'Saturday Night Live' recap: Helen Mirren transcended a laugh-lite 'SNL'

You can’t say Helen Mirren didn’t give it her all. She kissed a girl, she pole-danced, and she allowed two cast members to grope her chest, all while floating above an edition of Saturday Night Live that was so light on laughs, the entire 90 minutes might best be viewed as an experimental pilot for a new, post-comedy SNL.

The week’s Digital Short consisted of the adulation of Mirren’s breasts, which were fondled fondly by Nasim Pedrad and Kristen Wiig. Mirren is known to be justly proud of her upper balcony, but this pride, and Pedrad’s imploring, “Can I touch ‘em?”, weren’t enough to really sustain the entire segment.

Mirren also played a Mary Shelley who’d just published Frankenstein. It was revealed that  she’d based the monster in the novel on her landlord, a green, neck-bolted Frank Stein (Fred Armisen, borrowing freely from Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein).

The”Mort Mort Feingold, Accountant for the Stars” sketches, featuring Andy Samberg as a physically and morally small numbers cruncher, are always silly fun, and this week, Mirren as Helena Bonham Carter and Bill Hader as Tim Burton were particularly crazy.

The parody of the Fox News Channel’s Fox and Friends morning show hauled out  the old Fox-News-is-inaccurate-and-scare-mongering. This is news? The impersonations by the usually right-on Taran Killam, Vanessa Bayer, and Bobby Moynihan of Steve Doocy, Gretchen Carlson, and Brian Kilmeade, respectively, were, I’m afraid, superficial at best.

Other easy targets included the widely-panned Kennedys mini-series. Here, SNL offered  The Roosevelts, in which it was revealed that Eleanor Roosevelt (Mirren) was a lesbian who enjoyed kissing Marilyn Monroe (Abby Elliott). I believe this is what’s called a cheap, if nicely ahistorical, laugh.

In this context, one of the best sketches of the night was “The Best of Both Worlds with Hugh Jackman,” with Samberg presenting “both sides!” of himself (Wolverine and Tony Awards host) and other celebrities, including Mirren as a Julie Andrews who abandoned her sugary image to stab a stagehand who didn’t put the right milk in her tea. Samberg’s Australian accent kept wavering in and out, and the general messiness of  that sketch actually gave it an additional measure of funniness.

“Weekend Update” reached a peak with Bill Hader’s always-good James Carville impersonation. You’d think this would get old, but Hader is so good at it, always adding little bits of clever physical business that enhance his lines, that it’s invariably a hoot to watch.

On a drab night such as this, the more over-the-top the show went, the better, which was why I was grateful for the latest version of the rock-concert-commercial from “Under-Underground Records,” with Jason Sudeikis and Pedrad promising a “Crunk-Ass Easter Festival” featuring wonderfully absurd promises such as “60 Minutes performed live!” and a “live sex show from the green M&M.”

The evening came to a suitably grim end with the almost too accurate evocation of a dowdy strip club. This is one  of those late-in-the-proceedings sketches that I admire for the performances and the commitment. I didn’t laugh, but I admired it:

Musical guest Foo Fighters were nicely loud and energetic.

Most of the time,  however, SNL was no funnier this week than NBC’s ads for the awful new Paul Reiser Show.

Agree? Disagree?

Twitter: @kentucker

Comments (175 total) Add your comment
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  • Amanda

    I love Helen Mirren, and I think she did well. I didn’t see the last couple of sketches, but WE was great. Seth Meyers had a couple of great jokes, and the guests were pretty good too. I prefer Hader as Stefon, but he’s a good Carville, too.

    • General Man

      What does it say about SNL when they take a funny woman (Mirren) and maker her lame and unfunny? It says that this show is starting to suck (pardon my language).
      Every Saturday night I tell myself that it will get better, but it doesn’t. The only real laugh-out-loud episode was Zach, the rest were verging on ‘meh’ to ‘this is terrible’.

      • mary

        Very sad. It’s like when they totally wasted the immense comedic talent of Hugh Laurie.

      • dirk

        This is some of the worst comedy I have ever seen. I don’t understand why you guys think this is even funny

      • lover

        hello my dears ,,I strongly recommend u check-Wêálthy`Connêct. C’óM -.a hot place for u meet wealthy or hot and successful singles…You do not have to be rich or famous.It’s your turn to join in!!!!!
        —-he does not even attempt to do a different voice its just his for everything. He just sucks. They are desperate need of a star

      • reveala

        Since when is Mirren “funny?”

