I have to say I can’t quite figure out the number of lengthy breaks during this season of “Saturday Night Live.” After tonight, there won’t be another episode until early May, when Tina Fay returns to host for the third time. That’s essentially a month in between episodes, which might give the show’s featured players more time to make feature films but doesn’t appease many with a love for as much new “SNL” as possible. (Or those with a love/hate relationship with the show, a demographic that probably far exceeds the former.) Hopefully tonight’s Dame Helen Mirren/Foo Fighters edition will provide enough good vibes to last us through Easter Sunday. 

It’s not as if the show will struggle to find things in Mirren’s wheelhouse: she can pretty much do it all, and do it better than anyone. Let’s hope there’s some material for her to really sink her teeth into tonight. Only one way to find out! Onto the recap…

“Cold Open”: Oh no. Not a good start. Fred Armisen’s Obama lists the various people unhappy with last night’s last-minute federal budget compromise, which turns into an extended series of jokes that have increasing less to do with the budget itself and more to do with easy political punching bags. The gist of the speech–that everyone’s unhappy–quickly turns into a referendum on the audience, which gives polite laughs at best. The only joke that worked? The one about children disappointed their trips to national landmarks will go on as planned. Everything else was a clunker, including the one about people unhappy this show is still on the air. File under: lead balloon. [Grade: C-]

 

“Monologue”: Helen Mirren rightly notes that SNL used up all its “queen” sketches last week with Elton John. Hey-o! The monologue turns into a parody/homage to “South Pacific”’s “There is Nothing Like a Dame”, and it’s pretty fantastic. She seems to be ready for anything. Then again, Elton seemed the same way, and that had mixed results. Still, this was short and fun, and already turned the tide from that disastrous cold open. [Grade: A-]

“Mort Mort Feingold”: Paul Brittain’s Jame Franco is back! Sweet! But only for three seconds, as this is one of those “give everyone in the cast a chance to do a celebrity impression.” (My favorite, per usual, is Abby Elliot’s Khloe Kardashian.) The rotating series of celebs also gives Brittain a chance to appear near the end as well, this time as Johnny Depp alongside Mirren’s Helena Bonham Carter, Bill Hader’s Tim Burton, and Burton’s receipt dream spider. By all means, take an Academy Award-winning actress and give her two lines in a sketch. For the love of all that’s holy… [Grade: B-]

“Digital Short”: Any montage of happiness involving “Teen Wolf” footage is A-OK in my books. Last week was all about Elton John being gay. This week is all about Helen Mirren’s breasts. I’ll let you decide if this is an upgrade or not. But I think we’ve now established any digital short can be improved with casual motorboating. [Grade: B+]

“FOX and Friends”: Oh. Oh. Oh no, “SNL”. Reverse anchor babies? This is the best you have this early in the show? Ugh. Saving this sketch from “Worst of 2010-2011” is Bobby Moynihan’s clueless anchor, who misuses the word “eclectic” and produces a Dave and Buster’s gift certificate as his birth certificate. Everything else was overlong and awkward, like a bad best man speech at a wedding reception. I’m longing for the days when Obama told me what makes Dennis Kucinich unhappy. [Grade: D]

“Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein”: Not a bad premise for a sketch, though less amusing in the execution. The monster in the famous novel inspired by Shelley’s landlord, Frank Stein? Why not? Though, as is the case this season, the premise serves a cast member more than the host. Mirren simply sits there and plays the straight man to Armisen’s “monster.” The sketch established the premise for too long and didn’t leave enough room to actually play with the notion. Still, this didn’t make me want to forget my troubles inside Mirren’s bosom, so I guess this is a major step up from “FOX and Friends.” [Grade: B-]

 

Foo Fighters take the stage to perform “Rope” from their new album, “Wasting Light.” The song features an almost Beatles-esque vocal, with Dave Grohl sharing a lot of the load with drummer Taylor Hawkins before ripping into the chorus by himself. I’m a huge Foo fan, and there’s a leanness to this song, even in its three-guitar attack, that feels familiar yet fresh at the same time. That being said, with a show this bad so far, maybe a song about using rope to get out of one’s misery isn’t the best one to play right now. [Grade: A-]

