September 23, 2012

THE SKED REVIEW: SNL With Joseph Gordon-Levitt

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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For an election season SNL, tonight’s episode was oddly lightweight–possibly because the show had exhausted its political material for the week in Thursday’s Update special.  Aside from Weekend Update, the only trace of presidential politics tonight came in two fairly blah, one-note pre-taped fake commercials, one about the thickheadedness of voters who haven’t yet made up their minds, and the other about elderly male Republicans making policy about women’s bodies.

Even though he didn’t get to bring out his newly-minted Obama, it was a good night for suddenly-featured Jay Pharoah.  Nasim Pedrad and Pharoah took the cold open as Kelly Ripa and her new co-host Michael Strahan, and even non-watchers of the Kelly and Michael show could appreciate Pharoah’s amazement as Strahan that after years of getting beaten up in football games, he could get paid for having Mario Batali cook for him.  Later on Update, Pharoah did a perfectly insane desk piece as ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, an intimate friend of every athlete he talks about (even if the studio audience didn’t seem to really get it).  Pharoah was also one of the leads in a last-half-hour sketch about rappers becoming fashionistas that was less notable.

The night’s host was Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and although by now he’s an experienced, assured host (great job not staring at the cue-cards, unlike most), and he was used a lot, he didn’t make an enormous impression.  For some reason his opening monologue was a Magic Mike bit that was about 3 months late, and his “Son of The Most Interesting Man In the World” 2-parter was overproduced, although Jason Sudeikis helped a great deal when he turned up as The Man himself to wind things up.  In a Vegas hypnotist sketch, it was Taran Killam as the audience member pretending to be under Gordon-Levitt’s control who got all the laughs, and similarly, in a private detective bit, it was Bill Hader doing the heavy lifting as the PI who draws caricatures instead of taking photos.  The return of the sketch where 4 guys in a bar top each other’s offensive stories wasn’t a happy one (just saying the name “Sandusky” isn’t a joke), except for musical guests Mumford & Sons providing the background as a Beatles cover band.

Even though the politics were confined mostly to Weekend Update, that segment had two remarkably trenchant pieces of comedy.  Seth Meyers did a “What Are You DOING?” monologue advising President Obama to keep his mouth shut and just let Romney keep shooting himself in the foot (the best bit was a comparison of the current Romney campaign with the last season of Lost) that wouldn’t have been out of place on The Daily Show.  Then newcomer Kate McKinnon did a terrific desk piece as an bitterly out-of-touch Ann Romney, who would have been happy to kill her Olympic horse if she could just hang out with Beyonce (pronounced with the emphasis on the last syllable) and Jay Z.  Update was only dragged down a bit by the return of the Fred Armisen/Vanessa Bayer bit where they criticize dictators (here, Syria’s Assad) in a murmured undertone.

The 12:45AM slot went fittingly to an oddity, with Armisen and McKinnon as parents who do a musical intro to present their daughter (Gordon-Levitt in drag) to a prospective beau–the concept was fine for a surreal bit, but the song needed to be much funnier than it was.

Two small notes:  the usually carefully-timed show went off the rails at the end, cutting off the end of a sketch where Pedrad and Tim Robinson played realtors complaining about the obscene markings placed on their bus-stop ads (they got to drop plenty of penis jokes, which was presumably the point of the sketch, but the ads themselves were pixillated), and then Gordon-Levitt barely got to do a Goodnight.  Also, it may well be the case that Jason Sudeikis is being eased into a midseason, post-election exit, as apart from his Most Interesting Man bit and taking part in the bar sketch, he was barely seen for the 2d week in a row.

SNL is taking next week off, then returning October 6 with guest host Daniel Craig (more than a month before his new James Bond opens) and musical guests Muse.

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."