SNL Episode 5: Mars Does Double Duty and Hanks Lends a Hand

SNLBefore I get to this SNL recap, I have a public service announcement to make: If you’ve been busted for cocaine, especially if you have never! ever! previously done drugs in your life, don’t wear sunglasses in the dark. I am not a person who suspects people of doing cocaine in general; you can sit me down at a party and tell me a four-hour-long story about how you met your manager while wearing sequined pants and sweating your eyebrows off, and I won’t have a clue. I’ll just peg you as ambitious. But when a person wears sunglasses in the dark, I will immediately Google “[their name] + cocaine” and I will always find a result. So don’t do that. I mean, do that if you want to do that. But just know that everyone will think you do a ton of cocaine, unless you are blind. If you are blind, and someone is reading you this recap, you go ahead and wear sunglasses wherever you want.

Bruno Mars has an incredible voice. He also has great energy (assuming against eyewear prejudice that this is inherent entertainer-ism, probably due to the fact that he began his career as a toddler in his family’s band The Love Notes). He wasn’t handed the punchiest script in the drawer, and Tom Hanks appeared as though he was a doctor on call in case of some kind of joke emergency, but at least one sketch played to his strengths with great success (“Pandora Internet Radio Systems Headquarters”) and, though it wasn’t my favorite (I kept thinking film major thesis project, film major thesis project), a sort of unique, melancholy pre-taped segment, “Sad Mouse” made me wonder if Mars isn’t angling for some acting work. The second musical performance, “Young Wild Girls,” was my favorite part of the show, however. I kind of enjoy these dual musical-host-regular-host weeks, even when the host in question is in shady-shades, because God it must be hard to do that job. You have to give it up for a person who’s up to this task, who doesn’t blow it completely or die of exhaustion during the 12:45 weird-skit suck zone like Ass Dan. (I love Ass Dan).

The cold open was, obviously, debate-themed. Aidy Bryant, in her first attention-grabbing role of the season as moderator Candy Crowley, didn’t knock my socks off — she seemed a little uncomfortable, but I think she might just be getting her footing. It feels as though she hasn’t been given a fair shot yet this season, and I’d like to see more of her before I give her a hard time. This sketch wasn’t as strong as last week’s VP-debate parody, hinging on the weak laugh that Romney and Obama are starting to get cranky with each other: Romney’s five-point plan articulated with a fist, while Obama just has one point in the middle on which “you can sit […] and spin.” Tom Hanks as undecided voter Kerry Lapkis asked one question: Libya. That’s it. Pharoah’s Obama dropped the mic in victory at the end of the debate, but something about it felt very defeated, like either the joke or the general political atmosphere was so unfunny that the only thing left to do was throw something on the ground and move on with life. Or maybe I’m projecting. Pharoah’s Obama makeup makes me think of the ghost of Christmas past. It looks as though he’s been worked over by a mortician using a palette of fireplace ashes, wax, and under-sofa dust. Too uncanny!

Bruno Mars’s monologue centered around his anxieties over hosting with no acting experience, even in a shampoo ad. “Can I put aside my fears?/Can I be like Timberlake?” Well: Yes to the first, no to the second. He had one good laugh for singing “Underneath this trendy suit hides a scared Filipino girl,” but, much like Applegate’s monologue last week, this was more about showmanship than it was about hilarity. The stomping backup singers (“they’re so good at it, it’s because they’re black”) added a nice touch, and I thought his monologue gave the show momentum that it had lacked during the cold open. And though Mars sang about his nerves, they didn’t show, impressively.

Also impressive is Taran Killam’s Brad Pitt impression, which was featured in four installments parodying Pitt’s Chanel ad, a commercial that cannot be discussed enough (“David Brent beard” is right, and that’s before you even get to the nonsensical copy). The first edition stayed pretty true to the original until Killam started making up words (“you want me to sound less coherent?”), closing with a sultry “inunderstandabuhhhl”; the second, for Taco Bell, was pretty good — meat and cheese dumped into a bag of Doritos probably does make a good snack for a dad of between eight and 20 children, and I enjoyed Killam’s delivery of the line “Ooh, messy baby” — but then the spots devolved, jumping into the no-man’s land of Things of Which We Do Not Speak. (Like, say, dog condoms, the idea of which makes me feel like I just watched Pink Flamingos naked on a floor coated in ancient Fritos fossils — disgusting, disgusted, tainted forever.)

Because we were already in the black-and-white ’90s perfume commercial vortex, the next sketch seemed as though it had arrived 15 years too late. “Haters with Sunny Taylor Tompkins” featured Cecily Strong as host Sunny T.T. mediating between a mother (Moynihan) and daughter (Mars) who were playing tug-of-war with their boyfriends. Mars, to his credit, looks fabulous in drag (nice hot-pink high tops, and he certainly sold his booty shake), but the punch line of this skit, if there even was one, was that the audience boos. Repeatedly. As audiences do. Cringeville. Cecily Strong is no slouch, and last week she slayed me with one throwaway line in the “Long Island medium” sketch when she was approached by McKinnon as the psychic in the produce aisle, but yikes, was this one a baddie. Luckily, after Pitt hawking tacos and smells, this was followed by “Pandora Internet Systems Headquarters” and a series of great impersonations by Mars. Sudeikis, as the head of Pandora during a power outage, commanded his intern Devon (Mars) to sub in the vocals on a series of tracks as users flipped through them — Green Day, Aerosmith, Katy Perry, Bieber, Louis Armstrong, and finally Michael Jackson. Approximating lyrics and nailing the Steven Tyler passionate hand claw, this was another great sketch you can’t see online because of music rights. I loved Mars’s Armstrong, though his boss was unimpressed (“not your best, buddy”), and I laughed when the entire crew in the office produced Jackson gloves before Mars launched into “Billie Jean.” His efforts left Devon dead after the power was restored, but it was worth it.

