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Two TV Acting Triumphs in Two Days: What a Hamm!
October 27, 2008  | By David Bianculli
 
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Sunday night, actor Jon Hamm delivered another expected performance of excellence in the second-season finale of AMC's Mad Men. But the night before, as guest host of NBC's Saturday Night Live, his excellence as a comic actor was much more of a surprise. And a delightful one.

SNL has been driven to dizzyingly high viewership levels this fall because of its razor-sharp opening skits, keyed to presidential campaign politics and featuring both wicked caricatures and knowing satirical jabs. But this past weekend, the opening sketch was the show's weakest in months -- yet the show itself was one of the strongest.

Part of that, with no disrespect, was due to the absence of Amy Poehler. She was absent with a valid doctor's excuse: she was giving birth that night. And the way she was saluted by her cast mates was a reminder that, no matter how venerable SNL gets, it's still a bunch of young kids putting on a show, with a bunker mentality that makes lots of very close friendships.

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Seth Meyers, opening "Weekend Update" without his partner, explained at the top, with a huge smile, that Poehler wasn't there because she was having a baby. Then, to close the "Update" portion, Kenan Thompson and former SNL regular Maya Rudolph performed a singing shout-out, with the lyrics "We love you, Amy!" What a sweet moment.

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As for Hamm as guest host, he was wonderful, too. His biggest surprise was a dead-on James Mason imitation (funny, in part, because who does James Mason these days?), but he also somehow managed to retain dignity and provide laughs in a commercial spoof that could have tanked big time: an ad for lunch meat you eat while sitting in a toilet stall, a rolled-out treat called Jon Hamm's John Ham.

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Yes, he made that work somehow. And he was great, of course, as well as in his home element, dispensing Don Draper's dating tips, and starring in a Mad Men spoof that also featured castmates Elisabeth Moss (Peggy) and John Slattery (Roger).

Casey Wilson got a big laugh portraying Joan in a typically form-fitting dress, and the skit's only flaw is that Moss was denied an entrance of her own, to give her the attention and round of applause she deserved.

snl-joan.jpgBut no matter. It was a strong SNL -- and, the next night, a very strong Mad Men, which used the Cuban Missile Crisis to parallel deep shifts and unsettling feelings at Don Draper's work and home. It was a great weekend for John Hamm, and, no less so, for fans of quality TV.

 

 

 

1 Comment

 

ceolaf said:

I have no doubt that Maya Rudolph was the most talented cast member on SNL, and she left. Amy Poehler has developed and herself became the most talented cast member, and now she is gone.

The show has lost too much with the loss of these two incredibly talents comediens.

What they had in common was that they were funny. I don't mean simply that they could do funny things. I mean that they could take material and make it funnier. Poehler's Dakota Fanning and her "Rick Rick Rick" characters are not all that funny on the page. But when SHE did them, they were great. Last week's Palin rap was decently funny on the page, but over the top funny with Poehler.

Maya had the same abilities.

Too much of the current cast lacks that. Armisen's weaknesses are abundantly clear in his Obama character. I think that his John King sendup was the funniest thing he's ever done, but that kind of performance is rare from him.

I know that many people think that Forte is funny, but I don't. His stuff doesn't work for me. Hader and Wiig do some VERY funny things -- something that SNL has to have in quanitity -- but that makes them supporting players whose value comes when they find something that just suprises us with how funny it is. They can't be counted on to raise the level of the whole show. Wiig's one-upping character might be in an indication that she can do more, but she/the writers/Lorne would need to trust her more than they do for us to find out.

Clearly, Samberg is funny, but he tends to stick to silly. He needs to grow. Sudeikis has always been a supporting player, as has Meyers. Keenan Thompson -- fufilling both the fat guy an the black guy quotas -- has always been disappointing. Finesse was funnier, but only filled on quota, I guess.

I think of the coffe klatch bit, with Maya and Poehler -- like with Brian Williams -- and I weep for our loss. (On the inside, of course.)

(And so, the lesson here might be that we need more Hammond, especially as Bill Clinton.)

Comment posted on October 27, 2008 12:51 PM
 
 
 
 
 
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