October 27, 2013

THE SKED REVIEW: “Saturday Night Live” with Edward Norton


Edward Norton, a very fine actor who’s shown occasional comic chops, is the oddest choice to host SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE in recent memory.  It’s been a long, long time since he was anywhere near the forefront of the pop culture zeitgeist, and he didn’t even have anything new to plug this week.  It would be great to say that his SNL stint will have him back on everyone’s lips, but with one glorious exception–and through no fault of Norton’s–this Halloween episode was far more trick than treat.

To start with the good news:  SNL‘s pre-taped pieces have been impressive all season, and tonight’s unquestionable highlight was a wonderfully conceived, brilliantly executed parody of a Wes Anderson horror movie entitled The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders.  Tonight’s show ran too long for full credits, so the director and writer(s) of the piece were unidentified, but whoever it was had really done their homework, with shot framing, costumes and editing style that perfectly reproduced Anderson’s mannerisms, this time for a The Purge-like thriller.  Norton, who’s worked for Anderson, contributed a terrific Owen Wilson impersonation, there was a Fantastic Mr. Fox-ish stop-motion mouse, and the trailer was even narrated by Alec Baldwin, who fans will remember was the narrator of The Royal Tenenbaums.  It was all just about perfect.  (The night’s other taped bit, a parody commercial for pumpkin-scented douche for fall, wasn’t nearly as memorable.)

Oh yeah, the rest of the show.  Well, Norton’s monologue more or less acknowledged his absence from the public eye by making a joke about the idea that Lorne Michaels had actually asked him to host 13 years ago, and method actor that he is, he’d been preparing ever since.  This segued into Baldwin appearing to teach him how to host SNL, and the only good thing to come of that was getting a bit of Norton’s expert imitation of Woody Allen, with whom he’s also worked.  (But really, who can’t do Woody Allen?)  His Woody Harrelson was considerably less impressive.  It also somehow led to the least necessary celebrity cameo imaginable, the return after barely being gone of Miley Cyrus.

It was clear the night was in trouble when the post-monologue sketch was an endless riff on school kids (led by Nasim Pedrad) who didn’t get, despite policeman Norton’s earnest attempts to convince them, that going into vans with strange men for candy was a bad idea.  The biggest laugh went to Kate McKinnon as their teacher when she announced that while the officer was speaking, she’d be in her car making adult phone calls.  A return of The Steve Harvey Show with Kenan Thompson wasn’t much better, this time the one gag being Norton presenting pun Halloween costumes (a book’s open pages framing a person’s face for “Facebook”), which Harvey never figured out.  A late-show bit about virgin waiters and waitresses (one of them Norton) doing the weird moves that they thought went along with sex wasn’t nearly as weird as it would have had to be to work.

Both were better, though, than an inexplicable Rain Man parody (the joke was that Norton, as the guy who was good with numbers, couldn’t really count very high), which would have felt outdated on an episode back when Lorne supposedly first asked Norton to host in 2000.

A sketch about exterminators (Norton and Brooks Wheelan) hunting super-intelligent possums in an air vent while an executive meeting was going on had some funny ideas, but never really came together in the playing.  Another missed opportunity was 12 Days Not A Slave, which sounded like it was going to be promisingly topical, but turned out not to be a parody of Steve McQueen’s critical hit at all, but a sketch that started out with Jay Pharoah’s ex-slave not realizing that racism didn’t end the moment the Emancipation Proclamation set him free, and ended up being White People Can’t Dance (with another Miley Cyrus cameo).  The only high point was Aidy Bryant as a local woman who was quite enjoying the slaves being free.

The cold open tried to be topical, with McKinnon’s Kathleen Sibelius speaking on the failures of the Obamacare website, but it got bogged down in porn movie title jokes (“Blue Cross, Blue Balls”) and had no satiric point whatsoever.  There was also a fairly weak Weekend Update, a short edition with just a few gags for Seth Meyers and Cecily Strong, and yet another return for Bobby Moynihan’s malapropping Anthony Crispino.

The night ended with a no-mistake-about-it 12:55AM sketch that felt like the writers had put it together during the last commercial break, possibly while inhaling illegal substances.  It was very simple, Norton as a vaguely creepy John Waters-type going through his bag of candy and flinging out a one-liner on each, which ranged from the hopeless (“Almond Joy’s got nuts?  TMI, Almond Joy!  Jeez!”) to the inspired (opening a DVD box for Cars 2 to reveal that it’s empty:  “Now who’s in control?”, and following a Baby Ruth with a shot of Aidy Bryant as Adult Ruth).  It looked to be the most fun Norton had all night, and he wasn’t altogether wrong.

Get ready for some Scandal parody next week, because the host is Olivia Pope herself, Kerry Washington, with musical guest Eminem.

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."