      • Gary D.

        “Since when is Mirren “funny?”’

        Check her out in the new “Funny or Die” viral video with Billy Crystal.

        The SNL writers could have taken a BIG cue from this.

    • Suzanne

      I disagree with a lot of the review. The Mary Shelley bit was very inventive and witty. The Fox and Friends was really funny too–Ken Tucker must be a Fox and Friends regular watcher not to think that bit was funny. However, The Roosevelts was cheap laughs, and Helen didn’t even try to imitate Eleanor. And as a federal employee myself, I loved that they hammered about the shut down.

      • gataroo

        Totally agree

      • SoyBombGuy

        Somehow I strongly doubt that Ken Tucker is a Fox&Friends watcher. That wasn’t the basis and reason for his criticism. You seem kinda shallow if you can’t grasp that.

      • Tom

        OH my gosh the Fox scetch was NOT funny at all heck nothing was funny. To bad MadTv went off the air I think they could just destroy this horrible show. My wife never watches but she just happens to glance up from bed and pointed out that no matter what skit Kenan is playing he does not even attempt to do a different voice its just his for everything. He just sucks. They are desperate need of a star

      • Lissa

        The best part of the Fox skit was the corrected items list at the end which thanks to pausing TiVo we were able to read.

      • Tom

        The mort mort skit was so bad nothing really makes up for it. And I usually love ethnic jokes.

    • Suzanne

      And I really like Mort Mort the accountant and the James Carville bit.

    • Loch Ness

      Methed-out coyotes!

    • Nancy

      SNL has been weak sauce for a while, but what I just watched was probably the worst I have ever seen of SNL in a very long time. Is it a competition to make the most unfunny show on tv or what?

    • Cygnus

      The Best of Both World with Hugh Jackman was hilarious. Would love to see that concept come back again.

      James Cromwell during Weekend Update was the most bizarre yet for that impersonation.

      SNL Digital Short was funny. Any time you can get Nasim (I love you) fondling breasts, I’m sold.

      • Tom

        That’s not creative. That’s stupid.

  • RoeLuv

    Hopefully we’ll get one more Stefon before the season ends

    • Tim

      If it ended now, that would be a good thing.

  • Jennifer

    I absolutely adore Dame Helen Mirren.

    She is completely fearless – letting 2 women feel her up and kissing another? Wow.

    Some of the sketches were much funnier than others. The Mary Shelley sketch was HORRIBLE – not funny at all. The best was the Julie Andrews/Ice Cube skit.

    The Foo Fighters were aiight but, I didn’t quite get all the thunderous applause the audience was awarding them.

    The Tina Fey ep should be hilarious.

    • Drew

      The Foo Fighters received thunderous applause because they are a hugely popular and talented band. The few minutes on SNL doesn’t give their usual live show justice. They always put on a really awesome live concert, and the audience knows that.

      • Jenny

        Best show I’ve seen to date, and I’ve seen a lot of good shows.

      • Nancy

        I think I would rather watch Adult Swim or something else other than SNL these days.. If you think this is funny, you have to be on something, or you have extremely boring lives. Or maybe both?

      • LK

        agreed @Jenny. Any chance to see the FF live is an incredible experience. Grohl is a living musical legend, I think. so talented!

  • TV Is Your God

    I’m not a Helen Mirren fan but I thought the Frankenstein sketch was well written. Why don’t they give credit to the writer(s) at the end of the sketch? Why do egomaniacal actors and actorettes always have to hog all the credit that is 95% somebody else’s work?

    • greg

      Okay, I realize that nobody expects too much accuracy from a silly sketch, but did it bother anyone else that they were describing the plot of the Karloff movie, NOT Mary Shelley’s novel? The green skin, the flat head, the neck bolts, Igor, the little girl in the lake, “Fire bad!”–that’s all from the movies, not the book.

      And, of course, Mary was seventeen when she wrote the book, not an older British woman!

      • Alexia

        Thank you! Shelley was 21 when it was published. Frankenstein is the creator, not the unnamed monster. And, as you pointed out, the appearance they used comes from the movie, not the novel.

        So the sketch wasn’t just unfunny, it was illiterate.

      • Bob

        I think that was by choice. The writers assumed most people knew the movies and not the novel, so, they catered to that in order for everybody to get the jokes. But I was reminded of the Help controversy where allegedly the author fictionalized her family maid and put her in the book without permission.

