Jim Parsons proves fitfully successful in his maiden voyage as ‘SNL’ host

Jim Parsons hosts with musical guest Beck.So Jim Parsons. Funny guy from The Big Bang Theory who delivers comic gold pretty much every week. The interesting question when a popular sitcom star hosts Saturday Night Live is can he do anything else? So when I heard about Parsons hosting, I thought about Modern Family‘s Sofia Vergara, who hosted a couple of years ago. But Vergara proved to be a surprisingly game hostess who was able to do anything the writers through at her. I was curious if Parsons would be able to do anything outside of Sheldon Cooper. And the answer is a very qualified kinda-sorta.

So, Parsons does the unexpected and appears in the cold opener as skater Johnny Weir in an Ellen DeGeneres spoof. I like Kate McKinnon’s Ellen, even though it isn’t exactly spot-on. Parsons, who maybe looks a bit like Weir, does nothing much though to impersonate the flamboyant athlete, and instead relies on the admittedly funny outfits they kit him in; unfortunately, his performance feels really close to Sheldon. And after some so-so gags about just how badly Weir blended into the crowd in Sochi, Parsons minced off the stage and McKinnon got to shout out “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!”

The opening monologue dealt with the topic I opened my recap with: sitcom stars who are more than just their famous characters. It’s a great premise, but unfortunately, the writers put together a lame song-dance routine for Parsons to perform along with other cast members dressed up like sitcom characters: Jay Pharoah as Steve Urkel/Jaleel White, Bobby Moynihan as Jason Alexander/George Castanza, and in the best part of the opener, Kenan Thompson, who’s Bill Cosby is always welcome. I hate these musical numbers because they’re trite and often rely on the musical talents of the hosts – and though Parsons is no slouch when it comes to singing, “I’m Not That Guy” does a poor job of proving his range as a comedian.

The first skit after the opener is very good – though not because of the host. Aidy Byrant kills it as Tonker Bell, the surly half-sister of Tinker Bell, in the Peter Pan spoof. Bryant’s understanding of the character is what would happen if Tinker Bell was a guest on Maury. She’s foul, abusive, and randy, and completely steals the scenes, despite Parsons being done up as Peter Pan. And every time she landed a mean zinger, Tonker Bell proclaimed that her victim just got “tonked.”

In the episode’s fake ad, we get to see a bird bible. huh. It’s one of those weird, surreal jokes run on the premise that the bible is boring (no arguments there), so to jazz it up and make it more interesting, it’s been republished with illustrations of birds as the characters – the idea is just strange enough to make the skit intriguing more than funny – though there was a great one-liner about the hand of god being a talon.

Following that skit, in what was probably Parsons’ best-acted sketch, he starred as Marc Allen Henry, a serial killer in a spoof on those terrible true crime docu-series. The show’s called The Killer Files, and Marc, also known as the Dance Floor Killer, is being profiled. The gimmick is Marc hunts down his victims on television dance shows: and in the footage, we see Marc standing on a riser, at a low-fi local Philly dance show. Later he’s in the dance line on Soul Train. The genius in the skit is that the costumers get Marc’s look right – the early 90s serial killer look, complete with beige Member’s Only jacket and over-sized glasses. And Parsons manages to stretch his acting a bit and give a creepily funny performance as the killer. It’s a shame that he doesn’t keep up the quality of his performances for the rest of the night.

Because it was so close to the Oscars, there was a clever sketch, “Oscar Profiles,” that went behind the scenes at the audition process for 12 Years a Slave. Now, SNL cast member Taran Killan is in the movie, so it’d be very interesting if they brought him in, or made some mention – but strangely, none of that made it to the show. Instead we get a funny story of how some of the white actors who auditioned for the part blew their auditions because they were so uncomfortable with the brutally racist language in the script. Brooks Wheelan, the most underused SNL cast member ever actually is pretty good in the sketch, and as the casting agents, Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong are hilariously obtuse, though it’s Moynihan who steals the skit as a racist maintenance man whose sincere racism wins him a part.

