April 14, 2013

THE SKED REVIEW: “Saturday Night Live” with Vince Vaughn


It took 84 minutes before SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE aired a single franchise sketch tonight.  That’s 84 minutes of non-stop, uninterrupted originality from the writing staff, working without the nets of familiar characters or predetermined catchphrases.  If that’s not a record, it had to be close.  (And even though the last sketch of the night was a retread, it was just barely one–the return of Kate McKinnon’s wonderful booze-goggled last call barfly, who we’d first seen in the 12:55AM slot when Louis C.K. hosted earlier this season.)  The result was a show that was inevitably uneven, but still an exhilarating high-wire act.

Host Vince Vaughn is firmly walking the comeback trail these days to plug his June comedy The Internship (which may have the most intensive TV campaign any movie has ever had 2 months before opening, thanks to its beer company tie-in), and he came to play.  The monologue had no song, no planted cast members to ask “audience questions”–instead it was Vaughn working what appeared to be genuine audience members, including confiscating one of their phones (returned during the show’s good-nights).  This kind of live byplay with non-professionals is risky, but Vaughn was smooth and likable, and he made it work.  Oddly, although he took part in most of the show’s sketches after that, he frequently wasn’t the featured player, which might just have been a result of the pieces that played best at dress.

“Stormy Skies” was a soap parody whose concept was that it was the first scripted program ever on The Weather Channel, but for some of us, it could just as well have been called “Thank God This Isn’t The Californians,” as it was a blessed relief to see something new on the soap parody front.  The gimmick of having extramarital affairs expressed through weather terminology (“We’re expecting 8-10 inches down south”) was pretty clever, although it’ll wear out its welcome if it, too, becomes a franchise.  A bit about a theater company where all the actors suffered from short term memory loss (Bill Hader, who of course broke midway through, was the director of their play) was a one-note gag where the laughs came from the sheer repetition of each person being unable to remember his/her lines, but it was performed well enough to work.

Vaughn didn’t participate in either of the pretaped segments.  One was a showcase for Hader’s Al Pacino, as he followed his Jack Kevorkian and Phil Spector turns for HBO by playing every possible killer for the network, including (in blackface) the doctor who’d given Michael Jackson his fatal dose of drugs.  The other was a well-produced but oddly esoteric “documentary” about a punk rocker (Fred Armisen) who puzzled his fans and bandmates with his affection for Margaret Thatcher, a strange angle for a sketch to commemorate her passing last week.  It featured the real Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols, who’s become the 21st century’s official punk rock veteran (he was a roadie on this season’s Californication).

The cold open was about the fact that any gun control bill that even gets to a vote in Congress will be meaningless–and then the House will reject it anyway and the Congressmen (Hader and Jason Sudeikis) who drafted it will lose their seats–mildly trenchant by recent SNL standards.  Better yet, it was brief–made its points in 4 minutes flat, and then ” Live From New York, It’s Saturday Night!”.  Weekend Update had a sharp desk piece built around the kerfuffle over the LL Cool J/Brad Paisley “Accidental Racist” song, with Kenan Thompson and Sudekis as the singers (LL Cool J describing himself as “the most low-down, hardcore member of the cast of NCIS LA“).  That was followed by a McKinnon spot where she was an Italian woman raised by monkeys who couldn’t quite hold back her animal noises as she spoke.

Things weakened in the last half hour, with a puzzling prom sketch that had Vaughn as a town’s local rich guy who seemed to have funded the prom so he could dance with teen boys–the writers would have had to go farther out on the limb of tastelessness for this to go anywhere, since as it was, it wasn’t clear whether the character was a pedophile or merely eccentric.  Then for some reason there was a sketch about John Tesh’s now-unknown brother, who wrote the discarded lyrics to the TV themes that John T composed.  It had a couple of laughs once the furious Teshes started destroying the NBC Sports office where it took place (when the brothers said they didn’t mean for things to work out this way, Vaughn’s executive reasonably asked “Then why did you bring little hammers and a can of gasoline?”), but the sketch had to travel a long way for not much.  Things picked up at the end, though, with McKinnon and Vaughn in the bar, as McKinnon especially showed some remarkable tequila transference technique.

Not the funniest SNL ever, but a historical footnote–who knows when so many original sketches will be back-to-back ever again?  The show takes off the next several weeks, returning for the last original episodes of the season on May 4, with host Zach Galifianakis and musical guest Of Monsters and Men.



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."