Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night! Also live from New York? Me! I’m here working on some upcoming projects, but I’m still reporting for duty (albeit with frigid fingers) here in the City That Never Sleeps. On deck tonight: host Adam “Moves Like Jagger” Levine and musical guest Kendrick Lamar. Levine was a semi-controversial choice as host in some circles, but if Bruno Mars taught us anything this year, it’s that someone used to performing in front of live audiences often is a great choice to host “SNL”. Levine’s musical persona is fairly cocky, so let’s see how much he pokes fun at himself tonight. My expectations aren’t terrifically on that front, but who knows? (My expectations for at least two of the three other coaches from “The Voice” to appear tonight? Exponentially higher.)
Since I’m not at home, we’ll forgo the liveblog in favor of a running diary posted once the episode ends. But as always, I’ll be offering up grades for each segment that will be used against me in a court of law at a date to be named later.
Obama and Martin Luther Jr.: Obama is visited by the ghost of MLK, who is more interested in Beyonce’s performance and Michelle’s bangs at the inauguration rather than the state of the “dream” he once professed. Now, the idea of the two having a serious discussion about national politics, even in the context of this supernatural setting, would be unfair to the show. But what about the show’s historical precedents for cutting social satire? Here was a chance to have two of American history’s most famous citizens discuss matters that resonate in today’s culture. This sketch was amiable enough, but lacked any bite that would have made an admittedly incredible concept an equally memorable sketch. [Grade: B-]
Monologue: What happens when you don’t trust the host to deliver the monologue? Add in guest stars! So let’s bring back Andy Samberg, who himself doesn’t seem to know why he’s there. But let’s get “The Voice” chair gag out of the way now, I suppose. Samberg wants to coach Levine in the ways of comedy. (“I starred in over one hundred digital shorts and over three live sketches!) Other judges include Cameron Diaz (wearing a Christina Aguilera-esque tiny hat to boot) and Jerry Seinfeld. Now, this bevy of guests is great, but my GOD this bodes poorly for the rest of the show. If Levine disappears this much during the show, why have him host in the first place? Oh right: to take his shirt off. I forgot. [Grade: A-]
Rosetta Stone Thai: Ah, I miss Will Forte. He would have taken this up a notch. Still, Taran Killam’s creepiness almost makes up for his absence in this, an ode to learning a foreign language for the sole purpose of obtaining prostitutes in a foreign land. At four minutes, this would have been death. At ninety seconds, it didn’t overstay its welcome. Nothing memorable, but solid enough. [Grade: B]
Circle Work: “It’s a show where we sit in a circle and work it out!” This is a talk show in which a gay couple helps solve problems of straight people. Two things I enjoy right away: Levine’s energy as co-host Todd Anthony, and AN EARLY NASIM PEDRAD SIGHTING! “SNL” has seemingly forgot about her over the past two months. Unfortunately, once the guests roll out, the concept of the sketch is singular and fairly unfunny: every “problem” leads to the diagnosis that the man in the relationship is gay. Levine and Kenan Thompson have good energy, but lines like, “You’re as gay as a gay goose in a gay goose parade!” just fall dead on arrival. (Thompson spelling out the entire sentence, however? Fantastic.) Having Jason Sudeikis’ character realize he’s gay served to justify the constant inquiry, but didn’t provide enough payoff in the end. Still, I give this points for commitment if not writing. [Grade: B]
The Sopranos Diaries: Oh man. Now this is more like it. Having just completed a rewatch of “The Sopranos”, this is right in my wheelhouse. It doesn’t hurt that every impression is eerily accurate. Bobby Monyihan’s Tony Soprano is especially incredible. It’s so good that I can’t believe “SNL” hasn’t broken it out before. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong here.) Throw in a Bada Bing table in the cafeteria, Levine as a rather svelte Big Pussy, and enough 80’s gear to choke a theme party, and you had possibly the funniest sketch in this early 2013 run. Certain sketches get the highest grade here because they transcend the show’s normal genres. This one gets high marks for flawless execution within established parameters. [Grade: A]
Fire Department Fundraiser: Oh good. More gay humor. Awesome. This time it’s Hader playing Bryce, a gay firefighter angry that Levine’s coworker is talking to Bryce’s ex-“girlfriend”. (They dated for two weeks nine years ago, but he threw hot tea in her face when she leaned in to kiss him.) The sum total of this sketch’s comedic outlook? PEOPLE SHOUTING = FUNNY. Newsflash: it’s not. But hey, what do I know? The crowd is eating up this overarching. It doesn’t help that not even Levine seems to want to be in this sketch. Cecily Strong gets roped into the proceedings to introduce a “Don’t Trust The B—In Apartment 23” joke, which allows her to witness a 45-second routine involving Hader wrestling with a stuffed dog. Man, what a letdown after “The Soprano Diaries”. Horrid. [Grade: D]