“Weekend Update”: James Carville comes on the scene to talk about the near-shutdown, comparing abortion to “Mambo #5” in a way that’s somehow not completely offensive. I guess that comes from being raised by eels. Best Carville segment ever, hands down. (There’s more than a little Stefon in there by this point. Fine by me.) Shelly Elaine, a Southwest flight attendant onboard the plane that had to have an emergency landing last week, relating her perspective on the fateful flight, with most of the humor coming from Kristen Wiig’s loud voice and louder wig. Jean K Jean hops onstage, and while Stefon’s my favorite recurring “Update” character, Jean’s pretty far up on the list as well. It’s just supremely silly, and at this point, it’s like a cool drink of water in the comedy desert. [Grade: B+]

“The Best of Both Worlds with Hugh Jackman”: TWO SIDES! Best sketch of the night, hands down. Not even close. Great idea, great execution, and even built up to a logical conclusion that made Ice Cube helping Julie Andrews murder someone seem organic. You’d think those three things happening in the same sketch wouldn’t be cause for celebration, but since it happens so infrequently, I have to actually point out when it DOES happen. This was so good I did even mind Samberg pulling a Horatio Sanz and breaking every 15 seconds while delivering his lines. [Grade: A]

 

“Crunk-Ass Easter”: I’m pretty sure these vignettes are the product of a 3 a.m. writing session in which everyone just says random stuff that later gets shaped into this stream-of-consciousness festival, but it makes me laugh every time.  Methed-out coyotes, Chilean miners, and Eagle-Eye Cherry? Suck on that, Bonnaroo! [Grade: B+]

“The Roosevelts”: A parody of “The Kennedys,” with historical inaccuracies cast upon yet another Presidential family. Other than the cheap thrill of seeing Elliot’s Marilyn Monroe suck face with Mirren’s Eleanor Roosevelt, not a lot here. Maybe having Brittain’s historian there for the filming of the movie would have been more effective, with him being increasingly bewildered by the liberties on-set. Nothing bad, but nothing terribly good here, either. [Grade: B-]

“Perspectives Photo Studios”: Imagine if all the forced perspective tricks in the film world were employed to make your junk bigger on ill-advised texts to ladies. Well, imagine no more: here it is. Quick question: has any episode of “SNL” ever featured as much blurred-out body parts tonight? Is this a record? It’s not a GOOD record to have. It’s more like Brett Favre’s record number of interceptions than Favre’s record number of touchdown passes. [Grade: C+]

Foo Fighters are back, this time to perform “Walk,” another number from their new album. Whereas “Rope” instantly grabbed me upon first radio listen, this track isn’t exactly doing the same. Then again, it’s probably partly due to the fact that I’m a touch disappointed they aren’t playing “Everlong.” Still, it builds up nicely to a bridge that almost borders on emo but ultimately veers on the side of simply anthemic. It’s a strong song, just not as top-to-bottom stellar as “Rope.” [Grade: B]

“Bongo’s Clown Room”: I’m torn: on one hand, Jason Sudeikis’s strip-club DJ schtick is hysterical. On the other hand, is it really the best use of the show’s female cast to have them be vaguely awkward strippers? (Then again, it’s primarily been Mirren’s breasts on display for the majority of the night, so maybe this sketch is about leveling the playing field.) The DJ is essentially Pete Twinkle from the ESPN Classic sketches, with a deeper voice and Norm MacDonald-esque pauses. Since I like every element of that equation, I ultimately like this sketch, with my slight qualms about objectification ultimately put aside. [Grade: B]

 

Best Sketch: “The Best of Both Worlds with Hugh Jackman”:

Worst Sketch: “FOX and Friends”

Biggest Diva: Helen Mirren’s chest

 

What did you think of SNL’s use of Helen Mirren? Has the show lost its overall touch with its hosts, or should the hosts simply expect to support the show’s cast? What advice would you give the show during its month-long hiatus? Sound off below!