'Saturday Night Live' recap: Robert De Niro, better in drag these days

You have to wonder what Robert De Niro wants to accomplish when he appears on Saturday Night Live, beyond promoting his latest movie and having a bit of fun without leaving Manhattan. Those may indeed be the only reasons he does SNL (he wouldn’t be the first host guilty of that), and he certainly wasn’t out to compete with Alec Baldwin or Steve Martin, or even Nov. 20’s Anne Hathaway, in inserting himself into this week’s sketches. There’s a cultural disconnect between De Niro and SNL: It doesn’t seem to mean as much to him as it does to other, more eager hosts. If he rarely dropped the granite-faced De Niro persona, he fared best whenever the show called for him to apply a costume and make-up.

Take, for instance,  SNL‘s clever cold open this week. Melding WikiLeaks with the TMZ TV show — Bill Hader as Julian Assange as Harvey Levin — the shrewd mash-up included De Niro in a quick, funny turn as Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, feebly denying corruption. And later in the show, De Niro got laughs simply by entering a sketch dressed in drag.

The night’s first fake commercial featured De Niro (in a wig, thus signaling a pretty good one) as bestselling author Harlan Kane, author of the new novel The Abacus Conundrum. It was an impeccable parody of schlocky schlock-suspense-novel advertising (“Lotta good words in here!”).

Near the end of the show, in one of SNL‘s everybody-at-home-is-falling-asleep-or-drunk-so-let’s-do-something-peculiar sketches, De Niro was effectively lecherous and eccentric as a white-bearded guy who demanded, and got, sex from bar patrons in return for drinks. Somewhere in between these two scenes was De Niro’s drag moment. He played the mother of a hapless rapper (Samberg). Diddy played himself, ogling De Niro. Sure, the star cracked himself up shamelessly, but the entire tableau was pretty amusing.

By now, the “What Up With That?” sketches are amusing to the degree that you can continue to enjoy its running jokes. For me, the silent-Lindsay-Buckingham idea is getting a bit weary, while Jason Sudeikis’ red-jump-suited dancing remains delightful. Maybe you have the opposite reaction; in any case, guests De Niro and Robin Williams didn’t add much, their twitching poker-faces bouncing off of host Kenan Thompson. Another dire De Niro-as-De Niro moment occurred when Bill Hader reprised his Italian talk-show host, Vinnie Vedecci, who tried to get De Niro to do impressions of himself. Hader was terrific at the pidgin-Italian as always, but the too-long, one-joke effort dragged.

But the biggest De Niro-playing-himself-ineffectually moment was a barren scene in which Bobby Moynihan played a rambunctious film fan delighted to meet everyone involved in the production of Little Fockers — including Ben Stiller, in the first of two cameo appearances. The punchline was that the kid was totally unimpressed with De Niro himself; the sketch was as flat as the commercial for Little Fockers itself that aired during SNL.

I was almost hoping that the “Mr. Produce” sketch, with De Niro slicing through rotting vegetables with a sharp knife, might at least end up an homage to Dan Aykroyd’s blood-spurting Julia Child classic, but it simply petered out as a clash between Mr. Produce and his sullen son (Andy Samberg).

The “Digital Short” was a Weekend at Bernie’s knock-off (“Party at Mr. Bernard’s”) with De Niro as the corpse hauled around by two party-boys (Bill Hader and Samberg).

Billed as Diddy-Dirty Money, Diddy, Dawn Richard, and Kalenna previewed two songs from their forthcoming album Last Train To Paris. The first song, “Coming Home,” with its lyric nods to old songs such as “Tears of a Clown” and “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now,” was the more engaging of the pair of performances.

“Weekend Update” was brightened by an appearance by the three Kardashian sisters, embodied by Abby Elliott, Nasim Pedrad, and Vanessa Bayer. They captured the irritating banality of these siblings wonderfully.

Nearly as good, for one joke at least, was Samberg as a Spider-Man actor from the troubled Broadway musical. Hanging upside-down, he tried to close in on anchor Seth Meyers for a Spidey-Mary Jane style kiss by imploring, “Hook up the smooch!”

