Sam Rockwell, The F Word & Bill Murray Headline SNL’s 1st Episode of 2018

Sam Rockwell on SNL
Photo Credit: Rosalind O’Connor/NBC 

Saturday Night Live: Sam Rockwell (host), Halsey (Musical Guest) with Fred Armisen, and Bill Murray

Written by Melissa Jouben & Mark Henely

The Host – Sam Rockwell

Melissa: I guess we can get right to the juicy stuff: Sam Rockwell said the F word on live TV.

It’s funny to me that Rockwell couldn’t manage to NOT be Sam Rockwell for even five minutes, despite the fact the monologue had gone to great pains to establish the fact that Sam Rockwell is a beloved character actor. It did that, by the way, by establishing that up top and then having him dance around the studio while singing “less talking, more action” and engaging in stunts that show you how he can be a leading man now that he’s won an award.

Not always a fan of the “let’s just have them sing and dance because we don’t know what else to do” types of monologues, this was a solid one. Sam Rockwell is such a weirdo that I’m almost glad he tried his best to gloss over that fact with some very fun dancing. He even did a split! As a host he got to use a lot of accents and play some very silly characters. I don’t know that I would cite him for a bad performance as much as I cite this episode as a whole for having a really strange obsession with material that I found too blue to thoroughly enjoy.

When Rockwell was on, he was really on, and he seemed game for just about anything. I’d like to see what he looks like as a host when the cultural climate isn’t so fraught with uncomfortable material, but I’m not sure what the rule is about inviting back hosts who drop an F bomb.

Mark: I first became aware of Sam Rockwell’s comedy chops on a repeat viewing of Iron Man 2. I know that, for some, Iron Man 2 is not the most beloved of Marvel movies, but I was struck by the fact that Rockwell nailed every single laugh line he was given in that movie. I’m happy to say that Rockwell’s comedy chops carried over to the live setting as I thought he did a good job as host. While, the episode definitely had some weak point (which I will address later) none of it was due to Rockwell’s abilities.

 

Mark’s Favorite Sketch of the Night – Science Show

Science Show is a bit of a period piece. Sam Rockwell plays the kindly Mr. Rogers-esque host of a children science program where he works with a pair of student helpers. A common set up for an old TV show, but the difference here is that the kids are incredibly stupid. It’s a basic comedy dynamic in an inspired setting. There is just something very satisfying about watching the kind, smart man that Rockwell is playing turn into an angry old man due to his partners relentless incompetence. This is a sketch you could show your friends without them getting mad at your for wasting their time.

Melissa’s Favorite Sketch of the Night – Genetics Lab

We’ve seen a variation of “Dog Head Guy” on Sesame Street before, so it’s not exactly uncharted territory, but maybe that’s part of why I found it so comforting. This episode dealt with a lot, and poorly – most weird sexual stuff and a few jabs at the Trump administration that didn’t feel as pointed as I’m sure they wanted to be. It was nice that this sketch had such low stakes and was so unabashedly silly in a way that was familiar and child-like.

I know I’m calling the idea of scientists putting the head of a dog on the body of a dead man “child-like” but it didn’t play as macabre as that sounds. The bottom line is that watching a dog eat a sandwich while pretending that the dog has the arms of a human is really funny. Sam Rockwell as the scientist provided a great character for him to fully let loose as, and the line “there’s no law that says you can’t make a dog head guy, I googled it” is the hardest I laughed at anything all night.

Worst Sketch of the Night – Fashion Panel

Melissa: I’m not sure how to eloquently explain what my issue was with the majority of the sketches on this episode, but this one, I feel, exemplifies it the best. The premise is that an E! show usually dedicated to catty takedowns of celebrities and their appearance at red carpet events is now misguidedly hopping onto the “Me Too” and “Times Up” trains, trying to be less offensive. It seems like the reason why is because they’re afraid of being considered part of the problem more than it is they want to be part of the solution however, because their comments are still bad and more offensive than ever – just in the opposite direction.

They bring on as a guest a woman who runs a shelter for battered women and then make jokes about punching the woman host in the face, only to say “You wouldn’t kick her out of your house, would you?” It’s a huge, huge swing and a miss and a failed opportunity to add satirical commentary on a powerful movement that is striving to do good and create real change. I’m left to assume that whoever wrote this sketch still doesn’t fully understand these movements. While I think it does accurately speak to the fact that a lot of actors and on-screen personalities are scrambling to be relevant in a changing industry, this sketch doesn’t lampoon that idea like I’m sure it wanted to.

Mark: I agree with everything Melissa says here, but I want to expand on a certain point she grazed. There seems to be a certain common theme to the sketches that I didn’t enjoy. While I think I did enjoy most of the sketches, the common theme of the sketches I didn’t like (Fashion Panel, Captain Hook, and ATM) is optics. These sketches are about people who are afraid that people will believe them to be bad (racist, sexist, etc), than they concerned about actually doing the right thing. They all feature characters who prioritize the perception of goodness over good actions. And while that can be very funny (see: almost every episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) it all came off very callous on this episode.

The fact that there are just so many on this episode is what really strikes me. Potentially it is a reflection of how people feel in the writers room. They are in an environment where a single misguided (or intentionally wrongheaded) tweet could cost them their jobs. Maybe there is a fear amongst the group that they will be caught in a situation that paints them in an unfavorable light (just as Captain Hook found himself in his ship full of young boys) and they will not get a chance to explain themselves.

Regardless, these sketches came off to me as not being empathetic and unsympathetic. I hope that SNL doesn’t continue to explore this theme at length in future episodes.

Musical Guest – Halsey

Melissa: I’ve only known Halsey’s name – and only because I own a shade of lipstick that she designed and named after herself – and thought I’d never heard her music before. I realized after her first song that I’ve actually heard it before, and liked it. She’s got an interesting, smoky voice that I feel sounds similar to Selma Blair’s singing voice, which Is wonderful. The song isn’t too bad either. For the second song, she brought along her boyfriend G Eazy for a sort of weird duet. I will go on record here as saying that I think G Eazy is a huge dork, and so I wasn’t super happy to see him. I could also definitely do without the weird foreplay between the two of them during the performance. The song was just ok.

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