A good host frequently seems to bring out the best in Saturday Night Live, and this was true of Jon Hamm… at least in the sketches and taped pieces in which he was involved. (Even his SNL logo bridges coming out of the commercials were funny.) He got the obligatory Mad Men material out of the way in the opening segment, coming up with “spontaneous” ad campaigns in the manner of Don Draper. The joke was that Hamm’s were dreadful ideas, and he sold the desperation with verve. His self-congratulatory cry — “Wham, bam, thank you, Hamm!” — aptly described our gratitude for his performances this week.
A “Digital Short” followed Hamm’s opening, a sign of confidence that proved well-placed. It was a music video starring Rihanna and Andy Samberg as bank robbers “Ronnie and Clyde”; the music was a sleek piece of hip-hop sung by Rihanna with as much confidence as Samberg’s Shy Ronnie character lacked it. The video kept topping itself, especially when Rihanna returned to the bank after taking the cash to kidnap Hamm (“We’re gonna have sex”).
As many of you predicted in the Comments section, SNL did another “Vincent Price’s Halloween Special,” always welcome. Bill Hader as Price, Fred Armisen as Liberace, Hamm as Senator John F. Kennedy (the special was set in 1960) — all delivered the sketch’s non-stop double-entendres with black-humored historical memory. Hamm’s JFK asking Kristen Wiig’s Judy Garland for some of her copious heaps of pills for his “back pain” was a nice touch.
Another stand-out were a pair of Back to the Future 25th anniversary-DVD audition segments.
Some of the impersonations here were striking, particularly Bill Hader’s Alan Alda — I can’t remember seeing Hader do Alda before; it was uncanny. Hamm’s excessively effusive Robin Williams as Doc Brown was a delight, and Taran Killam’s Pee-wee Herman as Marty McFly was funny in its quick precision.
Hamm and Jason Sudeikis sold an otherwise-lame CHiPs-like parody, “Highway Cops,” by stepping up the silly homoerotic subtext with a full-on smooch that elicited yelps of delight from the studio audience. (“That felt good as hell — I can’t wait to tell my wife!”)
Paired with Wiig in a misbegotten sort of Kiki and Herb imitation, Hamm acted exasperation and horn-rimmed asperity with amusing vigor. Hamm even came close to saving an otherwise mediocre sketch, “I Didn’t Ask For This,” about a TV show that broadcasts embarrassing viral videos, on the strength of his howling sobs.
A flame-haired Rihanna gave a couple of raise-the-room-temperature performances (the first, “What’s My Name,” being the better of the two), in addition to her fine work in that “Digital Short.” (“Use your outside voice!”)
Hamm is more than just a handsome star willing to make fun of himself — he’s got real comic timing, and a knack for knowing how broadly to play a sketch.