The show in general felt pieced together with bits that might have been lying around for a few weeks to be burned off, such as the fake ad for a baldness cure using the patient’s pubic hair, and a brief cartoon, “I, Hippie,” featuring the voice of Dana Carvey and a woefully banal final punchline.

Under-used this week: Paul Brittain and Taran Killam — why can’t these guys get some decent air-time? They hover around the edges, bursting with promise that’s delivered whenever they’re given the opportunity. And if Jay Pharoah was onstage this night, I apologize for not noticing, but he should have had a showcase or two. You have to figure he could have done a killer Diddy impersonation at the very least, right?

Did you watch? Agree? Disagree?

Twitter: @kentucker


Comments (144 total) Add your comment
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  • chalmers

    It seems like the show was mostly designed to get around DeNiro’s limitations.

    They had him play himself twice, had him do pre-taped bits like the author and Karzai, and even had the Mr. Produce sketch where it’s believable that the character would be reading cue cards.

    Plus, the show seemed to run very short. The hair-implant commercial was a rerun and the Hippie cartoon certainly seemed to be a time-filler. Also, the closing credits ran a couple of minutes.

    • LOL

      Ken is far too kind. This was terrible.

      • eric

        they need to stick a fork in this show. It is way over done. I will not insult the shark by quoting that phrase but this show is simply not funny and filled with talentless hacks.

      • AT

        Very much agreed. The “What’s up with that?” sketch was insanely grating. The only part that made me crack a smile was Robin Williams’ comments. Weekend Update was funny, but that was about it. We turned it off shortly after that.

    • Blue Silver

      ……and NOW to the “real” entertainment news: Duran Duran’s new single, “All You Need Is Now”, will be available on I-Tunes Dec. 14th….with the album of the same name available Dec. 21. Let’s spread the good cheer!!!!!

      • recovery47

        this is about snl not duran duran.get a life hippie

    • Tom

      One of the worste SNL EVER!. Not the guest hosts fault the writers just suck. I did not even crack a smile let alone laugh finally just wen tto bed

    • JAM

      Can someone please talk me down with the P diddy dirty money performance, the lady with the mowhawk, the blonds..the sitting down by diddy..i may have been hallucinating ..wtf was with that perfomance?

  • David D

    Pretty feeble. The TMZ take on WikiLeaks was an inspired idea, but it was SHOT all wrong — where were the spastic zooms? And just for a moment, I thought they were going to do something interesting with “What Up With That,” where DeNiro and Williams were truly going to turn the premise on its ear and destroy the show. But (sigh) no. The entire episode seemed weary.

    • Jason

      David – I was thinking the exact same thing with What Up With That! I thought they were heading down a path where the skit would actually change – I was really disappointed when they didn’t go there.

      • Steve

        I also kept hoping the “What up with dat” skit would change-like DeNiro having his mafia thugs from the opening monologue come out and take Keenan away…I’ll bet that would have brought the house down!

      • Daniel

        @Steve: Keenen strapped to a chair, hihats start, “They’re gonna kill me … torture me first … ooooooh weeeee what’s up … ” and Sudekis comes out still dancing somehow. That’s the best I got.

      • Shannon

        Exactly. Totally a missed opportunity.

  • wendy

    I really like Jason Sudekis but really this show does not give him a chance. He is the BEST part of What up with that but really other than that does he have any other characters they let him play? Also I fast forward any Kristen Wiig parts.

    • David D

      First Kristen dis of the day! Let’s keep track, shall we?

      • bringbackrocky

        How about a Kristen compliment? She was hardly in the show, for which we all thank Lorne Michaels.

    • Gwen

      Jason Sudekis does a pretty good Joe Biden impression.

  • john rueb

    Worst show EVER!

    • Daniel

      No. That credit belongs to January Jones’s show.

      • Ap

        Indeed!

    • Jonny

      Gabourey Sidibe’s was the WORST. This one and January’s were hard to sit through, but I literally had to FF through Gabby’s because it was so heinous.

