I wish Las Vegas would let me bet on things like “Gwyneth Paltrow and Cee-Lo Green co-performing a sanitized version of ‘F#$k You’ on ‘Saturday Night Live.’” But according to my fictional bookie, apparently I can’t. Oh well. Will Paltrow fill the audience with “Glee” or depression? Will her overall performance be “Country Strong” or reveal her to be a simple city slicker? As always, we’re breaking things down live, sketch by sketch. Here we go!
“FOX News: Embracing Civility”: James Carville goes onto FOX News in order to test Glenn Beck’s patience, as well as the audience’s patience for this one-note joke sketch. It’s another cold open without Obama, but also without many laughs. Rachel Maddow taking over Beck’s chalkboard was like most things in this sketch: a decent idea with less than amusing results. Only redeeming factor: Sean Hannity literally frothing at the mouth over the thought of a vegan restaurant. For once, I agree with Hannity on something. [Grade: C-]
“Monologue”: Shaky start with Paltrow out there by herself, but then Jason Sudeikis busts out a sarcastic Kenny Rogers to play up her lack of real country bonafides. She’s pretty great at playing dumb about the lyrics, and having Cee-Lo Green join in halfway through took things up another notch. So, score one in the “she can mock herself” column. Thank God. There’s just so much there to mock, “y’all.” And I can’t even deduct points for the fact that they debunked by prediction in the first ten minutes of the show. [Grade: B]
“The Cape”: Hey, nothing like trying to shoot your newest would-be hit by mocking its title in a series of sartorial gags. So help me if they do a similar gag with “Parks and Recreation” in the show by showing off a series of facial hair configurations based off of Ron Swanson’s moustache. On a positive note? It wasn’t that pubic hair commercial again. So, victory? [Grade: C-]
“Secret Word”: Well, this has one half of a good sketch, with Paltrow’s character akin to a more urbane, more erudite, more racist version of Betty Draper. But Wiig’s Broadway actress is one of her most grating characters, and these days, that’s saying something. Still, as someone who normally hates this recurring sketch, this was a fairly passable iteration. I’m ready for some sketches build around Paltrow at this point, not ones that keep her in the background. [Grade: B-]
“Shots with Pee-Wee”: Not so much a Digital Short as a promo for Paul Reuben’s Broadway staging of “The Pee-Wee Herman Show”…which closed a few weeks ago. So yea, I guess I got nothing here about why this is airing now. Still, seeing Chairy mouth off to a beaten Anderson Cooper is just about the last thing I thought I’d see on the show tonight, and nostalgia hit pretty hard during the “Tequila” dance. But I have to chalk this up to being a lot more fun for these people to produce than it was for us at home to watch. Also, shouldn’t the host of the damn show be in the digital short? [Grade: C+]
“Jacob’s Rockin’ Bar Mitzvah”: OK, I like Nasim Pedrad all well and fine. But she’s now played Michelle Malkin AND Alicia Keys tonight, and if that doesn’t demonstrate just how far SNL has to go in terms of getting a cast that represents the broad demographic of America itself at this point, I don’t know what does. This isn’t me telling the show how to compose its cast, but having an Iranian-American stand in for every non-Caucasian race on the show is just plain odd, and I imagine for some pretty disappointing if not offensive. As for the rest of the sketch: it was “Deep House Dish” set at a bar mitzvah, essentially, and it’s right in the show’s wheelhouse. Not sure making Paltrow play Taylor Swift was the best idea, however: all I could think about was that if Swift were actually hosting this episode, she would have KILLED that number as much as Vanessa Bayer killed playing the awkward teen Jacob. More Jacob, less Miley please. [Grade: B]
“Forget You”: Somewhere in the world, Jenny Slate is watching this sketch and saying, “Ha, not so ‘forgetting’ easy, IS IT?” This is the type of sketch that the Monty Python crew would have played to perfection back its heyday, but here just didn’t flow particularly trippingly off the tongues of the performers. Also, Cee-Lo has been in exactly one less sketch than Gwyneth tonight. Not sure who that says more about. A few of the stand-in words were funny (especially “Nintendo” and “Country Strong”), but this isn’t about writing so much as onstage delivery, which was stilted as each performer struggled to not pull a Slate. Wanted to give this D, but it gets a slight bump up by having a creative segue into the musical performance. [Grade: D+]
