Unlike many hosts, comedian Russell Brand was perfectly comfortable on the "Saturday Night Live" stage, and not at all shy. With a rambling monologue that threatened to take over the show, more funny faces than Jim Carrey, and a frequent focus on trousers--or lack thereof--Russell Brand kicked the humor on "SNL" up to 11. Seth Meyers hit a home run with Weekend Update, with a little help from Stefon, Eminem and Lil Wayne.
The cold open began with Jason Sudeikis as Bill O'Reilly on "The O'Reilly Factor." The sketch continued on from the O'Reilly/President Obama (Fred Armisen) pre-Super Bowl interview, with topics ranging from Egypt and Afghanistan to a pop culture quiz, viewer mail and a "vocabulary word of the day." O'Reilly also backed up his prediction that the first interview would be the "most-watched interview ever"--by combining the Super Bowl's ratings with his own show's. The sketch was mildly amusing but not great, with the best moments being Obama's frantic looking for a way out as the interview slowly devolved into utter nonsense.
Next we got Russell Brand in all his glory for the "Saturday Night Live" monologue, doing a hilarious and surreal stand-up routine that focused largely on England, tight pants and fame. Apparently in England, "tight trousers means you're famous," but in America, "tight trousers means additional screening at the airport." Brand then gave a shout out to "Juan in immigration" for his gentle, rubber-gloved touch. This led into more discussions of the "chaos" barely controlled by tight trousers, and the Jack-in-the-box effect if that chaos was released. As Brand thrust his hips forward and boldly indicated the affected area, he clarified that it was a Jack-in-the-box "like the children's toy, not the burger--no one wants fries with that." Then he managed to segue into nominations for the Oscars, marriage to Katy Perry, his wild past, and encountering a burglar--capping the monologue-long theme with a line about tight pajamas. We're now 12 minutes into the show and the produces have no doubt had to cut 2 sketches while Brand was still talking--and no one minds.
The commercial break was for Gublin & Green, attorneys for anyone suffering injuries from appearing in or attending a showing of the Broadway show of "Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark." The commercial mocked both cheesy lawyer commercials and the wildly accident-prone theater show. The highlight was the list of settled complaints that included: "Confused by the plot," "Insulted Legacy of Spiderman" and "Fell asleep so suddenly I hit head on seat in front of me."
Russel Brand's first "Saturday Night Live" sketch was as a beer-drinking, flannel shirt-wearing, unimpressed contest winner on "Ultimate Vacation Giveaway," hosted by Cheryl Brown (Kristen Wiig.) Wiig's trademark over-the-top wackiness was perfect for the insane, crazy-eyed, forced enthusiasm these announcers always have. It was a heck of a lot of fun watching her head practically explode as she tried to deal with Brand's non-reaction to his $50,000 cruise, and hysterical as she tried to manipulate his face into an expression of shock, moving his mouth and making the guttural sounds of winner's joy for him. We also got shots of former winners, which included Abby Elliot throwing a hanging plant through her own front window, Kenan Thompson pulling chunks of hair out of his head, and Taran Killam wetting his pants. Perfect satire, with the added gift of Wiig later checking Brand's trousers to see if he'd had the same type of reaction.
"Saturday Night Live" players Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, Nasim Pedrad and a dreadlocked Russell Brand then did a spot-on and strikingly well-filmed send-up of independent films from across the Pond, giving us the movie "Don' You Go Rounin' Roun to Re Ro" from the producers of "Sexy Beast," "The Red Riding Trilogy," and "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels." They really nailed Guy Ritchie's style, with muddy looking scenes, quirky bad guys, unusual camera angles, and gun stand-offs in run-down buildings and vacant lots. And of course the unintelligible thick accents, leading critics to laud the film with reviews like: "British," "Extremely British," "I didn't understand what they were saying" and "Is there a way to turn on subtitles for a movie in English?.." Classic.
The next "Saturday Night Live" sketch involved Russell Brand as much-hated King Reginald, Taran Killam as his nervous royal taster, and Bill Hader as a chef with vengeance on his mind. Mostly it was a lot of screaming between the chef and king, but there was one sublime, possibly unscripted moment: Faces a mere inch apart as they hurled verbal venom at one another, Hader suddenly started rubbing his nose back and forth across Brand's. There was one brief moment when it looked like they both might start laughing, but they held it together and kept on, long enough for Killam to turn in an amusing death scene reminiscent of a similar poison death in "The Princess Bride."
