'Saturday Night Live' Review: "Edward Norton"

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Edward Norton hosts an all-new episode of 'SNL' tonight, and though he hasn't starred in a film since last year's 'The Bourne Legacy,' it's great to see him on the 30 Rock stage. Norton, who recently guest-starred on an episode of 'The Simpsons' and who appears next in Wes Anderson's upcoming film 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' is always a welcome presence on screens both big and small. So how did he do on tonight's 'SNL'? Read on for our review.

A Message from the Department of Health and Human Services

Tonight's cold open features Department of Health and Human Services head Kathleen Sebelius (Kate McKinnon) addressing the issues with the government's healthcare website. Among her tips for dealing with the shoddy healthcare site: restart your computer (because no one knows why, but it works), enrolling in another language (Iceland offers the "high-five" option!), going to Kayak.com to buy a ticket to Canada for cheaper care, or going to a bit torrent site for free porn. All totally reasonable advice, and funnier because it has that horrifying grain of truth. But the best part: when Bobby Moynihan's IT guy shows up and just smashes the computer with a baseball bat. That's seriously the best way to deal with this healthcare website problem.

Opening Monologue

Is it really Edward Norton's first time hosting 'SNL'? If I'm being honest, I sometimes forget about Norton, and then once every year or two he's in a movie or something and I'm like, "Oh yeah, we have Edward Norton. I like that guy." Norton seems to understand this, and cracks jokes about how it took him 13 years to prepare to host 'SNL' since he was first asked in 2000, and when people wonder why he isn't in movies that often, it's because he's been getting ready for this gig. He pulls off casual self-awareness really well. And hey! A reference to Chris Kattan! And hey again! Alec Baldwin appears as if he's the phantom of 30 Rock, always hanging in the rafters, waiting for his cue to jump on stage. Not that I'm complaining. Baldwin is always a delight, especially giving old-timer advice to Norton and referring to Norton's performance in 'American History X' as "hilarious." Baldwin runs Norton through his paces, getting him to do some pretty great Woody Allen and Woody Harrelson impressions.

Where they lost me is when they brought out Miley Cyrus. Yikes.

Autumn's Eve

Oh man. The only thing better than a fake 'SNL' commercial is one skewering lady products. This time: Autumn's Eve pumpkin spice douche. Not only does the commercial put feminine product commercials on blast, but it makes fun of our ridiculous annual seasonal attachment to pumpkin-flavored everything. Also, I'm really hoping we get to see a commercial for that Christmas Eve peppermint douche next month. "Why should your mouth get to have all the fun?!" Perfect. Just perfect.

Stranger Awareness

Norton plays Officer Rosen, who has come to a school to teach kids about safety and how to deal with strangers. Nasim Pedrad seems to be doing a riff on her Bedelia character, but hey, at least we get a little Pedrad, who seems to have been a bit absent lately with all this new talent around. Norton lays out a scenario where a stranger offers candy, and Pedrad's character is game to do anything for candy in this hypothetical scenario, undermining Norton's entire safety lesson. Pedrad is pretty fun, but Moynihan keeps stealing it with his childish shouting. Cute sketch, but I'm looking forward to seeing what's next.

Steve Harvey

I have an admission: while I think he can say some funny stuff, I am not that big of a fan of Kenan Thompson's Steve Harvey sketches, so I am already hesitant about this one. Norton plays Jack Pickler, the owner of Spooky City, a Halloween costume store. He also has an amazingly specific eccentric middle-aged dude wig. Jack brings out tame pun-centric costumes, like Facebook (Aidy Bryant's face in a book), a Cereal Killer, and deviled eggs. The joke here is that Harvey can't figure out the very obvious pun costumes and comes up with wacky ideas like how the eggs in devil horns are in an "Eggs Gone Wild" video. It's kind of a yawn, but I'd love to see Norton do this character in another context.