The pre-taped “Sad Mouse,” in which Mark (Mars), recently dumped by his lady and his family (dad likes his new clan better because they’re smarter), is sent on a job by his boss (Sudeikis) to Times Square in a mouse costume to wave at passersby. Emotionally unstable, he resorts to smoking in his costume, exhaling inside the head, when nobody waves back. Eventually he meets cute with a fellow costumed outcast (a frog? A lizard? I think it was ambiguous, or maybe I have poor character suit recognition), but this sentimental piece left me feeling a little funny, as though I had accidentally flipped to IFC. I’m sure this is a personal preference, and as far as “sweet” moments go, “Sad Mouse” had a few. My heart is hard when it comes to late-night weekend programming. I compare “Sad Mouse” unfavorably to this Orkin Man commercial.

Hanks introduced Mars’s first musical performance, “Locked Out of Paradise,” which was really solid and packed with some insanely zesty backup dancing. He has so much energy!, I think, just before I first notice the sunglasses. This song, like many Bruno Mars tracks, will probably play 50 zillion times on the radio. You will not be able to escape it, better to enjoy it. A relatively weak “Weekend Update” followed, peppered with jokes about the retirement set in Boca Raton and pizza-burn mouth strips (“finally, a scientific alternative to waiting one minute”), until Stefon showed up to divide the viewership like a gay technicolor Moses parting the Red Sea. I, for the record, love Stefon. I know some of you are sick of him, but I hope Hader is doing Stefon until he’s 89 years old and Stefon is only going to bridge games instead of clubs like “Nick Nolte and Gabbana” and the like, where one is offered “a glass of champagne, or is it piss?” The more we learn about Stefon, the more I love him: His dog’s name is Bark Ruffalo, he lives in a garbage can adjacent to the Radio Shack on 23rd and Seventh, and you might find him at a Halloween party in an abandoned whitefish factory in Little Israel. His son will be there too. Just look out for human pinatas (“midgets who eat too much candy, then dance until they throw up”). Hader lost it doing Stefon, as he often does, and had to retreat behind his hands and wipe at his eyes. I don’t blame him.

A new edition of the “Merryville Brothers” sketches was up next, and though it’s tough to outdo rubberfaced Jim Carrey as an evil animatronic robot, Bruno Mars came close. I admired his arm jerks. It’s too bad that the hapless couples in these sketches (this time it was Pharoah and Bayers) have so little to do — they almost seemed apologetic here, as Pharoah tossed popcorn from his seat and tried to convince Bayers that they weren’t about to be murgled. Can we retire the “lady calls guy her boyfriend/guy freaks out and says not so fast” thing now? Tom Hanks guested in this spot as well, cozying up next to Bayers and attempting to mechanically grope her. I enjoyed this one, and thought it was the highlight after “Pandora.” I knew a family who were caught inside “It’s a Small World,” and it was a very chilling experience for them. Apparently, this happens more than you’d think.

The only thing more creepy than being trapped in the Finale Room with dozens of fake children dressed in white might be vacationing at an inn plagued by Yeti rapists. Mars, as the one-eyed proprietor of the Wilderness Lodge, is entrusted with the unsavory duty of having to warn his guests (Bayers and Sudeikis) of the dangers of Yeti Point, giving the camera eye-patched grimaces as if it were the mirror in “The Californians.” At one point, I thought I might have caught Mars having some cue card issues, but then that memory was overwritten by the image of a Yeti raping Roger (Hader) in front of a glass window, then giving him a white rose and kissing him. I would have hated this sketch had it not been so weird. Now, instead of hating it, I can only admire it for having alienated me so profoundly.

Stefon, before (I assume) hitting the after-party with the Yeti man and some hobocops (homeless robocops), introduced Mars’s “Young Wild Girls” performance. It was up there with some of my favorite SNL musical guest moments, the kind of thing that felt intimate and powerful and captured something special about late night.

The episode’s closer was another in the “Under-Underground Records” series, with DJ Supersoak (Sudeikis) and Lil’ Blaster (Nasim Pedrad) hyping the Donkeypunch the Ballot political festival. Though this wasn’t the strongest example of UUR’s one-liner assaults, I would probably download a song by a band named Todd Akin and the Legitimate Rapes; and hey, who knew that Ass Dan (Moynihan) had a brother named Butt Dave (also Moynihan, and R.I.P. to them both)? Mars finished the night by appearing as stoner Troy Kamanawana, who would be glad to hook you up with a fake Hawaiian birth certificate, should you ever need one, as long as you smoke him out first.

Though the show’s agenda felt lean (I blame you, boxed set of Chanel parodies), it didn’t drag. Mars was able to appear unflapped even when jokes weren’t hitting, and the years he’s clocked onstage showed. He may not have reached Timberlake status, but he deserves a good deal of credit for powering through this show as he did. Even if he did wear his sunglasses at night.

Next time, in two weeks: Louis CK, the saddest mouse of all, and fun., otherwise known as “soft music.”

Filed Under: Bruno Mars, NBC, Recaps, Saturday Night Live, SNL, Tom Hanks