Ed Helms is a terrific comedian. He’s proven that over and over again as a correspondent on The Daily Show, Andy Bernard on The Office, Stu in The Hangover, and Tim in Cedar Rapids. But you wouldn’t know it from his first SNL hosting stint last night. In fact, you might not even have known that Helms hosted the show at all if you tuned in after the opening monologue. The actor barely had two minutes of screen time in the first hour, and his only lead part in a sketch came in a tepid, Republican candidate fauxmercial near the very end of the show. Not that he didn’t do his best in his brief moments on screen — but when the credits rolled, we found ourselves wondering less about how he was than where he was.
At least things started on a decent note. The Wolf Blitzer cold open left us cold as usual, but Helms delivered his one moment of really inspired comedy in his monologue, when he stripped down to a star-spangled unitard and demonstrated his (surprisingly good) baton-twirling skills. (NBC hasn’t posted the clip.)
Then came a re-used corn syrup commercial, followed by the umpteenth edition of “What’s Up With That?”, this time with Paul Simon, Glee’s Chris Colfer and Bill Hader’s Lindsey Buckingham. Helms made a fun cameo for a few seconds as Sexy Banjo Man — and was immediately overshadowed by an appearance from the real Lindsey Buckingham.
Next we got a nice change of pace: A new edition of Rob Smigel's classic "Ambiguously Gay Duo" cartoon that morphed into a live action sketch, starring Jon Hamm and Jimmy Fallon as the crimefighters, with Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell and Helms as the villains. The video (which took the place of the usual digital short) didn't have a ton of big laughs, but we give it credit for trying something so conceptual --- and packing so many great stars into one sketch.
Paul Simon’s musical interludes were pretty enough, but the show could’ve used a more high-energy performer to make up for the middling sketches.
Then came more leftovers: a “Weekend Update” filled with reused characters, a new version of the sketch (does it have an official name?) where a group of guys deliver zingy stories in between verses of a song – this time, Cat Stevens’ “Wild World.” Except, sadly, none of the stories were all that zingy this time — including Helms’ lines about Porta-Potty photography. At least the Human Centipede reference at the end was unexpected. (Paging Clark Collis…)
The show wrapped up with a string of one-joke sketches: “One Take Tony” (with Helms as an old-time movie director), Kirsten Wiig as a dance-crazy Ann-Margret, and Helms’ one starring part as an anonymous Republican candidate in a campaign ad.
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Overall, it was a snooze of a show — all the more disappointing since Helms had such promise as a host. In fact, our biggest jolt of excitement all night might’ve come when they flashed the names of the guests for next week’s season finale: Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga. Here’s hoping they’ll help SNL end this season on a high.