SNL: S34E11... HOST: HUGH LAURIE... DATE: DECEMBER 13, 2008

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The Year SNL Gave Us Coal For Christmas

 

I can’t tell you the last time I was this disappointed by an episode of SNL, and I hated it more after realizing that this was not only the end of the year sendoff into the winter break, but it was an uninspired sendoff for Amy Poehler as well. Though part of the problem stems from the fact that I am utterly unaware of the career of Hugh Laurie, other than his last visit that also left me unimpressed, my bigger issue was the overall structure of the show that made it feel like everyone was on a rush to start their vacation.

First off, if you read these reviews with any regularity, I’m sure you’ll already know how I feel about the fact that there were only twelve segments to the night. I personally feel that there needs to be AT LEAST fifteen segments to make up a show to provide the proper balance and keep the sketches from feeling so long. So far, I think there have only been a handful of shows since I’ve started this challenge where episodes have dropped below a thirteen segment sketch count, keeping in mind, this count also includes the musical performances and the host saying good night.

Next, this episode really suffered from the common complaint that I’ve had about this year where the opening political sketch may have been funny at the time when whatever issue being mocked was being heavily reported in the news, making it easier to find humor in the specific and nuance to the jokes. Minus the real-time connection with the events being lampooned these sketches can come across like you’re watching the real news, especially once the sketch hits the point to where it starts to drag on.

As I’ve pointed out multiple times this year, these boring show openers lead me to get lost in the thoughts in my head as I start to doubt the entire episode. Thankfully, most shows will eventually win me back to where I will consider the viewing so-so to pretty good, but that wasn’t the case tonight. This is too bad because even though I haven’t enjoyed either episode hosted by Hugh Laurie, there’s something about the guy that I like but just don’t feel that he fits with Saturday Night Live, or at least they don’t know how to use him.

I think I would have liked the monolog more in I was actually familiar with our host’s personality or any expectations that he might be playing off of based on his roles, because he has that Bob Newhart brand of confusion in the delivery of his jokes. If I had known that he joked like this ahead of time, I might not have viewed it as him being ill-prepared since his stammering wasn’t telegraphed enough to be able to easily tell if it was a joke or not.

The other issue, that’s been going on for at least the last three seasons is that they keep choosing the worst sketch of the night to be the first official sketch to follow the fake commercial. Not only was there no fake commercial tonight but this first official sketch tonight was the Bronx Beat sketch which is nothing but accent based humor with I used to find silly but now is a sketch genre that I hate. Not really because I find it offensive, other than being offended by the fact that these accent based jokes contain zero actual comedic meat.

Speaking of meat, this Bronx Beat sketch was especially meatless because they had Hugh Laurie as a butcher who had absolutely zero butcher traits. He was just himself in a suit and every time that he opened his mouth the Bronx girls made fun of his accent before he could even say anything about his trade. They could have just had him as a generic guy from England, and the sketch wouldn’t have changed one bit.

The sketch that followed felt like a rip off of the “I drive a Dodge Stratus,” fighting family from back when Will Ferrell was still on, and there’s nothing I hate more than cannibalized content that doesn’t work better than version number one or at least pays the reference material proper credit. As I said yesterday, I almost always zone out during the musical performance and the news to just take everything in, while taking a break from making comedic analyses.

I liked the lamp sketch, but even that one felt more appropriate as a sketch to close the show since it’s one of those weird end of the night segments that I usually love. The next two sketches were okay, but then the show ended with the musical guest who was Kanye West, who I find interesting as a controversial personality but I don’t know or care to know about his portfolio.

Usually, I try to end these negative reviews with a positive but, but tonight I just couldn’t find a saving grace, other than based on the appearance, I wouldn’t mind giving Hugh Laurie’s non-SNL efforts a shot. As for the show, it felt very half-assed, almost as if it was a throwaway show, especially considering how there are two extra episodes the season to make up for last year’s shortened season due to the strike.

Hopefully, they’ll figure it out over the winter break because I really loved the last two shows and was hoping they were a sign of things to come, and now fear this episode might be the actual clue for how future shows will play out. Oh well, we’ll see what happens. Until then, it’s now time for me to shift gear and share what I saw, as I give you…

The Wicker Breakdown:

  1. This week's show started with parody C-Span coverage of the Blagojevich Hearing that had Jason Sudeikis as Rod Blagojevich who testified before cursing at the Senate Banking Committee while aggressively demanding his own personal bailout. Of course, with this being the opening sketch, it eventually led to the announcement of, “Live from New York…”

  2. Hugh Laurie then officially opened the show with a monolog about how he was excited to be back hosting and happy to be in New York for the holidays before sharing a Dickens-esque tale of him getting his pocket picked by a little child. He then informed the audience of a copyright loophole that allows you to perform three seconds of any song without getting sued for infringement. After sharing this fact, he went on to sing a medley of three-second excerpts of his favorite Christmas songs.

