For those that continually say that “Saturday Night Live” isn’t as good now as it used to be, well, tonight should prove to be an interesting test case for that theory: “SNL” alum Dana Carvey is back to host tonight. He’s not promoting anything, unless there’s a Criterion Collection “Master of Disguise” DVD being released and I’m not aware of it. Normally I’m against the show simply trotting out the same old characters week after week, but expect a parade of Carvey’s classic characters tonight, plus a potential parade of other alums as well. Should be interesting to say the least, which is more than I can say about tonight’s musical guest, Linkin Park. (They seem more anachronistic that Carvey at this point, to be honest.)

As always, I’ll be grading each sketch as it happens. Onto the show!

“Cold Open”: Well, talk about bringing out the big guns early: “Wayne’s World,” y’all. They give us their Oscar picks, which means that this duo has NOT LEFT THE BASEMENT over the past decade. That being said, having them do a show in 2011 yields a fantastic Mila Kunis joke that might ruin her burgeoning career. (Also, this sketch gave more promotion to “Winter’s Bone” than it’s probably received from Roadside Attractions.) This coasted on pure nostalgia, but it’s been so long since these two inhabited these roles that most people are willing to forgive them for the movie sequel and just enjoy the relatively recycled material. [Grade: B]

“Monologue”: Carvey sings a song outlining the essential argument in my opening paragraph, dubbing himself the greatest member of the great cast ever. Jon Lovitz stops by halfway through the song, and now I’m wondering if we’re going to have a single segment of the show without a former cast member popping up. (In related news, don’t look for too many featured players onscreen tonight.) I have a feeling tonight may be more of the show paying tribute to itself more than actually producing a fresh set of comedic takes on modern life. Whether that’s a good thing or not will depend entirely on execution. [Grade: B-] 

“Black Noise”: Apparently, it’s too hard to film a new faux commercial for each episode, so “SNL” trots this one out from the Bryan Cranston episode in the Fall. Unreal. “SNL” might be the only show that’s simultaneously new and yet a rerun. [Grade: Déjà Vu]

“Church Lady”: Three certainties in life: death, taxes, and this sketch appearing on tonight’s show, complete with Phil Hartman’s old intro. (Um, creepy.) The Kardashian Sisters, who have secretly stolen most episodes in which they have appeared this year, are the first guests. Bobby Moynihan gets to bust out Snooki outside of “Weekend Update,” which might depress Seth Meyers but delights the audience. Up third in this apparently 45-minute sketch: the real-deal Justin Bieber, who comes off stiffer than Mark Zuckerberg did last week. But The Church Lady’s unexpected lust topped Fey’s iteration when last Bieber appeared on the show. (Giving Bieber the Barbara Walters filter also helped.) Too long a sketch? Probably, but honestly, when is the show going to be able to do this again? [Grade: B+]

“Celebrity Teen Crisis Center”: A variation on the standard “let’s do a lot of celebrity impressions” sketch, some of which we’ve seen before (such as Hader’s Alan Alda) and some new ones (loved Armisen’s Ice-T especially). A good way to get a lot of players involved in a sketch, though nothing really groundbreaking here. Two less celebrities might have made some of the impressions pop more. [Grade: B-]

“The Roommate”: “Burn. The Roommate!” Total silliness, especially Samberg supposedly playing Sir Ben Kingsley in another knockoff of “Single White Female.” That being said, I’m pretty sure my dreams will be haunted by a naked Samberg wielding a knife. If this has been longer, it might have dragged, but its brevity played to its advantage. Shockingly, Bieber comes off better with slickly produced material as opposed to when performing live. Oooh. Burn. The Bieber! [Grade: B]

Linkin Park takes the stage, lined with video screens, to perform “Waiting For The End To Come.” I try to keep an open mind about most musical acts on the show, but I just don’t feel this band nor this song. That being said, I liked the lighting effect that seemed to put half the band in the A-Ha “Take On Me” video. So, there’s that. [Grade: C]

“Weekend Update”: Meyers’ “Egypt Winner/Losers” hit the mark nicely, taking a fairly complicated topic and finding the funny without dumbing things down. (Quick, someone try and punch the handsome off Anderson Cooper.) Paul Brittain’s James Franco (“I like having jobs!”) would have been better only if the real Franco had been next to him taping the running gag on a Flip Cam. Former disco queen/now meteorologist Angela Dixon did the weather report in…well, exactly the way you might expect. If the show were smart, it would insert Brittain's Franco intermittently throughout the rest of the year, making him the Waldo of the show. They won’t, but they should. [Grade: B overall, A for Franco]

“Live with Regis and Kelly”: Another sketch tonight it which “dialogue” is really “people talking about celebrities not onstage.” At least Kathie Lee Gifford’s barely contained rage towards Ripa, plus her microphone/decanter, livened things up halfway through. Still, weakest sketch of the show so far, which overall has been fairly strong. [Grade: C-]

“Little Miss/Little Girl Pageant Review”: Well, all the pedophiles still awake are giving this sketch a slow clap. The rest of us are wondering what we’re watching. Throwing in a variation of “Shy Ronnie” into the mix isn’t helping matters at all. Some of the descriptions of the contestants are pretty good (“Her favorite thing to do in the morning is wake up!”), but the audience is clearly unsure of whether to laugh or call for an Amber Alert. This sketch shouldn’t have made it out of dress rehearsal. What the hell is going on post-“Update”? [Grade: D]

“Deidra Wurtz: Downsizing Expert”: Big week for Abby Elliot, who has barely been onscreen over the past few months. Unfortunately, this pre-produced sketch would have been better had she taken her Farris impression and inserted it into this segment. This show sinking on a “Titanic”-esque level over the past three sketches. Also? Just realized that Jason Sudeikis hasn’t been on all night. Maybe he’s too busy promoting “Hall Pass”? [Grade: C-]

All three “SNL” alums introduce Linkin Park, who are apparently performing from “Pleasantville.” The triple drum attack reminds me of Radiohead’s “There There,” but this isn’t that song: it’s “When They Come For Me.” I realize now that I shouldn’t be so hard on the band, in that its guitarist appears to be my HitFix boss Dan Fienberg. What? That’s not him? Oh good. Because this song is pretty terrible. [Grade: C]

“The Fingerlings”: Hey, there’s Jason Sudeikis after all! Guess his comic presence didn’t meld with Carvey this week. Carvey fronts an 80’s New Wave-esque band that annoys Green Bay Packers fans just before the Super Bowl starts. Know what? The song could have been a hit if released in 1983, to be honest. It’s no “Sparkling Apple Juice,” but it’s pretty catchy all the same. But a song doesn’t make a sketch, and the crowd reaction didn’t escalate enough to send this over the top. Still, much better than most sketches here in the last half of the show. [Grade: B-]

 

Best Sketch: “Church Lady”

Worst Sketch: “Little Miss/Little Girl Pageant Review”

Best Surprise: Paul Brittain’s Franco. Some will say the impression itself was terrible, but faithfully recreating Franco’s mannerisms isn’t the point. The infectious joy with which Brittain played him stands in sharp contrast to the often mean-spirited way celebrities are (often rightfully) treated on the show. There’s some serious potential with this one going forth, however.

What did you make of Carvey’s return? Too much nostalgia, or did it give you warm feelings to see some of the show’s old sketches return? Were Mike Myers and Jon Lovitz too much, or not enough, extra alumni? Sound off on tonight’s episode below!