By Noah Forrest Forrest@moviecitynews.com
SNL Recap – Elton John
I mean, we all know that Elton John is a world-class singer/pianist and he’s crafted some of the greatest songs of all-time, but I’m curious to see if he’ll be able to entertain us when he’s not singing on SNL. My guess is that there will probably be a lot of skits revolving around John playing the piano or singing. He’s been funny in some of interviews, but that doesn’t always translate to performing well on SNL. The trick is to see if, like Justin Timberlake, he has the ability to embody a character that is very different from him. With a larger than life personality like Elton John, who is so famous for being himself, it might be a difficult task.
But let’s see if Sir Elton John pulls off the feat of host and musical guest on this week’s Saturday Night Live:
Cold Open – We’re starting with the Lawrence Welk show, which seems like a good way to get Elton John to sing. And sure enough, he’s behind the piano as we do the usual “three pretty sisters and one ugly one” gag. Even though I know Kristen Wiig’s baby-armed gross sister is coming, it still makes me chuckle every time. Abby Elliott, Nasim Pedrad, and Vanessa Bayer play the normal sisters. This time they have Wiig hiding out inside the piano. I wonder if this will be Elton John’s role for the night: playing the straight man (no pun intended). He’s doing a pretty decent job of it in this skit. This isn’t exactly a landmark skit in the annals of SNL, but it does a decent job of causing some smiles and it’s better than the alternative for cold opens; usually, we’re force-fed some political-themed sketch and I don’t think that’s really SNL’s strong suit unless we’re in an election year. They don’t have nuanced insights, so it’s hard to make that work in skit-form unless there’s a clear target. Either way, not a bad way to open the show. 6.5/10
Monologue – First of all, Elton wears a wig, right? Because otherwise I don’t really understand how he has more hair now than he had thirty-five years ago. “The bitch is back! I say that all the time, whether it’s appropriate or not.” So far, pretty charming. He talks about just having a baby: “As you can see, I haven’t lost the baby weight.” “He’s rejecting the breast. And in that way, he takes after both of his fathers.” This is actually one of the better monologues of the year, it seems like the writers really stepped up their game because they knew they had a host who wasn’t a comedian, but Elton John seems very comfortable up there and comfortable making lots of fun of himself (although at the end, he makes a passing reference to all the charity work he does…humble brag?). So far, the show’s moving along nicely. 8/10
ESPN Classic - Will Forte is back!!! This is not my favorite recurring sketch, but Forte is always reliably hilarious as commentator Greg Stink and Sudeikis is great as the straight man. Seems like the audience doesn’t recognize that Will Forte isn’t on the show anymore, no ovation for him. This time we’re watching the Lady’s Shot Put competition from 1986. Kristen Wiig is one competitor, going up against an in-drag Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks…(Tangent: I’m an enormous Knicks fan. I was not a fan of the Carmelo Anthony trade at the time we did and I’m even less of a fan now. It’s not that Anthony’s not a good player, but that the one thing he does well – scoring – was something the Knicks already had in abundance. We were a young team and we were getting better. Now we’ve got a lot of pieces that don’t really fit together and we don’t play any defense. And Carmelo Anthony’s isolation game isn’t appealing to me. I was never a big fan of his game because he always holds the ball for at least a few seconds, stopping the flow of the offense. And then he gives minimal effort on the defensive end. It’s no coincidence that Amar’e Stoudemire’s MVP campaign was derailed the second Anthony came aboard. If we’re going to play at a slower pace to fit to Carmelo’s game, then we need to play through Amar’e more and have more of an inside-out game instead of being a perimeter-based team. Actually, we should be running the pick and roll with Carmelo and Amar’e every single time down the floor, with Billups and Fields and Shawne Williams as your three-point threats. It would be unstoppable. Of course, it would also require Carmelo to pass the goddamned ball once in a while. Okay, enough basketball for now.) I think we all know how this sketch is going to end. The best part of this skit is Will Forte, who doesn’t even know what shot putting is and winds up talking about sex. “How far should they aim for with the shot put?” “49…70.” “70 what?” “I don’t know.” And here’s an appearance from Tom Hanks! He’s playing Forte’s brother. Wow, I guess they really didn’t trust Elton John to carry the show by himself. Speaking of which, he’s not in this skit at all. Carmelo throws the shot-put and it hits Hanks. This skit is going on for way too long. 5/10
Next Week – Helen Mirren and Foo Fighters. I’m excited about both of them. Foo Fighters have been on a bunch and not only are they a good band, but they have a good sense of humor and usually show up in a skit or two. Mirren is just brilliant and I’ll forgive her for Red and Arthur as long as she keeps giving great performances in other movies.