      • lisey

        i ttly agree,which is disappointing because she did a stunning acting job in precious

    • Steff

      Nope. that honor goes to January Jones. And, I love watching Sudekis in the track suit. Only thing I like about that skit.

  • 2iron

    painful to watch someone who can’t read off of cue cards…

    • Larry Sterling

      At least he could READ, and talk for that matter, unlike Gabourey Sidibe.

      • jay jay

        Ditto,,,,that was painful to watch…waste of TV time

      • lefty

        I thought he mixed up his words a lot more than other guests actually…so I wouldn’t even give him that.

      • PJ

        Sidibe was horrendous. Totally prefer to watch DeNiro.

    • Bill C

      Beginning to wonder if they should just hand DeNiro the cue cards so we are distracted by him squinting to read them

  • Roger Sterling

    Horrible.

    • Don Draper

      Kept waiting for a laugh, just ONE laugh. Drinking scotch while waiting, so before Weekend Update, I passed out.

      • Bill C

        Lorne Michaels now goes to sleep 10:30 every Saturday night.

      • anonymous

        Hey Don… was it a double !

  • Jackie

    My favorite parts were the “Party at Mr. Bernard’s” bit and the Spider-Man smooch attempts by Samberg.

    • Allison

      I loved “Party at Mr. Bernard’s.” Not a remotely fresh idea, but I loved that movie back in the day.

  • .

    Weak, but not nearly as bad as January Jones or Flabby Sidibe.

    • BG

      I agree that this ep was hard to watch but why the Gabborey Sidibe dis? I thought she was sunny and energetic. She gave it the ol’ college try, DiNiro looked bored.

      • George Costanza

        Hey, BG. My Aunt Stacy is “sunny and energetic”, but that doesn’t mean she should be acting. ;-)

      • @.

        Totally agreed. It was uneven, but there were some high points in last night’s ep like Ken said. But those two – YIKES…

      • Sunny

        My Aunt Stacy is “sunny and energetic”, but that doesn’t mean she should be acting…

  • Ichabod

    I’ve been watching this show regularly for about 15 years and this was without a doubt the worst episode I’ve ever seen. I did not laugh once.

    • Larry Sterling

      I disagree. January and that ogre Gabourey were FAR FAR worse. And I’ve been watching this show from pretty much the beginning…

      • TorontoTom

        Something tells me you were once dumped by a robust sister. You’ve got issues, buddy……..

      • ManhattanSterling

        Nope! But there was an anorexic blonde I wasn’t too fond of.

  • jay jay

    What up with that?
    Can it….not funny anymore.
    The kardashian bit…showcases how sexy the girls are…

    • lefty

      the sad thing is, i used to hate that sketch, but they keep making me watch it and it’s kind of growing on me.

      • coco

        I know it’s not a popular opinion but I LOVE that sketch. Mostly for the sheer joy of watching Jason Sedakis and the overall lunacy. I did not enjoy Kirsten Whig this time.

      • Rachel

        That’s exactly how I feel. The first time it was on I forwarded through most of it, but now it makes me smile. Actually the same can be said for Keenan Thompson; I used to think he was terrible, but now I think he’s kind of charming and his expressions always crack me up.

    • Max M

      They appropriately cast Nasim as the pretty Kardashian and Abbey as the (fat) one. Abbey makes the same stinkface for every character. She is the most unlikeable and useless cast member since Casey Wilson….Paul Britton is making a run for her money but Abbey’s been dead weight for THREE YEARS. Nasim, Jay and Vanessa are future stars but based on this episode would be better off without SNL.

      • Rachel

        Abby’s funny and cute as a bug. You on the other hand seem like a real d*ckhead

    • Seattle Girl

      The Kardashian skit would be SO much better if the actresses actually made an effort to sound/talk like them. Only the one playing Kourtney got close.
      They are such good parody fodder, but not if it’s not realistic.

      • Tom & Jerry

        Yes, because sketch comedy is about realism.

  • Diddy

    Yo, the show was sho’ a bo’ (bore) except fo’ me. Can’t touch a guy who stands around babblin’ and bawlin’ instead of singin’. Fo’ get Kanye, I am BACK, king of the self-absorbed!

