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'Saturday Night Live' - Robert De Niro / Diddy-Dirty Money Recap

by Dr. Ryan Vaughan, PhD (no, seriously), posted Dec 5th 2010 3:30PM
Robert De Niro Saturday Night Live['Saturday Night Live' - 'Season 36, Episode 8']

For a show that can be as hit-or-miss as 'SNL,' it's puzzling when they choose a host who all but guarantees a miss. I can't remember an episode, in all my 20-plus years of watching the show, that was worse than the Dec. 18, 2004 effort that marked De Niro's most recent hosting go-round.

"But it's De Niro!" you yelp, "how can you say such things about acting's greatest treasure!?" He may be, but to say that De Niro is out of his element live on stage at Studio 8H, is like saying pizza is awesome. It's just true. Can he brave the "elements," and drop his whole "I'm an acting robot, programmed to read my lines and collect awkward pauses for fuel," shtick? We could only hope and pray.

Cold Open:
The show opened with President Obama (Fred Armisen) addressing the nation about his recent trip to Afghanistan, only to have the broadcast high-jacked (pun embarrassingly forced) by brash-if-not-douchey WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. He turned the telecast into 'WikiLeaks: TMZ,' using that site's guerrilla-style celebrity coverage on world leaders -- right down to the Hillary Clinton beaver shot getting out of an SUV. The sketch was good, a little predictable, but still funny. "Predictable" and "funny" aren't mutually exclusive notions. It's a shame they don't use Armisen's Obama more. It's always good.

Monologue: If there's one thing I learned, it's that Robert De Niro can read, but I would imagine if he were reading a book he'd be a "use your finger to follow the words" guy. His monologue was stiffer than a 12-year-old reading a JC Penney catalog, running through the requisite tough guy trope that De Niro has been coasting on since 'The Godfather.' It's as though he never acted before. It's either a testament to how difficult it is to host the show, or to how little talent it takes to be an actor. You decide.

The Abacus Conundrum: Harlan Kane's newest, ridiculous title, in a litany of convoluted titles that seem to be generated randomly by manatees, a la 'South Park.' My favorite being, "The Fuddruckers Ultimatum." These are the kinds of things 'SNL' is building their shows around: pre-taped parodies that exploit the current nature of our entertainment. They're usually the funniest.

What Up With That?: When they announced that De Niro would be hosting, the countdown to a "What Up With That" sketch began. It''s really a perfect sketch for De Niro, he just had to sit there and look perplexed and frustrated with DeAndre. To their credit, they modified the formula of the sketch a bit, giving it a funny twist. Sure, the obligatory cast of random dancers and characters were paraded out, but DeAndre was stymied by the weight of De Niro's legendary status and he was reluctant to sing over his answers, forcing him to turn the awkward silences into his trademark improvised soul. A Robin Williams cameo did very little to make this any funnier, but props to the writers for using De Niro's strength (awkward silences) to their advantage.

From the Garden with Mr. Produce: It felt like De Niro might have found somewhat of a comfort zone with this sketch as Mr. Produce, accompanied by his son, Anthony (Andy Samberg). The father/son dynamics played out on Mr. Produce's TV show and his ornery disenfranchised son home from college, sarcastically answering questions with questions. Anthony invented a new holiday called "College is Too Hard Day," observed by "taking your father's hard earned money and wiping your ass with it," prompting Mr. Produce to whip turnips at him. The show took a turn for the after-school special when Anthony asked, "Have you watered your son lately?" Only to end with what can best be described as a punch-hug.

SNL Digital Short: This could have been called "'Weekend at Bernie's: The True Hollywood Story." In this version, everyone knew Mr. Bernard was dead, and unfortunately none of them thought it was nearly as cool as Devon (Bill Hader) and Rocky (Samberg). Crazy '80s beach parties aren't nearly as rad with a dead guy's face in your lap, and the boys went to prison for their human puppeteering, only to be saved by Bernard's video will, promoting Devon and Rocky, and exonerating them by asking that they dress him in a Hawaiian shirt and drag him around a party. Samberg and writers Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer have a great knack for escalating sketches that start with one simple game. This one was a classic for anyone who ever laughed at the plausibility of 'Weekend at Bernie's.' So, basically everyone, ever.

Weekend Update: Update was pretty soft this week. The jokes were pretty good, but as I've stated before, Update wins or loses based on who they bring out for segments or as correspondents. The Kardashians: Kim (Nasim Pedrad), Kourtney (Vanessa Bayer) Khloe (Abby Elliot), were spoofed well, with all three girls nailing the nearly trademarked vapid whine, but didn't offer too much more than that. We get it, Khloe is useless. Then the fourth understudy from the 'Spider-Man' musical trying to do flips upside down in a harness, and a mash-up of random hyper Kristen Wiig characters yielding an 80's aerobics instructor. It all seemed forced, even when Seth Meyers made his usual "jokes about the jokes."