  3. Bronx Beat then returned with Amy Poehler and, special guest Maya Rudolph, revising they Bronx-based talk show characters from back when Maya was a regular. This time it was more of the same, making fun of the Bronx accent with Hugh Laurie as their guest who was a butcher that blew the two girls away with his British accent and fancy get up that did show a single hint that he was supposed to be a fictional butcher. The fact that he was a butcher barely mattered at all because the Bronx accented host did nothing but clamor about his British accent whenever he would say more than two words.

  4. Sarcastic Christmas Dinner had Hugh Laurie along with several members of the cast play a family filled with snide remarks about one another during a very tense holiday meal. Aside from the addition of sarcasm, this was pretty much a rip off the sketch from almost a decade before this episode where the family would have random fights during dinner that would each end with Will Ferrell yelling, “I own a Dodge Stratus,” but at least that sketch didn’t drag on, and on, and on. There was even a point where the sketch shift gears for no reason at all and the family randomly started to sing Silent Night before getting back to the sarcasm fuels fighting

  5. Wedding Toasts took place at a wedding reception and had our host and several members of the cast as offbeat members of the bride’s groom’s family who continuously interrupt Jason Sudeikis, who played the reception’s emcee. While Sudeikis was desperate to start the dance portion of the night, these weirdos wouldn’t let that happen because they kept wanting to give their rambling toasts Andy Samberg and Abby Elliot on their wedding day.

  6. Kanye West then took to the stage to perform Love Lockdown.

  7. Once again, Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers gave us the news. This week, Fred Armisen played the governor of New York to comment about the recently ousted Rob Blagojevich while mocking New Jersey. This lead Amy and Seth to play a round of Really!?! based on the Blagojevich scandal. Amy Poehler ended the segment by making the announcement that this would be her last episode only to be interrupted by Fred Armisen who wandered back in as the governor to ruin the moment. For those that need a reminder, this random interruption of a joke was based on the fact that the Governor didn’t know where he was going because he was legally blind. (Clip 2) (Clip 3)

  8. Magical Lamps had Hugh Laurie, Andy Samberg, and Kristen Wiig as a trio of magical singing lamps that took Fred Armisen and Michaela Watkins, who played the shopkeeper and his wife, hostage before shooting Will Forte as a grandfather clock and going on to star in a Broadway musical about their adventures at the store.

  9. The Cat's Christmas Letter had Hugh Laurie as an exhausted husband trying to type up a Christmas letter from the families recently deceased cat while Kristen Wiig played his nutty wife who dictated the crazy note while she spoke in their dead cat’s voice.

  10. We then got another SNL Digital Short called Cookies that had Hugh Laurie as a boss who announced the impending company layoffs while Fred Armisen kept attempting to eat the cookies in the center of the boardroom table that was sent over by one of their clients. Armisen’s actions were extremely distracting amongst the room filled with people who could barely handle the fact that they were going to be fired which made everyone happy when they learned that these weren’t cookies at all, but a prototype for a new stool softener that was sent over to be tested and not enjoyed as a treat.

  11. Kanye West then returned to the stage to perform Heartless.

  12. Finally, Hugh Laurie closed the show by thanking the audience and saying his goodnights.

Though I did really hate this episode as a whole, at least it made selecting my three favorite moments of the evening super easy considering that there were only three sketches that I sort of liked, which I’m about to share. First, I loved the Magical Lamps sketch because it was the brand of surreal/quirky sketches that I actually do love. Next, I really liked this week’s SNL Digital Short: Cookies because Fred Armisen’s character cracked me up, but the sketch didn’t really need the stool softener joke as a tag. Finally, I was a fan of The Cat's Christmas Letter because I need a third and I kind up liked these two quirky characters.

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Matt Bunker

I started out with a goal of becoming a paid screenwriter. I had no interest in any other aspect of filmmaking. I received and scholarship to The Vancouver Film School's Writing for Film and Television program where I graduated in 2005. I fell in love with being on set during my first non-school produced short, . I loved being around all the creative people, seeing people having fun while working. The whole liking your job was a new world to me, so I decided to give it a shot. I volunteered for any project I could, doing what ever was needed. The set was my Film School this time. While working as a PA on a feature I was informed that the DP wanted the three tallest PAs to help out in the grip and electric department. That is when I found the department that felt like the best fit for me while I continued to write.