SNL with Helen Mirren: Best and Worst Skits

SNL often lures lovable hosts that it doesn’t know how to work with. Take Jane Lynch or Bryan Cranston, who led lackluster episodes earlier this season, or Helen Mirren, who spent last night’s show vacillating between exactly two types of characters: haughty Brits and vulgar battle-axes. In fact, the episode felt so procedural that it may as well have been a lost episode of Prime Suspect. I’m drawing a chalk outline around the whole thing. Let’s rack up the (very relatively) best and (very obviously) worst sketches:

BEST: Crunk-Ass Easter Festival
DJ Supersoak (Jason Sudeikis) and Lil Blaster (Nasim Pedrad) return as the whooping emcees of Under-Underground Records, and this time they’re celebrating Christ’s resurrection with special guests, unactivated Starbucks gift cards, and “an Easter egg hunt for all you dumb-ass kids.” Sure, it’s not much different from “Crunkmas,” but Easter is an intrinsically funnier holiday than the yuletide. It’s got a devastating story and devastating bonnets. Plus, Under-Underground’s “Ass Dan” (Bobby Moynihan) will eventually come back to life, and that’s holiday-appropriate. Compared to the rest of the episode’s bland offerings, this was a rollicking Denny’s breakfast item named the Scrumptious Pilate!

BEST: The Best of Both Worlds With Hugh Jackman
I’m intrigued by the concept: Hugh Jackman (Andy Samberg) hosts a talk show about people “who play both sides of the professional boomerang.” For instance, Hugh’s both “the most masculine and feminine” actor in the world because he plays Wolverine and hosts the Tonys. Gerard Butler starred in 300 and Phantom of the Opera. See? Provocative. You’ll want either to change the channel or perish entirely when Helen Mirren shows up as Julie Andrews, but the gusto of Samberg’s performance makes this memorable — and tuneful!

WORST: Obama Cold Open
How long can you play the President of the United States and still not capture his cadences and rhythms? Or redevelop him as a broad caricature? Or something? IFC’s Portlandia proves that Fred Armisen is a dynamite comic presence, but his portrayal of Barack Obama remains a somnambulatory timesuck. Oh, and that bungled joke about how people can’t believe SNL‘s still on the air? Grim.

WORST: Frankenstein
In the obligatory parlor room sketch, Helen Mirren plays Mary Shelley and divulges that Frankenstein’s monster was inspired by the author’s landlord Frank Stein (Fred Armisen). We’ve all seen brilliant Frankenstein takeoffs before, but even Gene Wilder and Madeline Kahn couldn’t save this vague and puzzling skit with a bag of Mel Brooks’s punchlines. It’s (so not) alive!

What did you think of last night’s show? Was it among the worst of the season? Did you feel for Helen Mirren, who had little to do? And did you want more of Bill Hader, whose James Carville sendup saved Weekend Update? Leave it in the comments, follow me on Twitter at @louisvirtel, and read me regularly at Movieline.com.

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36 Comments
  1. MSD says:

    Taran Killam sure is starting to get a lot of play- and he’s proving to be a really a great presence among the featured players. Still rooting for Paul Brittain too, but its clear that Taran is really “winning” the battle of the new boyish white dudes.

    I ADORE Bill Hader. He lights up any skit he’s in, even if its bad. During the “There Ain’t Nothing Like a Dame” monologue, I couldn’t take my eyes off the hilarious faces he was pulling.

    • Jeremy says:

      I agree! He’s like the next Bill Hader and rocking it in a sailor suit.I sure do hope that he’ll be promoted as regular next season and so do other featured like Nasim Pedrad & Vanessa Bayer.

  2. Bridget says:

    This writing team has completely run out of ideas. Its time for Seth Meyers to move on.

  3. Sarabi says:

    In spite of Samberg’s poor impression of Hugh Jackman, I loved The Best of Both Worlds sketch. :) I also liked the Under-Underground bit, and I absolutely loved the Perspectives sketch! It was hilarious! :D And it’s not so implausible at all!

    Overall, I liked the episode, but I wasn’t taken aback by it. Not even by the Helen Mirren’s lesbian mishaps. I hope that the Tina Fey episode is going to make up for the rest of the season. :)
    And I would be very grateful if we saw more of Jay Pharoah.

  4. Michael says:

    The SNL Digital Sketch! I mean c’mon!!! And yes, the Under Underground was FANTASTIC. Otherwise, eh.

