The brief, two-week run of “Saturday Night Live” Thursday specials ended rather ignominiously last week, with the second and finale installment lacking any apparent need to exist outside NBC’s desire to push back the return of “30 Rock”. If NBC wanted to air those “Weekend Update” specials as a way to capitalize on the current election season, surely they would have opted to air one on the night immediately after the first debate. It wasn’t a bad half-hour, but it was incredibly unnecessary. And given how necessary “SNL” has historically been during the peak of the presidential races, that seems like a shame.
 
In any case, we’re back tonight with host Daniel Craig and musical guest Muse. James Bond-inspired humor will undoubtedly be on the plate, but I hope I’m not alone in yearning for some sort of “Layer Cake” parody tonight. Because that movie is AWESOME. It’s a long shot, but still not as long as all of you completely agreeing with my grades for tonight’s sketches. As always, I’ll be assessing them in real time. Let’s get down to (British) business, shall we?
 
Presidential Debate: Chris Parnell in the HOUSE, y’all! He’s playing Jim Lehrer, even though this version of Lehrer doesn’t seem like he’s in a coma. Therefore, it’s a totally inaccurate portrayal. Jay Pharaoh’s Obama is slow to start, but that’s OK, as Jason Sudeikis’ crazy Mitt Romney eyes make up for it. While Romney explains his 41-point plan to fix the economy, Obama zones out as he frets over forgetting to buy an anniversary gift for his wife. “Governor Romney just claimed that he killed Osama bin Laden. Do you care to respond?” pleads Lehrer. “No, you two go right on ahead,” Obama replies. Rather than actually attack the politics of the event, “SNL” decides to attack…the elevation of the city of Denver. It’s a remarkably toothless affair, and doesn’t bode well for the next month of political sketches on the show. [Grade: C-]
 
Monologue: Man, if only Daniel Craig were a handsome man, I tell you. “I guess you could say I’ve been in my share of violent movies,” he tells the audience, and Craig wants to honor those that he has killed over the years in an “In Memoriam” sequence. (Oh, “Mr. Stairs”, I will miss you most of all.) But there’s something just weird about the entire sequence. The timing is off from minute one, and while the audience wants to laugh, it’s seemingly too busy noticing the various technical snafus that pop up during the interplay of Craig with the pre-produced video. To top things off, the monologue ends with the “joke” that Daniel Craig once killed a dog. Which is kind of the opposite of funny, no? Rough start so far tonight. [Grade: C-]
 
Construction Guys: Oh no. This is the sketch that gets the prime, post-monologue slot? Craig is Jack, a new employee unable to fit in with everyone else’s catcalls. This actually makes the earlier sketches seem like all-time classics by comparison. A smattering of the heckling is actually funny, but then, after a bizarre flashback in which we learn Jack’s father was killed by a heckler, it ends with a punch line containing the word “pooperize”. Here’s an early candidate for “Worst Sketch Of The Year”. The bar has been set, “SNL”. Do your worst. Actually, you just might have done exactly that. [Grade: F+]
 
Lesser Known Bond Girls: Oh sweet relief, thou art a pre-produced short allowing the show’s cast to present impressions of Diane Keaton, Jodie Foster, Lea Michele, Molly Ringwald, Ellen Degeneres, and Penny Marshall. The impressions are all fantastic, because they are almost exclusively ones we’ve never seen before. (We’ve seen Fred Armisen’s Marshall, but I think that’s it.) The biggest kudos go to Nasim Pedrad’s Michele (in “Hippopotopussy”, no less!) and Kate McKinnon’s eerily canny Foster. I don’t find Armisen’s Marshall as funny as apparently everyone in “SNL” does. But while the sketch ended with a whimper, everything before it was gold. (Pun intended.) [Grade: B+]
 
A Look Back At The Obama Debate Disaster: Cecily Strong takes over for Abby Elliot as Rachel Maddow, presiding over “The Worst Thing That Ever Happened Anywhere” with that show’s usual panel. Strong is good in the role, although she’s not asked to do much besides sound like Maddow and set up jokes for her cohorts. Kenan Thompson gives perhaps his best performance as Al Sharpton to date, coming up with increasingly delusional excuses for Obama’s poor performance in the debate. Sudeikis’ Chris Matthews is just about the best thing ever, and makes his Romney look worse by comparison. (Granted, Matthews is a more colorful personality, but still.) While “SNL” had problems attacking the debate in the cold open, they have no problem attacking MSNBC here. The best part of this sketch? Daniel Craig. Oh right, he wasn’t in it. But McKinnon was, again. She’s everywhere tonight. [Grade: B]
 
Long Island Medium: The Year Of McKinnon is in full swing, everyone. She breaks out her Theresa Caputo once again, inspiring tears onscreen and laughter in the audience. She’s in such full control of everything she does that it’s hard to believe she hasn’t even logged a full season on the show yet. She’s basically getting everything Kristen Wiig would have gotten a year ago already. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, comedically speaking, but it’s fantastic to watch McKinnon gain confidence on a weekly basis. [Grade: B+]
 
Artemis Space Mission: Oh, Bobby Moynihan: Your Kirby is adorable, albeit one-note. While everyone else on this spacecraft is flirting and thinking about beer back on Earth, Kirby is constantly waxing poetic (and childlike) about his “little kitty cat”. But rather than using Kirby’s childlike cat fetishism as the basis for building a character, the sketch instead settles for repeating the initial joke over and over again. It doesn’t help that Daniel Craig spends half the sketch struggling to read the cue cards. “SNL” has to introduce an actual kitten, “Fuzz Aldrin”, in order to gain any audience sympathy. I…don’t get this episode. At all. [Grade: C-]
 
