'Saturday Night Live' recap: Zach Galifianakis hosts a weird, terrific show. And he shaved his beard off.

After a dismal cold-open about President Obama’s health-care reform during which the studio audience was quietly bored, as though it was attending an actual Obama health-care summit, Saturday Night Live perked up considerably with host Zach Galifianakis and his piano musings during the opening monologue, including: “I’ve been in Canada, opening for Miles Davis,” said Galifianakis, then corrected himself: “Kilometers Davis.”

The first sketch seemed scheduled to drive away all but the hardiest viewers early in the evening. It was one of SNL‘s recurring Vogelcheck family get-togethers, this one set in a funeral home, where the clan displayed its usual (that is to say, wildly excessive) inappropriate affection. I’d gotten pretty inured to this premise, but tonight the cast topped itself. I’m not talking about Fred Armisen licking and tongue-kissing the corpse (Will Forte), but rather Bill Hader exchanging saliva with a cute little pug dog — that I laughed at.

A high point was reached almost immediately after (that is, after an absurdist sketch in which Kristen Wiig and Galifianakis repeated the word “bidet” with increasing intensity): a taped piece called “Zach Drops By The Set,” in which Galifianakis inserted himself into NBC shows such as Brian Williams’ Nightly News, 30 Rock, an old edition of SNL with Robin Williams hosting, and, best of all, an episode of Law & Order.

“Weekend Update” was marred by a weak Mo’Nique impersonation by Kenan Thompson. Thompson wasn’t anything like the Oscar-nominated Mo’Nique; it was as though this was the one moment of the night when the show wanted not to offend the object of its ridicule.

There was a strikingly surreal version of “What Up With That” in which Kenan Thompson’s D’Andre Cole played host to Paul Rudd, “the sexy and the sinister” Frank Rich (one could almost feel the New York media elite quivering with envy), and Hader, as always, a wordless Lindsay Buckingham. Abby Elliott was wheeled on as a now-grown Jessica McClure with the well she fell into in 1987. As always, Jason Sudeikis’ red-jump-suited boogie-downs were peerless, and Galifianakis contributed to the demented tableau by appearing as “ambidextrous flute player” R. J. Sizzle.

As the show proceeded, the week’s pattern became clear: With only a couple of exceptions, SNL relied on skits it has done in the past (there was yet another Kristen Wiig-Kathie Lee Gifford-Today Show parody, for example), but raised (or lowered) to new levels of silliness. And this week, that strategy — undoubtedly influenced by Galafianakis’ brand of incongruous whimsy — worked.

Musical guest Vampire Weekend played two crisply sung, knottily chorded songs.

The final sketch of the night, “Pageant Talk,” provided a fittingly weird conclusion, presenting us with the Southern family of a beauty pageant contestant (Jenny Slate), her bitter mother (Wiig), and Galafianakis as the head of the family, doing a drawling version of Rip Taylor crossed with Tennessee Williams.

And, oh, right: He apparently shaved off his beard, off-camera, some time before that last sketch. (NBC hasn’t made video of the last sketch available.)

Galifianakis’ parting words were, “Thank you to the magic of life!” It certainly was a magical SNL — strange but vastly entertaining magic, a uniquely peculiar evening.

Agree? Disagree?

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Comments (164 total) Add your comment
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  • Daniel

    I was terrifed during the open that I would be bored to death. Sucked sucked sucked. Then the absurd took over and the show was pretty epic thereafter. Indeed the funniest all season. Zach brought his A-game of silly shenanigans, and I actually even enjoyed What up with that.

    As for the musical guest, I thought he said the musical guest was Hoobastank. I may have misheard his misstatement.

    • Ken Tucker

      You are right; I was wrong. Sorry.

      • Daniel

        I love you Ken. :)

      • Rich

        I heard “Puba-Stank.” Which is even better.

        Did anyone get the sense that the SNL writers was unafraid of full-on, unfettered Zach, and thus did their best to lock him into the same ol’ unfunny skits we’ve been seeing for 2+ years? This show was still the season’s best… but it could have been SO much better.

      • dayle

        the hoobastank thing was a joke. vampire weekend was the musical guest.

      • Frank Anderson

        Yeah, I gotta agree with Rich. I missed the show, and was going to play it off the DVR after reading this, but I have no interest in watching the same old crap SNL has been overplaying for since the election ended and their relevance took a nose dive.
        I had high hopes for this episode, and maybe it will surprise me once I watch it, but based off of this description I am MUCH less hopeful about an SNL turn around than I was even 24 hours ago.

