When “Precious” (I refused to type out the rest of the title) debuted at Sundance, all of the hype was surrounding Mo’Nique’s breakthrough performance: it was showy, it was horrifying, and it eventually won her an Academy Award. However, Gabourey Sidibe was sort of an unsung hero at that point, a talented young discovery who manages to bring to life a character who needs to be something more than an emotional punching bag for that film to truly succeed. But as the Awards season wore on, her winning performance and her winning demeanor unsurprising won over pretty much the entire world: she seems uncorrupted by her stardom, always smiling and always excited to be able to do the things that her success have afforded her. However, this means that her appearance as the host of “Saturday Night Live” could go in two directions: either her enthusiasm will make for a winning experience, or else her enthusiasm will finally find itself horribly misplaced as she is stuck hosting a lifeless comedy show in the midst of a fairly substantial creative black hole. 

Ultimately, I’d say that it leans more towards the former, although Sidibe succeeds at winning us over in spite of some pretty terrible material overall. 

[Full recap of the April 24 "Saturday Night Live" after the break...

My Cold Open had the sound cut off, which makes it the best cold open in weeks – it had Fred Armisen as Obama, though, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say it wasn’t very funny, but on my end it was very well lit, and the camera stayed really steady. [Grade: S for Silent] 

Sidibe’s monologue was one of those ones where the performer’s enthusiasm overwhelms some uninspired material. The actual jokes in the “I’m Gabourey” song never really came together (Oprah didn’t even get a laugh), but Sidibe was just plain fun: whether telling college to suck it, or talking about Mariah Carey’s moustache, it was just fun to see someone out there just having fun. She seemed nervous, but that’s understandable, and it actually made it more endearing at the end of the day. The show didn’t do her any favours, but they at least gave her a monologue that she was able to make her own. [Grade: B+] 

Kristen Wiig’s Suze Orman impression isn’t actually funny, it’s just accurate: Suze Orman isn’t actually relevant to popular culture, so it’s not as if there’s anything topical to say using the character. And so the show trots out the same types of jokes it would have used when they did the sketch three years ago, which creates no connection to current events. Sidibe’s character had an inconsistent and unnecessary Jamaican accent, and I never even cracked a smile during the sketch. It was just a waste of time, which is not why we watch television this late at night. [Grade: D] 

The “Steve Harvey hosting Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” sketch is so bizarre that I don’t know where to begin: the sketch was effectively that the host of a game show doesn’t know how to pronounce the words on the screen, leading to a lot of confusion over Icelandic words at the sketch’s conclusion. However, I had no idea why Steve Harvey (who, as far as I know, hasn’t been relevant for a while) was hosting it, or why they chose Millionaire. As it turns out, Harvey guest hosted the daytime syndicated version of the series a few weeks ago, and prattled on so much about his personal life that they barely got to any contestants. However, while perhaps the sketch then becomes a little bit funny, since when has Saturday Night Live been drawing their topical humour from daytime syndicated spin-offs of failed primetime game shows? Is a parody of last week’s Deal or No Deal contestant on tap for the next new episode? It’s just weird. [Grade: D+]  

I actually completely forgot that the “Get Going” sketch even existed when I started writing this review – I actually thought some of the material was alright, mainly Sidibe selling the title line, but it just didn’t seem to go anywhere, and Sidibe struggled a bit with the lines which sort of threw the rhythm off a bit.  

There are times, though, when confusion is actually what the show is going for rather than an unintended spinoff of a poorly designed sketch. This week’s Digital Short, “Cherry Battle,” was surreal because it was supposed to be surreal. I much prefer these sorts of abstract Digital Shorts, with Sidibe and Andy Samberg spitting cherries back and forth to one another in slow motion, to the ones which go over the top into gross-out territory, and the combination of music and the digital effects really came together into a slick, and slickly bizarre, package. [Grade: A-] 

There are some sketches which don’t really come together, and there’s others that just sort of coast by on the same basic joke without trying to do anything more. The Danish Repertory Theater’s wildly inaccurate take on the life of Frank Sinatra was a little hit or miss at the end of the day, but it stuck to its basic joke (that they did no actual research) and delivered on it. Combine with Sidibe belting it out at the end, and you’ve got something which presents as pleasantly inoffensive and mildly conceptually clever even if it doesn’t bother trying to ascend to comic heights. [Grade: B-] 

