'Saturday Night Live': Joseph Gordon-Levitt climbs the walls with energy

It seemed as though Saturday Night Live was determined to up the energy-quotient this week, perhaps under the impression that if everyone looked as though he or she was working really hard, we might not notice that the work wasn’t all that amusing.

In his opening moments, host Joseph Gordon-Levitt tried to reproduce the “Make ‘Em Laugh” scene from the musical Singin’ in the Rain. Can’t fault J G-L for not having a great singing voice, and he applied some heroic effort to do Donald O’Connor’s walking-up-walls choreography. Gordon-Levitt pulled it off, although in the process making what O’Connor did with deceptive ease look like huffing, puffing hard work.

Don’t tell me: you thought it was great, right? Let’s agree to disagree. Gordon-Levitt’s exertion was what wrung applause from the SNL audience, which is the exact opposite of what movie audiences admired about O’Connor: The idea is to make climbing walls and doing back-flips look effortless. I give G-L an “A” for effort, but instead of making a snide joke about how Singin’ In The Rain is a movie “your grandmother” watches, SNL‘s writers should have tried to understand the source-material first.

The “Digital Short” featured Samberg as a hiphop artist collaborating with Reba McEntire — or rather, Kenan Thompson playing a guy who’d found a red wig and had supposedly fooled Samberg into thinking he was Reba. All set to music. If only this convoluted notion had resulted in some sort of funniness about hiphop or country music or something. It was well-shot and choreographed, but again: lots of effort, few moments of mirth.

There was a “What Up With That” sketch, which you may recall from a few weeks ago, starring Kenan Thompson as a singing talk-show host who never lets his guests speak much, if at all. In this new one, Al Gore and The Office‘s Mindy Kaling were among the nonplussed guests. Thompson sang and danced up a storm, to much boisterousness and little effect.

“Weekend Update” had quite a few funny jokes, and Al Gore returned with an admirable poker-face to poke fun at his own usual “renewable energy” spiel:

Musical guest the Dave Matthews Band sounded just like the Dave Matthews Band always does. Matthews also did a good Ozzy Osbourne impersonation in a sketch.

And in a shocking breach of tradition, it was the final sketch of the night that was the best one all evening: Gordon-Levitt spoofing Say Anything. Jason Sudeikis was superb as a guy needling J G-L’s John Cusack.

So what’d you think? There’s no denying Joseph Gordon-Levitt was the most energetic host in a while, but did you actually laugh more than I did? Please sound off below.

(You can read my review of SNL’s current season in the new issue of EW.)

(And you can follow me on Twitter.)

Comments (287 total) Add your comment
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  • Jen

    In the Mellow Show sketch (which I thought was hilarious), it was Bill Hader who did the Dave Matthews impersonation and J G-L did Jason Mraz. I thought both men were very funny.

    • Jim

      I loved JGL, I think he gave an excellent performance and the mellow sketch was the best. This guy should be the next Joker – he has talent in drama and comedy AND he looks like Heath Ledger, I thought they could be brothers in 10 things I hate about you.

      • Kevin

        That would be awesome.

      • Nihilistic

        He looks SO much like Heath Ledger. It’s all in the eyes. It’s incredible the similarities.

      • Nellie Bly

        I’ve been saying that for over a year and my family looks at me like I’m nuts! I am nuts but I’m also right about this!

      • Lauren

        I liked it just because he is super cute! Also, he appeared in command of the material as opposed to January Jones and Megan Fox. They could’ve riffed on his tenure on 3rd rock from the sun, since he was on it for a long time. Maybe even brought in Jane Curtain, an old SNL alum. Just throwing it out there….

      • TL

        I never thought about him being the Joker before. That could actually work.

    • lls

      i agree with most of the review, but you forgot about the mellow sketch! i always get a few good laughs from that.

      • 1983

        Sorry Ken, what JGL did WAS “huffing, puffing hard work” and pretty darn entertaining as well. I also enjoyed “What Up With That” , “Mellow Show” and the “Thanksgiving ” skits. Also great?? NOT seeing Kristen Wiig mug her way through the entire show!!!

      • Nihilistic

        I’m the biggest skeptic on the block and still, even I have to admit that Joseph G-Levitt did a spectacular job with his opening monologue. For Ken Tucker to even compare an edited, lip-synched MOVIE scene to a raw LIVE performance is incredibly telling about him as a critic. Why do I think if Taylor Swift had performed this number, Ken would be singing her praises to the high heavens today?

  • ann

    JGL played Jason Mraz, not Dave Matthews. Bill Hader played Matthews. I thought JGL did a good job as Mraz, but tried too hard everywhere else. I do like him as an actor (loved him in 500 Days of Summer) but he was really forcing it through the nose here.

    • amanda

      Tucker wrote that Dave Matthews played Ozzy Osbourne, he did. Bill Hader played Dave Matthews.

