I first became aware of Russell Brand, like a lot of Americans, thanks to his appearance in the wonderful Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate his presence – whether it’s in movies, on talk shows, or hosting events like the VMAs. I just find his manner to be refreshing. He’s thoughtful, erudite, and unbelievably crass. But his vulgarity doesn’t come from a mean-spirited place. Rather, there’s an innocence to him that makes him appealing even when he acts like a buffoon. The movie Get Him to the Greek works so well because although Aldous Snow does some despicable things throughout the course of the movie, we sense that deep down he’s a sweet person. And that’s all thanks to Brand because he brings that to the table. He is lewd, but in the most lovable way, and it’s not something that can be learned. It’s just something he was born with, a natural charisma that attracts people to him. Although he hasn’t had a chance to really prove it, I think he might have a wonderful range that will extend far beyond comedy. But for now, let’s see how he does on SNL.
As for Chris Brown…um, not too psyched about that part.
Let’s go to the videotape (or DVR)! (Please let Stefon make an appearance…)
Cold Open – Jason Sudeikis playing Bill O’Reilly and Fred Armisen doing his bland Obama. It’s a parody of the Super Bowl interview that O’Reilly did with Obama. This whole sketch is built around the premise that O’Reilly is a pompous, egotistical blowhard. Um, thanks for that info SNL, would have never guessed. It’s definitely a skit that takes the easy and safe approach to the material. The truth of the matter is that SNL has always been (and probably always will be) a left-leaning program that has done a pretty good job at taking shots at both the Dems and the GOP. But, in this skit, the really interesting take would be to show Obama as the opportunist in this. The real problem is that he sat down with O’Reilly to begin with, therefore legitimatizing this moron. But what is Obama’s motivation in doing so? And before the Super Bowl? I think that’s the core idea that would have been funnier to explore than simply showing O’Reilly being condescending to a sitting President. Anyway, it’s a middling skit that is mildly amusing. 5/10
Monologue – Brand is clean-shaven, looks different…almost respectable. Did he wash his hair?? Jeez, I guess fame is getting to him. Anyway, Brand mentions that he’s more famous in England than he is in the states. Although, I’m not sure that’s really true anymore. I mean, who doesn’t know Brand in the USA? “In England, tight pants means you’re famous.” Brand is really good at pointing out the differences between England and the US, but he’s never been as incisive as someone like Eddie Izzard when it comes to that topic. He’s pretty much just blathering on. It doesn’t feel like anybody actually wrote this monologue, but someone just said, ‘Hey Russell, just go up there and gab about whatever comes to mind for five minutes.’ He’s stumping for Colin Firth to win the Oscar, which makes me a little sad. But at least he supports Portman for Best Actress. He says Portman prepared for a few months, but he prepared for his sex-addicted, drug-addicted role in Get Him to the Greek for twenty years. This monologue is all over the place. This is why I prefer Brand in the movies or in his book than his stand-up. He’s funny and all, but he’s way better when he’s given some limits because he can stretch the boundaries while staying on point rather than just being “long-winded” as Bill O’Reilly taught me. Of course this monologue wouldn’t be complete without a Katy Perry reference. It’s rare that stand-ups do well in the SNL monologues because they insist on doing their act. Zach Galifiankis was the only one who did his routine during the monologue in recent years and knocked it out of the park. I’ve written so much about this because I’m utterly bored by Brand’s monologue. 3/10
Gublin and Green, Attorney at Law – This was really not funny. It’s a one-joke commercial about the Spider-man musical and how many injuries have occurred during the previews. It’s really no different than countless fake ambulance-chasing ads they’ve done over the years, except with a few references to the Spider-man musical. Again, this is an instance of SNL choosing the easy joke without going any deeper. This show is off to a pretty terrible start. 3/10
Ultimate Vacation Giveaway – Kristen Wiig is playing an overly excited Travel Channel correspondent who is about to give away a vacation to a white trash dude played by Russell Brand. She’s super stoked about giving it away and Brand is not excited at all, just sipping his beer. Uh-oh, this is dying. Brand’s accent is pretty good, but I’m almost embarrassed for Wiig right now. She’s giving so much of herself to this part and this skit is going nowhere. Where are the jokes here? I like Wiig and Brand so much, but Brand is given nothing to do and Wiig is just overplaying this and hoping for laughs. They show past winners going crazy. Taran Killam pees his pants, that’s kinda funny. I can’t believe that they have Russell Brand as the host and this is one of the skits they picked. This made it out of dress? Really, really bad. 1/10
Don’ You Go Rounin’ Roun to Re Ro – Finally something funny! This is actually pretty brilliant on a few different levels. This is a parody of hard-nosed British blue-collar crime dramas. Hader and Armisen have accents so thick that you can’t understand a thing they say. Hader is so great, saying each of his unintelligible lines with such conviction that it’s easy to believe he’s saying something even though it’s all gibberish. Russell Brand shows up and he is the only one doing caricature in this skit, probably because he’s making fun of his own accent to a certain extent. Nasim Predrad is great in this too, as Hader’s girlfriend. But it’s also a pretty great commentary on how critics in the states go nuts for these kinds of films. Really solid clip. In lieu of a digital short? My guess is yes. 8/10
Next Episode (March 5th) – THE STROKES!!! They are my favorite band and one of the most important musical acts of my generation. Their new album is coming out March 22nd and their new single is already out and it’s called Under Cover of Darkness and if you like the Strokes, you’ll like this song. I absolutely cannot wait to see them on March 5th, I’m already counting down the days. Oh yeah, Miley Cyrus is hosting…whatever.
