There is something to be said for the fact that SNL’s host makes a difference each week. The entire concept of having a celebrity host is really a flawed one; it brings in big names, and ratings, but the comedy itself can often falter. When you have someone come in who doesn’t have comic timing, the show basically falls apart. It limits what the writers are able to work with, and it basically handicaps the program. It’s why the show has so many legacy hosts: Christopher Walken and Alec Baldwin each have fantastic comic timing, and the result is that they’ve each hosted numerous times. It’s also why, often, the show likes to bring back former cast members to host after they’ve made it big.
Well, Molly Shannon (IMDB) returning isn’t exactly because she made it big (The movie she’s promoting, Year of the Dog, is still fairly smalltime), but the fact remains that it’s a smart decision from a creative point of view. Well, okay, from a comic point of view, as relying on her past hit characters isn’t exactly “creative”, but the fact remains that Molly Shannon can do what few hosts can: flawlessly interject into sketches without it seeming forced. She can star in one, taking it over completely, and yet effortlessly play a supporting role when it is required of her. But did it result in a good show?
Shannon’s Starring Roles
In terms of her starring roles, Shannon brought out her two big ones: Mary Katherine Gallagher, of “Superstar!” fame, and Sally O’Mally, who remains 50. Each character was marched out and did their thing within contemporary pop culture (Gallagher – American Idol, O’Malley – The Sopranos). Dated or not, the characters translated well (Especially Gallagher to American Idol), and Shannon seemed at home within her monologue with always versatile Lorne Michaels.
Shannon’s Supporting Roles
The night’s episode highlighted this benefit of Shannon hosting, as it allowed her to shine in certain moments and yet highlight some other characters when the time was necessary. An example is with Kristen Wiig’s engaging Penelope character, who insists on one-upping everything anyone says. The character is good, and it was interesting to see Shannon taking part in the same skit. Even when asked to go toe-to-toe with Penelope at the end of the skit, Shannon always remained in a supporting role meant to further build Penelope as a recurring character. It was a real moment of passing the ball, in that there are actually cast members creating memorable characters in this day and age. It was a rub of sorts, and I think it was a good one: I personally found that Wiig’s ability to rise up to Shannon’s level made me appreciate her contribution more.
Similarly, she appeared at the end of the Katelyn sketch in more or less a cameo, which was once again designed to highlight the existing character even as Shannon gave a strong performance in tandem with Poehler. It’s something that most hosts aren’t capable of doing, but Molly Shannon has the versatility.
The Fringe Candidates Debate
This epic sketch was much less about individual long-term characters and more about bombarding us with small ones. I don’t even know how to recover from this onslaught of characters. Which was my favourite: the Black Vampire Party? Amy Poehler’s Dennis Kucinich? Maya Rudolph’s giant wig? The Dance Party? It’s a lot to deal with, and it’s a unique sketch since Darrell Hammond is basically the only thing holding the sketch together. His use of rambling explanations and his Dan Rather impression kept things from becoming too far out of control. It was still a bit wonky and all over the place, but never went off the rails as much as it could have.
Dora the Exploder was a bit too easy. Molly Shannon is funny being unfunny. But, in the end, don’t get me started on Weekend Update’s problems. It just doesn’t seem to flow, and I blame it mostly on the lack of Tina Fey. Meyers and Poehler do fine with the guests, and have great banter segments (What’s in a Word) and with individual jokes, but it just doesn’t seem to flow together into a cohesive segment. Still, I must admit that Fred Armisen’s blind chef was fairly entertaining, and I laughed enough to make it worth my while.
The Musical Guest
From a musical perspective, Linkin Park is one of those acts which always seems more suited for a performance where we can actually see the audience…or maybe this is just because of my fascination with the video for Faint, which I still hold as their strongest single. Their new one, What I’ve Done (Video – YouTube), was the first song they performed and…I liked it. Minimal screaming, decent lyrics, moderate hook. The video’s overwrought, however, and could use some work. Still, it was weird seeing people rock out on an empty stage with no one around them, and often makes me wish that more acts would venture into the crowd to make things a bit more interesting.
The second song (Bleed It Out) had more screaming, which immediately makes it worse in my eyes, but I like its hook and think it’s still amongst their better probable singles. [With apologies to Snapper Cridge, I appear to have gotten the title wrong…but yeah, still not cool with the screaming. Edge or not, I think Linkin Park is a better band without it for my personal tastes. Kids love the screaming, though, so who am I to argue? Well, someone who like arguing. Fun times.]
The rest of the show was fairly pedestrian, and lacked a certain spark: Katelyn is perhaps the most annoying character in Amy Poehler’s repertoire (Although the 60s being summarized into “Black Panthers, Rowr!” made me chuckle), Will Forte’s MacGruber was too short (should have been a complete sketch rather than a few short ones, but it was enjoyable on the whole [Okay, by the last one, ripping off the David Hasselhoff drunk video, won me over, I love it]), TV Fun House was just…weird (Big-Boobed Einstein? Big-boobed Churchill and Lassie?), and Maya Rudolph’s Charlie was just her usual song and dance routine with a funny hat. And really, Trump selling steaks was just too easy, and Hammond’s Trump is getting as old as The Apprentice itself.
What was missing?
The real thing is what was missing. There was no Digital Short, as Andy Samberg basically had the night off outside of his appearance as the leader of the Whig Party. Similarly, and surprisingly, there were no further cast cameos to match Shannon’s. It’s weird, really, but I like it: it allows the existing cast to shine, as opposed to become an alumni episode. That’s the right move for the future.