Muse takes the stage to perform “Madness”, from its newest album “The 2nd Law”. Chris Wolstenholme’s bass looks like something he somehow downloaded from the future. He’s not playing notes so much as an electronic sample of the song’s title. “Madness” is electronic dance music by way of gospel, and it’s a mixture that would undo most bands. Muse pulls it off, albeit by the skin of its teeth. Matthew Bellamy’s guitar solo screams out from the middle of nowhere, shocking the eardrums amidst the relative sparseness of the track. That solo propels the song into a more full arrangement near the end of the track, but unfortunately this just makes it sound like another Muse song. I like Muse, don’t get me wrong. But I appreciate how unique the first half of this song is compared with their overall oeuvre. [Grade: B]
 
Weekend Update: Seth Meyers introduces “Winners And Losers”, a segment dedicated to breaking down Wednesday’s debates. (Losers include Jim Lehrer and Michelle Obama. Winners include “Downton Abbey” and “everyone excited with the prospect of Joe Biden having to save the day”.) Afterwards, Bird Bird himself appears to respond to Romney’s comments. Those hoping for an “Avenue Q” take on the character must have been disappointed, however, as Bird’s appearance stays as far within bounds as is humanely possible. It mainly consists of inoffensive puns in a segment designed for tomorrow’s headlines rather that in-the-moment comedy. Cecilia Gimenez, who tried to “fix” the painting “Ecce Homo”, then comes on to defend her work and seek restitution for her “improvements” on the original. “He had beautiful hair, and so it became a scarf,” she says, describing her apparent visitation from Jesus himself. It’s not McKinnon’s strongest work tonight, but it still demonstrates how central she is to the show already. Seriously, add up the screen time of every other female cast member so far this show. McKinnon exceeds that total by herself. [Grade: B-]
 
A Sorry Lot We Are: Here we see the premiere of the 45th season of a long-running, fictional BBC show. There’s a good sketch to be made concerning the melodramatic lot of blue-collar Brits. I’m just not sure this is it. Aidy Bryant brings some much-needed life to the proceedings as Craig’s lusty ex-girlfriend, but the sketch never gets as over-the-top as it needs to in order to transcend the genre that it’s parodying. Since I don’t have anything else to say about this sketch, it’s probably time to offer up a general opinion about tonight’s episode. I don’t think hiring Daniel Craig wasn’t a mistake on the show’s part, except that “SNL” apparently had absolutely no idea how to write for him once he arrived in New York City. Look over tonight’s live sketches: The only good one didn’t involve him at all. In the first full episode since “SNL” pulled off one of its best episodes in recent memory, it’s in line to turn in one of its worst during that same period. [Grade: C-]
 
Regine: Vanessa Bayer sighting! I think this is her first live appearance so far tonight. (Presad is still MIA, and we haven’t seen Pharoah since the cold open.) Craig takes a backseat to the facial expressions of Fred Armisen, who plays his girlfriend Regine. But that’s OK, since Craig seems more engaged than at any other point in the episode thus far. Armisen goes for broke in his performance, even if he’s operating in a separate sphere from everyone else in the sketch. (“We’re gonna talk about politics…and BOOKS!”) And hey, if you’ve ever wanted to see James Bond’s O Face, this was the sketch for you! I can see people having mixed reactions to this sketch, but at least there was energy onstage that’s been lacking in almost all other live material thus far. Given the paucity of good material tonight, maybe I’m just in the mood to like something at this point. [Grade: B]
 
Muse helps us take a break from tonight’s “comedy” with “Panic Station”, complete with a horn section this time along for the sonic journey. That’s only fitting, given the R&B groove that holds down this rhythmic rocker. Seriously: 80% of this song sounds like a mid-80’s Phil Collins jam meets Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust”. The other 20% is total Muse, and since I like all three elements in this particular musical stew, I enjoyed the heck of this song. [Grade: A-]
 
Undecided Voters: Oh good. They are already repeating commercials in the third episode of the season. Is this better than cutting off the final sketch mid-stream, as they did during the Joseph Gordon-Levitt episode? Yes, but not by much. [Grade: N/A]
 
Best Sketch: “Lesser Known Bond Girls”
 
Worst Sketch: “Construction Guys”
 
Best Surprise: Almost nothing. This was a dreary episode from start to finish, with only slight respites periodically popping up. Doing a live show means running the risk of producing a stinker of an episode. It’s not a crime. It is what it is. This is an “SNL” feature, not a bug. But it’s never fun in the moment. 
 
Biggest Takeaway: This is Kate McKinnon’s show now. And while I am thrilled to see her ascend, I do worry that “SNL” will just simply recreate the imbalance that existed while Kristen Wiig dominated the show during her run. Both are incredible performers worthy of all the air time they get. But that spotlight often comes at the expense of others in the cast, especially the other women.
 
What did you think of tonight’s episode? Am I overstating its awfulness or was this a major letdown after a fairly strong start to the season? Did you have a problem with the idea of Daniel Craig as “SNL” host? Is McKinnon the face of the show’s present, not its future, after tonight? Sound off below!