  • Steve

    During the Mellow Show, JGL was not playing Dave Matthews. That was Bill Hader. He was doing a impression of Jason Mraz.

  • DVaRmy

    it was better than last week….the funniest sketch was the opening….but maybe I think it was funny because I disagree with our national debt and passing bills putting us further in debt……JGL was funny enough, I give it a B-

    • Nihilistic

      Really? You disagree with the national debt? What a brave statement to make, I wish more Americans had cajones like you and would speak out against DEBT!

      • Mo

        What I wish is that more Americans could spell cOjones…

      • mOjones

        YOU NEED A LIFE MO!!!!

  • ash

    JGL is great and bear in mind he was doing the Make ‘Em Laugh song live so of course he was panting.
    But it’s the writing – it’s terrible. The sketches go on for too long, especially the ones that aren’t funny.
    This is my first season watching and i can’t balieve this show has been on for so many years. I’m assuming it was better in years gone by cos at the moment it’s terrible. Don’t blame the hosts, it’s the writers.

    • AMy

      “The sketches go on for too long…” That’s exactly what I have found wrong with SNL over the past decade or so… the writers seem to have no sense of pacing or comic timing. They should watch some early SNL or Monty Python or something, figure out how to make a joke work.

      • jon cush

        Monty Python? Did you ever watch SNL when they had Monty Python do some appearances? Even though they did similar gags, their skits were awful. Yes, SNL can be dull at times, but those small gems last a lifetime.

    • topazbean

      Yes good point about the panting. For goodness sake the songs on Singin’ in the Rain were pre-recorded!!! And probably shot several times over and edited for the most seamless production possible. I mean, give the guy a break, part of the whole shtick was that he was excited to be able to do the song and show off. I got the feeling he was having a heck of a lot of fun – and there was some great stage slapstick in there. Good fun.

      Agree about the sketch length, too. I haven’t seen the early years of it, but having seen bits of MadTV too, it seems like this is a facet of a lot of America sketch comedy. Though please do put me right if I’m wrong about that. It’s not my greatest area of expertise. I just feel like, right back to the days of Monty Python, Not the Nine O-Clock News, Smack the Pony, the League of Gentlemen, sketches in British comedy shows seem much more quickfire. Although that is possibly because they aren’t broadcast live and benefit from some tight editing. What do people think is better? Live broadcast vs. pre-recorded sketches?

      • Bri

        Yeah it took Don O’Connor 8 days to film that one scene and he went straight to the hospital afterwards soooo…not a fair comparison by any means. JGL had a week to rehearse it and one shot to do it live. was it funny? no, but that’s not by any fault of his own. Dumb idea. even if he had done it with ease it would have been stupid.

      • Sue

        Actually it took O’Connor one day to film the scene, but as he was a four-pack-a-day smoker (yikes..)he did need some recovery time. Gene Kelly’s “Singing in the Rain” sequence was also filmed in one day, and he had a fever of 103. Great stuff.
        Nevertheless, JGL did a great job, and his energy and enthusiasm throughout the show are to be commended. The show itself…not so much.

      • Laura

        Yeah, seriously Ken, not only was Donald O’Connor lip-syncing while he was performing “Make Em Laugh”, but that dance sequence was edited like crazy. Every 30 seconds or so they cut to a different shot during his routine. He didn’t have to perform it all in one go like JGL did.
        Anyway, JGL is awesome, but as usual the writing on SNL was just awful.

      • russ

        I’m with everybody on this line, Ken. Are you nuts with your critique of JGL on Make ‘Em Laugh? He was fantastic, considering he did it LIVE in ONE TAKE. Laura and Sue are *so* on the money here that the comparison on your part is poorly conceived. If you want to go after the writers for having him do it, that’s one thing. But I thought his (physical) achievement there was astonishing.

    • Mo

      Nope, I started watching 17 years ago, and not one year has gone by that I haven’t read at least one article (and after the internet became really popular, hundreds of posts) saying how SNL is not what it used to be and maybe it should be put out of its misery.

    • 258595

      the show has been on for a while and always has had the dud long sketches. I always forget those sketches but I remember laughing at things like the Frost Nixon parodies or the Hamburger man. But if you watch re-runes on E! you’ll see that there were many a bomb. For instance Eddie Murphys Buckwheat was just as irritating as Gilley is now. You watch SNL because it’s entertaing, buzz worthy and a tradition of excellence. Theres some episodes that have bombed but some have been hysterical like the Taylor Swift, Gerard Butler and Ryan Reynolds episodes.

  • Nina

    I think parts of this show are lame and often in poor taste (like last night’s opening bit) but parts are brilliant. Anything that Kristen Wiig is in is hysterical. JG-L was great last night and he performed that difficult Donald O’Connor bit live. Not easy. “What Up With That” always makes us laugh. It’s a spotty show, but still relevant.

