It’s the fourth straight week that “Saturday Night Live” is airing new episodes. That can’t be a good thing, right? If I don’t get eight hours of sleep a night, I resemble an extra on “The Walking Dead.” I can’t imagine how the talent both in front of the camera and behind it are fairing after a month producing a live show each week. Will I take that into account when grading tonight’s ep? Nah. That wouldn’t be American of me. So I’ll throw the grading hammer down on host Anna Faris and musical guest Drake the way I would any other show. Who knows? Maybe running on fumes will produce a hallucinatory episode that will stand the test of time. Or, it’ll just be Kristen Wiig trotting out every old character for one final parade. Anything’s possible. Only one way to find out. Onto the recap!

 

Mayor Bloomberg Speech: Fred Armisen, who has been largely absent this season, plays the Mayor addressing both the protestors on Wall Street and all those watching from afar. He mocks similar demonstrations around the world as inferior, turning their fascimilies into a opportunity to promote NYC tourism. He then plays off recent footage of protestors being power-washed as a citywide sanitation initiative (“Streets, as the saying goes, you can eat off!”) before listing a few New Yorkers towards who protestors can direct their ire instead of at him (such as George Soros and Alex Rodriguez). It’s a pretty toothless cold open, designed to give cheap shout-outs to the New York crowd in the audience. Not a good start. [Grade: C]

Monologue: Ah, the old “questions from the audience” schtick. She fields questions about the Eurozone and the “right” religion before meeting “Hanna Garis”, who is Abby Elliott in full Faris mode. That…was extremely short. Did they write this ten minutes before air? [Grade: C]

The Manuel Ortiz Show: Oh for the love of…in my personal hell, this sketch is always on in the waiting room in the Dentist Office of the Underworld. That being said, Bill Hader’s sketchy husband almost makes this iteration tolerable. Almost. Say it with me, people: four weeks in a row is a bad idea. Normally, I have more to say, but the proof is in the terrible pudding so far. [Grade: D]

 

What’s Wrong With Tanya?: Finally, signs of life! Great concept, really smart specificity (every mother has “Jo” in the name), and a logical build where the host of the game show turns out to be every bit as creepy and domineering as the typical Lifetime movie husband. Faris has real comedic chops, chops that hadn’t been on display yet. But as soon as she said, “Perfect from the OUTSIDE,” I knew this would be a treat. Everything about this worked, top to bottom, from the irrational fears about teenage sex (“You’ve been going to parties where girls perform oral sex for bracelets!”), to the dozens of problems heaped upon “Boy Tanya”, and the dark humor of its final moments. That might have been the best sketch of this season so far. Forget what I said a few minutes ago: the pudding tastes great! [Grade: A-]

“Interviews With Drake”: Aaaand we’re back down to earth again. Having a “32 Short Films About Glenn Gould” approach to an interview with Drake isn’t a bad idea, but very few of these bits actually worked. Other than the “racist” and “extremely dark” versions, most of them seemed to play out exactly how the Don Pardo-announced title would lead you to believe. It really hasn’t been the best fall for The Lonely Island boys to date. That doesn’t make me happy to say, since their digital shorts for a time were the sole saving grace of the show. [Grade: C]

“Yet Another GOP Debate”: Curious placement for a political sketch. I’m assuming it was placed here in order to make the flow of the show work from a practical standpoint. Otherwise, why not lead off with this in the cold open? It isn’t as strong a debate sketch as we saw a few weeks ago, primarily because Vannesa Bayer isn’t suited to playing the straight person in a sketch. Her strengths lie in more cartoonish characters, not as moderators for a debate. While Kenan Thompson’s Herman Cain got some good laughs, you can tell the show is really grooming Jason Sudeikis as Mitt Romney in anticipation of Romney’s potential nomination win. The other highlight? The seemingly unkillable Ron Paul, who deserves some “MacGruber”-esque sketches henceforth. I’d watch the heck out of those. [Grade: B]

It’s Drake time y’all, as he transforms the stage for his performance of “Headlines.” Think of it like a modern-day, technologically savvy updating of Bob Dylan’s video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” The background is more impressive than the song, which says more about the LED screens than it does about Drake. Still, a rapper with more stage presence might have made me forget about all the craziness behind him, and Drake failed to that. His fans probably loved this performance. Those still on the fence probably weren’t converted. [Grade: B-]

