Saturday Night Live: Martin Freeman (Host), Charli XCX (Musical Guest)
Martin Freeman has had a very good year. He received both an Emmy nomination for Fargo and an Emmy win for Sherlock. The Hobbit trilogy recently received a final, critically praised film that Freeman is definitely on Saturday Night Live to promote. Publications couldn’t stop interviewing him on his successful work, giving Freeman the most notoriety he’s received in a while. This is definitely Freeman at his most mainstream, at least for American audiences. It basically guaranteed a visit to Studio 8H for his first ever SNL hosting gig. I’ve only recently hopped on the Freeman bandwagon, but if he can bring his natural comedic timing to this show, he’ll do really well. Along for the ride is Charli XCX who had a Top 40 smash with “Boom Clap,” first released on the soundtrack for The Fault in our Stars. That’s honestly the limit of my knowledge. Apparently she also took part in Icona Pop’s “I Love It” and Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” but “Boom Clap” was easily her biggest contribution to pop music. If you can call it that.
To make light of the recently revealed torture methods performed by the CIA, last night’s SNL Cold Open was Charlie Rose (Taran Killam) interviewing the two psychologists who endorsed those heinous acts. It’s through those psychologists, played by Bobby Moynihan and Kyle Mooney, that the humor flows. The revelation that these monsters were behind disgusting torture methods like self-checkout lines, the TSA, Time Warner Customer service, and “Kars4Kids” was amazing. Putting all of this under the “torture” banner was clever too, and Moynihan and Mooney were the best people to sell this. SNL doesn’t always succeed in making humor out of terrible things, but this time the writers hit a home run.
Kate McKinnon and Killam deserve special mentions here. They just killed it. Killam’s Charlie Rose was a good buffer for Moynihan and Mooney, guiding the first skit along but never overtaking it. McKinnon and Killam saved Freeman’s monologue too which basically played on Freeman being British. Generally ho hum stuff, but then in comes McKinnon and Killam as Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman. It’s insane how good these two are at impressions. And while Killam was also great in the “Right Side of the Bed” skit, it was McKinnon’s brief turn in “Wedding Objections” that won the night. Her old lady character was so random, so absurd, and so over the top, it left me laughing uncontrollably. A camera even caught Leslie Jones off guard as she was very visibly laughing when she reappeared on screen. You need to watch that skit just so you can see McKinnon absolutely destroy comedy.
Apparently, The Office and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth is a match made in heaven. That’s really the only way to describe how phenomenal The Office: Middle Earth was. Holy crap, it was a season highlight for me. Each Tolkien character fit perfectly into the environment presented by The Office, with Bilbo (Freeman) as the straight man, Gollum (Killam) as the hardcore worker, Gandalf (Moynihan) as the inept boss, and so on. Taking classic gags from the The Office but with a Middle Earth spin was exceptionally brilliant. The moment Gollum took out a plate of jello with the One Ring cooked into it, I lost it. This is exactly what insane mash ups should be like. I now officially want The Office: Middle Earth to be a thing.
We got another one of SNL’s now classic musical numbers last night with “Sump’n Claus.” The song followed the titular Claus, a pimped up version played by Kenan Thompson, as he gave out money to people who were naughty because “everybody gets sump’n.” As a song, this was as catchy and clever as the rest of them. The skit really registered with people too as it was trending for a bit. But as a comedy sketch, this performance missed the mark. I just wasn’t that funny. I can’t tell if it was the way it was written or Thompson’s performance, but the intended humor simply didn’t translate. It doesn’t compare to “Back Home Ballers.”
There was a noticeable drop in quality following last night’s Weekend Update, specifically with the two sketches that immediately followed. The first was “Assembly Line,” which had Killam playing a dimwitted new employee at a bottling company and Freeman has his instructor. I’ll give it this, the sketch featured some really impressive banter. Killam and Freeman played off each other beautifully and I’m impressed that they never slipped up. Yet exactly like “Sump’n Claus,” the sketch wasn’t that funny. I was right there with the audience in near complete silence. This mainly had to do with the sketch being very shallow. It was all about a stupid new hire who didn’t understand how a lever works. I grew tired of it fairly quickly, though the end with the blue light made me laugh.
Right after “Assembly Line” was “Holiday Gig,” easily the weakest sketch of the night. It was the inherent premise that kept it down, which was all about a sax guy (Freeman) not wanting to talk about his troubles. What transpired through the four minutes just wasn’t memorable at all. The only humorous moment came near the end where Killam, playing a crazy guy named Roman, danced into the scene with giant red boots on. It’s clear that was the punchline though, and when you’re spending four minutes setting up a joke that lasts a couple seconds, you did something wrong.
Freeman is definitely best known for playing soft or reserved characters on his shows and he brought that exact skill set to SNL. Throughout the episode, he didn’t play any major celebrities or get a bit that let him shine as the main star. He was basically the exact opposite of the loudly abrasive James Franco. Yet that’s Freeman’s strength. The show didn’t require him to get outside of his comfort zone and it worked to make him a great host. Charli XCX barely registered for me however. I didn’t care for her music to begin with (I’m getting real sick of “Boom Clap”) and her performances did nothing to change that opinion.
This is okay though because overall this was one of Season 40s strongest episodes. With Freeman blending into his skits, the cast members got a chance to take control and it worked in spades. Killam and McKinnon easily got the most attention which is great because they’re the best around. None of the skits were outwardly terrible too. This was the best Weekend Update I’ve seen all season, showing that Colin Jost and Michael Che aren’t exactly lost causes after all. While I put “Sump’n Claus,” “Assembly Line,” and “Holiday Gig” in my bad category, they weren’t so terrible that the quality hit a screeching halt. More like some slight braking. The 10-to-1 sketch, which was Freeman and Aidy Bryant selling water beds, ended the show on a good note too. This doesn’t happen often, but I found myself wanting a little sump’n more.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.