I have to confess my excitement about the possibilities inherent with Katy Perry hosting “Saturday Night Live” tonight. I wouldn’t exactly say I’m a fan of her musical output, but she’s certainly shown ample willingness to spoof herself in the past. Her appearance on last year’s “Bronx Beat” sketch was also quite strong, and not just because of her choice of low-cut Elmo top, either. Can she sustain a full show with such energy and aplomb? It’s hard to say. I don’t think anyone’s expected Justin Timberlake levels of success tonight, but I wouldn’t be the least surprised if this turns into a highlight of the 2011 Fall season.
 
Which pretty much means I probably just doomed the show to being a 90-minute rendition of “The Manuel Ortiz Show,” interspersed between musical performances by Robyn. I sincerely apologize in advance. Onto the recap!
 
On The Record: Is anyone in America happier than BobbyMoynihan about Newt Gingrich’s sudden rise in the polls? My God. What seemed like a nothing part might develop into something huge if current trends continue. Darrell Hammond returns to the show as Donald Trump, pumping up his upcoming Republican debate with Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Too bad the material given to Hammond is trite, playing up Trump’s houses more than the politics of the day. Moynihan and Samberg barely get a single word in, leaving the cold open as essentially five minutes of Trump bloviation. Awesome to see Hammond back on “SNL,” but this was a weak way to start the show.  [Grade: C-]
 
Monologue: Katy Perry appears, looking awfully festive in that Christmas-themed dress. She explains her outlandish wardrobe as inspired by people she knew growing up, which leads to a parade of “SNL” cast members dressed up in some of Perry’s infamous outfits. It starts off slow, but gets going once Kristen Wiig and Perry sing a slowed-down version of “Teenage Dream” to each other. I’m glad the show trotted out some support for Perry, as she seemed nervous as hell during the first few lines of her monologue. Rough start. This is all my fault. [Grade: B-]
 
J Pop America Fun Time Now: Wow. Glad to see this sketch get another iteration, as its debut earlier this season was fantastic yet divisive. Perry appears as the president of the school’s Hello Kitty fan club. “If there’s such a thing as a loving form of racism, I think you’ve found it!” cries out Jason Sudeikis’ horrified advisor. Taran Killam and Vanessa Bayer have a great chemistry, and really crisp simultaneous delivery, but something about this version of the sketch didn’t pop (pun intended) as much as last time. It was probably because it was beat for beat the same as the first one. It might have to be until this sketch gets recognized for the type of satire it’s attempting. [Grade: B-]
 
The Apocalypse: Someone needs to calculate how many “let’s have everyone in the cast do a short impression” sketches that have aired this Fall. It feels like somewhere in the 350-400 range. But it’s probably a bad sign that the sheer number of celebrities that got “Ludacris” inserted into their name landed more than the impressions themselves. Jay Pharaoh’s Cuba Gooding Jr. might have been his worst impression yet, and all others were essentially retreads of those we’ve seen before. The best, by far? Wiig’s 1-2 punch of Drew Barrymore and Kim Cattrall. Those impressions are both about 6 years too late, but holy hell were they on point regardless. [Grade: B]
 
Kalle: We’re on Perry’s second sketch, and she’s already playing herself. What is she, a pro athlete? This isn’t Perry’s show so much as Wiig’s at this point, as the latter breaks out a brand new character here: a Finnish talk show host with an alarmingly skilled research team. Apparently, they work out of the TARDIS, as the team even has footage from the future to support anything and everything said by Perry during the interview. It’s the type of sketch that will probably get run into the ground should “SNL” decide to make it recurring. But credit Wiig for going outside her vast gallery of established characters and bringing something new to the table [Grade: B+]
 
Two Best Friends: Well, after a Fall of misfires, we have the first great Digital Short of the season. A song you can sing along to, great cameos by Matt Damon and Val Kilmer, a creepy-ass muppet named Bird-Man, and a concept that spun increasingly out of control with each verse. As someone who grew up on “Top Secret!” and “Real Genius,” I loved seeing intentionally funny Val Kilmer once again. I thought we’d lost him forever after 2005’s “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” But lo, there he was, in the time machine potentially used by Kalle’s research crew. Great stuff, and unsurprisingly featured Perry’s best performance yet. Let’s see her bring that energy to a live sketch, please. [Grade: A-]
 
Doggie Duty: See above, re: “let’s have everyone in the cast do a short impression”. I believe this is the third version of this particular type of ensemble sketch, and it ALWAYS starts with Fred Armisen’s Randy Newman. TOPICAL! Pros: Sudeikis’ Meatloaf, Perry’s Florence Welch. Cons: Samberg’s Chris Barron, Wiig’s Gwen Stefani. Eastwoods: Bill Hader’s Clint Eastwood. These aren’t sketches so much as jokes enacted in real time by live human beings. They aren’t evil or anything. But they aren’t “SNL” at its strongest, either. Tell me a short story, guys. Don’t deliver a series of discreet jokes. You have “Update” for that. [Grade: B-]
 
