Saturday Night Live, Season 40, Episode 9, “Martin Freeman/Charli XCX”
Aired December 13, 2014 at 11:30 pm ET on NBC (East coast version watched for review)
Not every episode of SNL is going to make an impression on the viewer of the culture. It’s in these so-so episodes that we really find what interests the cast and the writers, because they are at the talents’ base level of ability. “Martin Freeman/Charli XCX” has the cast engaging in almost entirely original sketches that have much of the cast riffing off central concept of the sketches, with middling results. At least this episode has the welcome treat of…
The Host: This is Martin Freeman’s first time hosting the show, but you wouldn’t know it after watching the episode. Freeman is the ultimate straight man of a generation, and fully immerses himself into the worlds of his characters. Throughout the episode, Freeman goes from being a crazed groom to a befuddled contractor to a frustrated factory foreman. Freeman’s greatest strength is that he makes all of his roles feel lived-in, and he brings that quality to this episode as well. All these sketches would feel like subpar theater if it weren’t for Freeman finding something very tangible to ground his performances in, which inspires SNL’s stronger cast members, like Taran Killam and Kate McKinnon, to equally commit.
Musical Guest: Charli XCX has two of the biggest hooks of the last few years in “Fancy” and “I Don’t Care”, and hooks are maybe where she should stay. Her two sets range from a stilted mic-bound number where she touches her stomach a lot and can’t seem to find the key, opting to just shout instead, to gyrating around the stage like a sexualized ferret while she tries to get the party going by yelling the chorus of the number. Out and out, this is the worst performance of the season thus far.
Best Sketch: In an episode with so much middle of the road material (see below), the glorious wasteland of the 10-1 sketch saves the day. Martin Freeman plays the owner of the Waterbed Warehouse, whose wife (Aidy Bryant) gets bit by the talent bug and proceeds to slowly take over an ad for the warehouse, starting out with just the jingle, before having a bucket of rose petals fall on top of her as she lays on a waterbed with a giant picture of her face on the sheets, among other show-boating props. Freeman’s gung-ho energy, where he brings in a little of his recent experience on Fargo, is the glue that holds this zaniness together.
Weakest Sketch: There is nothing really impressive in this episode, but there’s nothing offensive to the taste either. The first proper sketch of the night features the wedding of Martin Freeman’s character and one played by Leslie Jones. The sight gag of their size differential earns a chuckle, and some of the objections that are brought up to the union are amusing, like Thompson saying “How many kids do you think she has? Three? Well double it and add four.” There is also a quaint vaudeville-esque sketch between Freeman and Killam about how to work an assembly line in a Heinz factory. But “Right Side of the Bed”, a fake morning show hosted by Killam and Cecily Strong as a flamboyant married couple, runs away with this category. The whole joke of the sketch is that they keep cutting to Freeman as a contractor waiting for his segment to happen, and he doesn’t know what to do when the camera is on him. And while Freeman does sell the befuddlement he has of the situation, the sketch either waits too long to escalate the weirdness of the setting, or doesn’t have enough of a detachment from reality to bring the laughs. Somewhere, there’s a Tim & Eric version of this sketch that kills.
Weekend Update: Watching Update now, it’s weird to imagine that Jost and Che only started out as a team at the beginning of this season. Sure, Jost already had over a dozen episodes of prep behind the desk coming into this season, and Che had a three month stint on The Daily Show, but the growing pains were very evident in the beginning. Now, not only are Jost and Che in a groove, they come off like old pros, handily throwing off quips about how the recent CIA torture report barely got Dick Cheney hard. This new iteration of Update has made its mark by also involving the cast members in panel segments, like this episode’s feature on the lack of black emojis by Sasheer Zamata. Jost does the majority of the interacting with the panel guests, and that’s where his real strength behind the desk lies. Jost does the reports with the proper veneer of professionalism and the right amount of underlying snark. And while Che is quickly becoming the obvious lead on the one-liners, his friendly chat with Jacob the bar mitzvah boy shows he’s adept at all parts of the job.
Other Notes: The best pre-taped bit is “Sump’n Claus”, where Thompson plays a former employee of the Claus corporation who gives money to those who have found themselves on the naughty list. “The Office: Middle Earth” is a fun game of spot the reference for the arguably small middle of the Venn diagram between Tolkien nerds and fans of the original Office. The next episode, which will be hosted by Amy Adams, with musical guest One Direction, will be on December 20.