Robert DeNiro may have iconic Hollywood status, but doesn’t necessarily have skills that translate to “Saturday Night Live” success. Paul Rudd, however, possesses those skills in spades. Will he help SNL take the rather ragged Fall run towards a successful conclusion? Sure, Jeff Bridges will take things home next week, but we can’t worry about the future. We can only worry about the Power of the Pauls: not only the host, but musical guest Paul McCartney. Will Paul honor the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death in one of his numbers tonight? Only one way to find out.

Onto the recap, with all thoughts composed live as the show proceeds…

“Cold Open”: Obama suffering from Stockholm Syndrome after being held “hostage” during the tax cut compromise with the Republicans? Seemed to cut a little too close to home for most of the crowd, some of whom might actually think this is a plausible scenario. (I think The Huffington Post staff saw this and said, “I KNEW IT!”) Other than Obama not only doubting Democratic policies but actually turning into a birther near the end, not much here. Just another tepid political cold open. [Grade: C-]

 

“Monologue”: Seriously, how does Rudd look the same age as he did in “Clueless”? Crap, is he one of the aliens from “The Event”? He mistakes all the earlier “Paul!” chants outside of 30 Rock for him, which brings Sir Paul himself onstage, as well as…Paul Brittain, who gets his biggest face time on the show since his Ed "Sex Ed" Vincent sketch. Short and sweet, but pretty insubstantial.  [Grade: B-]

“Feline Culinary Creations”: A nice mix of high and low humor, with the contrast of the overly elaborate ingredients and the amorphous, dripping results providing some solid laughs. Nothing earthshaking, but it didn’t overstay its welcome, and having heard enough crazy cat ladies talk about feeding their pets better than their family, I appreciated this one. [Grade: B+]

“The Vogelchecks”: I usually hate this sketch, but sweet Lord they went for it this time around, adding in more over-the-top versions of the overly familiar greetings I actually laughed for the first time ever while watching the Vogelchecks. But then the Romanians entered and killed the sketch completely dead. By the time Kristen Wiig got to 3rd base with Santa, I was back to wishing this sketch would jump down a chimney with a roaring fire waiting for it below. [Grade: C-]

“What’s That Name?”: What a fantastic premise for a sketch…people know celebrities better than the people around them in everyday life. Simple, true, and well executed in game show format. Keenan Thompson doesn’t seem to have many fans amongst HitFix readers, but his particular energy really added the right note to his indignant doorman. Wiig toned things down nicely for her cleaning lady character as well. Easily the highlight of the show so far, and one of the better overall sketches of the Fall so far. [Grade: A]

 

“Stumblin’”: This played like The Lonely Island boys woke up after a late night session filled with Four Lokos and more than a little dope, then they realized the following morning that they had to film what they wrote down right away or there wouldn’t be a Digital Short this week. But damnit if it didn’t pick up steam, reaching its height with McCartney’s appearance. No surprise he was funny, but quite a surprise he dressed up like Austin Powers to sing the melody to Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away.” This one gets a good grade for sheer bravado if not actual content. [Grade: B+]

“MasterCard WikiLeaks”: Julian Assange is back in the house! Well, the Big House that is, sipping tea and threatening to put the fourth season of “Hanging with Mr. Cooper” atop your Netflix queue if he’s not released. Well, I’m officially terrified. Release him at once, Stockholm Syndrome Obama! This sketch went on about 3 days too long in Assange’s list, but Hader clearly has so much fun playing him that it’s hard to quibble with more face time for Assange. After a pretty terrible start, we’re had a fairly nice run over the last 10 minutes or so. [Grade: B]

“Sexually Speaking”: OF COURSE I CURSED THE QUALITY RUN OF SKETCHES. I apologize, America. I spoke too soon, and now we get possibly my least favorite recurring sketch. It’s like the sketch equivalent of the zombies in “The Walking Dead.” Someone please shoot this sketch in the head with a crossbow so I never have to hear Fred Armisen ask an insecure woman to eat the microphone again. [Grade: D-]

