Back when Donald Trump hosted Saturday Night Live last fall, he was barely featured in the show itself. And yet, if you count pure minutes of air time, it’s possible that Russell Crowe got even less this week. I get burying a politician or an athlete for whom sketch comedy isn’t their strong suit. But Crowe? He didn’t do badly enough in his limited screen time to justify his exclusion. One can theorize that his notoriously difficult personality might have had something to do with this, but we’ll probably never know. (That being said, the yawning chasm between Crowe and the cast during the farewells suggests we can make a fairly educated guess.)
All I know is that this is the second less-than-memorable show in a row, leaving next week’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus episode to save this April block of programming. Sure, this is the month of “Space Pants,” and for that we can all be grateful. But otherwise, it’s been tough to find diamonds in the rough. Here are three sketches actually worth your time.
It took nearly thirty minutes for Crowe to actually be on the same set as the other actors in the show, and he made it count as an articulate, horny German professor competing on a dating game. Now, game shows are a staple of SNL, and this one doesn’t break any boundaries. But it’s still a fun execution of this well-worn trope.
Part of the fun comes from Crowe himself: All he has to do is sit there and read the cue cards, but the way he describes a “subtle yet focused campaign” on Cecily Strong’s privates suggests a fully three-dimensional (albeit incredibly randy) human being. But really, the star here is Kenan Thompson as the incredulous host. Thompson makes this type of outrage seem easy, but that’s just because he’s so good at it. SNL can count on him to be the bedrock in any sketch, and his versatility means he can fulfill that function in a myriad of ways. While not as showy as recent alums like Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, the show will miss him equally as much should he ever decide to move on.
Weekend Update: Bruce Chandling on Sports
Look, I get it: Bruce Chandling is an acquired taste. The fact that it’s here doesn’t mean that those that don’t enjoy this character are wrong. But I think it’s one of the more interesting characters in the SNL playbook right now, because it’s so different from everything else the show does right now.
If you’re looking for an anti-comedy antecedent, you could go back to Norm MacDonald’s time hosting “Weekend Update.” But whereas MacDonald deployed ironic detachment in the long, awkward pauses after he told his jokes, Mooney veers more into straight pathos in the seemingly interminable time between telling a “joke” and moving bravely onto the next one. Essentially, I’m impressed Mooney keeps convincing Lorne Michaels to put this on. It’s not playing to the masses. It’s playing to a very small subset of the audience. But those on his frequency absolutely love what Bruce Chandling represents: An underground sensibility in a mass-market arena. An entire episode of these types of characters would be insufferable. But one or two a week? A perfect way to keep SNL tied into its comedic roots.
Whenever the next edition of Live From New York: An Uncensored History Of Saturday Night Live rolls around, I’d love a section about why the show decided to part ways with Mike O’Brien on a full-time basis. He penned possibly the two best sketches of this decade (“Sad Mouse” and “Monster Pals”), and brought some winning energy to an overall dreary episode with this ten-to-one digital short.
I actually didn’t particularly think his similar approach to a Jay-Z in last season’s J.K. Simmons episode worked, but here the idea matched the execution. O’Brien never mocks Winfrey in his portrayal, but executes a mixture of approaches that are all equally sincere even if occasionally (and intentionally) undercooked. “All you knuckleheads are getting cars!” is a line that’s only funny because O’Brien knew how to deliver it. Throw in a guest appearance by Jason Sudeikis (as Whoopi Goldberg, naturally) and you had a welcome end to fairly rote installment.