Royal Taster – Taran Killam is playing the king’s taster. The king is played by Russell Brand. The king assures the taster that he’s safe within these walls, despite the fact that he’s had death threats. The chef then comes in to be berated by the king, who had just killed the chef’s whole family for making the beef too tough. Also, the chef is next in line to be king if the king dies. Needless to say, the taster is worried. Hader is the chef. Everybody is ridiculously over the top in the skit, trying to be as loud as possible to cover up for the fact that the writing is pretty weak. I think the premise of the sketch is ripe for lots of possibilities, but the writers have gone a more simple route. The only funny part is Hader getting close to Brand’s face and poking at him with his nose, causing Brand to nearly lose it. And the ending, which is fairly close to brilliant. Wow. That ending really saves that skit and makes it something subversive and worthwhile. 6.5/10
Chris Brown – As with last week’s performer (Linkin Park), this is just not my thing. To me, Chris Brown is like the homeless man’s Usher. He can dance well, which makes his performances easy to watch, but the music is the worst kind of pop. It’s derivative and boring. It sounds like he hired Ke$ha’s producer. But I gotta give him props for his dancing. 3/10
Weekend Update – Starts off with a strong joke about Hosni Mubarak taking over for Regis. Seth Meyers makes a great point about pictures of yourself with the camera in the picture. A nice joke about Christina Aguilera’s Super Bowl performance. Fred Armisen comes on as Mubarak. “30 years in power and all I have to show for it is 70 billion dollars of the Egyptian people’s money.” “Basically, I was trying the old Jedi mind trick.” I like Armisen’s take on Mubarak. Now that he’s stepped down and Patterson is no longer governor, I’m sad that Armisen’s takes on these guys will no longer be necessary. He really comes from the Dana Carvey school of impressions, which means that he doesn’t get the voices note-perfect or anything, he just finds one trait that he can hang on to and bases it on that, building an entirely original and new character out of it. Solid joke about the AOL/Huffpost merger, although that whole saga has been over-reported. Bottom line about that merger: I DON’T CARE. A joke about a woman who returned her dog because it clashed with her curtains doesn’t go over too well, but I thought was pretty funny. Wow, I actually thought Jay Pharoah WAS Lil’ Wayne for a second. Taran Killam – who is getting a lot of airtime – comes out with him as Eminem to perform a really inappropriate Valentine’s Day song. Pharoah gets everything right about Lil’ Wayne, except for the rapping part. It’s hard to rap exactly like someone else, but Pharoah misses the mark slightly there. Then again, he’s so good ordinarily that I’m probably holding him to a higher standard. Killam is a little closer to the mark with Eminem, but still doesn’t quite get there. Still, it’s a funny idea and a sign of the changing musical landscape. Meyers: “There’s no nice thing you can say to a woman that ends in ‘knife.'” Nice joke about Lady Gaga: “I think the most surprising part of this story is that she has sex in a bed. Oh my lord, Stefon is coming on! WOO HOO!!! He deserves his own section. The score for update is 7/10
Stefon – YES YES YES. Best character on SNL right now. He needs his own movie, I would totally watch it. I can’t even keep up with all these classic Stefon-isms. Let’s see if Hader loses it this time. “New York’s hottest club is BOOOOOOOOOF.” “Pugs, geezers, do-wop groups, a wise old turtle that looks like Quincy Jones.” “Giz-blow the coked up Gremlin!” Oh man, I’m dying here, he did the Gizmo song! “Fuji Howser, M.D.” made Hader lose it a bit. “Jewpids?” “Jewish cupids.” Oh man, Hader is losing it again as he always does. He never breaks character ever, but Stefon gets him every single time. “Human suitcase?” “It’s when a midget on roller skates wears all your clothes and you pull him through an airport.” HAHAHA, holy shit, that’s great and offensive and amazing. I understand they need to space out the appearances of Stefon, but I would love to see him every week. He just slays me. This saved the show from being the absolute worst of the year. 10/10