Fancy a Jar, Do You? – A send-up of British sitcoms that was actually killing it (I always enjoy the no-joke jokes) before being cut to a BBC News breaking news report about a dragon attacking Britain (ironically enough, Paul Brittain played the news anchor) and how the Knights of the Realm (celebrities that have been knighted) were going to figure out how to stop it. Cut-to the Knights of the Realm. It took me way too long to explain what the sketch was about, but it’s a pretty funny idea. Elton John is playing himself, Bill Hader is Richard Branson, Andy Samberg is Bono, Tom Hanks is Michael Caine (circa 1968 apparently), Taran Killam as Ian McKellen (as Gandalf), and Kenan Thompson as Sir Mix-A-Lot. And then Fred Armisen is Ringo Starr. Most of the sketch seems to revolve around the idea that Michael Caine speaks very slowly, which is not a quality I really attribute to him. Elton John makes a couple of strong jokes about Bono’s Spider-man musical and reminds everyone that Elton’s Lion King musical is still in theaters. The dragon was stopped by Sting, who “jizzed all over it until it died.” That’s pretty funny. The rest of the skit, not so much. 5.5/10
Digital Short – Holy shit, is Tom Hanks hosting tonight? He’s been in more skits than Elton already. Either way, Hanks goes to Lorne to pitch an idea and it’ll probably be yet another installment of Laser Cats, which stopped being funny about the third or fourth time they did. And yep, more Laser Cats. This time, the musical version. I like that Hanks is only pitching the idea because Samberg and Hader stole Wilson (the volleyball from Cast Away, not his wife Rita Wilson). I’m not going to bother explaining this skit, it’s just like the other versions except in musical form because of Elton John as the villain. It’s absurd and silly and sometimes funny. Hey, another Carmelo Anthony appearance. Lorne Michael’s reaction shots are pretty much how I feel, despite some oddly enjoyable moments. 5/10
Elton John and Leon Russell – Tom Hanks introduced Elton John. Jeez, why didn’t they just say tonight was hosted by Elton John and Tom Hanks? The song is called “Hey Ahab” from John and Russell’s album. It’s a pretty good song. One thing that people always forget is how versatile Elton John is and this song is a good reminder that he can do honkey-tonk blues as good as anybody. Probably wouldn’t be the first thing I’d put on a playlist, but really nice performance. 7/10
Weekend Update – Will we get a Stefon appearance tonight? Probably not, but a boy can dream. “Let this be a lesson to you Moammar Gaddafi. If you don’t relinquish power, we will bomb you. For two weeks. Every 27 years. Like clockwork.” “Look, if Donald Trump wants to talk about Obama’s birth certificate, what do I care. But if he loves America so much, why does he keep outsourcing the job of…his wife.” Seth Meyers then goes on a run of amazing jokes about Donald Trump’s ridiculous run for the presidency and uses that as a lead-in to systematically destroy all of the GOP candidates and compares them to castmembers of Celebrity Apprentice. That was pretty brilliant and only Meyers can deliver it the way he did, with that charming yet devilish grin. Armisen comes on as Gaddafi, which was funny the first few times, but it’s gotten a little bit stale. Wow, he was on for a while, making references to everything from In Living Color to CSI: Miami. And now Kenan Thompson comes out as Barry Lewis, the man who caught the missing cobra from the Bronx Zoo. I don’t really understand how this is going to be a joke worthy of having Kenan on for three or four minutes, there’s gotta be more to this, right? He tries to bring out the snake and of course, it’s gone missing. And of course, it’s not funny. Feel free to fast forward right past it. “According to a new study, the Bronx is the unhealthiest place in New York State, partly due to the Bronx restaurant ‘Fat Mike’s Fried Chicken and Punching.’” Andy Samberg comes out as “Nicolas Cage” and Jake Gyllenhaal comes out as…himself. Hey, another guest! They might as well hang up a banner that says, “We don’t have faith in your hosting abilities, Elton John!” ‘Nicolas Cage’ wonders how he isn’t in Source Code since it involves “time travel and screaming” and “the actors got paid.” “I’m never too busy to turn down another blockduster!” “Am I a genius or a madman? The answer is, I’m a madman.” Samberg looks like he’s on the verge of losing it. Jake Gyllenhaal calls him “the white Samuel L. Jackson.” That probably should have been funnier than it was. The update ends on a pretty good joke that the audience didn’t laugh at and Meyers looked a little confused by the reaction and waited a few seconds before signing off. The Donald Trump part was the best, the rest was a little weak. 6/10
