Monday, April 07, 2008

SNL: Walken infinity

Spoilers for "Saturday Night Live" coming up just as soon as I go to the googly eyes store...

It had been five years since Christopher Walken last hosted "SNL," and that's far, far too long an absence for a man who's in the upper pantheon of hosts, alongside Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. Whenever Walken hosts, no matter how good or bad the show overall is at that time, you're guaranteed something hilarious and weird: Ed Glosser, Trivial Psychic; Census Taker; or, of course, More Cowbell (which for some reason isn't on Hulu).

The thing about Walken is, he's so strange -- and so willing to embrace and/or parody that strangeness -- that it inevitably pushes the "SNL" writers to go to bizarre places they might otherwise not. This week's show had a quintessentially Walken sketch, Indoor Gardening Tips From a Man Who's Very Scared of Plants. That's the sort of thing that you only think up at three in the morning or while high on herb, and the kind of thing that, with any other host, probably gets dismissed in the sober light of day, but with Walken, it's the sort of sketch we've come to expect.

(The fact that Walken may look at the cue cards more than any non-sports or political host in the show's history only adds to the strange appeal of his sketches, I think. It's like he showed up five minutes before the sketch began and is still funnier than the people who memorized their lines.)

His halting, oddly-inflected manner of speaking, meanwhile, makes him ripe for mimicry, which led to the entire cast busting out their own Walken impressions for the Walken family reunion. (Bill Hader's was, of course, the best, but it was pretty straight; Amy Poehler as little girl Walken is the kind of bizarro touch that made the sketch.)

Walken didn't even need to dominate every sketch for it to work. Take the one with Kristen Wiig as a woman who loves surprise parties. There, Walken's just the straight man, but Wiig is so silly (and strange) that nobody else in the sketch needs to do anything but set her up.

One final thought: three installments in, I still can't decide whether Laser Cats is absolute brilliance or the dumbest recurring sketch of the '00s. I suppose that's the point.

What did everybody else think?

32 comments:

Joe said...

It's easy.

Laser Cats: inane

Kristin said...

I don't watch SNL regularly at all anymore. But I did tape this one b/c of Christopher Walken. He is very watchable even in the worst of skits. The plants with the googly eyes was one of my favorites.

I also liked his appearance in the laser cats...but I will say it is kinda dumb overall. Funny once...funny multiple times? Not so much. But Christopher Walken in the visor and ridiculous costume got good laugh out of me.

I fastforwarded through the reunion sketch with all the impressions. One or two is funny...a whole roomful? Not so much.

Andrew said...

This episode really spoke to Walken's strength as a host. He didn't do his two trademarks (The Continental, a musical monologue), yet the show didn't suffer at all. I think that the googly eyes sketch will go down as a classic ("Eyes are the window of your face."). The idea of having the entire cast do Walken impressions is such a good one that I'm kind of shocked that they never thought of it before.

With all that said, I still would've liked to have seen The Continental. Walken's getting old, and he might not want to host again one of these days, and I sure as hell want that hopeless romantic/deviant to get a proper sendoff.

Anonymous said...

I must admit that the self congratulatory (and unfunny) opening sketch regarding the Clintons forced me to turn off the television. Maybe that sketch became something other than a defense of HRC, but SNL has been down that road so many times this season that it forces an objective observer to wonder if their political satire is truly equal opportunity. Plus, equating news reports of book deals to the release of income tax returns is not analogous and is certainly not funny. Sigh.

christy said...

Laser Cats was saved by the appearance of that little tiny pug trying to fight the big cat! So cute. What can I say, I'm easy to entertain.

What did he do for the monologue? They haven't put it on hulu.

Jake said...

Laser Cats is, of course, idiotic, but that is the point. I think the reason I enjoy it is how some of the cats are stuffed animals and others are real, and there doesn't seem to be any reason why they're one or the other.

And I have to say, I found Walken's blatant cuecard-reading to be a bit much. He is a very funny guy, but half the time you could tell he didn't even know what he was saying--just reading whatever was on the card in his usual eccentric cadence.

dez said...

The dumber they make Laser Cats, the more I like it, especially the more random they get with the real cats and stuffed ones. That one cat who meowed or protested or yawned when Bill Heder cocked it was damn funny, too.

The only sketch where Walken's cue-card reading distracted me was the office stalker one. He really needed to look at Jason a few times to sell that one.

Here's hoping Walken gets to host for the 101st time!

Nicole said...

That was the first time I saw Laser Cats, and it was pretty funny, especially the random real cat vs stuffed cat thing. I used to love Toonces, the cat who could drive a car sketch, every single time, so I guess I just am a sucker for real cat skethces.

chris w said...

One thing that's bothered me about SNL is their insistence that all the more gimmicky of sketches have a TV-like opening title cards just in case we don't get the joke when watching the sketch. They do it all the time and it really doesn't need it.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Chris, I don't think it's so much about making sure the audience gets the joke as it's a really easy way to give a sketch a beginning and an end. Just slap some opening and closing credits on a sketch like that, or "It's Pat!" or that one about the couple who should be divorced, and then all you need to do is write the jokes without worrying about having to get into or out of the premise.