Movie Fan: A shy, wide-eyed, movie loving kid (Bobby Moynihan) got to visit the set of 'Little Fockers.' Everywhere he looked was something more thrilling than the last. The caterer, a camera, and the make-up artist elicited mounting waves of excitement, while De Niro made the kid dead inside. Watching Moynihan straight-face De Niro's every attempt to connect with him was very funny, not to mention the shots at De Niro that he absorbed like a champ. Befuddled by the kid's love for the make-up artist, De Niro remarked "his whole job is to make me look good," to which the kid replied, without a blink, "well, where was he when you made 'Analyze That?'" De Niro definitely progressed throughout the show. The ability to joke about yourself is an extremely noble quality, especially when Ben Stiller made a cameo just to rub it in a little deeper.

Blizzard Man: Blizz is back, and still the tightest MC raised on and stuck in mid-90's Color Me Badd-style white guy R&B, complete with 8 Ball jacket and the kind of flow that makes for G.O.A.T. material. It was so good to have Bizzard Man back behind the mic, and in hindsight, I should have seen it coming with Diddy as the musical guest. Hip-hop always brings out the Blizz. They even used the exact set from the Ludacris episode a few years back. This is a great recurring sketch because they don't overdo it, bringing it once or twice a season, if that. De Niro in drag as Blizz's moms, getting hit on by Diddy and trying to get through purposefully difficult lines of gangsta slang put this over the top. Again, De Niro putting himself out there made me forget, or at least made me not care about his performance.

Vinny Vedecci: The fast talking, Italian, chain-smoking talk show host returned to interview De Niro and scream at his pasta-eating producer. Yet again, De Niro allowed the show to make fun of him, all for our amusement. After refusing to do his iconic line from 'Taxi Driver,' Vinny tricked him into it, while the best laugh came when Vinny asked De Niro to do an impression of himself that ended up being, "not so good."

Bosley Hair Restoration: Lazy. This commercial parody aired earlier in the season. It was funny the first time. It was less funny, more disappointing this time.

It's A Living
: This was my kind of sketch, taking an everyday cliche and deconstructing it to ponder a world where cliches aren't the empty phrases we're used to. When bar patrons (Jason Sudekis and Samberg) asked, "who do I have to screw to get a drink around here?" De Niro emerged as an old Gandalf looking dude in a bathrobe answering, "me." Seven hours in a closet later, and Samberg got his drink. Sudekis followed as the concept heightened, when Stiller reappeared as a creepy fourth party looking for "way more eye contact." De Niro gets big ups for playing an old gay dude, a heavy-set hip hop mom, himself, and Hamid Karzai all in the same show.

Host: A- (compared to his last appearance)
Musical Guest: Where's 'Da' Band?'
Laughs: B+

Tune in next week for Paul Rudd with musical guest Paul McCartney 11:30PM EST on NBC.

Dr. Vaughan teaches English/Media/Humor courses at Binghamton University in upstate New York, and he's the peanut butter to your jelly.You can also check out his blog at drvtv.wordpress.com or www.facebook.com/pages/Ryan-Vaughan/21931402981 and http://twitter.com/#!/TVSpeaks

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Lame! SNL, used to be funny.
I would venture to guess that De Niro won't be back. Again I say, tweet," how boring and irritating can you get!"
I totally agree with Mike, " limps along"... and it won't be long till they are on their last leg.
Snoki is good for a laugh! The Situation" could write the script far better than the SNL writers.
They should be worried!

January 16 2011 at 2:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Judging from the long list of writers in the credits (one of the few times they have run this season) it looks like SNL goes for quantity over quality. If each of them just came up with two good jokes a week it ought to be enough for a good show, but these days success seems to depend more on the ability of the host to get in the spirit of things (and maybe suggest some ideas of their own) than it does on the writing.

December 06 2010 at 1:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I would say grade is a C
And only for Deniro being on it.
The momentum was lost early. Don't they have writers anymore? Geez, pick a campus and have the student newspaper editors write each week. This was very badly done. And the final sketch was worthless entirely. So they worked a whole week with an American icon and this was the best they could do.
This show, every season, limps along and gets renewed because it is SNL and it is live. At some point, that won't matter. We are almost there.

December 06 2010 at 12:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I thought each sketch was passable. I laughed. De Niro's best hosting performance.

December 05 2010 at 9:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

SNL needs new writers. It has not been good for a long time.

December 05 2010 at 8:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This episode was extremly boring.

December 05 2010 at 4:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The cold open was strong.

The rest of the episode sucked. Big time.

December 05 2010 at 4:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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