    BUTT…SNL was best at lampooning the lame-brained brats of the world like the smug TMZ cretins and the Kardashian preens.The rest? In a word, garbage.

    “What’s Up With” a tedious one-joke concept and that stupid unfunny Sudakis jogging in place and the Buckingham unfunniness? And creepy Hader’s creepy Italian routine I found too creepy to watch. I changed channels on both those. Wiig’s pseudo-Jane Fonda was irritating and so was Samberg’s Spiderman, but Seth and co. can’t come up with enough wisecracks to fill the Update anymore. Hence, filler.

    Relying on brat-friendly “Digital Shorts” and pre-taped pieces and so many fake commercials tells you SNL is lazy or short on good writers.

    SNL has now numbed even the professional critics into accepting tedious running jokes as madly entertaining!No, Sudakis running in place is not something I welcome. He needs to pump up his ego enough to quit and make a bad solo movie and never be heard from again, like No-Lips Magruber did.

    • Meow Mix

      No one–but NO ONE–does the “Running Man” like Jason Sudeikis. That is all.

    • Swarles

      Wow.

    • Maiara

      I like the shoes shot. A tighter crop focunisg on the gray shingles with the shadows at the edges would’ve worked better for me it would’ve emphasized the dangling shoes and red curtain more.The last one is interesting too. Maybe a little higher so the wires cut smoothly across the bottom?

  • ronny

    A very weak episode. It’s a shame the writing kinda sucks since Tina Fey left. Kristen Wiig is usually the only good thing about the show now.

    • TorontoTom

      KRISTEN WIIG IS NOT FUNNY. Couldn’t let a Sunday go by without stating the obvious.

      • Hank

        Kristen is a brilliant performer. She’s simply been a bit overused in recent years.

      • Anonymous

        I completely agree with Hank!

  • BIGFATEFFENYAWN

    I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS SHOW IS STILL ON THE AIR. Hasn’t been funny in about 30 years, since Eddie Murphy/Joe Piscopo days. Who’s blackmailing who to keep this on the air?

    • Benjamin Bruskin

      I totally agree with you it is time to end SNL. Everything on the show is horrible. 30 years in enough

      • DTO

        I hate the show now, but what are they going to fill that time with? Please, no Leno on the weekends too! And NBC is just unimaginative enough to do that to us.

    • Mike

      Yes, Joe Piscopo, the shining beacon of SNL’s early days.

    • Anonymous

      30 years? So, you’re completely disregarding the second golden era of the show, which consisted of cast members Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz, Mike Myers? The show hasn’t been good in 30 years?? Really?

      • Doremifah Solatido

        Anonymous has a point, there were good shows in the ’80’s…..Go on Netflix and review the first couple of Eddie Murphy-years shows; they were HORRIBLE, until Murphy exploded with some characters that were funnier than any of the rest of the writing…….

  • Linda

    I have to say the only part of What Up With Dat I love is watching Jason S. dance. He cracks me up every time! I think it’s the only laugh I had the whole show.

    • Kilmer

      I do love Jason’s dancing and facial expressions too. The rest of the skit blew … as did the majority of the show.

  • Snarky’s Machine

    What’s up with all that Gabby hate? the fat men on SNL stink up the screen just as bad. And Deniro ain’t missing any meals these days either. Pointing out that Gabby is fat is not hard hitting analysis. Grow up.

    • D.B.

      Bobby D. is one of the greatest actors who ever walked the face of the earth. The difference is that Deniro probably put on his weight to play a film role. Gabby is just obese and a one trick pony at that.

      • What has DeNiro done in the last 15 years that had any substance whatsoever? And how do you know Sidibe’s a one trick pony when she’s only been in one movie?

      • Jenny

        Informacif3n Bitacoras.com Valora en Bitacoras.com: Basada en las memorias del prctuodor Art Linson -guionista del filme-. De Niro interpreta a un prctuodor de Hollywood que intenta mantener su dignidad profesional envuelto en la maquinaria de los grandes estudios .

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