Will tonight’s SNL rush, or will it drag?
Ideally, it’ll do neither—and it does seem likely that J. K. Simmons’ maiden voyage to Studio 8H will manage to strike the perfect tempo.
Really, it’s no surprise that Simmons hasn’t hosted Saturday Night Live before. Sure, he stunned as ruthless inmate Vernon Schillinger on HBO’s Oz in the late ’90s and early ’00s—but that series was never a cultural phenomenon on par with other HBO hits of its era, like Sex and the City or The Sopranos. (Also, Vernon wasn’t exactly a funny guy.) So despite his starring role, for years, Simmons has instead been known as one of Hollywood’s most valuable supporting players—the guy who tears into small, juicy roles and manags to make good movies like Spider-Man, Thank You for Smoking, Juno, and I Love You, Man even better.
It really wasn’t until his mesmorizing, Oscar-nominated (and, most likely, Oscar-winning) turn in Whiplash that Simmons became more of a household name than a “hey, it’s that guy!” type. And sure, this is the role that won Simmons the right to host SNL—but it’s all his previous work that indicates why we should have high expectations for his performance tonight. In numerous character parts, Simmons has proven his comedy chops as well as his sharp sense of timing, plus an overall versatility that’ll serve him well on a show that expects its performers to play an array of different personalities in one 90-minute block.
Given Whiplash, SNL could err by giving Simmons too many “cruel authority figure” parts; I suspect we’ll see a decent amount of yelling from him tonight. Ideally, though, we’ll also get a few sketches that let Simmons show off his softer side. And either way, prepare for bits that incorporate drums, winter storm Juno (the much-ballyhooed snowstorm that was supposed to dump three feet of powder on New York City, but ended up dropping just about three inches), Mitt Romney’s decision not to run for president, and, of course, the Super Bowl—as well as a few electrifying performances by the night’s musical guest, the elusive chanteuse D’Angelo. Perhaps Simmons’ Whiplash costar Miles Teller will even join the Black Messiah on percussion.