There’s something of a renewed interest in Saturday Night Live this week with recent Oscar-nominee Michael Keaton (Birdman) hosting for the first time since 1982. Given Keaton’s enormous comedic talents and highly publicized resurfacing, it felt like quite the coup on the part of Lorne Michaels and crew.
Unfortunately (but probably expectedly) the episode was middling at best. Keaton absolutely gave it his all, but he was part of the problem. He burned through most of the material without developing any particularly memorable, water cooler skit. He gave it his best, but a seasoned comic actor like Keaton should have insisted on better material. That said, the writing (again) wasn’t there to support him. It’s not that Keaton was bad at all – it’s that it could have / should have been so much better. Maybe I was expecting too much.
We opened with an exceptionally bad NCAA March Madness skit. Taran Killam played Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski commenting on the academic integrity of his players and of the program at large. Killam, normally adept at impersonations, utterly failed to echo the famed coach, and the ongoing jokes within the skit weren’t good enough to overcome the performance.
Michael Keaton’s monologue mostly revolved around the casts obsession with his 80s-era lead performances from Batman and Beetlejuice. Killam and Kenan Thompson beg him to play with them and produce faked videos to show their enthusiasm. It was mildly funny / depressing as most of the cast were barely old enough to remember the 80s hay-day of Michael Keaton.
One of the highlights of the evening was the CNN parody and their penchant for comically bad re-enactments. The skit imagines a world where rudimentary, Minecraft-level graphics and puppets suffice for actual news footage. Several staff members here at Awards Daily TV have mourned lately the poor state of affairs over at CNN. Seems like SNL was listening and agrees. My favorite footage featured a cat playing Hillary Clinton deleting emails.
The first pre-recorded segment of the evening was a bizarre offering where Mike O’Brien plays a school’s popular guy engaging in the traditional movie prom bet where he has to take a nerd to prom and make them Prom Queen. The unexpected comic flip here was O’Brien decided to take his male teacher (Keaton) to prom. Unfortunately, the skit went neither long enough nor deep enough to elicit many laughs. I personally felt they could have pulled much more out of Keaton for this role. It’s the kind of work at which he should excel given his broad comic history.
On the flip side, the first commercial of the evening was actually a live skit advertising a “Call Your Grandmother on Easter” service led by Sasheer Zamata. One or two of the typically senile grandparent interactions would have been sufficient, but it keep going on and on. Zamata, as with many skits in recent months, isn’t given much to work with aside from standing there, acting slutty and looking pretty – even in K-Mart jeans.
The next skit features Keaton as Mr. Wallace, the head of an advertising company who infuses his campaigns with oddities and inappropriate content. What I liked about this one is it pulls out the 80s-era Michael Keaton into a more modern-day scenario. His enthusiasm for the material, where he insists the women have “huge knockers” and slogans contain “boners,” shows as he burns through the mediocre material like a pro. Unnecessary was the profusely bleeding belly button piercing wound, though.
The second pre-recorded item of the night was a music video for the “Church of Neurotology,” a clear rift on a similar Scientology music video illustrated in the recent HBO documentary Going Clear. While nothing is quite as funny and bizarre as the real thing, they do a pretty great job of pulling laughs from captions illustrating the fate of members of the “Church of Neurotology,” ranging from “thrown off a boat” to “left after Googling ‘Neurotology.’ ” Again, not as funny as the real thing perhaps, but it’s a bold move to take on the litigious Scientology organization.
Weekend Update was its typical self Taran Killam unleashed his 1860s critic Jebidiah Atkinson, this time reviewing television shows. Fantastic, great, bizarre stuff. My favorite line: “The West Wing? The best lines on that show were the ones that went up Aaron Sorkin’s nose.” Pete Davidson provided the other guys host opportunity – offering a review of The Walking Dead‘s finale through his typical pot-hazed humor. As for the rest, a giggle or two here and there. Colin Jost and Michael Che still aren’t meshing as a hosting team. In fact, tonight, they barely acknowledged that each other existed. Lorne Michaels really needs to do something about this disaster of a pairing.
Keaton is joined by Cecily Strong in the next live skit as they play a Southern couple in the process of turning their home into a smart home. This skit was deadly from the beginning, sucking all the energy out of the night. Keaton and Strong set about describing their outlandish and inappropriate home advancements – most of it added googly-eyes to everybody objects. Even though this took place in my personal favorite areas of SNL skits, it wasn’t strange or off-putting enough to be funny.
And, finally, we close with “Easter Candy.” We’ve seen something like it before back when Ed Norton hosted the Halloween show. Both skits featured the host as a creepy, vaguely child molesty man combing through holiday treats. Both segments were featured at the end of the show. Probably for the best. This kind of material is highly inflammatory. Guess what? It’s also really funny. Particularly Kate McKinnon’s Portia character who, according to Keaton, “has all the warning signs.” At least they closed things out on a good note.