Robyn takes the stage to perform “Call Your Girlfriend.” She appears to be wearing the same boots Elton John did in the filmed version of “Tommy.” It sounds like she beamed this song directly from 1991 via the time travel device employed by Kalle and Kilmer. It’s perfectly catchy, disposable pop, but it doesn’t have much personality behind it. She could learn quite a bit from tourmate Perry on how to sell this material onstage. I know a lot of the grades are the same tonight, y’all. But it’s a B- kinda night. Sometimes, that’s just how it goes. It’s not awful. It’s not amazing. Just like this song. [Grade: B-]
 
Weekend Update: Rebecca Larue, a flirting expert, comes on to help give tips for those single around the holidays. Man, Wiig is busting out new characters left and right tonight. (Also? Where the hell have Abby Elliot and Nasim Pedrad been all night?) She’s half cougar, half Annie from “Community” when that show decides to oversexualize her. Alec Baldwin then shows up as the captain of the infamous flight in which he was thrown off for playing “Words With Friends.” What’s great is that Meyers understands that it’s Baldwin trying to cover his butt, which gives a great layer to their interactions. Finally, on comes Stefon, to save us from the mediocrity of this show! God bless you, Stefon, and God bless Menorah the Explorer. Someday you’ll have a stinker of a segment. Until then, we’ll marvel at your consistency on a show that has shown so little over the years. [Grade: A-]
 
Kate Middleton Pregnancy: On cue, there’s Elliot. (See? I scared “SNL” into putting her onstage. The power my position as HitFix recapper bestows upon me must not be used by mere mortals, lest the world descend into chaos.) Turns out the Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip have a keen interest on Middleton pumping out a kid to be heir for the throne. Perry shows up as Pippa, who is every bit as crass at the elder royals. Best line? The one about Pippa having a rear end not unlike “Doctor Who”: “Pretty good…for England.” (And I say that as a huge “Who” nerd!) Somehow, the proceedings all devolve into a Christmas song in the stylings of The Clash. This was waaaaay too long. It should have been 50% shorter, minimum. The sketch didn’t logically unfold so much as frantically vamp for time. Brevity is the soul of wit, people. [Grade: C+]
 
Politics Nation: Kenan Thompson’s Al Sharpton is full of amateur hosting skills and malapropisms. There’s probably a good sketch in this idea, but this here wasn’t it. Perry as political pundit? Not exactly her strong suit. And Killam as straight man doesn’t work nearly as well as his stranger characters. Thompson must miss Herman Cain something fierce. Know the person I miss? Paul Brittain! Where the heck is he? Someone go find him and Pedrad, and quickly! [Grade: C-]
 
Robyn returns, this time breaking out “Dancing On My Own” for our listening and dancing pleasure. She’s got twice as much energy and stage presence this time around. I guess her shoulders just needed to breathe? This is the best song Cathy Dennis never wrote. And yes, I’m dating myself with a Cathy Dennis reference, but it’s late and I don’t care. Better song. Better performance. Better grade. [Grade: B+]
 
Lounge Act Soul Mate: Ah, Brittain! There you are. I am MAGIC. I need to put my powers of persuasion to good use once I finish this recap. Perry and Moynihan meet cute at a bar, shocked by how many things they have common. Structurally, it’s set up like that sketch where four men share horrible stories in between verses of a catchy classic rock song. Here, the in-house jazz band play in between increasingly odd exchanges between the two would-be lovers. Not unlike the “Massachusetts Avenue” sketch a few weeks, this ended the show on a calm, graceful note…right up until the point when Perry fell down an elevator shaft to her death. Well, that’s ONE way to end the show. And I am pretty OK with it! And I was pretty OK with this sketch as well, which ended the show on the type of short story I alluded to earlier. I’ll take one as nonsensical as this over a parade of impressions any day of the week. [Grade: B+]
 
Best Sketch: “Two Best Friends”
 
Worst Sketch: Politics Nation
 
Biggest Surprise: That was Wiig’s best episode in months, if not years. It’s not her talent that’s in question. It’s her usefulness to the show as a whole, and her desire/ability to not simply rehash characters that have played out their welcome.
 
Worst Surprise: That the other women in tonight’s episode, including host Perry, suffered for Wiig’s omnipresence. Is it their fault that she overshadowed them? Probably not. But I thought Perry’s involvement would have sparked the type of sketches seen in the episodes hosted by Anna Faris and Emma Stone: female-centric, ensemble-driven pieces that let the whole female spectrum of the cast shine.
 
Least Amount of Surprise: My first paragraph doomed Perry before she had a chance to start. My bad.
 
What did you think of tonight’s episode? Did Katy Perry meet, exceed, or underperform your expectations? Was this a high point for Wiig, or was it overkill? Did the cameos delight or did they simply serve to underline how much the show was trying to shield Perry from carrying too much of the load? Sound off below!