‘Saturday Night Live’: Zooey Deschanel’s show a case of bad timing

It was a tougher show this week.

We feel for Zooey Deschanel right about now. She had rehearsed for days and days to get ready for her first-ever hosting gig on “Saturday Night Live,” but was completely overshadowed a few hours before going on stage by the tragic and sudden passing of Whitney Houston. The show had to go on, but the news of Houston’s passing unfortunately (and even unfairly) made some of the humor feel dated and a bit out of whack with what was actually going on across America.

This feeling started courtesy of the show’s cold open featuring Mitt Romney — a stale sketch only made funny by a dog that was going a bit out of control at the end of the sketch while Jason Sudeikis (still in character) struggled to get out his closing line. Then, Deschanel was handed over the reigns of a show that did not offer her too many opportunities to stretch beyond her “quirky” image, even though she is a talented enough actress (see “Almost Famous”) to do so. Her opening monologue was a fun little song about Valentine’s Day, and that, alongside a sketch later that featured parodies of Bjork and Michael Cera, may be her best moment of the night.

As a way to make up for some predictable writing, producers this week did try to amp up the celebrity cameo factor — Jean Dujardin made an inspired appearance during the show’s traditional French cafe sketch, and we also saw Nicolas Cage face off against “Nicolas Cage” during “Weekend Update” — a segment also highlighted by Nasim Pedrad’s hilarious portrayal of Arianna Huffington describing how they post articles from the New York Times on The Huffington Post. There’s nothing more entertaining than celebrities mocking themselves, in particular Cage as he noted that one of the real appealing things about his action movies is that so much of them is “on fire.”

Unfortunately, these highlights only did so much to distract from some of the bland and overwrought. Bill Hader was desperate for us to love his spoof of Clint Eastwood’s Super Bowl commercial, but it would have been funnier if it had been done once rather than on three occasions. (Less is more!) We also a few sketches (including one set at a newspaper) that didn’t really go anywhere, and a few (the Victorian Ladies) that never should have happened to begin with.

The worst sketch of the night is one that ultimately could have been great — the reaction to M.I.A.’s Super Bowl “gesture.” Fred Armisen and Sudeikis killed it as LMFAO, and Wiig delivered a spot-on impersonation of Madonna. However, the show made a major gaffe in having the pop superstar appear on “Piers Morgan Tonight” — which would never happen, since Piers and Madonna have a long-standing feud that has led to him banning her from appearing on his show. This was not even mentioned in the sketch, and it seemed more like the writers didn’t do their homework than that they were trying to make some sort of subtle wink-and-a-nudge to the audience. Meanwhile, Taran Killam’s impression of Piers was more or less him just speaking in a British voice.

We’re no music critics, but we were actually thoroughly entertaining by the energy that Karmin brought to the show as a musical guest, and it was needed considering the air that Houston’s passing left of the show thousands of miles away from where the news was breaking.

This wasn’t the best edition of “SNL” by any means, but we’re almost willing to give them a pass in saying that it happened on a night were few things were destined to go right. The fact that they went out there and drew some laughs is in many ways worthy of praise alone … and if you’re still upset that this show was so flawed, you have Maya Rudolph to look forward to next week.

Photo: NBC

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