — was also a mess, but at least it boasted Jay Pharoah’s pitch-perfect Dikembe Mutumbo impression. “M&M Store,” by contrast, was just lazy.
But the show redeemed itself with “Darrell’s House,” a slow build with an inspired payoff. Galifianakis played the title character, a nervous weirdo (of course) trying to tape his own public access cable show. The problem: Darrell kept interrupting filming, asking his unseen camera guy to edit out his screwups, or add in music, or splice in footage of snacks and applauding audiences and Jon Hamm. The whole thing seemed pleasant enough, if weirdly joke-free…
… until “Darrell’s House” returned, after an amusing fake New Balance commercial. (Of last night’s two ad parodies, this one was the funniest — though I do like how Kate McKinnon’s Martha Stewart sounds exactly like Romy of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion). This time, we were treated to the finished product: Darrell’s show after all of his weird editing requests had been granted. The result was wonderfully bizarre — and it wouldn’t have had nearly as much impact if we hadn’t first seen the uncut version of the clip. Plus: Actual Jon Hamm!
What did you think of Galifianakis and SNL this week? And considering Peter Dinklage and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s recent cameos, which Game of Thrones star would you bet on appearing next week?