Say what you will say about Kristen Wiig being overplayed on this show (I’ve said a lot), but the Judy Grimes sketch grew into something impressive: the length and speed of her final “Just Kidding” run was kind of great, and the Volcano bit was a nice little turn. Similarly, the Stefon bit started out pretty lame, but Hader cracking up was a bit of spontaneity in a part of the show which (with only one host) tends to feel entirely unnatural. I don’t entirely know why John Mulaney was brought out to read the speech about Girl Scout Cookies (he’s a writing supervisor on the show, although a stand-up comedian by trade), which wasn’t particularly fresh but which was fairly well structured, but it again gave Update a sense that there was something different from the norm going on. Throw in a nice topical joke on abuse in the Catholic Church (“This week the papacy of Pope Benedict turned five years old, at which point a priest hit on it”), and you have a pretty solid Update. [Grade: A-] 

The 2010 Public Employee of the Year Awards only has one joke: government employees have job securities without actually doing any work. The problem is that the sketch isn’t actually funny in any way beyond that: no one actually laughs at any of the “jokes,” none of the characters really connect, and this is the point in the night where Kenan Thompson’s constant presence begins to wear on the show. It just wasn’t actually any funny, even if it was true to the way in which government employment operates. It just fell completely flat, not helped by the fact that the show keeps giving Sidibe accents that aren’t funny and that she can’t exactly keep up with.[Grade: D] 

I’m largely against the show just rebooting the same sketch with a slightly different premise and with a different guest host, but the Novelty Product sketch with Jenny Slate’s Tina slays me. The actual characters are worthless, but some of the alarm clocks are just really well written, a rare example of the show actually delivering some quotable and at times laugh out loud moments. The alarm clock for men (“Wake up, you got a boner about nothing”) was nicely played, and the Steven Spielberg alarm clock (“Welcome to Jurassic Clock…BEARD”) made me laugh far more than I’m willing to admit. The sketch doesn’t try to add up to anything or have a narrative, but once it gets into the celebrities and the more specific alarms it has more good material than much of the show put together. [Grade: B+] 

The show ends on a down note: Sidibe plays herself being wooed by Will Forte’s creepy, and not funny, Hamilton character. It’s always awkward when the show has actors play themselves alongside such broad character, especially when the sketch is shot so strangely with nothing but nothing else in each frame but one of the characters talking. The sketch has no dynamism, which robs it of any comic potential – throw in a bizarre and unfunny comment about genitalia and Robert Ludlum novels, and you’ve got a very unfortunate closing note. [Grade: D-] 

Chances are that you know MGMT, if you know MGMT, from their big hits like “Time to Pretend,” “Electric Feel” and the infectious “Kids.” However, you may have noticed that the two songs they performed tonight (“Flash Delirium” and “Brian Eno”) from their new album, "Congratulations," sound nothing like those songs. I give them credit for sticking to their guns with their admission that this album lacks those types of hit singles, but the new material isn’t nearly as good, and ever since I learned that they didn’t even bother to play “Kids” at Coachella I’ve viewed their stubbornness to be rather woefully misguided. The new songs aren’t bad or anything, and I certainly think they’re smart to play two new songs here, but this isn’t the band that many might be expecting them to be, which makes their “SNL” appearance perhaps less mainstream than the producers may have intended.  

 

Other Notes: 

*** Betty White is officially hosting on May 8th with musical guest Jay-Z (an inspired pairing), and NBC is playing it up with some ads which aired during the show but which were unfortunately absent in my Canadian simulcast. However, I’m just hopeful that the show has some better material when it returns in two weeks. 

*** It says something about “SNL” that Kenan Thompson was in nearly every sketch – I don’t know if this was an attempt to avoid the appearance that the show currently has a particularly white cast (which it does) or not, but I certainly don’t think he was anywhere close to funny enough to justify his constant presence. Plus, they didn’t even do his one solid sketch, “What’s Up With That,” although to be fair they just did the character with Phillippe last week. However, I’ll give them this: they didn’t trot out Thompson’s impression of Mo’Nique, so they weren’t quite as transparent as I thought they were. 

*** I didn’t know that Sidibe could sing, so it was nice to see her get a chance to belt it out – while her endearing qualities did nothing to save “SNL,” it’s certainly another sign that she will have no trouble continuing her career, even if her portentous “This is my first SNL!” comment during the curtain call may have been getting a bit ahead of herself.

What'd you think of Sidibe or MGMT?