SNL #34.20 with Seth Rogen, Phoenix

Please forgive me if my excitement was neither fast nor furious over the prospect of a second hosting gig for Seth Rogen at the helm of Saturday Night Live. I simply have not jumped on the bandwagon that everything Rogen (or, for that matter, the Judd Apatow crew) touches turns to comedy gold. And if, as you recall, Rogen/Apatow films don't exactly give women much of a role to play other than furthering the bromances, this might help guide you. So with expectations sufficiently diminished, perhaps I would be in for a treat this weekend…

And yet, the cold open did not start things on the right foot. We began with a message from President Barack Obama (Fred Armisen), and from the get-go, Armisen's vocal impersonation was not up to par. Not sure why. But it just wasn't there. The premise, that Obama taking a break from the European lovefest had to prove that the hands-on approach to the auto industry was not a fluke by announcing he'd make rulings on individual companies in every other industry, had merit. But what followed just seemed so random. Like a series of non sequiturs, with Armisen's Obama weighing in on major American companies in riding lawnmowers, air conditioners, blue jeans, coffee makers, light bulbs (GE alert!), reclining chairs, baseball gloves, toothpastes, frozen shrimp, ballpoint pens, trench coats, plastic vomit, window shades, mens underwear, colleges, NFL teams, stroke magazines, and soft drinks. A couple of chuckles, but just due to the randomness of it all.

The monologue gave Seth Rogen a chance to acknowledge his weight loss — "For one thing, I lost about one million pounds" — and also other things that had changed since the first time he hosted SNL. Rogen learned how to pronounce Lorne's name. The writers have stopped helping him write the monologue, which he used as the excuse to take questions from "the audience": Kristen Wiig mocked him for doing a mall cop movie right after Paul Blart, while Jason Sudeikis took the cue-card material to a higher level by outright mocking him, Bill Hader appeared as Rogen's angry pizza delivery guy (read: weed delivery guy), and Bobby Moynihan appeared as a guy angry because Rogen's weight loss ruined his game as a guy who impersonated Rogen to pick up the ladies (he had to switch it up to Jonah Hill to hit on Abby Elliott's audience member character).

Instead of a fake ad in this slot, we got a fake movie ad, and, hello, if you know anything about the movie canon of Seth Rogen, you know it's full of bromantic gayish without being gay comedies. So why not have Rogen and Andy Samberg act as if they're going to make out in a trailer for The Fast and The Bi-Curious, with Elliott on the sidelines as the hottie they're nottie interested in. Knowing these guys makes it less of a surprising choice, but does it lessen the comedic impact? I don't know.

After the first ad break, the newspaper industry seems to have chosen 2009 as the year it completely fails, and what will this mean for the old-school funny pages? The comic strips have taken things in their own hands, with Dick Tracy (Sudeikis) leading a rally for "Save The Funnies." Everything about this echoes a sketch in January with Neil Patrick Harris helping to save Broadway, with most of the cast involved. This time, we're making fun of comic strip jokes. Which means trying to mine safe humor for broad TV humor. Will it work? Could it work? Hagar the Horrible (Rogen) and his wife, Helga (Casey Wilson). Archie (Hader) and Veronica (Elliott). Garfield (Moynihan) and Jon (Will Forte), although Dick Tracy confuses Garfield for Heathcliff. "Do all orange cats look alike?" Which then leads to confusion over Kenan Thompson's character. This happened in the Broadway sketch, and this time, Thompson is thought to be part of "The Boondocks" cast, when really, he writes the bridge column. Darrell Hammond makes his weekly rare appearance as the Jumbles guy. "Kucf you!" Cathy (Samberg) is the memorable one?! There's a Far Side reference. Stand-up Mike Drucker (who works behind the scenes) gets onscreen as "political cartoon" not being subtle as an AIG robber. Peppermint Patty (Wiig) and Marcie (Michaela Watkins) from Peanuts get caught making out. But hey, it's 2009! Armisen ends up finishing the sketch as the funniest thing in it, the Sudoku savior.