Sir Paul McCartney, ladies and gentleman! He’s dipping not into The Beatles’ back catalog for his first song, but Wings’ one with “Jet.” The vocal mix is all wrong at the start, at least on my TV, but things pick up about halfway at which point I can actually hear what he’s singing. Still, you heard it hear first: I think this McCartney kid might have a future. Trust me on this. [Grade: A-]

“Weekend Update”: Paul McCartney saying “Ruffians!” while impersonating Camilla Parker-Bowles? That’s it, I’m firing up “A Hard Day’s Night” after this episode ends tonight. I have the warmest of warm fuzzies right now. And Stefon (“Five homeless Elmos!”)  just might be my favorite character on “SNL” right now: I lose it more than Hader does playing him. I will never, ever look at traffic cones the same way again. I’d say give this man a sketch, but actually providing visuals to his descriptions might get the show banned to Cinemax. And even THEY might be shy to air it. [Grade: A-]

“Holiday Jam”: Jay Pharoah is alive, y’all! Whew. We can stop the search. The makeup screams Will Smith in “The Pursuit of Happyness,” but the vocal screams “major asthmatic”. Nice to see him do more than just impressions on the show, even when his characters end with proclamations of imminent horse rape. (Look, I’m just the recapping messenger here, people.) More Pharoah, PLEASE, “SNL.” Also? It’s OK to unlock Taran Killam’s dressing room now so he can join a sketch tonight. Really. It’s OK. [Grade: B-]

“Meryl Streep on Ice”: On cue, there’s Taran, in a one-line appearance featuring Abby Elliot’s dead-on impression of Streep’s humility. (Also? First appearance for Jason Sudeikis tonight. Odd, since his sensibilities should theoretically fit nicely with Rudd’s. Maybe Rudd is filing in the roles normally played by Jason tonight?) I think the sketch was marveling at Meryl’s ability to excel at everything she does, as opposed to mocking Meryl for thinking she can do everything well. But maybe you saw it differently. A series of pre-taped sketches based around this idea wouldn’t go amiss. (Meryl Streep wins Iron Chef! Meryl Streep outcloses “The Closer”!) [Grade: B+]

Paul McCartney’s back, this time with “Smells Like Teen Spirit!” OK, he’s actually singing “Band on the Run.” Huh. No solo material, no Beatles so far. (I suspect there will be a third song before the end of the night.) Flawlessly played, with a far better overall mix than “Jet.” A classic song, plain and simple. Stop sneering at this grade, ruffians. [Grade: A]

“Broadway Cares”: I haven’t seen “Tangled”: is it actually the animated “Inception”? Things that make me go “hmmmmm.” This sketch is basically “Scared Straight” but with Sudeikis as the offensive spotlight operator instead of hardened criminal and Hader in the usual Sudeikis’ role of good cop (or, in this case, good director). Total silliness, but Sudeikis’ energy pulled what could have been a one-note sketch up a few levels. Plus? Dude looks good in fish nets. Props. [Grade: B]

Sweet! A third McCartney performance…with “A Day in the Life/Give Peace a Chance.” Hot damn. I’m guessing this is his Lennon tribute, and a fine mash-up choice for that. Many point to the first song as their greatest collaboration, and I’ll leave it to better musical scholars than myself to argue that. I’ll just sit back and bask in greatness of this ode to his former band mate. [Grade: A]

Bonus! Why stop at three performances? Let’s close things out with “Get Back” as the credits roll. Maybe we’ll finally invent a time machine that will let us go back to the night when The Beatles almost reunited on SNL. [Grade: Wistful]

 

Best Sketch: “What’s That Name?”

Worst Sketch: “Sexually Speaking”

Show MVP: Paul McCartney

 

What did you think of the Paul and Paul show? A step up from previous episodes, or more middling comedy? Did the show overuse McCartney, or not use Sir Paul enough? Leave your thoughts below!