Mike O'Brien and your uncle's friend Terry save an otherwise disappointing night.
Russell Crowe hosted the latest episode of Saturday Night Live but you’d be forgiven for not immediately remembering that. The costar of the upcoming The Nice Guys appeared a scant three times in the first hour (including the monologue), often in sketches or segments that barely had him interacting with the show’s cast.
After a particularly short monologue in which Crowe recounted his storied career of “funny” films like Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind, he disappeared completely from the post-monologue parody commercial and subsequent sketch. (Though that first sketch is more a knock against the night’s writing than Crowe’s performance, as most of the jokes were swallowed in the stilted rhythm between Kenan Thompson’s Al Sharpton and the real Al Sharpton, though Thompson occasionally sneaks in a great line or two.)
He then returned only to take on the role of a hologram Henry VIII who demanded every female patron bear him a child, which caused Crowe to be digitally inserted in from another location to the main set. It’s perhaps a godsend that no one had to watch Crowe-as-Henry grope the female cast members, but the hologram created an unnecessary technical hurdle in a sketch that almost solely relied on a single, repeated, and largely unfunny joke.
Crowe appeared briefly throughout the rest of the night in roles that unfortunately tasked him with little in the way of actual jokes. He played a creepy Russian mobster with an un-Russian accent, the creepy uncle’s friend to a reality competition contestant, and… the creepy, sexually frank eligible bachelor on an old-school dating show.
They were odd, often minor roles in an episode that generally felt off in its pacing, whether thanks to frequent pauses between lines (even when there were no laughs), ill-timed camera cues, or an impromptu coughing fit by Kenan Thompson (which unintentionally became one of the night’s highlights). Yet despite the episode’s inability to find a way for its cast and host to gel, there were some solid moments that rose above the rest, like…
Oprah Winfrey: A Life of Love
Even had the night not been a lackluster one, the return of Mike O’Brien would have jumped to a high spot on any list of my favorite sketches for any given episode. “The Jay Z Story” remains one of the funniest pre-recorded sketches in the post-Lonely Island era, so it’s a joy to have O’Brien back, if only briefly, this time mixing Winfrey’s desire to change the world with her expanding fame. It’s hilarious (the scene in which Oprah decrees she’ll be on every cover for her magazine is worth it alone), surprising, and full of Mike O’Brien wearing pantsuits.
Colin Jost and Michael Che still haven’t reached the consistent heights of some of previous Weekend Update hosts, but this season has certainly seen them look more comfortable in their roles, which thankfully has also resulted in funnier jokes funnier. The latest episode offered one of the best takes on the segment’s penchant to let the co-hosts individually go off on connected mini-rants, this time in an excellent bit about candidates’ attempts to appeal to New Yorkers. Prefaced by a Ted Cruz-as-Pizza Rat joke, Jost lays in on the Republican nominee for his “New York values” comments, followed by Che, who wonders about every candidate’s insistence on taking the subway as if New Yorkers love it. The great jokes delivered by both Update hosts also stand in stark contrast to the show’s ho-hum cold open, which made some similar commentary but with much less bite, despite Kate McKinnon’s unbridled energy as Hillary Clinton. (She at least offered a bright spot among the lame opening jokes with a pre-recorded bit attempting to swipe a MetroCard.)
100 Days in the Jungle
If you ever wanted to hear Russell Crowe shout “Oh hell yeah, playa” before chomping down on a duck’s vagina, well, first of all that is a very specific request of SNL. But that moment does occur in the night’s Survivor spoof, which initially comes off as an excuse to repeatedly use the phrase “Your uncle’s friend, Terry” but eventually succeeds thanks to Pete Davidson’s consistently embittered deadpan and Crowe’s manic energy. (Though, admittedly, my favorite part of the sketch retroactively became Davidson’s character’s name, Nathan, which is the same name used for his character in the pre-recorded Pogie Pepperoni’s bit, connecting the two sketches in the same cinematic universe.)
Whereas “100 Days” relies more on Davidson for the jokes, Crowe earns his most laughs for the night during “Match Finders,” a blind panel dating game featuring two boring contestants and Crowe’s German professor. He has no qualms about explaining his sexual intentions for Cecily Strong’s contestant character, but his statements are so clinically and absurdly dry it’s tough to imagine any romantic spark ever brewing in the man’s life.
Kenan Thompson has certainly become the all-around utility player for the show, and it’s no more obvious than in his repeated post-monologue appearances tonight. Thompson makes the Sharptons sketch watchable and his Match Finders host is delightfully frazzled by Crowe’s answers. And, for whatever reason, an uncontrollable case of the coughs caught Thompson in the night’s last live sketch about Leslie Jones as a ninja. While the sketch itself unfortunately never quite lands, Thompson’s coughing fit becomes an unintentionally hilarious cap on a disappointing night that still saw Thompson jump with glee into every role asked of him.
Margo Price’s two musical performances delivered brief respites of sunshine in an otherwise often cloudy night. While the opening seconds of each of Price’s country songs will let you know whether they’re to your musical liking, Price and her band’s joy and presence on stage is infectious, particularly in “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle).”
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