Hader trots out Italian talk show host Vinny Vedecci to interview Rogen and compare him to "Bear Man" in multiple translations. Do Armisen and Forte sit on the sidelines and eat spaghetti nonstop? Yes, they do. Does Moynihan return as Vedecci's sailor boy son? Yes, he does. Mostly to good effect.

An SNL Digital Short: Rogen in an office, giving Samberg his performance review. So what does Samberg do? He raps a day of his life at work. Of course. Turns out he's "Like a Boss." With cameos by Wilson, John Mulaney, Elliott, Moynihan, Wiig, Sudeikis and Hader. Kinda dumb.

Here's something that did not turn out completely dumb: Samberg, Hader and Rogen meet in a bar to help plan a buddy's bachelor party, but they're quickly interrupted by their girlfriends, which prompts them to switch to their "girlfriend voices." They poke fun of each other. And then it quickly turns into a rotating series of voices to mollify friends, from witness protection to Yoda, a Scottish boss, Gizmo from Gremlins, the lead singer of the B-52s, and a friend in a coma. Armisen appears at the end to wrap things up, but not really necessary.

Phoenix performed the first song of the night, and if you did not know they were French, you would not learn it here. Although they did seem "arty" performing Lisztomania.

On Weekend Update, head writer Seth Meyers continues performing solo, and his list of jokes about Obama and Queen Elizabeth did end nicely with: "Let's try to remember you're world leaders, not Secret Santas." But the Update desk now is really about the guests. Sudeikis got a chance to bring back his Rod Blagojevich, who now indicted, is willing to go undercover. As the governor of Illinois.

Thompson's French "Def Jam" comedian, Jean K. Jean, offered his take on Obama's European trip. Thompson seems to do the best with what he has to read on the cue cards, even if at most times, it's somewhat limited.

Madonna (Wiig) reflects on a rare ruling against her adopting another baby in Africa, which brings Angelina Jolie (Elliott) out to one-up her. An exotic baby island? A Benjamin Button reference? Done and done.

There's a short but not quite sweet office sketch in which Armisen plays a boss who has to reprimand Rogen's employee for sticking his big presentation with a soundtrack of Grease songs, with Samberg, Thompson, Hader, Elliott, and Wiig standing silently by to deliver glares. Hammond as the boss of the boss loves Grease, so everything is OK. Unless you wanted to laugh.

Mulaney voices the narration, then, to set up the scene for a 1987 episode of "Milestone High" on the ABC Family channel, with Samberg playing a nerd trying to tutor Rogen's jock character. Only Rogen is super dumb. With Sudeikis, Armisen and Thompson as teachers. Yep. That about explains that one.

If you enjoyed Forte and Wiig singing country duets before as Clancy T. Bachleratt and Jackie Sned before, then you'll love them again, this time selling songs about spaceships, toddlers, Model-T cars and jars of beer with Rogen as their producer and Easter as their muse.

Phoenix performed their second song, 1901, and everyone seemed cool with that.

Rogen's fellow Apatow buddy, Jason Segal, is writing a Muppets movie. And that's your reference point for the final sketch of the night, in which several Muppets are on a bus. Rogen is Ralph the dog, driving, with passengers including Kermit the Frog (Forte), Gonzo (Moynihan), Fozzie (Sudeikis), Beaker (Wiig), the Swedish Chef (Samberg), Animal (Hader), Janice (Watkins), and sax player Zoot (Armisen). They run into trouble. Oh, and because it's the Muppets, they get pulled over by a cop who is Nipsy Russell (Thompson).

Turns out we still have a minute or two, so Phoenix plays us out with the start of a third song.

The credits say Dan Mintz had a hand in an additional sketch? Can you guess which one? See you next week with Zac Efron and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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5 thoughts on “SNL #34.20 with Seth Rogen, Phoenix

  1. Was there anything else that is known about why the band played song #3 and where there was no standard ‘goodnight’ sequence?
    It seemed conspicuous.

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