Well, they’ve only mentioned the song 76 times until now, so it’s high time to actually hear “F**k You”. The all-girl band? Rockin’. The set? Trippy and awesome. But the previous sketch served not so much as a piece of comedy as a three-minute apology for this performance. This song simply loses its power, not because swearing is cool but the real-deal title is a far more effective way of stating the obvious. The fact that I have to dance around the title here shows how much work goes into to covering up something that we all know, yet somehow can’t directly reference. Not Cee-Lo’s fault, but this is some shhhhh indeed. [Grade: B]
“Weekend Update”: Seth Meyers’ “Constitution Corner” was an interesting solo, more sober riff on the “Really???” segments he once did with Amy Poehler. Jimmy McMillan returned to discuss his upcoming Presidential run, but the bit felt as dated as McMillan himself. But Bill Hader as Cher? It was like Greg The Alien in drag. In other words? It was fantastic. To wrap things up, Garth and Kat came on to improv some more painful tunes to assault our eardrums, this time dragging Paltrow down with them. But the in-house crowd seemed to love them, so what do I know? That I need a drink. That’s what I know. [Grade: C]
“False History”: What if Shakespearean plays had previews and ads like today’s movies? Well, it would look like this, the most clever sketch of the night so far. That doesn’t mean it was particularly groundbreaking, but so little tonight has been adventurous that this wins by default. But more than simple slight parodies of plays such as “Romeo and Juliet,” this sketch also featured some nice parallels such as silencing falcons pre-play in order to maximize entertainment. In a stronger show, this wouldn’t stand out, but this was a cool glass of water after ingesting some boiled duck from the lobby. [Grade: B]
“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: 20th Anniversary DVD”: She’s won an Academy Award, so let’s give Paltrow one line and a bad wig as a cop in a lost outtake of Will Smith’s breakout sitcom. I’m semi-speechless, as well as semi-stunned I’m getting this mad about the show’s use of her tonight. Jay Pharoah’s impressions usually are impeccable and lift most sketches, but his Smith didn’t really get going until the end of this one. Completely forgettable. [Grade: C-]
“ESPN Deportes”: What would have been a funny line in “Update” turns into a 4-minute sketch about Spanish announcers suddenly losing their accent to pronounce American names and catchphrases. The results were predictably thin, even if Paul Brittain and Paltrow both brought as much energy as they could to the proceedings. Also? I’m pretty sure Pharoah did an impression of Shaq, not Kevin Garnett, but who’s counting at this point? Those Triple Equis beers are looking damn good. [Grade: C]
Cee-Lo Green! You were all over the first half of the show, then we lost ya, buddy! He’s back singing “Bright Lights Bigger City”. The Robert Palmer-esque backup band is back as well, giving solid accompaniment. This is the best song that mid-80’s Glenn Frey never wrote. Not as catchy as “F**k You,” but honestly, what is? Still, great tune. [Grade: B]
“Spitzer Auditions”: The former governor sexual harasses his way through a series of possible replacements for his CNN gig. Pretty straightforward for this normally trippy last slot of the night. Weirdly enough, just as I thought, “Boy, they write Spitzer the same way they write former Governor Paterson,” Paterson himself shows up for the punch line to the sketch. Perfectly fine, but really odd to be in the last slot. Could have slid in anywhere post-“Update” and been more effective. [Grade: B-]
Best Sketch: “False History” (That’s just depressing.)
Worst Sketch: “Forget You”
Best New Character I Feel Will Be Pushed Down Our Throats Until I Hate Him: Vanessa Bayer’s Jewish teen, Jacob
All in all, a waste of a perfectly game Paltrow. Sometimes “SNL” hides hosts that can’t bring the goods, but it’s clear Paltrow was more than capable had the material 1) been stronger, and 2) allowed her to actually shine in the sketches as opposed to simply take a back seat/blend in. Let’s hope future hosts get a chance to shine more than Paltrow did.
What did you think of Gwyneth’s performance tonight? Too much Cee-Lo Green, or not nearly enough? And did the use of Pedrad tonight indicate that a change in casting needs to be made sooner rather than later for the show?
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