December 16, 2012

THE SKED REVIEW: SNL with Martin Short


How do you launch 90 minute of live television comedy less than 36 hours after one of the most awful crimes in American history?  SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE tried to finesse the moment by starting its telecast tonight with a children’s choir singing “Silent Night,” but there was nevertheless some unavoidable awkwardness when the show cut from the choir saying “Live from New York–it’s Saturday Night!” to the up-tempo regular credits.  After that, there was no mention of what had occurred in Connecticut, and really, what else could they do?

Those who were in a mood to laugh tonight found a fair amount to enjoy.  Martin Short, as experienced and exuberant a sketch comic as there is, had the host’s chair, and a young man named Paul McCartney provided the music.  In addition, Lorne Michaels and his bottomless list of Contacts provided a remarkable panoply of guest stars:  Paul Shaffer, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hanks, Tina Fey, Kristin Wilg, Carrie Brownstein, Alec Baldwin, Jimmy Fallon and a llama all showed up to play.  Most of those cameos were part of the opening monologue, which featured Short doing a bit of Ed Grimley, performing a semi-adult version of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” prancing around the studio and backstage, and planting a big Christmas kiss on Michaels himself.  It may not have been funny, exactly, but it was definitely fun.

The party atmosphere continued with Baldwin trotting out his expert Tony Bennett imitation (with Short as his hug-loving brother) on a Christmas special that featured Jay Pharoah as Kanye West and a lengthy commercial for suppositories.  Baldwin’s Bennett is funny saying just about anything, and that pretty much described the material.

The real laughs showed up in the next sketch.  Despite an unpromising premise–Short as the official palace liaision to Kate Middleton’s OB/GYN played by Bill Hader–it was one of the funniest sketches of the season.  Short was positively Monty Python-esque as he sternly described the permissible ways of referring to Middleton’s private parts (they include “Dame Judi Dench,” “Downton Abbey”, and “the Chunnel”) and the rule that if they were wearing a hat, the doctor needed to do likewise, while Hader tried manfully not to break down completely.  It was all capped by the arrival of Fred Armisen’s gangsta Queen Elizabeth for her pelvic exam.

The show continued on a roll with the pretaped “You’re a Rat Bastard, Charlie Brown.”  Although celebrity impersonations are a staple of SNL, we rarely get to see them interact.  This time, Short’s Larry David (as Linus) had scenes with Hader’s brilliant Pacino (Charlie Brown), who also interplayed with Kate McKinnon’s Edie Falco (Lucy), and it was pretty much bliss.

Sadly, things dulled down quite a bit with Update.  Vanessa Bayer’s desk piece as a bar-mitzvah boy who doggedly read from his limp Hanukkah speech was one of those conceptual gags that tries to make humor out of unfunniness, and while those can occasionally be pulled off, it didn’t happen here.  After that, we had the return of Cecily Strong’s Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started A Conversation With, which is a nice bit, but one that pretty much repeats itself in each installment.  And I’m sorry, but at Christmas season, the most party-filled time of the year… no Stefon?  Really?

It’s been long enough since we last saw “What’s Up With That?” to make for some fondness at its return, and it was juiced up by Samuel L. Jackson forgetting that the cameras on him tonight weren’t Quentin Tarantino’s, audibly using a couple of the words that network television still doesn’t allow.  The show’s last half-hour didn’t have any of the surprise gems that have enlivened some recent episodes.  A sketch about two old friends meeting at a Restoration Hardware after years apart was nothing but cheerful punchlines with no jokes, and the final piece of the night was really just a way to segue to McCartney singing “Wonderful Christmas Time” with the children’s choir, although Short and McCartney interacted surprisingly well as the thunderingly furious singer (Short) of a duo whose other hapless member (McCartney) was only capable (and not really that) of ringing the triangle.

In all, not a bad ending for an uneven year… although has there ever been an SNL season that wasn’t uneven?  The show is taking a month’s hiatus, returning on January 19 with Jennifer Lawrence (who showed surprising comic talent in Silver Linings Playbook, and who will almost certainly be an Oscar nominee for that role by showtime) and musical guests the Lumineers.


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."