Yolo: Well, The Lonely Island Era is back. I guess that explains Samberg’s presence in the monologue. What starts off as an ode to the ubiquitous phrase turns into an ode of being a shut-in afraid of everything. (Sample lyric: “Stay away from kids/Cuz their hair is filled with mad lice!”) It’s slow-going at the outset, with Danny Mcbride’s cameo more weird than amusing. Still, Kendrick Lamar’s verse about fiscal responsibility, coupled with the increasingly paranoid tableaus depicted, give the proceedings steam near the end. I probably would have preferred that “Lazy Sunday 2” be the last Digital Short we ever saw from this crew, but the idea of occasionally installments throughout the next few seasons isn’t exactly the worst thing that could happen either. As special events, these might even have new life. Who knows? [Grade: B]
Speaking of Lamar, he takes the stage to perform “Swimming Pools (Drank)”. This song has one sinister bass line that unfortunately gets swallowed up in the larger arrangement. That’s too bad, since the more minimal aspects of the track are compelling, especially when he spits flows so fast that they make Snow’s “Informer” seem delivered in a slow drawl. It’s not enough to do undo the song as a whole, which depicts swimming pools full of liquor. Non-honest question Is this song about Adam Levine
’s vacation home? [Grade: B+]
Weekend Update: Wow, huge week for Pedrad overall, with her returning to the stage as Arianna Huffington. She comes on to ostensibly talk about Hillary Clinton’s position in the current political landscape, but spends most of the time talking about the fact that European men will find anyone sexy. Funnier topics: the only women that other women like (Oprah and whomever Oprah likes) and a breakdown of the show “Wives With Knives”. (“It happens enough that there’s an entire show about it!”) Afterwards, Ray Lewis appears to talk about his upcoming final game in this year’s Super Bowl. Lewis has strange thoughts about the skating rink in front of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, assuming it was the work of God. Thompson had the crowd in the palm of his hand, to the point where they start laughing at the mere thought of what Lewis might do should he win the Super Bowl. I’m not quite on board with their opinion, but they again, they thought Gay Fireman Bryce was hysterical. So, let’s just take this reaction with a silo of salt. [Grade: B-]
Maroon 5 Versus Train: “Oh, hello TRAIN!” Earlier I worried that Levine would be afraid to mock his musical stylings. But this sketch puts that worry to rest. Levine’s line readings are painful to the point of actually causing me physical distress (PLEASE TURN THE CUECARDS FASTER), but he’s willing to “dance fight” with Patrick Monahan, Jason Mraz, and John Mayer. (“John Mayer! They say he’s legally insane!”) Still, it’s distressing to see someone with as much charisma as Levine to shrink in this atmosphere. Or maybe it’s just a testament to how damn hard it is to do what the core cast does each week with seeming ease. Points to Levine for mocking himself. It’s just too bad it happened in such a lame sketch. [Grade: C]
Catfish: Levine’s Nev helps out a girl who is in a ten-year relationship with “Ace Applebees”, who has six-pack abs and the head of Brian Williams. (Why not deal with Manti Te’o here? Are we already past that?) There’s exactly one funny thing here: “Is this reaction positive or negative? I can’t tell!” That’s a perfect description of that staple of reality TV bumpers. The best example of how bad this sketch is? You can clearly see the cue cards reflected in the window outside of Ace’s house. Let’s just all collectively pretend this never happened, OK? [Grade: D]
Kendrick Lamar returns to the stage to perform “Poetic Justice”. This is a much smoother R&B jam than the more disturbing “Swimming Pools (Drank)”, musically speaking. But boy oh boy, stick to rapping and stay away from singing, Lamar. Those choruses are pretty painful. I know Drake sings the hook on the original record. Why not hire someone to sing this on tour when Drake’s not around? Everything else is fine, if rather banal. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before, with nothing new brought to the table to make it stand out. [Grade: B-]
Janet And Adam Levine: We’ve seen Moynihan’s Janet before, and she’s back again to seduce Levine (once again playing himself). Once again, Levine is battling the cue cards something fierce. I wish they had stuck them inside the Danny Glover-decorated Murphy bed. Janet is a fierce comic creation, but the back-and-forth is so stilted that it’s hard for the sketch to generate much in the way of momentum. Maybe a monologue from Janet to a roofied Levine would have been better. [Grade: B-]
Biden Bash: “Hey, guys? We have 45 extra seconds to fill. Quick, grab that Biden sketch that we all agreed to burn after dress rehearsal. We didn’t burn it, right? Oh thank God. Also, God forgive us.” [Grade: D+]
Best Sketch: “The Sopranos Diaries”
Worst Sketch: “Catfish” (yes, that was worse than “Fire Department Fundraiser”)
Happiest Surprise: After a season in which it seemed like “SNL” forgot Nasim Pedrad existed, she got some major face time tonight.
Weirdest Surprise: The return of The Digital Short. Again: I haven’t completely decided if this a good or a bad thing in the long haul. Clearly both The Lonely Island and the show mutually benefit from this relationship. But with such a good run of preproduced material in the fall (“Sad Mouse”, “Lincoln”, “The Standoff”), why go back to the previous era? Let’s see what else the current regime can do first.
What did you think about tonight’s show? Did Levine exceed expectations or underperform? What did you think about the return of the Digital Short? Sound off below!