  5. Caitlin says:

    I thought she wa pretty funny. The digital short was the best!!! And the Hugh jackman skit was funny as well as the under-underground records one.

  6. bob says:

    let jay pharoah do the obama impressions his is much better than fred armisons

    • Amanda says:

      Definitely. It’s almost like Fred must have it in his contract that he plays Obama. There’s no other reason for it to not be Jay!

  7. Taylor says:

    Crunk-Ass Easter was definitely the funniest sketch of the night.
    Weekend Update had a few good jokes in the beginning, but it kind of went downhill after Bill Hader’s brilliant James Carville portion.
    For the first time, I actually loved Mort Mort Feingold. I normally don’t find it all too great, but it hit the spot last night :)

    I really hope the 4 new featured players get to stay. Each one of them has their own style that I enjoy. I’ve always enjoyed Taran’s work. Vanessa has a couple good characters that are… pretty cool, I like Paul’s personality because it transfers to his characters (glad he brought back Johnny Depp), and Jay Pharoah has strong impersonations. Along with the amazing Nasim (who’s sure to be promoted next season), I think SNL has a great cast. I just wish the writing was a bit stronger.

  8. Justyna says:

    I just loved Perspectives sketch! I think the Best of Both World was ok and SNL digital short too.

  9. Valkyrje says:

    I thought the SNL digital short was one of the best of the night, I also really liked the monologue (not really a skit, but still). The Mort Mort-skit wasn’t a stand out, but I loved Bill Hader and Helen Mirren as Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter and laughed out loud when Bill/Tim presented Mort Mort with the receipts made into a “dream spider”. The Best of Both Worlds started out really great, then sort of lost its spark, but it was still funny. Though cliché, I didn’t think the Frankenstein skit was all that bad, and also I thought Helen did a really great job. What I noticed was she wasn’t really featured all that much, and I think they could’ve really utilized her more than they did. Having just worked with Russell Brand in Arthur, I’m sure she’s got a few tricks up her sleeve.

  10. Marissa says:

    I agree with your assessment of “Best of Both Worlds” it was very funny for the first few minutes, but the concept stopped making sense after arm wrestling/karaoke was over. I think my biggest laughs of the night came from Hader’s Carville impression, particularly the parts about being raised by eels.

  11. Air says:

    Oh, I definitely put the Weekend Update with “James Carville” at the top of the list. That was awesome, pure and simple!

    • Loved Too says:

      I also thought that the James Carville impression during Weekend Update was the best skit of the night. And please give Seth Meyers something better to do. Weekend Update is often the most funny section of the entire 1 1/2 hour show, and has been the saving grace of this franchise that is running on vapors. Just look how many folks WE has catapulted into our TV every week.

      As for who I would like to see host next season? Why not put Justin Timberlake back on the show? He has been the funniest guest/host for quite some time, so bring him back. Perhaps his week’s work well because he is willing to look really silly and doesn’t care. In any case, no more January Jones. I think we can all admit her show was the bottom of the barrel…

  12. Roy Munson says:

    Why didn’t you get the Frankenstein sketch? I did and thought it was funny

  13. Nae76 says:

    SNL has gotten lame and the guests should not have bad writing blamed on them. Seth Meyers should not be the head writer. It’s unfortunate that Loren Michaels made this mistake and has yet to change it.

  14. roscoe says:

    agree Hader saved Update but I thought the Frankenstein skit was the funniest in what was one of the worst episodes of the season

  15. Mark says:

    People still watch SNL?

    • JohnDoe says:

      You read my mind. It’s glory days are long gone, and its time for NBC to move on with something new and fresh.

  16. bhm1304 says:

    I think I heard Phil Hartman’s ‘Frankenstein’ spinning in his grave. Seasons Greetings from Frankenstein, Tonto, and Tarzan:)

  17. deedeedragons says:

    I know it’s not the point but Hugh Jackman or any Australian i’ve ever met don’t sound like that, that accent is a cliché like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.

  18. Since you ask . . . says:

    Turned it off at midnight . . . awful in EVERY way!

  19. ES says:

    First off, Taran Killan (sp) is getting better and better, as is Paul Brittan. I could not stop laughing during weekend updates interview with the flight attendant! And I thought Mort Mort was pretty funny.

