February 17, 2013

THE SKED REVIEW: “Saturday Night Live” with Christoph Waltz


You would have thought that if there was one SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE host who’d escape the cliche of a musical monologue, it would be Christoph Waltz, but you’d be wrong.  “Smile, Damn It, Smile” wasn’t even a funny song, an Austria gag without any teeth or edge.  (Although Taran Killian’s Casual Hitler was a nice touch.)  It seemed to be setting the tone for another dismal episode of SNL, but the surprise was that while inevitably uneven, tonight’s show had some of the most inspired sketches of the season.  (Perhaps the writers were just so thrilled not to be writing for Adam Levine or Justin Bieber that it fueled them up.)

The night’s highlight was the pretaped “Djesus Uncrossed,” with Waltz as a vengeful post-resurrection Jesus H. Christ (“the “H” is silent”).  It was the Tarantino parody we were expecting with the star of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained as host, but from a completely surprising direction.  The sketch threw caution to the winds with Waltz’s Jesus splitting open skulls while quipping (“When you get to heaven… say hi to my dad”).  Killian contributed an inspired Brad Pitt as St. Peter, Kenan Thompson added Ving Rhames as Pontius Pilate, there was a perfect Django-like theme song, and the result was downright hilarious.

While nothing else quite reached that level, there were several other first-rate sketches.  “What Have You Become?”, despite some technical glitches, rang a few welcome changes on the game show parody template by including a rebellious contestant (Aidy Bryant) and ultimately bringing the host (Waltz) in on the contestants’ misery, as he had to acknowledge the waste of his own life too–plus, Waltz got to do an airy little tap-dance.   A bit about the Jamarcus Brothers, consisting of two soul brothers (Thompson and Jay Pharoah, of course) and their adopted virgin brother (Waltz) was so silly that it had no right to be as funny as it was, but it provided plenty of laughs.  Also inventive:  a pretaped “Papal Securities” commercial that took off from the retirement of Pope Benedict to include glimpses of the post-retirement Pope (Waltz) carrying his own badly-bagged groceries, singing in a garage band, and barbecuing with a “Bless This Mess” apron on.

Even the two most reliably dead segments of recent episodes showed some spark.  The cold open was an example of strong execution saving a weak concept, as Jason Sudeikis and Cecily Strong just stood in front of the camera as crew members desperately trying to raise morale on the marooned Carnival Cruise ship, ushering miserable “entertainers” on and off.  The piece was obvious but extremely well-paced, with each performer delivering a quick joke or two and getting off camera, building enough momentum to sell the bit.  Weekend Update managed to feature not one but two desk pieces that weren’t about established franchise characters (Killian again, in a gimme bit as the very thirsty Marco Rubio, and Vanessa Bayer Kate McKinnon as a Russian peasant who only wished a meteor would come and crush her)–and even the one repeat was only the second rendition of Jay Pharoah’s Stephen A. Smith, this time showcasing his close personal friendship with every single member of the LA Lakers.

Of course, this was SNL, so there were low points, too.  Some writers on the show seemingly miss Kristen Wiig so much that they created a character who could have come right out of her greatest hits reel, with Nasim Pedrad as a woman at a party who always comes into the middle of a conversation and incorrectly guesses what the other people have been talking about.  We got the unwelcome return of Fred Armisen’s Regine, who alternates between being pretentious and, at the slightest touch, simulating orgasms so over the top that they seem to exist just to make Bill Hader break, which he of course did.  There was a notably weak installment of FOX and Friends with Hader as Ted Nugent and Armisen as a British scientist, although as usual the ending crawl of corrections made DVR watching essential (“It is not Roe vs. Dwayne Wade” and “Bruno Mars is from Earth” were two of the highlights).  The 12:55AM sketch, with Waltz as an office stalker, was trying for the borderline between creepy and funny, but didn’t successfully hit either note (although it did have a genuine punchline, which is more than many SNL sketches can claim).

In all, not a bad night.  It would have been nice to see Waltz able to do a spin on one of his lengthy Tarantino-esque so-menacing-it’s-funny monologues, but if his goal tonight was to show that he has abundant comic energy and good timing, he accomplished it.  The show takes off Oscar weekend, and returns March 2 with Kevin Hart as host, with musical guests Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.




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."