Possibly even the worst episode of the season so far. It’s not entirely on Renner—SNL is just so bad these days—but he wasn’t helping much. His cue card reading was blatant and only got worse throughout the show, and though he is funnier than his manly-man action roles suggest, I can see now that there is a reason he didn’t get famous for comedies. His best sketch, and the best one of the episode, was “The Stand-Off”, which played directly into his scowl-faced action persona. It’s a solid bit anyway, but that the host is actually known for those types of movies sells it.
Less funny was the inevitable Avengers parody, in which the punchline is that Hawkeye runs out of arrows during a battle, thus becoming useless. If you’re going to make an Avengers’ joke about Hawkeye’s uselessness, it’s not that he runs out of arrows that’s funny, it’s that he’s there at all. But this is what was wrong with this episode—bits missing their mark. Take the cold open, which focused on the General Petraeus scandal. Cecily Strong stood in as Paula Broadwell, reading from her biography, except it was all florid romance novel prose. The joke was that the audience eventually left, except for Fred Armisen making a creepy face. The over-sharing erotica writing wasn’t a bad idea, but it would have worked better as responses to questions from the audience, not as an “excerpt”. The sketch was flat, too one-sided to really spark anything. The inappropriateness of Broadwell’s writing disgusts the audience, but we’re cheated out of any visceral response. It was like hearing only half a knock-knock joke.
And don’t get me started on “The Californians”. I hate that sketch. It relies too heavily on a viewer having knowledge of how Californians actually are—how is anyone who hasn’t spent time in southern California supposed to get the thing about everyone discussing their driving routes?—and too often the actual setups are dumb, like we should just be amused by Californian accents and everyone having blonde hair. It always reminds me of the “Sarcastic Clapping Family from Southampton”, and comes off poorer for it. That bit also relied on a locale-driven stereotype but the joke was the sarcastic clapping, which everyone can identify, not anything to do with Southampton specifically.
Louis CK hosted a mediocre episode of SNL, but at least his show yielded that brilliant Lincoln sketch. Jeremy Renner’s SNL just highlighted everything that is wrong with the show.