Chris Brown hit the "Saturday Night Live" stage wearing all black with bright white kicks, performing his single "Yeah 3X." The Auto-Tune was in full force, but there was no enhancement necessary for Brown's dancing, which was amazing as always. It's too bad performers can't make a big career out of simply performing dance numbers--I could care less if Brown "sang" a note when he's got moves like that.
The "SNL"Weekend Update was chock full of guests and good jokes. Fred Armisen appeared once again as resigned Egyptiann leader Hosni Mubarak, and they had fun with his utter cluelessness as he misinterpreted his staff's hate-filled farewells as good wishes: "I have trouble reading people." Lil Wayne (Jay Pharoah) and Eminem (Taran Killam) then joined Seth to sing their latest Valentine's Day tune, which they promised was not misogynistic in the least bit. This of course meant that they did a mad libs version of a typical rap song, leaving spaces (and Lil Wayne's suggestive facial expressions) where all the obnoxious lyrics usually were. Killam did a particularly good impression of Eminem, nailing both the voice and the angry delivery, and pausing a long time in the verse before threateningly finishing with: "knife!"
The best part of Weekend Update was of course Stefon, Bill Hader's twitchy, self-conscious club kid who always has really skeevy suggestions for the perfect night on the town. One of his Valentine's Day recommendations was an Asian club "built on a dare by 90-year-old Fuji Howser MD" which included "stun guns, mole people and freezing cold air." Add in some Valentine's Day dancing "Jupids--Jewish Cupids--they just want you to meet someone nice and settle down." As funny as the insane clubs always are, it's even funnier watching Hader trying not to crack up as he reads out one horrific line after another (human suitcases, anyone?), and Seth's usually in danger of losing it right with him. The sketch ended on a high note for Stefon, when Seth agreed to be his Valentine for just one night: "I guess I got struck by Jupid's arrow," Seth quipped before offering Stefon a warm Valentine's Day hug.
News highlights included two items from Russell Brand's homeland. First, there was a woman in England who returned her adopted dog to the shelter, saying he clashed with her curtains: "And maybe don't let her take any other dogs home, 'cause it sounds like she's might be making a rug." Second, a public swimming pool that had been given permission to use energy from a nearby crematorium to heat the water: "They just have to get everyone out of the pool once in awhile, to skim out the ghosts."
"Saturday Night Live" host Russell Brand returned as a randy chef on Vanessa Bayer's talk show "Livin' Single." Bayer only looked slightly frightened as she got repeatedly molested by the unpredictable Brand, and the two had some fantastic physical comedy acrobatics that seemed always just one step shy of causing an injury. Taran Killam also landed some laughs as the pouting, jealous DJ.
The next "Saturday Night Live" sketch was a "Monty Python"-esque descent into madness, with Russell Brand, Andy Samberg and Bill Hader in old lady drag hosting a show called "A Spot of Tea." Shaking things up, literally, was an active fault line that kept acting up during their tea drinking, causing them to splash boiling water and fling crumpets everywhere. Russell Brand seemed in danger of flashing everyone as the sketch progressed and his skirt climbed higher--and then Brand just let his legs fall open to give us a full view of his support hose. Pure raunchy nonsense, but still funny, and extra points for the tea ball hanging off of Andy Samberg's ear after the last earthquake.
Chris Brown then did a sketch of his own, apparently, by performing the obnoxious song "No bullsh#t," featuring precisely the type of lyrics Weekend Update had just made fun of. This at least made the performance unintentionally funny, but considering Chris Brown's reputation and his desire to get back into people's good graces, strutting around singing an overtly sexual and somewhat offensive song certainly didn't help elevate anyone's opinion of him. He should have stuck with the dancing.
The final sketch of the night was surreal, involving Russell Brand as a confused and violent George Washington whose been time-traveled to the present to solve the issue once and for all for Congress what the Founding Fathers would have wanted. After brutally attacking everyone in the room, Washington was felled by a letter opener clutched by a terrified Nancy Pelosi. Cut to the scene of the White House, which is now flying a British flag. Oops.
"Saturday Night Live" had its ups and downs as usual, but the laughs were more evenly spaced and the show had strong moments in the second half. Russell Brand's monologue, the British film sketch and Weekend Update were probably the highlights, but Brand's infectious enthusiasm had the rest of the cast in top crazy form. Kudos to Taran Killam, a "featured" player who's really carving out a place for himself on the "SNL" stage. His Eminem impression tonight was one of the best impressions we've seen on the show.
"Saturday Night Live" returns with Miley Cyrus and The Strokes on Saturday, March 5 at 11:30 pm ET.
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