February 10, 2013

THE SKED REVIEW: Saturday Night Live with Justin Bieber


Well, the studio audience seemed to be having a great time at SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE tonight.  There were more squeals than laughs to be had, what with Justin Bieber in the house as both host and musical guest.  The show was very careful never to force Bieber out of his comfort zone, and while he was mostly professional (aside from breaking during the one genuinely funny sketch of the night), he certainly didn’t give Justin Timberlake any competition in the double-threat comedy/music department.

Mostly, Bieber played variations on his own persona.  The monologue played up Valentine’s Day (not for the last time tonight) and had him giving roses to plants in the audience–including, ultimately, Whoopi Goldberg–while passing on mangled tidbits about Black History Month.  It would have taken more comic assurance than Bieber has to make those non sequiturs funny.  Later he played himself in a sketch about his security staff assigning most of the cast (including the women and black performers) as his doubles, a one-joke idea that didn’t go anywhere.  In a parody of “Summer Nights” from Grease, Bieber’s own semi-pubescent image worked against the joke, as the punchline that his Travolta-ish non-stud was actually 11 years old pretty much fit the way he came across from the start.  (And even silly comedy needs a context:  it was never clear why the Cecily Strong character would want to be dating an 11-year old.)  Then in the return of the “Miley Cyrus Show,” Bieber appeared as the head of Cyrus’s fan club, but even though he was playing a “character,” the point of the sketch was really to let Bieber make jokes about himself and lower the 4th wall to talk about his recent problems with weed and the law.  He was also featured in a pretaped “Valentine’s Day Message,” which was about as off-color as tonight’s show got (airing, naturally, at 12:45AM), but which had no particular point as humor except to cut periodically to Bobby Moynihan looking silly as Taco, someone who apparently was supposed to hang out while Bieber had sex.

The sketches with Bieber absent or in the background didn’t fare much better.  The cold open, about the CBS announcers’ inability to fill time during the Super Bowl blackout, might gotten some laughs the day after the game, but aside from one rude Ray Lewis joke, felt as long as the blackout itself a week down the line.  A pretaped extended Bravo parody that played on spin-offs of the Real Housewives franchise getting more and more attenuated had some amusing gags (“Somewhere Chauffeur the Rainbow” was the title of a reality show about a driver), but in typical SNL style, kept extending the single joke.  A recurrence of the high school dance sketch with Jay Pharoah as the principal let Bieber try a “funny voice” as a student pushing abstinence, but wasn’t as sharp as other renditions of the bit, and the same was true of the Update desk piece featuring Fred Armisen and Vanessa Bayer as “friends” of a tyrant (in this case, Richard III) who stage-whisper their complaints about him.  (However, the other desk piece, with Kenan Thompson as The One Black Guy who appears in every Super Bowl commercial, was one of the edgier bits the show has aired all season.)

Also, for what are apparently our abundant sins, there was the nine trillionth episode of “The Californians,” a sketch that the show clearly loves, since it aired right after the opening monologue, but which has become for some of us a great opportunity to check e-mail and do some DVR updating without missing anything.

The one bit of comic inspiration in the episode was in a strange 12:40AM sketch that was a nothing but a showcase for Taran Killam as a girl’s obnoxious brother baiting her new boyfriend (who was Bieber).  Seizing on the boy’s nervously fumbled combination of “I’m glad” and “It’s nice” into “glice,” the brother tormented the poor kid (Glice Hockey!  Gliceland!), alternately ridiculing him and bellowing into his face in a way that recalled vintage Chris Farley.   Bieber couldn’t begin to keep his composure under the assault, but you really couldn’t blame him too much, faced as he was for the first and only time all night with the force of something genuinely funny.

Next week’s show promises to be very different in tone, considering that the host is the utterly un-Bieberish Christoph Waltz, along with musical guests Alabama Shakes.



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."