May 6, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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It was perfectly appropriate to dread the news that an athlete was hosting SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE–the show’s history abounds with deadly sports hosts like Michael Phelps and Tom Brady.  And in case that wasn’t enough pressure for tonight’s host Eli Manning, one of the rare exceptions to the rule was his own brother Peyton, memorably funny as a host in 2007.

But Eli’s emerged from his brother’s shadow before (I forget, how many Super Bowl rings does each have?), and although tonight’s SNL didn’t have much that was laugh-out-loud funny, it wasn’t the host’s fault.  After a shaky start in the Q&A monologue–as much the fault of its creaky NY/New Jersey gags as his–Manning showed fair aplomb and more skill at reading cue-cards on the fly than many of the show’s recent showbiz hosts.  


Perhaps because of their comfort with Manning, the writers gave him a featured role in most of the sketches.  The highlight, without doubt, was the show’s pretaped revisit to the “Big Brother” public-service parody that was Peyton’s most notable bit when he hosted.  This time, Eli’s specialty was helping other little brothers get revenge on their older siblings by, among other things, locking them in car trunks, shooting arrows at them, and giving them wedgies.  Manning was also the male lead in the show’s funniest live sketch, playing a bad boyfriend contestant on a game-show hosted by his girlfriend (Abby Elliott) called “What Is This?” which managed to put some life in what must have been the trillionth game show parody SNL has aired over the years.  Even though a bit about the embarrassing texts and internet searches a murder defendant had to use for his alibi didn’t make much sense, it was a smart piece for the writers to give Manning, because he was able to speak in short responses to defense attorney Jason Sudeikis’s questions, with no extended dialogue.  A sketch about motion capture for Madden Football didn’t justify its length, but Manning got a big laugh when he mimed throwing a grenade like a little girl.  (“That’s how I’d throw a grenade!” he assured the incredulous director.)  He even donned drag for a weak bit late in the show.

Other sketches were less notable.  The cold open, a parody of Fox News, made one long for The Daily Show, which does that sort of thing brilliantly practically every day.  Bill Hader did his Herb Welch the ancient TV newsman character, one of those sketches that is always repeated with minimal variation.  Weekend Update was painful, and that included Sacha Baron Cohen’s guest cameo plugging The Dictator (please god, let the movie be funnier than this sketch), which included a cameo-within-the-cameo for Martin Scorsese, Cohen’s Hugo director.  Update’s other featured piece was an endless over-the-top bit for Kristen Wiig as an over-tanning mom.  What would have been the 12:55AM sketch in any other week, a “Chelsea Lately” parody where the sole joke was that everyone spoke pidgin Swedish (to a studio audience silence so complete that the place might have been emptied for a fire drill), aired 20 minutes earlier because the actual 12:55 slot had to go to a Cheech & Chong bit that included comic use of demon weed (although it also showcased Bill Hader’s terrific Tommy Chong).  There was a fairly good “Fifty Shades of Gray” gag in an parody commercial, but no SNL Digital Short this week.  And considering that she’s trying to start an acting career (if you can call the performances in Battleship acting), it was a little surprising that Rihanna didn’t take part in any sketches.

The show returns next week with Will Ferrell (and musical guest Usher), so expect the return of lots of old characters and catch-phrases.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."