November 16, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Review: “Saturday Night Live” with Woody Harrelson


Woody Harrelson brought a boatload of Hunger Games co-stars with him (their movie opens Thursday night) as he returned to host SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE for the first time in more than 20 years.  That included Katniss Everdeen herself, who contributed a Jennifer-Lawrence-being-Jennifer-Lawrence moment of so totally muffing a cue carded joke that it threw everyone into affectionate giggles.  (The best part of the troupe’s appearance was its apparently genuine and spontaneous group hug during the Good-Nights.)  None of it, though, was enough to redeem another ragged edition of SNL, despite some funny and some notably weird bits here and there.

The evening started off, predictably if dispiritingly, with yet another lame political cold open, this one featuring President Obama (Jay Pharoah) and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Taran Killam) getting boozed up together.  There was a nice moment when they teamed up to prank-call Hillary Clinton, and a promising second where “McConnell” brought up the President’s race–only to drop it instantly–but like just about all the politics on this generation of SNL, it paled next to the satire to be found elsewhere on TV.

Harrelson’s inevitably musical cold open (about his druggy inability to remember 1989, when he’d first hosted, and which coincidentally was the title of Taylor Swift’s new album) didn’t improve matters, despite the aforementioned all-star cameos.  It was followed by the night’s first pre-tape, a gag about CBS being so sensitive to social media that it constantly changed one of its sitcoms to make the characters more or less contemporary.  The joke didn’t have much point (of all the networks, why accuse CBS of this?), and it unfortunately echoed internet sensation Too Many Cooks to its disadvantage.

The night’s first bright spot was the MTV dating show parody Match’d, which at first seemed like every other SNL game show parody, but turned out to have a twist:  the girl being pursued by 3 horny contestants was the host’s (Harrelson) teen daughter.  Once you got past the unlikelihood of MTV having a middle-aged former Marine as a game-show host, the spectacle of the formerly raunchy guys falling all over themselves to convince the host that they had nothing but the most wholesome plans for his daughter was quite entertainng–although, sadly, there was no punchline.  Another pre-tape followed, a well-produced but relatively laughless imagining, in inspirational big-screen movie style, of the day pot smokers went out onto New York streets, first hesitantly and then proudly, with their now close-to-legal 25 gram bags of weed–only to discover that they could possess but not smoke it openly.

The pre-Update pod was a waste.  A badly conceived and written sketch about both the inconvenience of anti-concussion tackling rules in football and the comic results of being concussed (with Harrelson as the coach) was followed by yet another pre-tape.  This one, for Old Farts & Young Tarts, a take-off on the recent Tony Bennett/Lady Gaga duets album that featured veteran talent paired with new singers, was right in the SNL wheelhouse, yet yielded very little.  The highlight was probably Leslie Jones’s Aretha Franklin, teamed with Kate McKinnon’s Robyn.

Jones returned with an appearance on Weekend Update, and after an uneven start (she doesn’t even try to pretend her desk-pieces are anything but stand-up routines), her bit roared into life once she reached the point where she was giving 7 Dwarf names to the various kinds of penises.  Jones is just about the only guest who brings Colin Jost to life as a host; he’s still utterly bland when delivering his jokes, although he does a better job with the cue cards than his more charismatic co-host Michael Che.  Give Taran Killam some credit:  Matthew McConaughey imitations are a dime a dozen these days, but he soared with his to the brink of surrealism in a desk-piece that purported to re-team McConaughey with his True Detective co-star Harrelson, who appeared genuinely tickled by what Killam was doing.

The show’s final half-hour was mostly just strange.  There was a piece where 4 New Yorkers groused about the changes in city life, and the joke was that all Harrelson could talk about was how tough it was nowadays to get crack.  It was followed by one where Harrelson and 4 friends sat around a campfire and Harrelson insisted on singing a song about apples that his friends didn’t know–except the punchline was that they’d known it all along.  Ha?

The post-Update stretch was redeemed by another installment of Last Call, that very simple premise where Kate McKinnon and the night’s host play denizens of a bar who are the only ones left to hook up at closing time (“I noticed you here because you’re so… breathing,” was one of McKinnon’s lines).  It all worked, from McKinnon’s description of her job replastering unpopular glory holes to the pair tonguing each other through Saran Wrap.  The sketch provided a rare note of consistency in what was otherwise an up-and-down night.

Next week brings Cameron Diaz as host (she has the new version of Annie opening next month), with musical guests Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson.

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."