January 30, 2011

SNL Recap: Jesse Eisenberg / Nicki Minaj

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A noticeable ball of nervous energy from the get-go, Jesse Eisenberg made his debut hosting Saturday Night Live (SNL), fresh off the Oscar-nominated film, The Social Network.  Relatively unknown to the public eye before starring as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, Eisenberg had previous roles in smaller movies, such as The Squid and the Whale, Adventureland and Zombieland.  It was exciting to finally see a new SNL host after an uncharacteristically long eight-episode string of returning hosts (Jon Hamm, Scarlett Johansson, Anne Hathaway, Robert DeNiro, Paul Rudd, Jeff Bridges, Jim Carrey, Gwyneth Paltrow).  Coupled with an enthusiastic and vivacious musical guest, Nicki Minaj, Jesse Eisenberg proved to be a fun, albeit somewhat wooden, host.

Cold Open – Although one may argue that Kristen Wiig’s spastic recurring characters may quickly be turning stale, it’s impossible to deny the uncanny resemblance she bears to many female political personalities.  Just this past season alone, she’s played leading political figures like Nancy Pelosi, Christine O’Donnell and Greta van Susteren.  After this episode, she can add Michele Bachmann to her roster of political impersonations as a spoof of the congresswoman’s remarkably awful and somewhat incomprehensible Tea Party rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union Address.

Monologue – Oh, I get it.  Let’s put all the people who have impersonated Mark Zuckerberg before (Eisenberg, Samberg) and bring out the real Mark Zuckerberg!  SNL has done this several times before, but there’s still always something exciting about surprise cameos.  More remarkable, though, was the fact that all three of them somewhat looked alike, and all had last names ending in “berg.”  I thought it was a nice, upbeat way to start the show.

Once Daily Estro Maxx – Another opportunity to see Armisen in drag, if one is so inclined to do so.  But overall, it was a pretty funny commercial parody of a hormonal replacement for in-treatment transsexuals.

Mr. Wizard’s World – This sketch quickly escalated into one of my favorite SNL sketches in recent seasons.  Nasim Pedrad and Jesse Eisenberg play adolescents in a parody of the past Nickelodeon science show, Mr. Wizard’s World, quickly turning static electricity education into a rubbing and masturbation-induced orgy of fun.  The two played off each others’ awkwardness perfectly, and I have to commend SNL’s costume team for finding just appropriate ’80s-styled, oversized sweaters.

Don’t Forget the Lyrics! – Eisenberg played the role of an overly enthusiastic contestant on this karaoke-styled game while Jason Sudeikis impersonated the washed-out ’90s pop-star host, Mark McGrath.  Typical karaoke-styled humor ensued.

WXPD News – It was the return of Herb Welch, the severely incompetent, old and decrepit news reporter.  Hader always has a way of making his characters work very well, and his Herb Welch is no exception.  As always, Mr. Welch was just doing his thing as an ancient news-reporter with a hearing problem and an inclination to hit his interviewees with a microphone, sometimes multiple times.  It’s most likely just me, but there’s something incredibly therapeutic about seeing the host getting hit in the face, time and time again, with a large microphone.

SNL Digital Shot – From the moment I heard that Nicki Minaj would be the musical guest, I knew that she’d be starring in other sketches too, and she did not disappoint in this digital short.  The Lonely Island crew (Samberg, Taccone, Schaffer) perfectly played the roles of three creepers, showing the world their newly invented dance, “The Creep,” only to be joined by their somewhat unconvincing female creeper friend, Nicki Minaj.  Anything that the Lonely Island produces is usually a hit, and the inclusion of Ms. Minaj only enhanced this digital short.

Weekend Update – This week’s Weekend Update was noticeably shorter than those of the past few weeks, but that could have been ultimately beneficial, as the material was sharper and funnier than usual.  Armisen joined Seth on-stage to impersonate Egyptian President Mubarak, who explained to the audience that the Egyptian people are not upset because of his government, but simply, because “the Internet is down.”  Afterward, Seth was joined by an entirely unrelated guest, Tyler Perry (Kenan Thompson), who was drowning simultaneously in both his money and disappointment of not being nominated for an Oscar.  Perry eventually came to the conclusion that only films representing “white people problems” get nominated for Oscars, making his famous Madea films invalid.  Both guests were actually sharply played by their impersonators, and in a rare change of events, they did not overstay their welcome on Weekend Update, like some other characters.

TCM Classic Movies – Quite bluntly put, SNL almost never has enough black cast-members or guests to create a sketch that revolves entirely around African-Americans.  This sketch was one of those rare occasions where the ensemble was almost entirely black (Pharaoh, Thompson, Minaj), and it worked very well.  Minaj came back on-stage to play “The Bride of Blackenstein,” who came out of her machine with the unexpected independent sass of a “sistah” and a hearty ass to boot.  Minaj played off Pharaoh and Thompson very well, and naturally, I enjoyed Eisenberg playing the little hunchbacked assistant.

MTV’s Skins – After the huge controversy of whether-or-not MTV’s Skins violated child pornography or not, many corporations pulled their ads immediately from the series, leaving the series to simply include awkwardly placed product placements in the middle of the show.  The premise of the sketch sounded a lot funnier than the actual execution.

Spa Time – Tyla Yonders (Wiig) is an entirely unhelpful, spa-time host on FitTV, who attempts to solve others’ problems (an unfaithful couple played by Elliot and Thompson and a bickering Italian family played by Eisenberg, Bayer and Moynihan) with massages, creams and scents.  The whole sketch overall seemed very forced and just unfunny – a drag to an episode that was chugging along relatively strongly.

El Shrinko – The inevitable ten-to-one sketch that was surprisingly funnier than most ten-to-one sketches.  Eisenberg and Samberg played two losers who explained their small penises with their new product, “El Shrinko.”  The apathetic testimonials played by Bayer, Wiig and Pedrad really made this sketch unexpectedly click.

Musical Guest – Nicki, colorful and eccentric as ever, performed her two hit singles, “Right Thru Me” and “Moment 4 Life.”  Although the vocals were overall a little lacking, her sheer vivacity made up for it.

Overall Episode – B+

Although Jesse Eisenberg didn’t stray far from his usually temperament all night, he still did an inexplicably great job hosting SNL.  An underlying feeling of exuberance carried through in all his appearances, contrasting the explicit enthusiasm that Nicki carried all night.  Overall, a relatively strong episode that did not carry any sketches that entirely missed.

Next week will feature a new episode, hosted by SNL alum Dana Carvey with musical guest Linkin Park.

Original Author: Jonathan Yuan