  20. Blank Slate says:

    I can’t distinguish who’s who between Taran K and Paul B. What characters are they noted for?

    Why Kenan when Jay is there? Why is Jay P not used?

    The Kardashians are old. I’m tired of the women on this show being used as the glammed-out characters.

    Did not like Helen Mirren’s bits (rhyme pun intended) at all. Not funny and frankly, insulting.

    I look forward to Weekend Update. Sometimes it rocks. Last night was so so. Hader always funny and I admit I laughed out loud when he said HELLO in eel!

  21. biji says:

    its amazing that people still watch this show. i mean, i caught a bit of an episode a few weeks back, and wow. just…wow. your opinions are all as good as anybodies, but how is this stuff funny? i mean, those ‘digital shorts’ can only hold up the laughs for so long, right?

  22. Bob says:

    Yeah, I punched out at midnight, too. Just couldn’t take any more. They either need to get new writers and/or get rid of Lorne Michaels. This show is now about as fresh as a marine in the Afghan desert after six weeks without a shower.

  23. Richard says:

    My big problem with the Frankenstein skit was basically this: if you are going to have a skit about the writing of the book “Frankenstein,” don’t make jokes that refer only to the 1931 movie (bolts in the neck, Igor, etc.) and have nothing to do with the book.

  24. Abe Froman says:

    Ha, take a look at the Frankenstein sketch. You don’t even try to hide that they are reading from cue cards.

  25. Nina says:

    I thought the stripper one at the end was definitely the worst. it was so slow, i thought WHEN WILL IT BE OVER!!!

    Weekend update is always funny. And “Perspectives” was effin hilarious!!!!

  26. janie says:

    The worst part of the show for me was that Jason Sudeikis was not used enough. The scene at the end.. if you watch it and look at jason’s fast as he plays that Wolfman jack like character.. it actually is really funny.. it was kinda slow but i love the looks he gives to the camera as he is talking..

    One thing that bugged me was that a bunch of different news sites reported on the Fox News and friends and how they played them as stupid and racist… but they kept saying that Jason sudeikis was in the sketch and it wasnt jason sudeikis! it was Taran Killum!! also I dont watch that fox news and friends but i do see them occassionally when Joel Mchale makes fun of them on the soup and wow.. they really can be that dumb.. i mean obviously it was overemphasized for comedic effect but there wer e a lot of news sites over the weekend taking offense at it.. whats the old saying tho.. any buzz about a show is good buzz even if its negative?

  27. Abby says:

    This was honestly, a God-awful episode. Just really really terrible. The only sketch that had any luster to it was the commercial for professional *enis photos. Pretty funny, but whenever a skit is funny on SNL – it’s always in that way where you feel like you want to pat it on the head. “Oh THAT was kind of funny! Good job SNL!” which it certainly shouldn’t be. It’s THE major comedy skit show on TV and I have three mediocre friends who are probably funnier than the actors/writers combined. Tragic really.

  28. Liz says:

    I turned it off half-way, but I caught the Gerard Butler take-off on youtube later….No one could play the ultra-handsome Scot except himself. Didn’t you love the 2010 hosting of Gerard Butler? He was fabulous..I’d like Gerard to re-host..but keep Kristen Wiig in a closet…I cannot stand the too often used character of a high-pitched voice. Bill Hader is good..and I llike Sudakis. But give us more Butler.

  29. Boo says:

    I turned it off half-way, but I caught the Gerard Butler take-off on youtube later….No one could play the ultra-handsome Scot except himself. Didn’t you love the 2010 hosting of Gerard Butler? He was fabulous..I’d like Gerard to re-host..but keep Kristen Wiig in a closet…I cannot stand the too often used character of a high-pitched voice. Bill Hader is good..and I llike Sudakis. But give us more Butler.

  30. River says:

    The stripper skit was horrific.

  31. SNL loyal says:

    I wasn’t too blown away by this one. It wasn’t horrible eighter, it stretched some laughs a few times, but Seth Meyers & the writting crew should work a little harder cause’ SNL does NOT settle for less than top notch comedy. The James Carville segment on weekend update and the Digital Short were the highest points on the show, the rest of the sketches were decent, except for the last one. I really didn’t understand what happened there, it was like they were trying to fill in the time till the end of the show, which is strange considering usually have twice or three times more sketches written than they air, and it wasn’t good from the beginning soooo….what was up with that????

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