March 2, 2014

THE SKED REVIEW: “Saturday Night Live” with Jim Parsons


SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE was pushed off the air for a solid month by the Winter Olympics, and then by 15 more minutes in the east tonight by an NHL game in primetime–not the kind of thing that pleases Generalissimo Lorne Michaels.  After all that, the show wasn’t remotely worth the wait.

The Big Bang Theory‘s Jim Parsons was tonight’s host, but he didn’t have anything to do with the news of the evening, which was the News.  Or, to be precise, the arrival of Colin Jost as successor to Seth Meyers’ chair on Weekend Update.  Jost was fine, with a bit of the stiffness and awkwardness that you’d expect from someone making their featured live network TV debut, but nothing seriously damaging.  His evident inexperience validated the strategy of bringing on Cecily Strong while Meyers was still around, since she’s now quite polished in the job, and kept the segment’s pace rolling.  (Jost’s own laughs were loudly appreciative of Strong off-screen.)  Jost, incidentally, is a longtime senior writer on SNL, so anyone hoping for an edgier, more daring Update with the new regime was out of luck–the jokes were just as toothless coming out of his mouth as they were from Meyers.  Jost was given the return of Charles Barkley (Kenan Thompson) and Shaquille O’Neal (Jay Pharoah) as his first desk piece to manage, and that whole segment was a bit strained, partly because Pharoah completely missed one of his lines.  Strong, for her part, got Taran Killam’s dyspeptic historical critic Jebediah Atkinson, this time blasting Oscar nominees both old and new; his bit was highlighted by mildly racy Woody Allen crack and a moment when his heaved index card miraculously balanced on top of the others he was holding, something even he had to remark on.

Nothing else on tonight’s episode was as interesting.  Parsons wasn’t a bad host, per se, but he was uncomfortable with the cue cards, and completely unable to steer the tone of the night.  It says all too much that probably the funniest single sketch was in the last half-hour, and it concerned Parsons’ executive character reacting to a construction site explosion by crapping his pants, then having to ride down in the elevator with his soiled undies in a plastic bag while other passengers wondered what that smell was.  A dumb, broad gag, but handled with a level of control that made it work.

The rest was mostly flat or worse.  For “flat,” include the cold open, an Ellen sketch that starred Kate McKinnon’s splended Ellen, but had no substance.  It started as a pre-Oscars parody (Jay Pharoah contributed a brief but pretty good Barkhad Abdi) then went into Parsons as Johnny Weir, which felt like exactly the kind of fah-bulous bit that out gay actors weren’t supposed to have to do anymore.  The cold open was a nothing musical number where Parsons sang with representations of Jaleel White, Henry Winkler and Jason Alexander to prove none of them are like their characters in real life.

A Peter Pan sketch had Aidy Bryant green-screened in as Tonker-Bell, Tink’s ruder half-sister, and at least Bryant was game in it.  The sole joke of an elaborate true-crime documentary parody was the multitude of footage from vintage dance TV shows that made it evident Parsons’ character was a serial killer, and yet no one figured out for years that he was guilty.  It was all premise and no forward progress.  A 12 Years a Slave piece about white actors being uncomfortable (especially with blacks in the casting room) about saying racist dialogue out loud had its finger on what could have been a really funny sketch (even 35 years later, everyone remembers that classic Chevy Chase/Richard Pryor skit from SNL‘s glory days), but it didn’t have one-tenth the guts it would have needed to really go after those risky laughs.

After that, it got worse.  A sketch about a murder mystery dinner party fixed on Parsons’ character not liking the dumb part he was given to play, and not only was it endless and repetitive, it didn’t even try to have an ending.  The Spotlightz acting camp for child actors returned (did this really need to be a franchise?), with Vanessa Bayer doing her overly-eager child routine as she recited dialogue from The Wolf of Wall Street and Taran Killam and Aidy Bryant playing Joaquin Phoenix’s and Scarlett Johansson’s characters in Her.  The night’s final sketch was a pointless thing with Parsons as an Old West ranch hand with his heart set on wishing the foreman a surprise happy birthday by hiding underground and hurtling his body up with springs (the punchline was the foreman shooting him, as if anyone couldn’t see that coming).  Even the night’s one pre-taped piece was a puzzling flop, a fake commercial about a version of the Bible with the biblical figures replaced by birds that couldn’t figure out where its own joke was.

Perhaps everyone was just rusty after so much time off.  Next week will almost inevitably be interesting if nothing else:  Lena Dunham is host, with musical guests The National.


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."