      • Americans Are Stupid

        Um… Americans for the most part are stupid mouth-breathers. They don’t read and wouldn’t know the references to begin with. It will be fun to watch them fall to the superior might of China.

      • I’m not stupid

        First, its just a sketch, and yes, its probably as inaccurate as the Roosevelts skit (which was trying to take potshots at the Kennedys movie) but ITS ONLY a SKETCH! The one thing that got me is FA accent was exactly like the lost clip skits with the actor who gets cut out of the movie…maybe this started as that and changed direction?

    • Kiki

      What is an actorette?

      • TV Is Your God

        A female actor, to distinguish from a male actor. I think I just coined the phrase. How’s it work for the rest of you?

      • Todd

        The term you are looking for is ACTRESS

      • T

        LOL @Todd

      • Misha Lauenstein

        The term you’re looking for is ‘actor in a female role’. :)

    • Sorrie2

      Oh for pity’s sake . . . would you want to tack your name onto the garbage that was Saturday night’s offerings? I wouldn’t either!

      • Tom

        After watching these clips I would certainly be embarrassed to have my name associated with this season.

    • Doremifah Solatido

      You mean, so we know who’s to blame?

  • Ken

    Please EW, get ANYONE besides Ken Tucker to review these shows. Unless the show is horrible, his reviews are completely clueless. If you read Tucker’s reviews, you can know that the OPPOSITE of what he says is true. Tucker has ZERO understanding of comedy and what is funny.

    Helen Mirren was awful this week, and the show was moderately funny. The cold opening was awful, the monologue was awful, but the show got better after that. This was a week when the recurring stuff was FINALLY good: Mort Mort Feingold, the Fox News sketch (except for Helen Mirren), James Carville, Jean K. Jean, and Under Underground Records.

    • Hiro Kitty

      SNL is not funny.

      • Lee Harvey

        Lazy ^^^

      • Nancy

        This show sucks. Apparently I’m still not missing anything by not watching it. It made me cringe at how unfunny most of these clips were. What’s funny about these clips? I love SNL from the 90s and 80s… What happened?

    • Tom

      Can’t say I always agree with Ken Tucker but he was right about this week’s SNL. Helen Mirren was a trooper who overcame the bad material she was given. The show was mildly amusing at times, but that seems to be the norm after all.

      • Ken

        Wrong, Tom. She didn’t overcome the lousy monologue, she didn’t overcome the hick she played in the Fox sketch, she didn’t overcome Eleanor Roosevelt, and she didn’t overcome the poledancer routine. Just because you like her doesn’t mean she transcended the material.

    • Kiki

      It is impossible for Helen Mirren to be awful at anything!

      • Toots

        Except apparently SNL

      • Gary D.

        “Except apparently SNL”

        LOL: And if SNL is the only thing she’s ever been awful at, I’d say that reflects badly on SNL – not the Dame.

    • jen

      I have had respect for Helen Mirren’s acting talent since ‘ Prime Suspect’, but she wasn’t on her game last night. I didn’t enjoy her performance, and the writing made it worst. Her situation is very similar to Bryan Cranston ,Sean Penn, Robert DeNiro, and Jane Lynch, when they hosted SNL. Gifted thespians that cannot handle hosting SNL nor shine on SNL.

      • Gary D.

        Helen Mirren, Sean Penn & Robert DeNiro are not professional comedians.

        But, if Bryan Cranston and Jane Lynch (both of whom manage to be hilarious everywhere else)bomb, what does that say about the quality of SNL??

    • gataroo

      Thankyou. Fire Ken Tucker. I am sure there are a million other writers and tv watchers that would love to have his job. Unless they are completely inept, they would probably do it better.

  • aaron silver

    Dame Mirren at her best!

  • gemma

    rather tasteless unless you are 12

    • Nancy

      Or have the attention span of a 5 year old.

  • DGM

    As bad as Paul Reiser? That’s pretty harsh.

  • Jeff From Jersey; yes New Jersey

    Funniest bit of the night was the cameo appearance of the three Kadassian sisters at the accountant*s office. Also, the basic plot of the Shelly sketch was touch on earlier in the evening on Colin Quinn*s special on HBO.

    • lulu

      You do know that they were not really the Kardashians, right?

  • crimsonK

    I cant watch more than 5 minutes of SNL without cringing. Loud, insulting toilet humor masquerading as comedy

    • JJ

      Agree. Everything they do is for shock value now. They’re not creative enough to just be funny.

