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Saturday, 31 of October of 2020

Why SNL’s “Crab Legs” Sketch Was the Worst

Jolene (Kristen Wiig) and Wendy (Zooey Deschanel) talk up their crab legs.

Even Kristen Wiig can't vamp her way out of this.

Most of my Sunday morning was dominated by conversation on one thing. Sure, I also talked about where to go for breakfast and whether the farmers market is worth bearing Hollywood, but it always circled back to how SNL terrorized America with the “Crab Legs” sketch.

Officially, it’s called “Patio Party” on Hulu but it’s such a general term that the horror is diluted. It’s like calling “2 Girls 1 Cup” “Bedroom Scene.” To spare you the trouble of watching the video: two excited women with big hair and a questionable relationship (roommates? lovers? hype women hired by the national crab board?) are overjoyed to feed their neighbors crab legs in their backyard until they realize there’s a misunderstanding and they have no crab legs to actually serve. So they turn out the lights. That’s it. That’s the whole thing. The more I ruminate on it, the more offended I am that this sketch made it through pitch, rehearsals, dress rehearsals, the early show audience, and then to live audience. So many chances for us to be saved. So many chances for us to be spared.

Do you think I’m being hyperbolic? Have you seen this sketch? I’m going to take you through this perfect storm of comedy abyss and show you why this abomination stole life from you, not only chronologically but maybe spiritually. The more one thinks about it, the more prone to ennui one becomes and, by God, if I’m going to spin into an existential crisis, you’re coming with me. It all starts with —

The host is Zooey Deschanel I’ve never been negative about the girl. There are days when I even like her. I thought her turn on Weeds was good. She was fine in (500) Days of Summer. New Girl is even growing on me. I don’t entirely understand the term “twee” but I know she’s it and I’ve found myself relatively invulnerable to both the adoring and gagging aspects of it. She’s fine for what she does just like Michael Cera is fine for what he does. If you need a man-boy character that nails under-breath punchlines, Cera’s your guy. He doesn’t have to do anything else. If you need a girl-next-door looker who can also appear distant from within her own world of hipster quirks, you don’t get better than ZD. The trouble is that she’s not a live-actress. If she is, she didn’t come to play this week. She fumbled a lot and broke character a couple times in order to do things like pull her hair out of her lip gloss (sidenote: did anyone else get a whiff of A Clockwork Orange from ZD’s underlashes? What was that about?). I don’t know if she was distracted this week or if she just doesn’t have the talent to pull it together in front of the pressure of live television, but she folded like a cheap hooker who got hit in the stomach by a fat guy with sores on his face. But she was just one part of the systemic problem —

The entire episode was weak Outside of Bill Hader as Clint Eastwood and Nic Cage dropping by, the entire episode was a miss. The monologue was too twee (and played heavily toward the ire others have for ZD), the sketches weren’t funny, and the song-and-dance number was — well, that was fine, I suppose, but only really interesting if you’re one of the elite few to have actually watched The Artist. ZD struggled in almost all of the sketches. And she wasn’t helped at all by —

The system of crutches SNL has devised for the non-actors to host Michael Phelps probably needed a teleprompter to get through the week. His skills are in swimming and looking awful in clothing, not remembering pages of words and dramatizing them. Zooey Deschanel is an actor. She should act. Reading lines off a prompter and performing those lines are different things. Encouraging actors to read lines limits the sketch, cheats us of a performance, and makes me cringe awkwardly when these “professionals” stare off-screen and shift their eyes back and forth instead of participating in what’s happening on stage, especially when her other scenemates are consummate and studied and can perform their lines eloquently. It’s particularly embarrassing when Sudekis or Hader is chewing scenery and the host sounds like a second-grader reading Judy Blume out loud. Though that latter example wasn’t really an issue because there was a real —

Lack of Sketch Saviors Outside of Deschanel and Wiig (who anchored most of ZD’s sketches), the other five (5!) players were either “also featuring” or otherwise younger cast members. Nothing against these people (who I’m sure would be funny if they had writers that could support them), but you get the feeling that if one of the people in the backyard was a Sketch Savior (like Hader or Thompson) or even someone more seasoned (like Sudekis or Armisen) that the whole thing might’ve worked out a little bit better. Instead, it looked like no one wanted to be anywhere near this one. Understandably. Even from the script you could see trouble, like the —

Violation of the Rule of Three The premise is built on the anticipation of the crab legs with dashes of ridiculous assertions to keep you interested. Wiig and Deschanel go inside after announcing the crab legs the first time and then repeat this process FIVE TIMES. The rule of three is pretty steadfast. Do something more than three times, and you’ve transcended the boundaries of one of the most honored of comedy rules. They try to keep your attention with victims’ outbursts and brief conversation but, as the sketch spreads beyond the confines of the Rule of Three, it desperately tries to find a new home in our modern comedic culture though it —

Half-Asses Absurdism Anyone who’s watched a decent amount of Family Guy has seen Peter hurt his knee and how the scene(s) violate(s) the Rule of Three entirely but operates under the assumption that there’s a point when a joke is played so absurdly long that it becomes funny again not for the original punchline but for the joke’s execution itself. Somehow, despite how agonizingly long this scene feels, it never reaches that threshold. In order for the premise itself to become absurd, the sketch would have to be ten minutes long. If the victims could have raised it up a little bit to become more angry, more absurd, prone to more outbursts, the sketch might have been better. Instead, everyone, more or less, played the segment straight, including the goofy party hosts (they constantly try to raise the bar of anticipation but it never reaches a hyperbolic level) who seem to be trading on how hilarious the word “crab” might be after the hundredth time (diminishing returns reached after time three or four). So, instead, you get something that’s too grounded, not timed properly or paced well, and —

Ends with No Payoff There’s nothing here. It’s not funny when I wait through your boring sketch and then get rewarded with a stupid ending I knew was coming a mile away. The punchline was so obvious from the beginning that it was almost too obvious, like the fact that there were no crab legs is too basic for seasoned writers to dish us. “Surely, they wouldn’t do that. There must be something else here.” That’s your fault for trusting SNL, though. There was nothing else. It’s just a couple of people with gratingly fake accents holding their neighbors on the line for crab apparently no one noticed wasn’t cooking. I know you’re not supposed to think about these things too much but, when you’re trying to search for meaning for a thing that otherwise stole precious moments from you short life, you’re willing to examine them to find something worthwhile. You could hear that sentiment in —

The audience’s fully prompted, unenthusiastic applause Every sketch ends with audience applause signaled by a lit sign. I know that. But after strong segments, you can tell the audience is into it and really applauds, paying the players the only way they know how: slapping their hands together. After this one, you get the feeling everyone is clapping (a) only because the light came on and that’s their job, (b) the segment is mercifully over and they could try to forget about it, and/or (c) they are really into crab legs and enjoy SNL raising awareness.

So there you go. That’s why this was the worst. Join me next week when I explore Are You There, Chelsea? and the mysteries of Trying Too Hard.

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