Weekend Update: Hey, uh guys, you didn’t hear this from me, mmk? But Anthony Crispino is unfunny. Spectacularly so. But “SNL” clearly loves this character, and inflicts him upon its viewers as often as possible. Bobby Moynihan’s had a good Fall so far, but this character just irks me. Afterwards, Jay Pharoah and Drake show up as “Two Teenagers Dressed Up As Werewolves.” Drake actually shows about ten times more charisma in “Update” than he did during his musical performance, rapping with Pharoah about stealing candy from kids. Also? At this point, Drake has been on “SNL” tonight more than host Ana Faris. Do I need to start a “Free Anna Faris” trend on Twitter? [Grade: B]

“Tell Him”: OK, go back and read all my “SNL” reviews from last year. Go on, I’ll wait. Notice how often I talk about the great amount of female talent on display on the show, yet bemoan how little they actually work together to combine comedic forces? Voila: the comedy gods heard me. Or, more likely, ten thousand monkeys typed up ten thousand sketches and this one somehow made it to the table read. A simple premise (a re-write of the classic song “Tell Him”) went through a series of logical and increasingly funny permutations, all centered around four friends helping a fifth learn the rules of dating. It all culminated with an explosively funny punchline verse about trapping said man through pregnancy. Sorry, “What’s Wrong With Tanya?”: you’ve been topped already. Dear “SNL”: Take note of this sketch, and put these women together more often. [Grade: A]

“J Pop America Fun Time Now”: Or, as I would have called it, “When Otaku Goes Wrong.” Michigan State students enthusiastically embrace Japanese culture through a cable access show on campus, and proceed to offend their professor (and Japan) in the process. Taran Killam and Bayer have great chemistry together, and I wouldn’t mind this being an occasional recurring sketch with the right guest host. The two seem to be on the same comedic wavelength, and had a crisp, manic energy to their performances. At this point, the good and the bad have basically evened out tonight. So, we’re left with a typically schizophrenic “SNL”, I guess. Thus, the pudding tastes…acceptable? [Grade: B+]

Drake and his Magical Message Board are back, this time with “Make Me Proud.” Along for the ride? Nicki Minaj, who is either doubling her own pre-recorded track or is being processed through the mother of all Auto-Tune filters. Either way, I’m not sure how proud Drake should be of her. But mostly I’m proud of Drake for making one of the most annoying choruses in recent history. Even must hear this chorus and say, “Man, Drake: at least TRY with your lyrics!” Still, the verses flowed well, and the two-pronged approach made this a better performance than “Headlines.” [Grade: B]

“Lord Windermere": What a wonderfully bizarre, yet entirely wonderful sketch. Why is Anna Faris dating a 48-year old man that prances around in a medieval costume? Why is her father so delighted by his presence? Why does said father occasionally scream at his son in full Will Ferrell mode? Not sure, and not sure I care. Paul Brittain usually gets small roles in big scenes (see his Ron Paul earlier, which was entirely pre-taped), but his sense of humor seems to work best in the last parts of the show. I’m not sure this sketch would have worked before “Update,” but it’s a hell of lot more amusing and inspired than the 30th rendition of “The Manuel Ortiz Show.” [Grade: B+]

“Ferrari Calendar”: I almost wrote during the “Lord Windermere” bit, “This feels like a 12:55 sketch.” But no, THIS feels like a 12:55 sketch, with just the barest connection to reality that gets slowly severed as it proceeds. Two women pour over a Ferrari calendar, marveling at the increasingly odd features of the men posing next to the cars. (My favorite: “No. Nose. Just. Holes.”) Sadly, Having Bill Hader’s store clerk be the pepperoni-nippled December model didn’t lead to the first rectally-based explosion in “SNL” history. I know you’re disappointed. [Grade: C+]

 

Best Sketch: “Tell Him”

Worst Sketch: “The Manuel Ortiz Show”

Biggest Surprise: That the show’s fourth consecutive week contained the season’s best two sketches.

Happiest Surprise: Seeing the show’s women on their own and demonstrating how well they work together.

 

What did you think of tonight’s episode? Did the show surprise you with its overall quality, or was it just another lackluster edition? Through four episodes, what are your highlights/lowlights of the season? Sound off below!