      • Nancy

        Shock humor ended over a decade ago. Foo Fighters just about suits this crowd.

  • Pete

    Loved Dame Mirren, SNL has had two “queens” in a row and both did a great job. So excited that Tina Fey is coming back to host.

  • Thomas

    Once again another unfunny tasteless SNL sickening boring show! Come on we all know it that this NBC live show is tanking for it’s liberal mindedness gone too far; a no brainer!

    • Ken

      As usual, the right-wing moron who has to insert politics into everything.

      • Dan

        And who can’t spell. (It’s)

      • whatevs

        His comment is baseless, but you very well know that turning every post into something political is a human thing, not a conservative thing. You’re no better than he is for making an untrue generalization.

      • Doremifah Solatido

        Like the entire Fox News sketch wasn’t political; get a grip, momo.

      • Ken

        What a couple of dittoheads (whatevs and Doremifah Solatido) who had to support their fellow right-winger. It is so predictable for a dittohead to obliterate distinctions with a moronic comparison (“like the entire Fox News sketch wasn’t political”). It’s not whether SNL gets political from time to time (and SNL has lampooned more liberal-leaning shows too), it’s whether some random dittohead will claim that SNL is “unfunny” simply because they are unhappy that the target of satire was Fox News. SNL has done plenty of funny sketches lampooning the Clintons, Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, etc., and the dittoheads don’t complain that those are unfunny sketches due to the politics. The fact is, you simply DO NOT see legions of Democrats swarming message boards the day after a Pelosi sketch to complain about how “unfunny” and “unfair” SNL is. Laugh at yourself, dittoheads, and laugh at the current crop of hilariously incompetent presidential candidates fighting for the Republican nomination. The next two years are going to yield a LOT of humor.

    • Tom

      I forgot just how terrible this show was. Thank you for reminding not to bother wasting the little free time I have to watch it.

    • Tom

      I agree, you don’t have to necessarily get political about it. This is a far cry from what SNL was a long time ago. You can’t blame politics for just how terrible this show has become over the years.

  • sam

    This is perhaps the worst thing that the SNL writers have ever done. How could you have the brilliant, funny and sexy Helen Mirren and produce a show with no laughs? She was wonderful, but she was given absolutely nothing to work with. Shame on them and it is time to close up this disaster.

  • shdrew

    Why, oh why, does SNL continue to NOT use one of its best players – Jay Pharoah?!

    • juice

      He might be the best person on the show right now. I was totally floored by that Will Smith impression.

    • Sara

      He’s done Will Smith before and it’s always good, but I wish he’d do something other than impressions. I was hoping he’d be the monster in the Frankenstein sketch, though, his Blackenstein impression in a previous episode was really good.

  • scorpio9094

    I’m 53 and was lucky enough to be around when SNL first started. Back then they kept it simple and it worked. The first few years are the reason it’s still around now. SNL hasn’t been funny in years. Every time I try to watch it I have to turn it off. I guess the show must still be making money or it would have been gone a long time ago. I just don’t think there could possibly be anyone who looks forward to SNL and watches it every week.

    • bert

      I look forward to it and watch it every week. Sometimes it is not as good each week but there is always a gem each show.

      • Anna

        I don’t look forward to it. It has become the Kristen Wiig show, and she’s limited in what she can do.

    • Byron

      I’ve also watched SNL from the very first show and had a very nostalgic view of that era until the unedited episodes started coming out on DVD. If you watch the full 90 minutes there are still quite a few lame sketches and filler, we just remember the the best stuff. There have been some truly dreadful eras of SNL but I don’t think the current one qualifies as such. I found quite a bit to laugh at in last night’s episode. Helen Mirren was eager to show people not familiar with her edgier work how game she actually is and I thought she was good. The only segment that fell completely flat was the cold opening which may have colored some people’s perception of the whole episode.
      I’ve thought for years that the real solution to SNL’s recurring problems is to reduce the show to an hour.
      90 minutes is just too much time to fill with top-quality stuff every week.

      • TV Is Your God

        I know what you mean. There’s 168 hours in a week and it’s hard to fill my life with 90 minutes of top quality living each week.

      • Tom

        I don’t want to watch 90 minutes only to enjoy maybe 5 or 10 minutes of quality stuff. You guys are nuts. SNL is why the Internet is better.

    • Enter 77

      i look forward to it and watch it each week

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