Livin’ Single – Vanessa Bayer plays a host on the Oxygen network. Taran Killam – shit, where’s Paul Brittain tonight? – is playing her co-host, DJ Terry. It’s a show about being single and all the girls on the show are talking about how they love it, but they really don’t. Vanessa Bayer really reminds me a lot of Larraine Newman. The DJ is in love with the host, but she’s not into him. Russell Brand comes on as Damian, a suave British man and the host is instantly smitten with him. I imagine the DJ is not going to like this. Brand feeds her chocolate and she sucks on his finger. Killam’s stone face is pretty funny. “Is it sinful if I put your hand on my pectoral?” “Give us a beat, Terry.” “No, I don’t want to give him a beat.” They proceed to start dry-humping. This is a skit that really shouldn’t work, but Brand and Bayer and Killam are all pretty committed to their characters, which makes it easier to enjoy. Brand gets the butter…I wonder if that’s in reference to Maria Schneider’s recent passing. Either way, completely passable skit that I won’t remember tomorrow. 5.5/10
A Spot of Tea – Wow, a Samberg apperance. Where has he been all night? Samberg, Brand, and Hader are playing three old proper British women hosting a talk show. It’s really hard to listen to them because their voices are all so shrill and high, but I suppose that’s the point. An earthquake hits and their seismograph shows the results. This is really bizarre and I don’t really think there are any jokes. I’m hoping that something happens at the end to turn it on its head. Every time they try to pour the tea, there’s an earthquake…uh oh, please tell me this is going somewhere unexpected because otherwise this is a waste of everyone. The show’s sponsor, a cabinet of glass, obviously gets ruined in yet another earthquake. This is like a skit on a Nickelodeon show or something. Wow, this was truly terrible. Oh hey, Paul Brittain finally shows up with cheese fondue for half a second. 1.5/10
Chris Brown Again – This time he’s singing a ballad, which means no dancing, which means cringe-inducing lyrics about being horny and treacly music. Ugh, this is really terrible. It’s almost like a parody of the cheesy sex songs that R. Kelly sings. He’s gonna do you all night, he’s gonna give it to you. Jeez. I don’t want to get too much into his personal life, but I wonder exactly what he’s gonna give to you all night. 1/10
Founding Fathers – A top-secret time machine that enables George Washington to appear. Boehner and Pelosi both plead their cases to see what he would think. Brand, as Washington, punches out Sudeikis. Washington is freaking out, takes out his musket and boxes with Boehner, then karate chops Sudeikis. Pelosi then stabs him in the back and kills him. I’m surprised they didn’t have Boehner cry as he was getting punched. Speaking of punches…there was no punchline in this skit. 3/10
Russell Brand – Really disappointed by his showing tonight. He was full of energy and all, but I can only fault the writing so much (and it was truly atrocious tonight, a common occurrence when there’s a two or three-week vacation coming) and he just seemed lost. I just don’t think he was a good fit for this stage and this show. I think he’s versatile and talented and charismatic, but he was not a strong SNL host. Like I always say, you never really know who’s going to come through and who isn’t. 4/10
Chris Brown – Blah, blah, blah, boring. 2/10
The rest of the cast – The only thing that stood out to me was the use of Taran Killam and Bill Hader, both of whom were in practically every skit. Meanwhile, Samberg, Abby Elliott, Fred Armisen and Paul Brittain were all seldom used – if at all. Hader was probably the MVP tonight, saving some of the skits he was in and was the star of the two best parts of the show – Stefon and the British crime parody. But Killam is a close second, proving that he’ll be a useful cast member.
The writing – This is really where most of the blame lies. After working for three straight weeks, it makes sense that they’ve run out of some of their best material by week three, but this was really bottom of the barrel stuff. They stepped it up for Stefon’s laundry list of oddities, but other than that, it was like they were on auto-pilot. Either they had strong premises and couldn’t find the jokes or they had jokes that they couldn’t work into decent conceits. Either way, this was a terrible night for the writers. 2.5/10
Okay, SNL will be on a break for a couple of weeks, so I’ll come up with some other junk to talk about for the next few Sundays. But don’t forget to check back here on March 6th so we can discuss the Miley Cyrus episode that airs the night before with the sure-to-be-legendary STROKES performance.
Oh, and I give myself an 8/10 today. I was on my game.
You can neither make beautiful, great movies without risk as you can make babies without sex. Risk is part of the artistic process. That’s why I like performance, because performance is walking a high wire.
~ Francis Coppola
“Probably the most heralded movie I’ve ever been in was Forrest Gump. While I was sitting on the park bench, I asked Bob, ‘Is anyone going to care about this guy?’ He said, ‘I don’t know Tom. It’s a mine field. It’s a fucking mine field.’ So when it works, you just say, ‘We dodged all the mines.'”
~ Tom Hanks