In a the post-Lonely Island era of SNL, digital shorts received new life from the surrealist humor of Mike O’Brien, and director team Matt & Oz. Cinematic, expertly scored, and with a willingness to embrace the absurd, the O’Brien pre-recorded segments feel more like a George Saunders short story put to screen than anything else.
Last Saturday, Matt Villines died of cancer at age 39. In honor of his incredible work, I ranked my top 5 favorite Matt & Oz directed digital shorts. The pair directed a vast number of videos for SNL — including Emmy-nominated (Do It On My) Twin Bed—but in this small and arbitrary selection, I gravitated towards the videos I feel best represented the Matt & Oz distinctive style: patient, sometimes cringingly uncomfortable, usually a little sad, and always unexpected.
Honorable mention: Uber for Jen
5. The Jay-Z Story
I have watched this video maybe 400 times. The best part is they never undermine their own joke. The video is Mike O’Brien playing Jay-Z as a white guy, clear and simple—and it is magical. BEST MOMENT: The little scissor-kick at 1:55
4. Prom Queen
Michael Keaton plays the most incredibly believable high school teacher, even if Mike O’Brien is the world’s oldest senior. But like “The Jay Z Story”, the sketch never resorts to hacky stereotypes or backtracks on its premise. It plays out fully, and it plays out beautifully. BEST MOMENT: “Well, it’s 7:30. So I’m going to turn in.”
Mike O’Brien and co. have an uncanny ability to evoke a specific point in time. Beck Bennet’s bully’s “What? I’m genuinely asking!” is astutely specific, a pitch-perfect way to let us know O’Brien’s social standing without relying on any cliche tropes. BEST MOMENT: The grow-a-guy’s unexpected Groot save.
2. The Champ
They set the scene masterfully for an even more masterful subversion. Even Kate McKinnon’s few lines as a cheerleader help to create a hyper-realistic universe that makes the video’s twist even more hilarious. BEST MOMENT: “And that’s nuts. Because the neighbors were murdered tonight.”
1. Monster Pals
Everything that a Matt & Oz video should be: confident, surrealist, and heartbreaking. BEST MOMENT: This entire video and the nonsense universe it exists in.