  • Beth

    I thought it was awful again this week. I’ve always been an SNL watcher and fan but this season they’re making it really tough to keep watching.

  • Da Flash

    No mention or comment on the hilarious “cold open” with Fred Armisen? Shame on you, Ken! You didn’t mention the best part of the show!!

  • John A

    Wow you are actually trashing an actor who did the Donald O’conner dance number LIVE with one take. I don’t mean to shatter your nostaligia old guy illusions but that’s kind of a big deal.

    • Tammy

      Thank you!!

      • JJV

        You dont know what your talking about, J-G-L and the SNL cast was amazing

    • PinkSwan

      Agree. It was amazing. Some of the skits were funny, but most were mediocre. The best thing about the What’s Up thing was the look on Al Gore’s face every time Kenan broke out in song. Otherwise, it was painful.

    • me

      Agree with you here. Once he said he was doing Make em’ Laugh, I was for sure he would skip that part. But he nailed it both times.

      Admit Ken, you don’t see this happen everyday, even at award shows and concerts.

      • Mary

        I actually found it pretty funny when he was panting, since it just shows how hard that routine is.

    • ree

      I agree. He panted because he not lip syncing. And the grandma joke was not snide when take in context with the previous one about his recent date movie.

      • NoirFan

        Agreed. JGL did the routine live and w/o lip syncing. He may be no Donald O’Connor but JGL did a very athletic performance. And, his grandma comment wasn’t snide. Let’s face it, Singing in the Rain came out several decades ago. And, maybe as a result of JGL’s performance some younger folk will be curious to check it out.

    • Synth

      completely agree! that was amazing. i was blown away

    • Nihilistic

      I actually agree with you. It was amazing that he was able to pull it off so well. Ken Tucker, your curmudgeon is showing!!!

  • Kate Schmate

    No mention of the Palin 2012 trailer? It was great!
    I actually enjoyed several sketches, and I thought J G-L outdid pretty much every other host this season.

    • Tom Strong

      Palin 2012 was just a ripoff of youtube stuff.

    • thin

      Compared to the much-better Firelight trailer parody a couple of weeks ago, this week’s 2012 was pretty weak.

  • Yoyoyoyo

    I think you are being too harsh on the monologue, Ken. I think it was one of the best ever. I was amazed by the feat of athleticism and not at all concerned with heavy breathing. Also, if you think the audience should have compared it to the original, maybe you misunderstand SNL’s target audience. Singing in the Rain, while a wonderful film, is hardly common viewing for 18-34 year olds.

    • Tom Strong

      You are an idiot.

    • Anon

      Sure, it was impressive that he was able to do it an in one take. But was it FUNNY? Not at all.

      • Yoyoyoyo

        I didn’t think it was funny either but I found it to be extremely entertaining. Given that SNL is rarely funny or entertaining recently, I was pleased.

      • natalie

        I agree with you Hrfe. There are good modern movies too. And older movies have a different style/pacing that is hard to get into sometimes.
        I’m 22, and I love the older movies, and modern too. I f you ever want to give the old ones a try, “Singin in the Rain” (Gene Kelly), “Rear Window” (Jimmy Stewart), and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” are great movies that still would be appealing today. Also solid: “North By Northwest”, “A Roman Holiday” and my guilty pleasure “Oklahoma”.

  • Tom Strong

    Al Gore should go drive himself off a cliff.

    • Gordon

      nah, you should, Tommy.

    • John

      I’ll go ahead and explain to people that this is a riff off of him comparing himself to Punxetawny Phil.

  • lac

    JGL tried to hard in EVERY skit.

    The last sng skit was the best. Why was it last. I only saw it by mistake when I was checking other channels and accidentally went back to that one.

    • DT

      Trying really hard is better than not trying at all, like January Jones and Megan Fox.

  • dea

    I think Ken Tucker will hate on every host from now on because they’re not his precious Taylor Swift!

    The writing for this show is terrible, though.

    • Chelsea

      I so agree. I still don’t see what was so amazing about Taylor reading off her cue-cards every second.

      • Megan

        JGL was probably the most promising host of the season with the least to work with. I actually enjoyed the Donald O’Connor monologue. I cannot believe Tucker went on for an entire paragraph about why JGL wasn’t as good as O’Connor.

    • Nihilistic

      Totally one hundred percent agree. Seems like the only person who will ever hold muster with Ken is lil ol Taylor Swift (who was accosted by mean ol Kanye and must forever more be put on a precious pedestal above all others!). Hey, let’s also lavish Taylor with lots of awards while we’re at it, anything to help her forget that one terrible day in her life were her life (all 16 years of it) flashed before her eyes!

  • John A

    I think Ken Tucker found the best pun first and his opinion came second.

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