Recap: 'Saturday Night Live' - Tina Fey (and her Sarah Palin) with Ellie Goulding

Would a couple eventful weeks and a beloved host lead to a funny show?

<p>Ellie Goulding, Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig of 'Saturday Night Live'</p>

Ellie Goulding, Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig of 'Saturday Night Live'

Credit: NBC

Feels like forever and a day since the last time “Saturday Night Live” has aired a new episode. And it’s not exactly hyperbole that the world has significantly changed since then. “SNL” hasn’t been exactly breaking out it’s “A” game this season in the arena of politics, so it will be interesting to see how they handle the death of Osama bin Laden. That, plus host Tina Fey, makes this a potentially landmark show.

And yes, that’s probably more wishful thinking than anything resembling reality. But it’s positive wishful thinking, so that has to count for something, right? As always, I’ll be grading each sketch as it airs. In addition: Elliot Gould makes his musical debut on the show! [What? Oh, my bad. I misread the press release. It’s Ellie Goulding making her debut tonight.]

Onto the recap!

“Cold Open”: Weird energy to this airing of Osama’s video will. The crowd isn’t exactly willing to laugh at it, mostly because it doesn’t go nearly dark, angry, or absurd enough to produce an ironic testament. Dakota Fanning jokes just don’t cut as deep as they used to, people. Given the spontaneous crowds that formed around the country on Sunday night, the response a week later in Studio 8H is a bit more subdued. I don’t want to speak for New Yorkers in the audience, but I’m willing to bet that had the sketch had more bite, there would have been more laughter. But jokes about Bin Laden’s numerous offspring and camel poop just didn’t cut it. Let’s see if they saved the good stuff for “Update.” [Grade: B-]

“Monologue”: Tina Fey looks better six months pregnant than I ever will look never being pregnant. Lordy. After a few jokes about having the #1 Best Seller and the #86th rated TV show, she brings on also-preggers Mya Rudolph for a little mama music jam. It starts off sickly sweet, but soon segues into something inappropriately sexy. (“Sushi, Rosé, and roller coasters never hurt nobody!”) By the time we got to sonograms of their unborn kids singing into umbilical cord microphones, I was slow clapping in my living room. Great stuff. [Grade: A 

“GOP Undeclared Candidates Debate”: This was as sharp and focused as the cold open was dull and meandering. Sure, having the six non-official candidates there was just an excuse for a series of individual jokes about each of them. But when the jokes were this good, who cares? Gingrich didn’t really register, but there were solid moments for all of the other candidates, including the return of Fey’s Sarah Palin. Darrell Hammond returned to bring back Donald Trump, and the rust showed a bit, but he ended his segment in a strong fashion. Throw in Michelle Bachman’s “Fatal Attraction” plan, Jimmy McMillan’s billy goat origins, and Mitt Romney as Lifetime Movie villain, and you get the sense that next year’s political sketches are going to be fish in a barrel for this show. [Grade: A-]

“The Little Mermaid”: I’ll admit it: I didn’t see that body coming. But when it did, it turned what was a pointless sketch into something quite pointed. Having a Disney cast of characters stand in to represent the various reactions to bin Laden’s death was a great way to air all sides of the country’s reaction without it seeming overly didactic. It aired serious points while also puncturing the frat party atmosphere outside The White House and the conspiracy theorists that maintain 1) bin Laden isn’t dead and/or 2) wasn’t involved in 9/11 at all. It’s sometimes maddening to watch “SNL” refuse to come down definitively on certain issues. But this is a case in which expressing multiple points of view worked in their favor. Honestly, after that first sketch, I worried about the show’s take on this week’s events. Now? I’m just worried that they didn’t seem to know they were airing their weakest sketch at the outset of the episode. [Grade: A-]

“Digital Short”: OK, so that was basically every musical number that The Lonely Island have ever done, with the addition of Michael Bolton singing about movies. Sure, it was derivative, but what sold this “Shy Ronnie”/”Jizz In My Pants”/”I’m on a Boat” hybrid were the interjections by Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone as Bolton went into ever-weirder flights of cinema-inspired choruses. Those were perfectly timed, both musically and in the video editing room. I’ll definitively have nightmares about a cross-dressed Michael Bolton, but oh well. That was a damn catchy tune, and a nicely self-deprecating turn by Bolton. Lord, we’re in about a half-hour run of quality on “SNL.” My optimism was not unfounded! And all it took was nearly a month’s hiatus and the death of one of the most hated men of the 21st-century to produce it! [Grade: B+]

[Watch Michael Bolton and The Lonely Island's new Digital Short for "Captain Jack Sparrow" here.]

