The last time Josh Brolin hosted “Saturday Night Live” was October 18, 2008. Sarah Palin was still a candidate for Vice President. That night’s musical act, Adele, was still a barely known commodity. Suffice it to say, a lot has happened in the interim. If memory serves, Brolin acquitted himself well as a host, falling firmly between the genius of Jon Hamm and the “whatever the hell that was” of Michael Phelps. While Brolin’s career hasn’t exactly flourished in those interim years, he’s poised for a potential comeback with this summer’s sequel “Men In Black III.” Will that mean a potential parody with Jay Pharaoh? If that gives Pharaoh something to do other that appear wordlessly in the final sketch of the night, I’m all for it. Joining the festivities tonight is Gotye, who will probably play “Somebody That I Used To Know” in both of his allotted slots tonight. And honestly, who would object?
As always, I’ll be grading each sketch live as they happen. Why mess with a working the formula? “SNL” sure doesn’t. Oh wait. That’s a potentially bad example.
This Campaign Was The Time Of Our Lives: The former Republican candidates congratulate Romney on his nomination, punctuating their campaign sagas by singing a modified version of the chorus of Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)”. It’s much like the pattern for the Jason Sudeikis-written sketches in which a group of guys tell increasingly bizarre stories during the verses of a popular ‘70s FM radio staple. MicheleBachmann gives her Newsweek face, Cain complains about racism, and all of them desperately try to avoid eye contact with Newt Gingrich. Eventually, “SNL” will produce a Romney-centric sketch that isn’t middling. But it wasn’t in the cards tonight. Even if some of the jokes were funny (particularly Romney’s noting a “rapster reference”), the musical segues were awkward and grinded everything down to a halt, forcing everyone to start building momentum again. [Grade: C+]
Monologue: Brolin is excited for the chance to get away from serious work to do something “stupid.” He explains that he’s contractually obligated to keep his goatee as official spokesman for the 1990s. Not surprisingly, Pharaoh comes out to do his Will Smith in order to stage a scene from “MIB III”. Good, I can put down my “Free Jay Pharaoh” sign early. This was incredibly short, which I’m sure means the show has SO MUCH GOOD MATERIAL that it just can’t waste time on a silly monologue. Right? Right? [Grade: B-]
Game of Thrones Behind The Scenes: MYLES MCNUTT, THIS ONE’S FOR YOU, BABY! If there’s any better proof that “sexposition” has hit the mainstream, this is it. I’m not even sure how to grade this, because I feel like I’m too close to this subject to be impartial. Needless to say, a lot of people are going to read about “sexposition” after this week’s show and figure McNutt and others were trying to piggyback off “SNL,” not the other way around. While Samberg’s 13-year old consultant was a fairly easy way to get into explaining the rampant nudity and sex on “Game of Thrones,” I was still delighted to see a topic from the television critical community get play in a sketch. (Also, Taran Killam as Kit Harrington and Bobby Moynihan as George R.R. Martin were incredible.) What can I say? I was a homer for this. I make no apology for this grade. [Grade: A]
The Californians: People in California talk funny and love to discuss the ways to drive home in detail, apparently. Also, Bill Hader is physically incapable of making it through a sketch without breaking anymore. Have people stopped giving him scripts in all scenes, not just during his Stefon monologues? Who knows! This scene has roots in “What’s The Best Way?”, a Season 18 sketch about New Englander gameshow in which contestants have to answer questions about the number of Dunkin Donuts between two Northeastern towns. Fred Armisen spends the entire sketch making everyone else crack up, which normally would be annoying. But Armisen isn’t doing it on purpose: he’s just so committed to the role that everyone else loses it. Each actor onstage seems to be having so much fun that it ends up being infectious. Note for future bar trivia participants: Kate McKinnon gets her first live pre-“Update” appearance in this sketch. [Grade: B+]
America’s Next Top Empire State of Mind Parody Artist: “Weird Al” Yankovic hosts this contest, judged by the Chocolate Rain dude, Ke$ha, and Jay Z himself. I loved Vanessa Bayer mouthing along to Moynihan’s rendition. That was adorable. Also great: Jay Z’s unbridled excitement over each increasingly awful parody, leading him to a mindset whereby he views his original track as in fact derivative. Who knew a “Weird Al”-led sketch could invoke Luigi Pirandello? Maybe I’m just in a great mood from watching “The Californians,” but I think we’ve just seen two good sketches in a row. Fancy that. [Grade: B]
Laser Cats: Steven Spielberg in the HOUSE, y’all! And he’s directing the latest version of this franchise, this time packed with elements from his vast back catalog. I usually don’t like “Laser Cats,” as they often feel too self-indulgent. But this version plays like a wonderful homage to anyone inspired to make films from the modern-day master. “I went with the original ending from ‘Close Encounters’ so all the haters would not I didn’t go soft!” Spielberg tells Lorne Michaels at the end. While the “%$^ ‘em!” ending was a surprise, it was also slightly out-of-tone what was an enormously sweet iteration of a franchise that normally only amuses those making it. Still, this was charming as hell while also offering an impressive series of Easter Eggs for die-hard Spielberg fans. [Grade: A-]
Gotye appears onstage to sing “Stairway to Heaven.” I kid!” It’s “Somebody I Used To Know,” and hopefully Darren Criss won’t appear halfway through to scream-sing Kimbra’s part. This sounds almost exactly like the studio version, except the drums sound a little punchier, which gives the song a bit more edge. My only gripe? Here’s a song that benefits more to listening to it on headphones rather than seeing it onstage, since Gotye doesn’t have a whole lot of stage presence. Even the Buckingham/Nicks verbal dual at the end with Kimbra never truly took flight. Still, this is one of my favorite songs. It’s so good I wish I weren’t happily married, since I’d enjoy it even more if I were single, miserable, and staring at my phone through tear-stained eyes. [Grade: A-]