Kate said...

I flipped back and forth to this, so I missed the Googly-eyes sketch with was a riot. I actually like Laser Cats. The skits are short enough, I liked breaking it up a bit with Dodd and Lorne, And Walkin in the visor and platic elvis glass is a hoot.

But what makes it great for me is it is the kind of thing that your friends do in their basement, only with decent editing.

Kevin said...

"Laser Cats" is like friggin' "Waynes' World" compared to "MacGruber".

That's the worst recurring sketch of all time.

Undercover Black Man said...

Thanks for pointing to "Ed Glosser: Trivial Psychic." I'd never seen it.

Alan Sepinwall said...

"Laser Cats" is like friggin' "Waynes' World" compared to "MacGruber".

That's the worst recurring sketch of all time.


In a world in which the cheerleaders, Mango and the Gap girls exist, I would be very careful to slap that tag on something as innocuous (and occasionally funny) as MacGruber.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Thanks for pointing to "Ed Glosser: Trivial Psychic." I'd never seen it.

"Don't you see? You're wasting coffee!!!"

Steve B said...

Laser Cats is hilarious. The first time I saw it, I wasn't sure if I liked it or not. The second time I started to come around and this time it killed me. I mean, they had a cat fighting a puppy...with lasers! I'm laughing just thinking about it.

dez said...

"MacGruber" has a pretty good theme song, and is occasionally funny.

Just thinking about Walken saying "googly eyes" is making me chuckle right now.

Dave S said...

Walken was his usual creepy-awesome self, although nothing reached "Census" heights.

I think Kristen Wiig is my favorite cast member since Will Ferrell. Every time she's allowed to play a ridiculous character I lose it. I hope she has a long run. This is one of the funniest casts the show has ever had, though the writing leaves a lot to be desired).

J said...

Laser Cats is funnier the less they hammer away at the "See Lorne it's brilliant!" side of things. Though Chris Dodd+3-D glasses = comedy.

Hulu seriously needs to up its content level. I looked at it after it launched -- five whole episodes of Battlestar Galactica, my stars! -- and assumed it was just due to newness. But it's stinginess. Now, there's -- my stars! -- five whole episodes of Battlestar Galactica. Huluseless.

Mike E said...

The best part about Walken's outfit from the Laser Cats sketch was the water wings.

(or floaties as some like to call them)

Jaynee said...

The cue card thing ticked me off at some point - ESPECIALLY the stalker sketch. It wouldn't have been so bad if he had EVER looked at his castmates, but I can't recall a SINGLE time he looked at his fellow actors in any sketch. Even the non-actors do better than that.

LOVED the plant guy though - it makes me want to put googly eyes all over the plants in my house so that I can tell what they are thinking.

As for Laser Cats, I generally don't like the sketch but LOVED the tiny pug fighting the cat. That rocked.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I will say that the family reunion sketch started working much better once the director switched from two-shots (where Walken never made eye contact with the other actors) to close-ups. Maybe it's the same reason Gardening Tips worked so well: with the format, Walken could look at the teleprompter the whole time without it being an issue (even in a sketch, ironically, about a man obsessed with eye contact).

Anonymous said...

Great episode, all because of Walken. Yes, his cue-card reading was distracting at times, but it wasn't as bad as when Robert De Niro hosted.
Darren
ps. Love the laser cats...

LA said...

That was my first time seeing Laser Cats, and I thought it was funny.

Anonymous said...

In the "Meet the family" skit, is that an exterior shot of the restaurant "Sweet Waters" in Westfield?

Kenrick said...

I love both Laser Cats and MacGruber. It still cracks me up when they do a palm scan using a photocopier in Laser Cats 2. I think the best part of MacGruber is the theme song, and it how it changes as the show progresses.

Ben S said...

Dave S: "This is one of the funniest casts the show has ever had, though the writing leaves a lot to be desired"

I couldn't agree more. This terrific cast is being wasted by writing that is mediocre at best. It's a real shame when such gifted comedians as Hader, Forte and Armisen are given such poor material to work with (or, some weeks, no material at all).

Anonymous said...

Was it just me or during the Walken Family Reunion sketch, were some of the other cast members purposely reading the cue cards and not looking at Walken?

LYNX said...

Yep, that's the Sweet Waters in Westfield, NJ. My wife and I live in that town and were surprised to see it. She always talks about how Stuckyville on "Ed" was also Westfield, NJ with the movie theater and church shown on the opening credits.

Chris said...

Reading the cue cards annoyed me also...to an even greater degree then DeNiro. Walken is phoning it in, and that sucks. BTW, did anyone notice that he was wearing almost the same Hawaiian shirt in the Census Taker as in the Family Reunion? Good try at continuity for the wardrobe people, yet it wasn't exactly the same, so that was kind of lame as well. The Tina Fey show was still the best by far.

Anonymous said...

If any of you don't own his best of dvd, go buy it! most hilarious hour and a half ever. If not, look up the skit where the four stranded guys are voting on a raft captain.

Nevis said...

As far as Lasercats go, I liked the laser PUG puppy...so adorable!