If last night’s episode of Saturday Night Live were an edition of The Hunger Games, then host Josh Hutcherson would have been one of those poor kids who dies in the melee outside the Cornucopia — just minutes after the Games begin.
I’m not trying to imply that Hutcherson bombed. Quite the opposite is true: he had the sort of on-camera ease that any first-time host would envy, never visibly suffering from nerves or being too obvious about reading cue cards. The problem is that after Hutcherson’s monologue, he largely faded into the background, playing a succession of un-showy characters in a series of less than memorable sketches. (Beyond the cold open, the monologue, and a tacked-on 12:55 sketch about Thanksgiving, there was nothing topical in Hutcherson’s episode. While it’s nice to see SNL try new things, all that evergreen material made the show feel like a collection of leftovers from previous weeks, rather than a set of sketches written this week and designed to show off the host’s skill set.)
A viewer who missed the monologue and interstitial photos of Hutcherson easily could have confused the Catching Fire star for one of the show’s five new white male cast members. On one level, that’s a compliment — Hutcherson totally blended in. On another, it’s not — Hutcherson didn’t stand out.
Well, with one exception — which I’ll get to right after naming last night’s…
Congratulations, Beck Bennett, for nailing the SNL holy grail: A simple but ingenious new bit that doesn’t rely on any of the show’s three major crutches (fake talk shows, fake game shows, and compilations/screen test montages that give everyone an excuse to do impressions). Bennett plays Mr. Patterson, a grown man who’s “got the body of a baby.” And not in a freaky Little Man sort of way — Bennett just moves and behaves as though he were a tiny, clumsy toddler with the handsome face and booming voice of an important executive. It’s an incredibly impressive performance on a purely physical level — and, oh yeah, also really, really funny.
According to SNL‘s Tumblr, head writer Colin Jost and Maya Angelou Prank Show co-creator Zachary Kanin were behind Hutcherson’s only real showcase sketch. I have absolutely no idea what they were on when they came up with this premise — totally awesome ’80s Hutch answers every question by exuberantly lip-synching a line from The Outfield’s “Your Love” — but whatever it is, I want some. Unfortunately, basing any sketch around music inevitably means that rights issues will prevent it from showing up online, so you’ll just have to content yourself with this gif:
Last night’s SNL was squarely middle-of-the-road, meaning that nothing really stood out as an outright clunker. That said, I’m ready to retire Cecily Strong and Bobby Moynihan’s Dana and Niff, a.k.a. those two loud jerks who love insulting everyone they work with. Taran Killam’s Mandrew, on the other hand, can stick around as long as he wants. (He’s right behind me, isn’t he?)
Confession: I’m still not totally on board with SNL‘s Good Neighbor video shorts, which have all the absurdity of The Lonely Island with none of The Lonely Island’s sharp point of view. Last night’s new entry was the three-minute rise-and-fall saga of Kyle Mooney, weird dancer. Imagine Honey directed by Wes Anderson, only less amazing than that description would suggest. Also, whose bright idea was it to air this video on the same night as “Matchbox 3,” another pretape about another set of dancers?
The “Hey, it’s Mike O’Brien!” Award
Hey, it’s infrequently seen cast member Mike O’Brien, charmingly trying to find out why bugs are always in such a rush! Investigative reporter Winston Sam Bass isn’t really a fully formed character yet, but I’d be happy to see him — and his Chris Noth eyebrows — again in a future short. Especially one that isn’t the night’s third pretaped sketch. (It’s called Saturday Night LIVE, after all.)
Best Musical Moment
For the uninitiated: Haim is sort of like 21st-century indie rock Hanson, only with ’80s-influenced music and even longer hair. The band’s straightforward performances were a nice contrast to the bigger, showier spectacles that have dominated SNL‘s musical stage this season. (Only two straight-up bands have even appeared on the show so far this year.) Of their two songs, “Don’t Save Me” had a little more zip — plus one Haim sister really grooving on an electric drum.
As great as Bennett’s overgrown baby was, I’m going to go with Aidy Bryant — who single-handedly makes “Girlfriends Talk Show” worthy of recurring status. And while her Weekend Update appearance as The Worst Lady on an Airplane was maybe better in concept than execution, Bryant’s commitment to the character was almost enough to make it work.
Single Best Line
Courtesy of Cecily Strong on Update: “A lawmaker in Pennsylvania has introduced legislation that would help slow the exploding coyote population by paying hunters $25 for every one they kill. Said the lawmaker who introduced the bill, ‘Meep meep!'”
– SNL‘s political cold opens are hit and miss, but I’m always happy to see Taran Killam’s Mickey Mouse-voiced Piers Morgan. “I’d like to remind everyone that I won The Apprentice!”
– Hutch’s distillation of his Hunger Games character, from his monologue (the last time Catching Fire was mentioned all night): “I play Peeta, the brave young hero who immediately gets hurt and has to be carried around the rest of the movie.”
– Showing Bill Hader’s T-Mobile commercials throughout a Hader-less SNL feels like a cruel joke.
– “She’s always taking unflattering photos of me and then texting them to my phone when she knows I have very limited texting!”
– Anyone else disappointed that we didn’t get a Jennifer Lawrence cameo, especially since she was in New York City this week?
– No animals were harmed in the making of that kinda funny Animal Hospital sketch. The same is not true for that less funny Thanksgiving sketch.