March 10, 2013

THE SKED REVIEW: SNL with Justin Timberlake


If The Avengers were an episode of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, it might be something like the first hour of tonight’s show, a veritable all-star brigade of special guests and beloved characters presented for the celebratory return of Host Supreme Justin Timberlake (and the spottier last half-hour had its moments, too). SNL and Timberlake have had one of the most prosperous symbiotic relationships in recent pop culture, as he’s given the show its funniest, hardest-working host of the past decade–tonight he was featured in virtually every sketch and did a pair of musical numbers, too–and SNL has given him comic cred that’s propelled him into a big-time acting career.  Each side held up its end tonight.

No taking the cold open off for Timberlake, who didn’t even wait for the monologue to make his first appearance, as Elton John doing a Hugo Chavez version of “Candle In the Wind” at the deceased leader’s funeral.  It stayed away from real Chavez-related issues, as SNL has tended to do with political topics this season, but got its quota of laughs from some of Chavez’s real-life antics, like his denunciation of capitalism on Mars.

The monologue was the sketch everyone had been waiting for, a reunion of the Five-Timers Club of which Timberlake is now a member (that, incidentally, doesn’t even count his many appearances as a cameo performer and musical guest).  The whole gang wasn’t quite there (no Buck Henry, John Goodman or Bill Murray, among others), but there were plenty of old favorites, from Chevy Chase to Dan Aykroyd to Tom Hanks to a slightly out-of-it Paul Simon.  It was less an occasion for riotous laughter (although the Django Unchained fight to the death between current cast members was pretty good, and Chase can still pull giggles trying to hang up a phone) than a bit of oh-my-god-everybody-got-so-old nostalgia, but it was a satisfying milestone for a show that’s become as much a part of television history as any.

The most satisfying mix of nostalgia and fresh laughs was in the post-monologue Dating Game parody, which featured not just Timberlake and Andy Samberg in their “Dick In A Box” singing hipster guises, but Aykroyd and Steve Martin as the Wild and Crazy Guys (even host Bill Hader couldn’t quite understand why their accents were still so thick after 37 years in the US).  The sketch wasn’t just an exercise in Old Timers Day reminiscence–Bobby Moyniham got laughs as the game’s only solo contestant, and Samberg and Timberlake were in vintage form singing their responses.

The fan favorite march continued with Timberlake’s dueling street performer “Bring It On Down To Veganville” sketch, which he threw himself into as though it was his first time, parodying Vanilla Ice and Billy Idol, among others.  Sure, the piece could have been freeze-dried from 5 years ago (except for the “Harlem Shake” finale), but it was hilarious then and it still works now.

The greatest hits climaxed with Weekend Update, which this week (the opening sketches and Timberlake’s “Suit and Tie” song ran pretty long) consisted of just a few jokes that preceded the return of the one and only Stefon, taking time off from–a truly perfect joke–his job writing for Smash.  Hader understandably had to hide his own tears of laughter as he described one club where, if you liked Russell Crowe in Les Miserables, you’d enjoy Jasper the Gorilla passing a kidney stone, and another called (serious voice) “Your Mother and I Are Separating,” located in a burned-down Red Lobster, and featuring the sounds of Donald Duck having a Vietnam nightmare–and oh yes, he let us know exactly what that sounded like.

Things couldn’t really stay at that dizzying height all night, and a “Sober Caligula” sketch must have sounded funnier on paper than it played, with enough mentions of urinating on people, eating testicles and having sex with pigs to make one wonder if Daylight Savings Time had already pushed us to 12:55AM.  Then there was return of that weird sketch set in a Maine courtroom where, for no particular reason, everyone sounds like either Foghorn Leghorn or Blanche DuBois.

Pre-taped sketches were one for two tonight, with a funny fake commercial for a bling-laden women’s contraceptive, but also a pseudo-trailer for a rom-com called “She’s Got a D#&k” that was well-produced but lacking in laughs.

The night recovered, though, with its real 12:55 sketch, a return of the bit with ex-porn stars Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong (this time joined by Timberlake) selling luxury products, here Moet & Chandon champagne–or as Timberlake put it, “Monica & Chandler”.  Now who’s the horse?

In all, the kind of first-rate SNL that Justin Timberlake seems to both bring forth and inspire, more than justifying his admittance into the 5-Timers Club.  Also, I’d just like to say to NBC that I would totally set my DVR for any episode of Smash written by Stefon, and I think a lot of America would agree.

The next new SNL airs April 6, with 2-Timers Club member Melissa McCarthy and musical guest Phoenix.

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."