      • James D

        Frank, don’t listen, this was the best episode of the season. This was the first episode that I was caught off guard and I really laughed. Sure, there were some boring stretches, but overall, the writing felt crisper and better. As long as SNL decides to take more risks, they’ll be good. Funny episode

      • TZ

        While this episode had some of the best skits of the season, I have to disagree and say that the Jon Hamm episode was the best one this season. That one was just hit after hit after hit (Scott Brown skit=priceless). This episode had a few misses.

    • mkk

      I was mildly amused but very dissappointed they didnt use zach more! The ONLY time the sketches got funny was when he popped up. And that video of him in all those tv shows? HILARIOUS

    • Matt

      I thought the Hoobastank line was hilarious, the way he went “oh, their not here?” I felt like Zach wasn’t in it enough though, I hope they bring him back to host again in the future!

      • Matt

        sorry, I meant “they’re.” better correct myself before someone else does.

      • YYY

        When else would they bring him back to host again? In the past?

        Redundant donkey.

      • daria

        me too, matt!

    • Paul

      Who-bah-stank was one of Zach Galifinakis jokes, he’s used it before on Tim and Eric, he didn’t think it was actually the band: http://video.adultswim.com/tim-and-eric-awesome-show-great-job/tairy-greenes-acting-seminar-for-children.html

    • YYY

      Pathetic donkey. You rush to be first on the thread to show what a big fanboy you are and then you actually take the Hoobastank part of the monologue seriously.
      Imbecile.

    • I’m a real lady

      Listen better Daniel. The show was almost as bad as a Ken Tucker column.

      • daria

        why don’t you and YYY remove yourselves from this board and retire to a garbage dump somewhere? you’ll make each other very very happy

  • Lindsay

    Absolutely agree. I felt the absurdist tone was a welcome and refreshing departure in what had been an otherwise pretty mundane season.

    • Gus van Rant

      Keenan is a far more attractive woman than that morbidly obese diva cow Monique.

      • juanita

        lol i was thinking that too

      • Kristen

        Sad thing is Kenan probably has less leg hair, too!

  • DVaRmy

    In his piano monologue he thought the music act was “Hoobastank”…..I enjoyed the show. Although i was hoping for some ferns to appear.

  • John

    I thought that he said Hoobastank (a real band) NOT Puma Steak.

    • Ken Tucker

      You’re right! Thanks.

      • Daniel

        Hey, Ken, I said it first! Why haven’t you thanked me yet? :*(

  • Tiffany

    Great recap as always Ken. Except Zach said ‘Hoobastank’ which is a ’90’s one-hit wonder band. Even more hilarious I think then Puma Steak.

    • Ken Tucker

      You are correct! Thank you.

    • Jacob

      Hoobastank’s “The Reason” topped the charts in 2004.

  • darclyte

    Totally whack!

    • YYY

      You mean WACK, you pathetic donkey.

      ‘Whack’ means to slap or hit.

  • WhatUpWithThat

    Zack was great, starting with just the way he stammered out to the stage for his monologue. I would be happier if they never did the Vogelcheck sketch again, I do not find it funny at all, it seems that they just want a reason to kiss each other. My favorite recurring sketch has to be the complete ridiculousness of ‘What up with that”. The Zack on TV was awesome, he has such a goofy look, but was great shooting guns at the Law & order guys.

    • wakeforce

      Jason Sudekis as the Running Man! White Boy got moves!

    • annie

      He is really good at creepy. When he walked up to Hoda’s face in the Today show, I felt creeped out. He is funny in a creepy way.

      • Nshi

        Is “creepy” your dictionary word of the day???

    • Itsme

      I don’t always watch SNL, but happened to last night. I agree…ZACK WAS GREAT!
      But seriously, the kissing stuff is not funny. SNL seems to find reasons to just kiss like you said. Nothing about it is funny…nothing. Nothing at all

  • JC

    I was bored throughout the show and i preferred last week with Jennifer Lopez, she rocked

    • Rich

      I weep for the people around you.

      • C

        HA! Yes, Rich – I love this.

    • Bob Jones

      Every time Jennifer Lopez comes on my television it weeps. She is the opposite of good.

  • Stanley

    First time I’ve watched live in quite a while. I guess I’m getting old. i saw a bunch of bad Will Ferrell imitators (and I don’t like Ferrell), a bad Tracy Morgan imitator, and in that last sketch, fake “real” laughter from the cast (truly, I think they know how big it goes over when they break character and laugh and are doing it intentionally now).

  • stuart hall

    The “Kilometers Davis” joke was stolen from Stephen Wright.

    • markinnyc

      it sure was….”do you think in europe Miles Davis is known as Kilometers Davis?”
      I half expected him to then say Aunt bunny fell down the stairs.

    • Brenda Barrett

      The whole monologue was a Stephen Wright rip-off, but funny nonetheless…

      • gogo

        I thought it seemed like a Demitri Martin rip-off. The humour and delivery was oddly similar to DM’s work.

