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‘SNL’ Host Martin Freeman Takes Viewers to ‘The Office: Middle-Earth’ (Video)

”The Hobbit“ star brings together the best of Peter Jackson’s sprawling ”Lord of the Rings“ saga and the UK’s most inept paper company on the NBC sketch show

Martin Freeman took viewers on a magical journey Saturday night, inviting them to the greatest mashup we never saw coming. “The Office: Middle Earth” transplanted our favorite characters from Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films — based on the novels by J.R.R. Tolkien — to a middling paper company in England.

“The Hobbit” star was a main character in the original UK version of “The Office,” created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Freeman slid back into his role as Tim (Jim in the American remake), only this time he was in his guise as Bilbo. So who more appropriate as his office rival than Gollum, played magnificently by Taran Killam? His reaction to the One Ring in Jell-O was absolutely “precious.”

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Bobby Moynihan was also a delight as a mashup of Gervais’ David Brent and Gandalf himself. The sketch was easily one of the cleverest parodies the show has done this season, and really the only strong sketch of the night. Pre-taped bits have definitely proven more successful this season, and that continued with Freeman as host.

He had a supporting part in Kenan Thompson’s “Sump’n Claus,” a fun musical video about the guy who still gives gifts to all the people on Santa’s naughty list, and a commercial that made all the trappings of Christmas Mass both cool and edgy in an over-the-top way that was probably funnier for Catholics who could be in on the joke.

As for the live material, the host didn’t even feature in the cold open, which followed the tradition of focusing on news with a political bent. This time, it was on the report about the CIA’s torture techniques. Killam played it too straight as Charlie Rose, though, missing comedic reaction opportunities to the outrageous things Bobby Moynihan’s James Mitchell and Kyle Mooney’s Bruce Jessen were saying.

The pair insisted they didn’t just want to be remembered for their work with the CIA, taking credit for mundane “tortures” like Time-Warner Cable’s customer service program, self-checkout at grocery stories and even autocorrect.

Freeman played it mostly straight throughout the night, whether he was trying to teach an imbecilic Taran Killam how to pull a lever or he was marrying a WNBA player he’d known for five days, played by Leslie Jones. The latter had some fun objections from Freeman’s wife, Jones’ father and even the minster himself, but it was more strange than funny and felt more like a sketch we would have seen toward the end of the show under Seth Meyers, rather than the first live sketch after the monologue.

The problem these days is that almost all of the sketches fit that bill. This proved another lackluster episode that seemed more interested in being uncomfortable or strange than being funny. In fact, the majority of the live sketches were about trying to wring humor out of uncomfortable situations, as if they were perhaps over-inspired by Freeman’s turn on “The Office.”

There was Freeman as a saxaphone player uncomfortably having to talk about troubles in his personal life, Freeman as a handyman awkwardly on camera for long stretches of time during a morning talk show, and even Freeman as a waterbed salesman somewhat uncomfortably supporting his wife’s dreams of stardom as she takes over his commercials.

Even Freeman’s monologue was uncomfortable to watch, as the actor appeared to try his hand at off-the-cuff stand-up comedy. There’s an art-form to it, and Freeman doesn’t have it, as evidenced by the lukewarm and confused audience reception he got.

It wasn’t a great episode, but at least it gave us a great sketch in “The Office: Middle-earth.” These days, not every episode of “SNL” can even say that.

Amy Adams hosts “Saturday Night Live” next, on Dec. 20, with musical guest One Direction at 11:30 p.m. on NBC.

Watch the video.