“How long is this elevator ride?” Jim Parsons desperately asked, bringing to a close a wretched Saturday Night Live sketch about an executive trying (and failing) to hastily exit his office building while clutching a bag containing his soiled underwear.
Alas, that question could’ve applied to the Emmy winner’s overall experience hosting an episode of NBC’s sketch-comedy series that featured not one but two unwelcome recurring segments (those inane cowboys and Spotlightz Acting Camp); multiple bits where the writers didn’t bother to concoct a plausible ending; and (aside from the 12 Years a Slave casting session and a so-so Johnny Weir on Ellen bit) very little emphasis on current pop-cultural or political happenings.
Putting it another way, Parsons tried gamely — committing to even the lamest setups — but you can’t squeeze blood from a rock.
Below, my picks for the week’s best and worst sketches, and if you want to dish Colin Jost’s “Weekend Update” debut, click here for my colleague Matt Mitovich’s review:
BEST: 12 YEARS A SLAVE OPEN CALL
Newbie Brooks Wheelan got a rare moment on camera — and proved quite funny — as an actor coming in to read for the role of a friendly guy in a field, but then asked to portray a “hostile slave owner.” Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong also killed it as the breezily oblivious casting agents, but the MVP here was Jay Pharoah as a camera guy serving up such sternness that Parsons’ thespian almost couldn’t bear it.
BEST: THE BIRD BIBLE
SNL‘s pre-taped ad spoofs all too frequently trump its live segments, and this bit about a feathery, kid-friendly twist on the Bible proved no exception. “See that talon coming down from the sky?” asked Kate McKinnon (brilliant as always). “That’s God!”
BEST: CHARLES BARKLEY & SHAQUILLE O’NEAL
Pharoah’s impression of a profoundly infantile, possibly post-head-injury Shaq is beyond brutal — but undeniably guffaw-inducing. And Kenan Thompson has so much fun playing off his partner as a bemused/horrified Barkley — “when he says long words, his mouth just gives up!” — just adds to the laughs per minute.
WORST: COWBOY’S BIRTHDAY
I really thought we’d seen the last of the cowboys when Christoph Waltz hosted, but nope, they were back again here — with Parsons’ dimwit character determined to springboard naked from a pile of earth to surprise a fellow cowhand for his birthday. What exactly was supposed to be funny about this sketch? And — ay dios mio! — is it possible that there were even less funny setups during dress rehearsal that were cut in favor of this?
WORST: MURDER MYSTERY TOUR
Parsons got saddled playing an uptight guy uncomfortable with being asked to play the character of a “harmless oversexed nutball” at a Murder Mystery Dinner. Press play below, then hit the comments and share if this made you laugh even once.
WORST: SPOTLIGHTZ ACTING CAMP
Spotlightz wasn’t exactly a classic the first time SNL introduced it, but it’s clearly becoming a case of diminishing returns watching Vanessa Bayer do her “enthusiastic kid” shtick while reenacting scenes from The Wolf of Wall Street and Dallas Buyers Club.