October 21, 2012



If tonight’s SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE didn’t have much to recommend it–and it didn’t–blame can’t be put on its very busy host and musical guest Bruno Mars.  Mars did everything that was asked of him, and actually supplied the episode’s highlight, a rapid-fire series of musical impersonations (in the framework of a Pandora Radio sketch) that had him doing everyone from Billie Joe Armstrong to Louis Armstrong to several different takes on Michael Jackson, and pretty much pulling them all off.  It was a virtuoso turn, and the rest of the show wasn’t at its level.

What is it with SNL and the debates?  These would seem to be ready-made objects of parody, raw meat for comedy writers, but the show has yet to pull off a memorable sketch on any of them.  Last week’s Presidential free-for-all, with its barely restrained hostility between Obama and Romney was, in particular, practically a comedy routine on its own, but SNL‘s cold open seemed to be moving down a checklist of moments (Candy Crowley correcting Romney–check; questioner who needs to unfold a piece of paper to remember what she’s asking–check) rather than developing any comic momentum.  The open also introduced Tom Hanks, who served as unofficial co-host (as he promotes Cloud Atlas), popping up several times during the evening.

Mars’s monologue was, logically enough, a musical number about how inexperienced he was at comedy, and it worked fine.  He was also perfectly creditable in his first post-monologue sketch, a talk-show parody called “Haters,” but the whole piece felt like a warmed-over Jerry Springer bit (screaming ethnic mother and daughter, played in drag) from 10 years ago.  Mars was briefly visible in a return of the sketch about the fun-house automatons who become menacing, but he vanished halfway through (and Hanks showed up as another animatronic figure).  The 12:45AM sketch, with Bill Hader as a rural guy who’d had very close relations with a Yeti, had Mars as desk clerk at the local hotel–he mugged a bit too much, but he was a minor part of the piece.

Update featured more disappointing debate gags, mostly keyed to the fact that the next debate is taking place in Florida, and you know, there are old people in Florida, so you’d better talk loud, hen heh heh.  Then crowd-pleaser Stefon appeared to make everything all right, and even though Hader seemed to find the material this time more screamingly hilarious than anyone else did (he may have done the biggest break of his illustrious breaking career over a gag about a Jewish vampire), he still delivered the laughs.

Possibly because the show is coming off a stretch of 5 new shows in 6 weeks, and everyone was simply exhausted, there were a ton of pre-taped sketches tonight.  “Sad Mouse” was an interestingly low-key piece, with Mars as a depressed guy who takes a job wearing a mouse costume in Times Square, making him even more depressed; it played as a cross between an SNL Digital Short and the kind of short-subject you see before some of the features at Sundance.  There were four, count ’em four, parodies of Brad Pitt’s Chanel No 5 commercial, with Taran Killam as Pitt–they started out none too funny and then got run into the ground.  An “Under-Underground Records” concert promo had some good gags, notably a Borat impersonation-off with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and a reenactment of the Lincoln/Douglas debates with Linkin Park and Buster Douglas, and of course Ass Dan bought it once again.

In all, an OK but not great night, sparked by Stefon (as always) and less expectedly by the host’s musical comedy stylings.  SNL is taking a much-needed week off, and returns for a final pre-election show on November 3 with the brilliant but not normally sketch-comedy-driven Louis C.K. as host, along with musical guest Fun.

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."