After last week's star-studded opener with Amy Poehler, Justin Timberlake, Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon, first time host Bryan Cranston was given the unenviable task of trying to match that level of surprise and intensity this week. How would the Emmy-winning star of "Breaking Bad" hold up?
Your regular recapper Ryan McGee has the night off, but we're ready to see if "SNL" can keep the momentum going. Hope springs eternal.
Opening: Rahm Emmanuel steps down as chief of staff
Fred Armisen is back as Obama for the first time this season and he's saying goodbye to his chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel (Andy Samberg). Rahm will be replaced by Peter Rouse (Bobby Moynihan). Emmanuel speaks to the press, "Do I lack even basic social skills? Absolutely. Does a little bit of me go a long way? Indeed it does." Emmanuel then gives Rouse some tips, "Everyone in Washington is trying to kill you. All the time. Are you ready to kill a man Pete? Are you ready to choke a man over a vote? This is prison rules Pete!" Rouse, "I don't think I want this job anymore!"
Grade: C+. Emmanuel is hardly as well known a figure as you'd expect for a presidential chief of staff and the whole point of the skit was a little inside baseball. Also, Samberg sort of went into Mark Wahlberg here, but it had it's moments.
Monologue: Bryan Cranston comes out and reminds the audience that he's been a working actor for 30 years. While displaying some of his best known roles, we discover he seems to have a recurring need to appear in his white undies. Cranston admits he's not a household name, "but I think that feeling is about to change." Cranston steps into a "Music Man" musical number with the male members of the cast, but -- here's the joke -- they can't get his name right. Doh!
Grade: C+. We'll give Cranston this, he can sing. The rest? Not that memorable…
Commercial: Pepto Bismol Ice
When you just can't leave the club, this malt liquor will save the day. "Got me off the toliet and on the dance floor." "Plus it' has that signature pink color that guys love."
Grade: B-. Should have been funnier, but at least it had one big laugh.
"The Miley Cyrus Show"
Vanessa Bayer gets the primo slot in only her second show providing her impression of a self-obsessed Cyrus. Cranston appears as dad Billy Ray (best part of the skit) who keeps telling her how great she is, "You're like a pretty little George Lopez." She welcomes Johnny Depp (another newcomer, Paul Brittain) who gets barraged by Miley's insane questions . They show a clip from her movie, because he doesn't have one of his upcoming adaptation of "Goodnight Moon" with Tim Burton (some laughs).
Grade: C. Sigh. It's great they gave Bayer a shot, but this sort of impression is something that plays much better at a comedy club or in short doses as a secondary character than a whole sketch.
"What's Up With That" - Back to School Edition
You know the drill. Our musical host can't stop singing and the guests never seem to know what they are in for. Morgan Freeman, Ernest Borgnine and, of course, Lindsey Buckingham, are the special guests on this writer's favorite recent "SNL" recurring sketch. "If you're gonna at that school lunch you have to stay away from that rectangular pizza, why? Because it's nasty." Freeman is pretty awesome here, as Thompson just waits for him to say the one phrase that will let him sing again. Cranston and Jay Pharaoh appear as Doo Doo Man and Squiggy as crazy characters continue to crash the show. The look on "93-year-old sex machine" Borgnine's face throughout the skit is priceless. The man is having a great time.
Grade: B + . Sorry, I'm biased. It wasn't the best one yet, but it puts a smile on your face and Freeman was a great sport.
"Corporate Basketball Game"
Kristen Wiig shows up as Shanna to help support the corporate basketball team. The guys on the team are drooling over her, until she starts to show a much less attractive side to her personality. Things start to go askew when she tries to mix up a protein shake in her mouth…like mouthwash. And then her burp is pretty nasty too.
Grade: C-. Wiig gets her weekly showcase, but she's still an acquired taste.
Samberg hides under his bed as two intruders ransack his house. He hits an iPhone app for Emergency 911, but like many iphone apps it has an obtrusive ad that gets in this way and takes forever as the robbers continue to take his stuff. This one is for "Rescue Dogs," a movies with Helen Mirren and, um, heroic rescue dogs. Will he get caught or is a canine hero on the way?
Grade: B-. Played at home, but possibly only if you have struggled with your own iPhone. Strangely, few laughs from the audience.
Kanye West - "Power"
Note to Lorne Michaels: Whatever West had to do to let you break form and come up with such a visually stunning and impressive performance was well, well worth it. This is memorable television. Hands down.
Grade: A. Wow. I repeat, wow.
Last week's reunion with Poehler reminded us that Meyers really hasn't shined doing this on his own yet. Nothing new this week to change that opinion.
Second hand news
Moynihan's dumb character (apologies, the name escapes) comes on to talk about the news over the summer. Of course, he gets it all off. From The Mosque (he thinks it's the movie "The Mask") at ground zero, LeBron James on "Miami Vice" instead of "The Cleveland Show." You get the drill.
Grade: C. Grating.
Cathy says goodbye
Andy Samberg does a crazy real life version of the comic book character Cathy. "Ladies, age is just a number. Plus size! Brownies!" "Once you go ace you never go back!"
Grade: B+. Good luck Cathy. You'll be missed. Even after only two Sandberg impressions.
Cranston is our host of a 1972 kids's game show and he's really into giving kisses to his contestants. Except for one little girl from Detroit, Janele (Thompson). who realizes exactly what is going on and will have none of it. The kisses with him and young Roger (Samberg) just really, really cross the line (the joke). Janele gets a right answer, but won't have any of his advances.
Grade: C+. Great idea here, but didn't' seem fully thought out.
"Sparkling Apple Juice"
Cranston and Armisen appear as two long haired pop singers who sing a song about a bottle of sparkling apple juice. And that's about it.
Grade: D. This is one of those times when you wonder what the show's writer's did all summer. Really?
Kanye West - "Runway"
The ladies are back in tutus and slowly leave the stage as West and guest rapper Pusha T bust the song out. Grade: A-. Not "Power," but this is legendary stuff here. "SNL" was very, very lucky to have him on such a weak overall show.
(Abby Elliott? Nasim Pedrad?) introduces Henry, an artistic, young, energetic,nerdy boy who just can't seem to learn any fighting skills from his dad (Cranston).
Grade: C+. Character shows promise, but not necessarily in this sketch.
Yes, you too can set your alarm clock to "Black People Noise" which includes ruffled Tyler Perry Sitcoms, lady complaining about foot problems, domestic arguments, bass, and the movie, "Friday." So, you can sleep well and use the rest of your week to take on the world.
Grade: B. Why was this dumped at the end of the show? It was funnier than half the skits. Anyone think Michaels just doesn't get how funny Thompson really is?
You have to feel for Cranston. He's a classy and talented guy, but "SNL" is probably not the best venue for his skills and certainly not when the writers are as uninspired as they were this week. Luckily, his day job ain't that bad.
Next week finds improv master Jane Lynch and Bruno Mars visiting the "SNL" studios. We're guessing Lynch will give the show a boost. Or, perhaps we're praying….
What did you think of this week's "SNL"? Did Kanye West rule the night? Share your thoughts below.
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