To be honest, I had completely forgotten that Paul Rudd was going to be promoting Anchorman 2 on this, his third time hosting Saturday Night Live. Which is somewhat understandable, considering how much oxygen the Ron Burgundy Promotional Offensive has been taking up, that Rudd would fade to the background. The weird thing is that Paul Rudd is actually a star in his own right. Why bury him (and Steve Carell) in the promotional lead-up? Certainly, at the very least, he can be trusted to carry an episode of Saturday Night Live on his own!
Well, apparently not, as last night's episode was loaded down with cameos and special guests, right from the cold open, where Kristen Wiig's Doonice made a surprise appearance alongside the von Trapp family singers. At this point, Doonice is like that old friend who moved away and you hardly ever see, and when she comes back, you're momentarily thrilled, remembering all the best times you had together -- the first time; the time when Anne Hathaway was there and Amy Poehler was pregnant -- until you spend two minutes with her and realize she's really not that fun anymore, and her weirdness is more self-conscious than it used to be.
After Wiig came the Anchorman crew of Will Ferrell, David Koechner and Steve Carell for a monologue that was already featuring One Direction. Guys, I think Paul Rudd can handle this.
Of course, after watching the full episode, maybe having an extra half-dozen layers of insulation was for the best, as Rudd was handed what may well be the weakest episode of the season so far. Sketch after sketch fell flat or seemed under-done. There were a few (two; there were two) bright spots, but when even One Direction couldn't provide much spark, instead delivering a pair of low-energy, sad-eyed ballads, you knew this was trouble.
I don't want to cast aspersions on anyone, but perhaps all the guest stars, returnees, and recidivist sketches were indicative of a show that was not coming together from the early stages. The Sharpton sketch, the Michaelangelo/tiny penis sketch, Skinny Santa -- nothing was working. The "White Christmas" fake movie trailer would have been a decent idea … for another show that isn't in the middle of a controversy over not having enough black cast members. Instead, it just felt like the only way for SNL to riff on a pop culture event like The Best Man Holiday was to make it whiter. Which is basically the truth. The Weekend Update returns of Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy and Jebidiah Atkinson were their usual fun selves, if indicative of diminishing returns settling in. That we got another Jebidiah so quickly after the last one was unusual enough to be commented on within the sketch ("run things into the ground much?"), but I still couldn't help but wish we'd gotten another Girlfriends Talk Show featuring One Direction instead.
So who's to compete for MVP in an episode that was so weak?
This one goes to Bill Brasky. It was never one of my favorite recurring sketches during the Ferrell era, and its presence at the end of the show was indicative of the episode's bigger problems, but there's no denying that this was one of the night's two funniest sketches. Ferrell and Koechner inhabit these characters so well, it's hard to believe they're not actually a pair of morbid alcoholics with hero-worship complexes, and Taran Killam made for a fine third. The show always excels at these kinds of sketches -- the ones that require just an escalation of increasingly more ridiculous-sounding claims. Much like that Date or Diss sketch a few weeks ago. Coulda done without an AIDS joke, though. Might have thought that would go without saying, but I guess not.
Harry Styles's Hair. One Direction was actually a more valuable presence in sketches than they were in their performances this week. Not that they were asked to do much acting, but their appearance was the catalyst for Rudd's #1 1D Fan digital short, which was a solid piece of work. And their addition to the monologue's "Afternoon Delight" bit was the only thing keeping it from being a complete rehash of a throwaway gag from a nine-year-old movie. But truly, all wonderment and awe should be reserved for Harry's hair, which was a gravity-defying phenomenon, full of the dreams of fourteen-year-olds made animate as mega-hold spray. The band looked nervous and weird as they harmonized their way through their ballad-dominated performances -- Liam looking nervous and pukey; Louis on the brink of nervous titters; Zayn doing that thing he does where he's so unfazed by his massive fame that be barely enunciates his words -- except for Harry, powered by his domineering hairdo, who was the only one who looked ready to inflict his megawatt personality on the audience.
Look, this was a weak episode, so you shouldn't be surprised that the MVP is going not to a cast member, or even the host, but instead to Fleetwood Mac. Try to dispute me. The unquestioned best sketch of the night was the one with Rudd and Vanessa Bayer as a separated couple working out the details of their divorce, alongside their attorneys. In the middle of a series of accusations, most of which revolve around the ridiculous names and occupations of their current significant others, they're interrupted Fleetwood Mac's "I Don't Want to Know." At which point, Rudd and Bayer are overcome by the song, and their involuntary chair dancing is some of the finest ever produced by middle-aged white people. Of course, the scourge of music rights means this is the one sketch that can't stream on Hulu, because God forbid we deprive the rights-holders for Rumours any fraction of their billions in royalties. As if SNL didn't do enough for Lindsey Buckingham during all those "What Up With That?" sketches.