October 12, 2013

THE SKED REVIEW: “Saturday Night Live” with Bruce Willis


It’s relatively unusual for a movie star to host SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE without having something to plug, but this week Bruce Willis took the lead for his first turn since the days of the original Die Hard in 1989.  Willis rarely gets the credit he deserves for the range of his roles (the Die Hard franchise, sure, and Moonlighting and Pulp Fiction, but also 12 Monkeys, True West and Moonrise Kingdom), so there was some promise here for the writers to come up with unexpected angles for him to play.

It didn’t really happen.  So far this season, the funniest stuff has come from the pre-taped pieces, and that was mostly the case tonight too; in those, Willis was either a member of the ensemble or not present at all.  Boy Dance Party wasn’t the most original concept in the world–the ladies think their guys watch football when they’re together, when actually they’d rather twerk–but the song was catchy, the performers (including Willis) uninhibited, and the staging was terrific.  It even had a funny button at the end, not something SNL can often claim.  There was a clever fake commercial for 24 Hour Energy Drink For Dating Actresses (and its counterpart for dating comedians), useful when you have to get excited about your girlfriend’s commercial for window blinds, and a nicely odd taped sketch in the last half-hour about a fraternity whose rules for beer pong include getting a pen pal and designing your own roller coaster without regard to the laws of physics (the best designs are posted on the wall).  The latter piece also gave an opportunity to several of the new cast members to get some screen time, which is something the show needs to start doing.

The live sketches were a much more mixed bag.  Give credit where it’s due, this week’s cold open actually had an original spin on the subject of the government shutdown, as the only employees left to talk to the stranded astronauts from Gravity were the janitorial staff.  It made for a nice change from the endless succession of press conferences and C-SPAN parodies that usually fill that slot, but once the writers came up with the concept, they didn’t really do much with it.

This was the second straight week with a minimalist host monologue.  Willis got more screen time than Miley Cyrus did, but almost all of it was devoted to a supposed harmonica duet for him and Bobby Moynihan.  The joke:  Bobby was a very bad harmonica player.

Willis’s finest moment was playing guest Michael Kors on The Lady Gaga Show.  He seemed to be having a ball doing the kind of comedy he’d never get to do on the big screen, as Gaga (a surprisingly ineffective Vanessa Bayer) threw him fashion photos for instant analysis–mostly shrieks.  The sketch got even funnier when Kate McKinnon came on with her incomprehensible Penelope Cruz.  On the other hand, there wasn’t much to be done with a bit where Willis was the front end of a centaur costume at a “Centauri Vodka” party, the gag being his concern that the actor in the back of the suit was passing out from heat stroke.  In a sketch set in a black barber shop, the joke was that Willis, the only white barber, was unable to tell funny stories like Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah.  By design, Willis was just the straight man.

Several of the sketches had Willis playing variations on his usual screen persona.  In one, he was a Navy SEAL who kept disrupting the pre-mission briefing by turning their assignment into action movie beats (a forward somersault, a backwards somersault, and then another forward somersault, because the first time he dropped his keys…).  The script gave Willis a ton of dialogue, and he could only rattle it off by fixing his eyes on the cue cards and charging forward.  Later, an Armageddon parody turned into the return of Moynihan’s Kirby, who’s obsessed with his “kitty-cat.”  This was not a sketch that needed to be a franchise.

Thinking of which, remember the piece last season where Taran Killam was a hostile guy who jumped on a mangled word choice by a family guest to rail at him sarcastically about it, while alternately assuring him “I’m just messing with you”?  Were you hoping to see it again?  This time Willis was the (initially) mild-mannered florist dating Killam’s mother, and the mistaken word conjoined “child” and “son” into “chun”.  So, “Hey, we could go see Top Chun!”  And so on.

One bright spot was that after 3 weeks, Seth Meyers and Cecily Strong are hitting their stride as Weekend Update co-anchors.  Strong has passed through her initial awkwardness, and it seems like Lorne Michaels was right, she’s a great choice to take over Update (too bad she won’t be doing it with Meyers for long).  Their best bit this week was a sequence of jokes about the Bruce/Kris Jenner break-up that shouldn’t have kept being funny, but was.  In a desk piece, Thompson was a Congressional chaplain who used his prayers to insult the House members keeping the government shut down (an OK gag repeated over and over).  Then Brooks Wheelen got his first showcase spot with a bit about regretting the tattoos he’s gotten.  It felt like the stand-up routine it probably once was, and Wheelan was a little too busy delivering it (those Update pieces, with the camera locked on you for minutes, have to be visually simple), but he landed his laughs.

SNL takes next week off with a rerun of the Tina Fey season premiere, then returns on Oct. 26 with host Edward Norton (another actor without a project to plug) and musical guest Janelle Monae.

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."