Weekend Update: Garth and Kat appear, because clearly we haven’t seen Kristen Wiig laugh at Fred Armisen enough tonight. They have an album dedicated to Spring, although it could also be dedicated to “ruining the great streak this episode is currently riding.” Why do they need beans “like, yesterday”? Beats me, but that’s probably the only time I laughed. Garth and Kat are like sushi: not everyone likes them, but those that do straight up LOVE them. Aside from that, Seth Meyers broke out “What Are You Doing?”, which mostly just made me miss Amy Poehler. [Grade: C+]
Piers Morgan Tonight: Taking on the Trayvon Martin case seems like a minefield. Instead, this sketch focuses on the increasingly silly guests that Morgan has trotted out to keep the story fresh. (I think he interviewed Steven Segal about it the other day. Not on “SNL.” In real life. Mull on THAT for a moment.) Ice T comes on to offer his expertise…from his time acting on “Law and Order: SVU.” Brolin appears at Ozzie Guillén, which has nothing to do with the rest of the sketch but hot damn his impression is pretty great. After losing focus, the sketch goes straight into the Kayne Kardashian circus. Nice to see Nasim Pedrad free herself from whatever coat closet she’s been locked in all episode. “I’m a zero threat!” Seriously, “SNL,” Pedrad is awesome. Stop burying her. Finally, the Super Bowl Wire Guy makes a second appearance on this sketch, because why the hell not? This was a case of “more is less,” but there were certainly more solid segments that failed ones all the same. [Grade: B]
Stacy and Brett: What seems like a parody of cheesy cinematography tricks turns into basically a sci-fi sketch about a mystical high school hallway in which every one moves in slow motion. Bayer’s new teacher asks a bunch of theoretical questions about the hallways which are answered by Hader’s principal as well as practical examples inside the hallway. It’s a fun premise that allows for some really great physicality on the part of the cast. Unlike most sketches tonight, this was short and sweet, not overstaying its welcome. Thank God, because “We Got More Bounce In California” will already been in my head until 2037. [Grade: B]
Somebody That I Used To Know: Samberg and Killam re-enact the “Somebody I Used To Know” video in Gotye’s dressing room. It’s about what you expect…until Gotye makes history by being the first person to essentially break in a pre-produced sketch as the duo scream “Somebody!” at him from both sides. It’s sort of great, however, since he’s clearly delighted that he’s part of the current cultural zeitgeist. Normally an artist would have to wait until he or she is dead and buried in the collective consciousness before doing something like this. (In Gotye’s case, that time might be “August,” so props to him for striking while the iron is hot.) [Grade: B]
Holy crap, Gotye has another song? I kid. I kid. He’s back onstage to perform “Eyes Wide Open,” which adds some country twang to an expansive arrangement that wouldn’t be out of place in a stadium rock act. Given the sparseness of “Somebody I Used To Know,” it’s nice to hear Gotye open things up and offer a different palette here. He’s still essentially a black hole onstage, but that’s a criticism of performance, not of the song. “Eyes Wide Open” is pretty good to these ears upon first listen. I hate to be monotonous with the grading, but it’s been a pretty consistent thirty minutes of “SNL.” Sometimes that happens, albeit not nearly enough. [Grade: B]
Booker T Washington High Prom: All Pharaoh, All The Time! Principal Frye returns, and it’s good to see Pharaoh do more than just impressions. Too bad he caught the laughing bug that’s been going around all episode. (To be fair, iguanas ARE stuck up.) Brolin’s drunk teacher makes me realize that he’s been essentially invisible all night. I’m rereading my write-ups of each sketch and realizing that he didn’t lead a single one of them. I don’t think he’s taken away from the show at all, but he’s been used sparingly throughout the episode. His Space Nazi and Ozzie Guillén were both top-notch, but over in a flash. It’s a testament to the show’s overall quality that it’s taken me to now to realize how little he’s actually been in the episode. Final note: this is the second week in a row that “SNL” has chosen to end its episode with a fairly normal sketch. A sign of things to come, or just coincidence? We’ll have to see when the show returns in a few weeks. [Grade: B+]
Best Sketch: Game of Thrones Behind The Scenes
Worst Sketch: This Campaign Was The Time Of Our Lives
Best Surprise: This episode’s consistency. I wouldn’t say this was the funniest show overall this season, but it had the best ratio of hits to misses I can remember in a long while. If other episodes were a power hitter in baseball with lots of strikeouts mixed in with homeruns, tonight’s installment was a steady stream of singles and doubles with only a few pop ups. (Aren’t you glad I don’t cover sports for HitFix?)
Best Surprise II: My sarcastic prediction about the short length of the monologue turned out to be on point. I love it when I’m right! Cough.
Worst Surprise: After appearing in two early sketches (“The Californians” and the pre-produced “Game of Thrones”), Kate McKinnon had very little to do. Then again, aside from Wiig, the only female player to see significant screen time was Vanessa Bayer. Sadly, she served primarily as the straight person in the sketch surrounding by wackiness. I’m not exactly anxious to see another edition of “The Miley Cyrus Show” sketch, but Bayer has talent that is wasted by playing bland adult figure after bland adult figure.
What did you think of Brolin’s performance? Did “SNL” hide him or did he just do a great job blending into the ensemble? Did tonight’s musical performances change your mind about Gotye? Did the show seem more consistent than normal to you, or am I giving the episode too much slack? Sound off below!