      • Hiya

        Dude… Zach hit the scene way before Demetri Martin.

      • Patrick

        And he has been doing the piano monologue for a long time. That was nothing new for him.

      • MikerMan

        Steven Wright is ripped off by Zach and Demitri Martin….still funny though

      • valdar

        i have a collection of seashells. I keep them scattered on beaches around the world…where the heck’s SW been lately?

      • TvTroz

        Nah, they are all ripping off Mitch Hedberg, but he can’t do anything about it from 6 feet under. Maybe haunt them or something…

    • Itsme

      Stolen or not…it delivered it GREAT!

  • Dana

    loved the Zach on the set. was too funny. not great overall but Zach did his best to save it He can’t hire new writers though. I thought he had his beard in the closing moments and was using makeup to cover it up or something like that .

    • WhatUpWithThat

      It was confirmed by his reps that he DID shave his beard and the beard he had in the closing was fake

  • David D

    I’m convinced that this is the laziest writing staff on television. “Kathie Lee Is Drunk” again. “Men Kissing Men Is Funny” again. “What Up With That” — a SINGLE-JOKE SKETCH — is run for the FIFTH TIME since OCTOBER! (I wish I could do italics.) Hey, maybe Betty White doesn’t WANT to do this show if the material they give her is this tired!

    • theBigE

      I’ll disagree, David! What Up With That is the funniest recurring sketch they’ve done all year – it’s been hilarious 3 of the 4 times so far! (X-mas show the exception – timing was off.)

    • Shelly

      I think the show was very UNfunny!! A lot of the same stupid skits and completely boring. I turned it off before it was over because it was too stupid and boring. Definitely NOT the best show of the season. In my opinion, it was one of the WORST shows of the season.

    • Mysti

      THANK you, David D. I haven’t watched in a few years and just started watching again a month or two ago. Nothing, I repeat NOTHING on this show is funny. And they do keep playing the same s*** over and over. Have we as a nation lowered our standards of intelligent humor to playground antics or is SNL, like what’s been said here over and over just tired and irrelevant. I’m afraid a little of both.

      • Mickey

        Keep these arilctes coming as they’ve opened many new doors for me.

  • hodalee

    Are you sure he shaved his beard? It looked like the facial version of a bald-cap to me, with his beard pasted down underneath. Or are his cheeks and chins really that chubby under all that hair?

    • Gus van Rant

      Nope, he shaved. You obviously need a new TV set.

    • Patrick

      His beard wasn’t shaved last night…he didnt have it to begin with. Its a fake…it takes more than a few minutes to shave that much hair off.

      • Jessica

        Yes but there’s a clip of him shaving it off right after Vampire Weekend starts their song.

      • Brian

        I watched the video on hulu where he shaved his beard while Vampire Weekend did their second song. He then put on a fake beard for the goodbye.

  • bunker

    I really liked this episode! I couldn’t stop laughing whenever Zach opened his mouth (except in that bidet sketch.) I’m officially a fan now.
    But Armisen’s Obama impersonation MUST GO! He’s had over a year to get it right, but it still FAILS every time.

    • juanita

      vassup

    • Shelly

      I actually think his Obama impersonation is spot on.

      • Nshi

        Yeah, just as boring and bland as the REAL thing.

      • Itsme

        Yeah, you can’t really do Obama and be too funny. There’s nothing there to “capture”

    • TMB

      The only time any sketch featuring Obama has been slightly funny is when they’ve had Dwayne Johnson doing “The Rock” Obama. It takes something absurd like that to take a Prez devoid of personality and turn it into a humorous sketch.

      It’s like the time the late great Phil Hartman did that Reagan impression years ago and in one sketch he had Reagan act like a dottering old fool publically but like an intelligent, power hungry aggressor when he was dealing with his cabinet. If SNL was more original these days they could write a similar sketch with Obama, showing his personality around his friends, have him talk like a hip-hopper or gangster rapper or something.

      • Steve

        I remember them once doing something like this years ago on SNL except it was using Bryant Gumbel. Of course there’s also echoes of the Wayne Brady sketch from The Chappelle Show.

  • m.

    I didn’t watch the whole thing, but I found the Kathie Lee sketch painfully unfunny. We get it, she’s a drunk. If anyone had actually watched that hour (which unfortunately I have), they would’ve seen that Hoda is just as crazy a Kathie Lee sometimes. Weekend Update is usually a high point for me, but I found it kind of boring this week.

    • Brenda Barrett

      I loved “Pop Muzik.” Any plans to record again?

      • LOL

        LMFAO!

      • TMRZoo Neil

        That may have been the funniest thing I read all day!!

    • TMB

      The really scary part is I recently caught Today’s fourth hour with Kotb and Gifford and SNL does it almost dead-on.

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