When Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Malcolm in the Middle) bounced down the steps and into a clever musical monologue on last night’s Saturday Night Live, it seemed like we were in for a heck of a show. Crooning in front of a barbershop quartet, the Emmy winner had the guts and good humor to go straight for the elephant in the room: Most people don’t have a clue who he is. So he sang a sly, self-deprecating song about his own name, showing off a pretty nice voice along the way. Not a bad way to start.
And then, he disappeared.
Or at least, that's what it seemed like. Cranston spent the rest of the show on the sidelines, throwing on a funny costume or two while he let the regular cast members take center stage. He didn't steal the spotlight in a single sketch and was a full-on absentee for a few, including the digital short. (What, no Breaking Bad parody?) After such a promising start, the rest of the night was essentially a slow let-down -- though not without a few high points.
The first came early on. Following a medium-funny fauxmercial for a Pepto-Bismol malt liquor, we got a killer new sketch called The Miley Cyrus Show, starring newcomer Vanessa Bayer as a dimwitted version of the pop starlet. Everything about her impersonation was flat-out funny, from the gummy smile to the raspy voice to her hysterical take on Cyrus' bubbly OMG-speak. Cranston got some giggles with a few lines as Miley's dad, Billy Ray, but it was another newbie, Paul Brittain, who pushed the bit to even bigger laughs with an a spot-on impression of Johnny Depp. Anybody else want to see this one go into regular rotation?
Next came a standard edition of the SNL stand-by What Up with That?, featuring guest appearances by Morgan Freeman, Ernest Borgnine, and Cranston in his underwear. Cute enough, but how many more times can they fall back on this one? And as for the next bit — the one with Cranston as a basketball team coach — there’s really only one thing to say: Thank heaven for Kristen Wiig. The vet played vampy bombshell Shanna who gets the team’s blood racing with her sexy-gross antics; nobody outdoes Wiig when it comes to go-for-broke gags like an endless belch and a fart-powered whistle.
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Next came a ho-hum digital short (with a too-brief Helen Mirren cameo), followed by the night’s first musical act. I’ll leave it to my pals over on EW’s Music Mix blog to give a full analysis of Kanye’s performance, but personally, I think he nailed it. Extra points for turning the all too familiar SNL stage into something uniquely his own.
After a decent Weekend Update (with a boost from Andy Samberg’s reliably funny Cathy act), Cranston got his splashiest part of the evening as the overly affectionate host of a children’s game show. He did a fine job — though most of the skit’s laughs came from Samberg and Kenan Thompson as two of the kid contestants. Then came a few more underwhelming sketches (including a real dud with Cranston and Fred Armisen as tiresome sibling singers), and suddenly our host was waving goodbye as the show came to a close. What? Already? Bryan, we hardly knew ye.
What did you think, PopWatchers? Was Cranston criminally underused? Should he get another shot at hosting to show us what he can really do? And would you watch another round of The Miley Cyrus Show?