OK, confession time: I had never heard of Ellie Goulding until today. And listening to “Lights,” I know why: this type of music really doesn’t play on the radio stations on my car’s presets. It’s upbeat without being overproduced, but her voice is a bit too breathy for my personal tastes. It’s the kind of song that probably plays at clubs with bouncers that wouldn’t let me inside lest I ruin the hip vibe. Also? Slightly awkward moment when the crowd suddenly realized the song was over…about four seconds after it ended. Oops. [Grade: B-]

“Weekend Update”: The Devil comes on, depressed about the fact that Osama bin Laden has already lived through anything worse than Beezelbub could concoct in hell. (He also calls “Outsourced” a “laugh riot,” which can’t possibly help that show’s chances at a second season.) Next up, Gaddafi’s childhood friends step up to the plate to try and defend him, but end up turning into every couple that whisper complain about those not in the room. It’s like a McGee family holiday, only with dictators! Finally: the triumphant return of Stefon, with horrible Mother’s Day’s ideas for one and all. (Three words: Jew Diamond Phillips.) The latter act, possible my favorite iteration of the character yet, saved the overall segment from being forgettable. Eventually, “SNL” will run Stefon into the ground and make us forget he was ever funny. But somehow it hasn’t happened yet. [Grade: B]

“Lamaze Class”: Hey look, somehow the 12:55 am sketch is airing twenty minutes early. This sucker is all SORTS of weird, although it manages to build from a lot of awkward pauses into something deliriously funny by the end. There’s an over-reliance on bodily humor when simple culture clashing could have worked, with the former being too over-the-top but the latter being right on the money. Often these types of sketches let the horrified in-sketch viewer be the straight man to the loony proceedings, but all members of the class got in as many funny moments as the yurta-loving oddballs in the training video. Not as strong as most of tonight’s sketches, but still much funnier than a typical post-“Update” effort this year. [Grade: B]

 

“Bedilia”: Aaaaand the streak is over. Bedilia is a character, like many on the show, which straddles the line between “comedy” and “psychological disorder.” When an adult character walks that line, it’s less of a problem when they tiptoe over to the latter. But having a child character do it just makes everyone uncomfortable. There’s obviously a place for discomfort in comedy, and Nasim Pedrad really commits to this role in an admirable way. But mostly I cringe (in the wrong way) when Bedilia appears onscreen. There’s plenty of space for pathos in comedy: I’m just not sure there’s space for it with a recurring character on “SNL.” [Grade: C+]

Ellie Goulding is covering Elton John’s “Your Song.” It sounds like “If You Want Me” from the movie “Once” in this arrangement. (That’s a good thing.) I still am having a hard time getting past her voice, but at least this isn’t a dance remix of one of my all-time favorite ballads, either. However, it’s not a version I plan on seeking out on iTunes immediately after filing this recap. [Grade: B-]

“Pregnant in Heels”: I’ve never seen this show, and after watching this sketch, I feel better about that choice than ever. Also, I’m officially starting the “Free Jay Pharoah” campaign, as the guy has only a few more seconds of screen time per week than I do lately. On the plus side: Abby Elliot’s “Perfect!” slayed me, as did her “wardrobe on a stick” routine. Then again, I’m pretty much Team Abby, as most of you know. She couldn’t completely save this sketch, but there’s a law of diminishing returns as one gets later into the show. Some funny stuff, but it was intermittent. [Grade: B-]

“Googie Rene’s Slightly Damaged Prom Wear Barn”: We haven’t seen this sketch since the pre-Halloween edition back in the Fall, when Emma Stone hosted. Anyone else imagining Tracy Morgan in this role opposite Tina Fey? (Feels like a “30 Rock” deleted scene in some ways.) Or are you imagining that they probably should have added two minutes to the Republican Debate sketch instead of airing this? [Grade: C-]

“Hallmark Mother Collection for Weirdos”: Well, it was a different take on “Motherlover,” that’s for sure. But this pre-recorded bit, no longer than a actual commercial, didn’t overstay its sadistic welcome. Paul Brittain does characters on the fringe of society better than anyone in the cast, but there seems little chance for him to truly explore those characters on a regular basis. Perhaps eventually he’ll slot into the Will Forte-esque role on a more prominent basis, but for now, he’ll have to work up to getting these types of characters more fully integrated into the vocabulary of the show. [Grade: B]

 

Best Sketch of the Night: “The Little Mermaid”. Both it and the debate were neck-and-neck, but I’m giving the edge to “Mermaid” for creativity.

Worst Sketch of the Night: “Googie Rene’s Slightly Damaged Prom Wear Barn”

Biggest Takeaway of the Night: Tina Fey and Mya Rudolph tower over the females currently on the show. I don’t think that it’s a talent thing, but rather a camaraderie thing. The 90’s and 00’s both saw long runs sustained by a powerful and powerfully funny cadre of women that worked as individuals but also as a cohesive unit. I think either gender in the cast has that type of camaraderie at this point, but it really stood out for the ladies tonight with two pros showing the rest how it’s really done.

 

What did you think of tonight’s episode? Did the Osama stuff strike the right tone? Was it too much? Too little? And did Ellie Goulding’s presence delight or confuse you? Sound off below!

 

 

 

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