This saw comedian Jim Carrey return for the third time to host SNL, and though he’s not a former cast member, he was a cast member of the SNL-rival In Living Color, so sketch comedy isn’t something new for the comedy legend. I was looking forward to this episode and was very disappointed by his hosting duties – not only was the writing off, but for the most part, Carrey’s performances were also rote. The 40th season is interesting so far, because all of the hosts were comedians and not the usual mix of starlets, movie hunks, athletes, and pop stars who want to moonlight as sketch comics. Not, it’s only a few weeks into the season, but so far it looks like whatever plagued the mediocre 39th season is still hanging around, because this season has been a disappointment, so far.
As usual, the show opened with a cold open that touched on current affairs: this week, we’re still thinking about Ebola, what with a New York doctor being diagnosed with the disease this past week. Again, Jay Pharoah trotted out his technically brilliant, if by-now soulless impression of President Obama. The joke of the sketch had Obama try to distract the media by highlighting the administration’s failures in dealing with the ISIS crisis, the Obamacare rollout, the economy, so that the reporters won’t harp on the administration’s dropping the ball on the Ebola crisis.
Then Taran Killan pops up as Obama’s choice for Ebola czar Ron Klain. But he’s quickly shunted aside for Kenan Thompson’s bewildering performance as Al Sharpton.
The cold open’s problems are exactly what’s the problem with the show’s current quality: it hasn’t found an identity yet, despite a large, sprawling cast of talented performers. When George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, and Hillary Clinton were relevant political figures, they were easy to lampoon: they had idiosyncrasies and lampoonable quirks. Obama’s so expertly smooth and polished, it’s hard to find something to joke at; while Thompson still chooses to play Sharpton as a seemingly senile buffoon (which, he’s not, so I don’t get the joke).
For the monologue, Jim Carrey marched onto the stage dressed like a devil Elvis – Helvis. Carrey’s impression of Elvis Presley is good -very good, actually. Unfortunately, his good impression is sunk in a weirdly so-so song (yup, another musical monologue) about Presley’s penchant for pecan pie. I wasn’t sure what the point of the monologue and it’s weird to see a gospel choir with the singers wearing devil horns. Bobby Moynihan shows up towards the end of the song with a pan of the titular dessert, and steals the scene with some silly mugging – though, this is more a statement on how “eh” the song is, and not on the quality of his performance.
The first sketch was a recurring one for the evening, spoofing Matthew McConaughey’s Lincoln ads. Carrey’s a good mimic, so he’s able to get McConaughey’s strange, spacey, dude-bro cadence, but the show already has done McConaughey jokes, so this feels a bit warmed over.
After the commercial break (and after seeing the trailer for Dumb and Dumber 2 – which looks very depressing, by the way) We get to the Carrey Family Reunion – probably one of the most tedious and arduous sketches to sit through, ever. The whole point of the skit is to have the cast members do impressions of Carey’s famous characters – Ace Ventura, Fire Marshall Bill, the Mask, the Cable Guy, etc. It’s a terrible, terrible sketch to sit through, enlivened a little bit by Carrey’s Dumb and Dumber costar, Jeff Daniels who pops up and gives a so-so impression (the only performer who does a decent Carrey is, predictably, Killan). Pete Davidson pops up at the end for a family photo, squeezed into a Riddler leotard (remember Batman Forever – yeah, I forgot, too), which was good for a sight gag. Essentially, the sketch could be reduced to the cast members grimacing furiously and shouting out Carrey catch phrases.
We then get a decent Halloween sketch – another musical number – that is a Tim Burtonesque musical number with Davidson and Sasheer Zamata wandering into a cemetery, only to be serenaded by frightening goblins and ghouls. The creepy song is constantly being stolen by Carrey and Killan as Paul and Phil, a pair of genial, jovial ghosts who are super nice.
Unfortunately, after the Halloween musical number, we moved on to the Weekend Update. I no longer think it’s going to be good, I just hope it’s not going to be crap. Colin Jost is still awful, but Michael Che is becoming a stronger and stronger performer, and is settling in well. He had a great bit, poking at the racial implications of the current Ebola panic – but unfortunately, SNL isn’t known for its trenchant humor, and the pointed comedy is pulled back for safer quips and puns.
Then things start to get good: Vanessa Bayer comes on as Daisy Rose, a romantic-comedy expert, who is called upon to give her thoughts on the trend of rom-coms on TV. It’s a funny bit, with Bayer doing a mad dash through all of the tired rom-com tropes while sparring flirtingly with Che, who has some great comebacks to Bayer’s starry-eyed monologue, delivered over a power-pop ballad. Che’s a brilliant straight man and needs more to do.
After Bayer, we get Moynihan’s return as Drunk Uncle, the racist, xenophobic throwback who hates anything new. After giving Che the stink eye, he scoots with suspicion over to Jost’s side of the desk, and displays some of his awful knee-jerk politics that reflect some of the kind of reactionary crap the Right Wing loves to shovel. Though the character’s one-note and starting to grate a bit, I still like Moynihan’s performance, which takes a lot of commitment and work – it’s real character work.
We get another nothing sketch, spoofing reality television (really?) with Carrey in old man drag, spouting off crazy old coot ramblings.
The next sketch is a ghost hunter show spoof with Killan playing a ghost hunter, who with his team, is wandering through the halls of a Southern mansion, hoping to find ghosts. Leslie Jones, the newest cast member is on hand to essentially play a stereotype, and I’m a bit worried, because Jones has been badly used so far, and she’s a treasure.
The zombie apocalypse sketch was also terrible – Carrey was delivering his lines in a lazy Southern accent, and a bunch of the cast were playing disaffected teens. Davidson was on hand to growl like a zombie (he’s way too talented for this kind of nonsense). And the sketch didn’t feel like it had a strong end.
The next sketch finally gave the show some life: an office costume party with Carrey and Kate McKinnon killing it, as two office workers dressed up as Maddie Ziegler from Sia’s video “Chandelier.” It’s a funny sketch and one that really uses Carrey’s physical comedy prowess (and what current SNL cast member is more like Jim Carrey than Kate McKinnon?). The two are done up in flesh-toned leotard, as they gyrate wildly, aproxmiating Ziegler’s athletic (and beautiful) dancing – they even break the fourth wall, and dance around through the audience and rehearsal spaces (even musical guest Iggy Azalea gets into the act). While McKinnon and Carrey are easily dominant, Aidy Bryant has a fun moment announcing that she’s “Just a woman trying her best,” because the party hosts guessed her costume as either a red marble or a meatball, when she was simply dressed in a red suit (she forgot to get a costume). The sketch was very good and energetically-performed, and it’s a shame it was buried so late into the show.
Speaking of greatness being buried late, Cecily Strong and Bayer closed out the evening in a potentially-hilarious sketch as bored coworkers starring in an ad for Geoff’s Halloween Emporium, a sad costume shop. Both Strong and Bayer are wonderful, performing with the kind of dead-eyed deadpan of a terrible, if bored, actor with no discernible TV charm. They even have the flat Wisconsin tang down. Unfortunately, Carrey’s presence as the creepy Geoff feels intrusive and silly and takes away from Strong and Bayer.
The Jim Carrey episode was pretty disappointing, considering the oversized talent involved. While a little bit of Jim Carrey goes a very long way, he’s still capable of so much more than what he did last night. As seen in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, he’s able to combine both strong character acting with high comedy, without resorting to the cheap, exhausting mugging that he’s popular for. Though last Saturday, he wasn’t given any opportunities to show any vulnerability with his comedy, and was merely a harsh parody of his public persona.