Royal Wedding – This is always a pretty good skit, where Queen Elizabeth (played by Armisen) and Prince Philip (played by Bill Hader) are kind and regal in the presence of Prince William (Samberg), but the moment William leaves the room, they Queen and Prince Philip become cockney gangsters out of a Guy Ritchie movie. This time, Elton John comes in and sure enough, as soon as William leaves, Elton John is accosted by the Queen and her husband, who don’t want him to play his “crap” songs. Elton John says that she “must be the only Queen that wears Ann Taylor.” The Queen talks about lighting her farts. Elton finally asks what he should play, then the Queen and Prince Philip get on the drums and guitar and start playing some punk music and going crazy. The music was the best part of the skit. The rest was not so hot. 5/10
The Silver Screen – Taran Killam and Elton John play stereotypical gay men who are the hosts of a movie show. I’m surprised that Elton John would agree to be in a sketch like this, which is so much about cliches of gay men as swishy and feminine. Nasim Pedrad comes out as Vanessa Hudgens and shows a clip from Sucker Punch, which outrages the hosts of the show. The hosts kiss each other a lot and get in fights and then make-up. The one thing that’s nice about the skit is that it proves Elton John can actually act and embody a character, albeit one that isn’t very funny. Yeah, I didn’t really enjoy this skit at all. It seemed fairly directionless. I don’t really understand why the “Vanessa Hudgens” character is even necessary. It was kind of a mess. 3/10
Bruce – A sketch with Elton John as a gay cowboy in the Old West. He rides in on an unicorn and wears flashy duds. Bill Hader is the bartender, Jason Sudeikis is the “bad guy” who doesn’t pick up on the gay cowboy’s innuendo and Kristen Wiig is the town whore who is trying to get Elton John into bed, but he keeps turning her down. Everyone was confused at first, but then the entire bar loves him. It winds up being a skit about getting to know people and enjoying their company despite their differences. It’s actually a skit with a nice message. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very funny. Good idea, but it didn’t go anywhere. Although, it gets extra points for the “twist” ending, which made me chuckle. 5/10
Elton John and Leon Russell Again – Carmelo Anthony does the honor of doing the introductions, which means he was up until at least 1am last night when there’s a 6PM game today. If he comes out sluggish against the Cavs, I think we’ll know he stayed out too late at the after-party. Another solid song and performance by Elton John and Leon Russell. 7/10
Elton John – It’s hard to give him a grade at all as a host, since it was hard to tell who the host was tonight, with Tom Hanks appearing in half the skits. He was a little awkward in the sketches, sometimes spending so much time looking at the cue cards that he didn’t react to his fellow performers. He did his best work during the monologue and in his musical performances, where he seemed most at ease. But between Tom Hanks, Jake Gyllenhaal, Carmelo Anthony, and Will Forte, I feel like Elton John didn’t really get enough time to shine (or falter). As a result, his turn as host was merely mediocre, while his musical turns were enjoyable (although he didn’t play any of his classic songs, which was disappointing). Overall, I give him a 5.5/10.
The guests – Tom Hanks was pretty good in all of his skits. He’s one of the best SNL hosts out there and there’s a reason why he’s hosted so many times. He gives it his all and isn’t afraid to look like a fool (like when he’s holding Wilson). Carmelo Anthony performed well enough for an athlete, but I worry about his game being affected. Gyllenhaal had no real reason to be there, aside from promoting his new movie. And Forte is always a welcome presence and I wish he would re-join the cast again.
The rest of the cast – Hard to say because there were so many guests. I suppose Armisen, Hader, and Sudeikis were the most frequently used. There was no Jay Pharoah whatsoever tonight, which is pretty ridiculous. At least there was a Paul Brittain sighting.
The writing – Hit or miss. But mostly, it was a pretty good show. I thought the concepts of a lot of skits worked really well, but sometimes the execution wasn’t there. I thought Elton John’s monologue was good, but there was an over-reliance on bringing back past skits (Lawrence Welk, ESPN Classics, Laser Cats, the King and Queen, Moammar Gaddafi) without really doing anything to tweak them in an interesting way. Also, there was no Stefon, which is just inexcusable. It’s been months! 6/10
I give myself a 8/10. I’ll see you all next week for Helen Mirren and Foo Fighters.