Hugh Laurie has a long and distinguished career as a sketch comedian and writer. A product of that most elite of British sketch comedy training grounds, the Cambridge University Footlights Club (where he worked with Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry, and followed such luminaries of the previous generation as several of the Monty Python troupe), Laurie has perfect comedic timing and a dry and ironic wit that would even impress his alter ego, Dr. Gregory House.
I was looking forward to watching Laurie on his return visit to Saturday Night Live. His last outing as host of the venerable series was a year and a half ago. In that appearance, while I enjoyed Laurie’s monologue, a couple of the sketches, and the reprise of his fabulous folk-ballad satire, “Protest Song,” I felt at the time that the sketches written for him did not play to his greatest strengths and he seemed (very) slightly out of his element. It didn’t help that the season as a whole was mediocre at best. The sketches were silly rather than funny some had (for me) a high cringe factor.
This season, SNL is has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance (as has happened several times since the show began airing back when I was in college). The writing is sharp as is the acting — much of that fueled by political humor, giving SNL an energy it hasn’t had for a while. So I was hoping for a more satisfying series of sketches and lots of Hugh. I was not disappointed.
Last night’s SNL, it's final live show of 2008 — and it's Christmas show — was a really good outing. Hugh seemed much more at ease with the material and with being back on live television than he had two years ago. The sketches seemed to rely more on his strengths as a comedic actor with great timing, and some of them really hearkened back to his days writing and performing on A Bit of Fry and Laurie with Stephen Fry on the BBC in the 1990s. As such, most of the sketches were “situational" moments we've all encountered one way or another, bent perversely (or subversively) for comic effect, but containing an element of truth. SNL also made effective use of Laurie’s considerable musical talent (and unexpectedly nice baritone singing voice) both in the monologue and in several of the sketches.