The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders

Way to win me back, 'SNL'! This fake trailer for a Wes Anderson horror movie (Alec Baldwin narration and classic font included) is super exciting and instantly classic. Borrowing from 'The Royal Tenenbaums' and a little from 'Moonrise Kingdom,' Norton does a spot-on Owen Wilson impression as his house and family are targeted by very twee serial killers, whose weapons include an old-timey record player and a falcon. The trailer even has quotes! The New York Times says "You had me at 'Wes Anderson,'" while Fangoria says, "Da fuh?" The trailer hits all the right Anderson-y notes, from the use of Paul Simon's "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," to the overhead shots of objects (Swiss army knife, photo of Edith Piaf, AK-47), and Kate McKinnon's brief bit as Tilda Swinton. I may be a bit too biased, but this is one of the best 'SNL' pre-recorded bits ever. Bonus: Kyle Mooney's Jason Schwartzman, which I wouldn't mind seeing again.

Critter Control

Brooks Whelan plays an outlandish pest control worker who brings in his hillbilly friend (Norton) to check out a gnarly possum problem in a business office. The two men describe the possum scene, in weird detail, to the room of horrified and baffled business people. I admire this sketch's commitment to the quirky hillbilly-possum shenanigans, and their obsession with narrating the actions of the possums like it's a hick version of a Discovery channel special.

Motel Drug Deal

And there's Taran Killam, who's been sitting most of the episode out. He's part of a group of mafia guys meeting up to exchange money and illicit products in a seedy motel room. Norton plays Mike O'Brien's "numbers guy," who's basically Rain Man. So the sketch is just "What if Rain Man got roped into working for mobsters?" Killam seems to be playing Brad Pitt's character from 'Killing Them Softly,' while O'Brien almost loses it a couple of times -- which is weird because the sketch isn't that funny. Norton gets out a couple of funny lines (calling Bumblebee from 'Transformers' a "hip hop taxi"), but I think the look on Killam's face sort of says it all with this one: flat.

Weekend Update

Bobby Moynihan drops in as Anthony Crispino, the guy who reports secondhand news. On the slate tonight: New Jersey legalizes "gray marriage," the "government touchdown" (led by Tom Cruise), Bahamacare, and the NBA spying on Americans. Crispino is such a hilarious character, and I wish he got as much attention as Drunk Uncle. I know we're all loving Killam now that Hader and Sudeikis are gone, but Moynihan is still the greatest.

Crispino is the only "guest" on tonight's Weekend Update, which is kind of a relief. Lately 'SNL' has had two or three characters pop up each week, and the focus on the news aspect this week is appreciated.

12 Days Not a Slave

Jay Pharaoh plays Cecil, a slave who has been free for just 12 days following the Emancipation Proclamation. Norton plays Zachary, Cecil's well-meaning white friend who tries to get Cecil to understand that things are still tense in the south and maybe he shouldn't be acting so flamboyant about his new freedom. Oh good, and here's a joke about how black men love overweight white women because apparently we're in 1995 again. What a foolish, regressive sketch. It's not as if there's anything off-limits in the realm of comedy, but this, like the Rain Man sketch, seems a bit sophomoric. It's so half-baked it's practically raw, and not even Taran Killam's hilarious evil-face can save this one.

Ruth's Chris Steakhouse

Norton, Strong, Pedrad, and O'Brien play servers at the Ruth's Chris steakhouse on Halloween, who are all virgins and all handle talking about sex by doing some idiotic ghetto white people routine. Bryant plays the straight person, a hostess who tries to explain to the moronic servers that nothing they are describing is like actual sex. Does O'Brien always look like he's about to crack up, or is he actually about to crack up? The sketch is definitely a step up from the 12 Days a Slave one before it, which is probably best left forever forgotten. Hearing the actors describe how they'd have sex (like a southern woman or a cartoon character running away) and ending every sentence with "son" is funny on a purely silly level, but its earnestness is enough to to keep it afloat.

Spooktacular Halloween

Norton plays an eccentric middle-aged man with a bolo tie (!) and a John Waters mustache, who is obviously gay but also he's married to a woman? It's sort of an old school character. He goes through his Halloween basket and makes clever, sassy jokes about all the tricks and treats inside, while his son, Diego (Moynihan, doing the closest thing we'll get to his 'Comedy Bang Bang' character, Fourvel) acts incredibly silly. I have no idea where this sketch came from, but it just falls short of the kind of weird that works in these late-episode sketches. I don't think Norton goes as all-in as he thinks he is, and he's lacking the energy someone like Fred Armisen or Bill Hader would bring to the part. But Moynihan, as always, saves every lame sketch he's in from being totally un-watchable. Bless him.

Filed Under: Edward Norton, SNL
Categories: TV News, TV Reviews
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