Aside from Parsons, the biggest thing about last week’s episode was it was Colin Jost’s first time as co-anchor, after Seth Meyers left to host his own late night chat show. How did Jost do? Not sure. He and Strong had zero chemistry, barely acknowledging each other. Because Strong is the more veteran of the two, she got to dominate the sketch more, and she clearly is up to the task. Pharoah and Thompson stopped by the desk as Shaquille O’Neil and Charles Barkely, respectively, and elevated the sketch, as did a welcome return of Killan’s waspish critic Jebidiah Atkinson. The character is one-note, and the joke’s clearly been established, but Killan’s gloriously bitchy performance manages to transcend any palpable staleness.

The next skit suffered from Parsons performance – I’m not sure if he didn’t have time to rehearse properly, but it was obvious he was relying on cue cards and again, his performance felt very Sheldonesque. The premise had Parsons, Strong, Beck Bennett, Sasheer Zamata play two couples on a murder mystery dinner. The problem: Parsons’ character, Matt, is a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, and it doesn’t help matters that he’s stuck with a terrible character to play in the mystery, while his buds all get fun characters. The problem with the script is it doesn’t know what to make of Matt – initially, the audience is supposed to judge Matt for being such as sourpuss at something so innocuous and silly as a murder mystery dinner, but then when he really does get screwed over with the action cards (he’s supposed to be a “harmless oversexed nutball” who “goes to town” while wearing a tickler gloves). It’s a groaner of a sketch that not even pros like Killan or McKinnon could save.

The other Oscar notice came in the return of the acting camp for serious kid actors. As usual, Bayer absolutely nailed the sketch playing the scenes of the Oscar-nominated movies with her inappropriately chipper bad kid acting performance. Killan is adorable (though he’s starting to rely to heavily on playing it gay all the time), but the weak link, again is Parsons, though it’s not really all his fault. With his longish wig, he doesn’t look like a kid – he looks like a creepy adult – especially when wearing a cowboy hat and aviator shades when doing a Dallas Buyers Club scene.

Another ho-hum sketch followed – this time, Parsons as an executive is trying to get home because he crapped his pants. Yup, he crapped his pants. Apparently there was some nonsense about a boom at a nearby construction site, which scared the shit out of him. Others started to board the elevator, telling tales of bravery when it was assumed the noise was a bomb, and all Parsons’ poor Mr. Conrad did was shit his pants. I’m never a fan of scatological humor and it’s sketches like this that justify my prejudice.

The final sketch, usually the throwaway sketch, actually had some potential, and was surprisingly endearing in spots. The male cast members played cowboys, all trying to throw a surprise party for one of their own, Wayne (Bennett). While plotting the party, Parsons’ Clem has some terrible, but elaborate ideas, involving springs and holes in the ground, and being naked and covered with dirt. His ideas are quickly rejected by his friends, who just want to present a cake and a birthday card. It’s a clever idea to transport the concept of a birthday party at an office to one at a camp site with cowboys – and having the cowboys stand in as office drones, planning an office birthday party is very cute. And Parsons does his best, but the sketch is pretty undernourished and feels like it’s going nowhere – despite the loveliness of seeing these men do their best to surprise their friend. If more was done to develop the friendships and why they care so much, I think the sketch would’ve worked (and it would’ve been on earlier). The ending of the skit, though, is spectacularly bad: Clem rigs a spring that catapults him towards a startled Wayne, who shoots him dead in a panic.

So, Parsons ended being quite a disappointment, despite his obvious gifts. I’m not sure if the character of Sheldon Cooper was written around Parsons, or having played the genius geek for over 7 years has permanently been imprinted on the actor. Strangely enough, when it was time for Parsons to say goodbye, he displayed the kind of humor, charm, and grace that makes him such a big star, but that was so bizarrely absent for most of Saturday night.

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2 Comments

Filed under Celeb, Comedy, Sitcom, Television

2 responses to “Jim Parsons proves fitfully successful in his maiden voyage as ‘SNL’ host

  1. I missed this episode of SNL,which in all honesty, I have probably missed the last few years of the show. However, I am a big fan of Jim Parsons. It sounds like maybe the material was not quality and maybe it was a different environment for him being on a “live” show versus recorded. Thank you for your review!

  2. thecrowdedbookshelf

    @sudiecrouch –
    Thanks for the reply – yeah, I think Parsons is a great comedic actor, and does really well on TBBT – it might’ve been the tighter, quicker structure of SNL that may not jell with his performance style…Also, he’s sooo much like Sheldon in his voice and mannerisms, it’s hard to divorce the two…

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