After over a month off, “Saturday Night Live” is back with recent Golden Globes winner Jennifer Lawrence as 2013’s first host. That month hopefully recharged the batteries of all involved in this show. In greater likelihood, it gave the writers the opportunity to craft the longest version of “The Californians” in history. Along for the ride tonight is musical act The Lumineers, whose song “Ho Hey” I heard no less than five times in my car today. It’s possible that I’ve been incepted by the neo-folk pop music scene, is all I’m saying.

Let’s keep track of that throughout tonight’s proceedings. As always, I’ll be live blogging the show, giving grades to each individual sketch along the way. As always, you’ll take any difference of opinion from your own as a slight that can be only answered via a pistol duel at dawn. Why should 2013 be any different from 2012?
 
Come back starting at 11:30 p.m. EST, and we’ll get this party started.

 

Piers Morgan Tonight: Well, here’s one way to catch up on all the happenings during the time off. Up first? Jason Sudeikis as Lance Armstrong, still “apologizing” for his actions without really doing so. “Am I sorry I did it? Yes. Ish. No.” Up next? Manti Te’o, played by…Bobby Moynihan? Sure, why not! Te’o seems still unaware of the extent of the hoax perpetrating upon him. Finally, Kate McKinnon appears as Jodie Foster (via "SNL" character Sally O’Malley, whom Foster herself seemed to invoke on Sunday) to explain the speech given at the Golden Globes. As per usual in the “Piers Morgan Tonight” segments, no one element gets enough air time to really land, but all are pleasant enough on their own. If this had just been Foster, we might have had something special. As such, this was a safe re-entry into the world of the show.  [Grade: B-]
 
Monologue: Lawrence says that the best part of the Golden Globes was meeting “the most fun person I’ve ever met: Tommy Lee Jones!” Bill Hader sits stone-faced in the crowd, breaking from his cold stare only to do the Tommy Shuffle for her. She insists that while she didn’t insult Meryl Streep at The Golden Globes, she does plan to roast her fellow Oscar nominees. What follows is basically David Spade’s “Hollywood Minute”, only delivered by someone way, way, way prettier. (“Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout, Wallace?”) Lawrence is game, but reads the jokes off far too fast and with too little vocal variation. Still, let’s chalk this up to nerves and hope she settles in as the show moves on. [Grade: B-]
 
Starbucks Verismo: Ever long for the experience of having your name and/or coffee understood incorrectly at a Starbucks? Well, now you can have the same annoying time at home. Be sure to also order Verquonica, the companion piece that will argue with Verismo over said order! Here’s perfectly sound idea on paper that ends up not making much of an impression in practice. Once the first joke was delivered, everything else was fairly predictable. Not a particularly strong return for the show thus far. [Grade: C]
 
Girlfriends Talk Show: Wow. Another iteration of this sketch, once again in the post-monologue slot. Lawrence plays Jesse, a new best friend for Cecily Strong’s character. She is a wanna-be punk who has been to New York at “least” two or three times and keeps hinting at her imminent bisexuality to seem edgy. Aidy Bryant is still the MVP of this sketch, doing more with less and making her few lines count. (“You wish you pooped little pellets!”) The first time around, this sketch felt fresh. This time around, it feels like each of the three actresses have been superglued to the couch with their heads forced to face straight ahead. Essentially, it’s a radio play that happens to be broadcast for television. Lawrence wasn’t asked much to do here, and didn’t really do much beyond the bare minimum. [Grade: C]
 
Post Hunger Games Press Conference: Poor Peeta. No one has any questions for Peeta. Tim Robinson’s ill-prepared journalist provides the biggest laughs so far, apparently unaware of the rules of The Hunger Games but incredibly interested in Seneca Crane’s “insane” beard. (“Sorry…our normal Hunger Games guy is out sick.”) Jay Pharoah’s journalist gets to the tough questions, asking if Katniss used PEDs or if Peeta used performance-reducing drugs. In some ways, this is an insanely dated sketch. On the other hand, this was also the first spark of life all night. The combination of Lawrence’s deadpan delivery, Taran Killam’s droopy-eyed performance, and the variety of questions from the well-written journalists made this a well-executed sketch. It didn’t rewrite any rules, but executed a tried-and-true format with great skill. [Grade: A-]
 
18 Hobbit Films: Well, this feels inevitable. The jokes are built into each film title, such as “The Hobbit 11: Trying To Split A Complicated Dinner Bill” and “The Hobbit 13: Gandalf Tries To Remember A Name”. Things are funny…and then they get janky for a while. Still, dwarves sing Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time”, so this is pretty much my jam. And then, for some reason, the video buffers. On live TV. It’s truly bizarre. It’s so bizarre that I can’t really ding the grade for the proceedings. I’ve seen plenty of things go wrong during a live sketch. I had no idea that “SNL” actually livestreamed its preproduced materials through a dial-up modem. [Grade: B+]
 
Johnny Two Tones: A couple east at a diner with an old-time flair with waitresses that intentionally insult the customers. Naturally, Lawrence’s waitress isn’t so much “sassy” as “generally horrible”. The show seems to think Lawrence isn’t allowed to smile, as every character she’s played thus far as been either sullen or dead-serious. Maybe they learned a lesson from trying to make Daniel Craig too wacky. But man, it’s a monotonous series of characters for her to play, no? On top of that, the sketch establishes a general pattern (nice service, then mean service) with little variation or build. Seeing Lawrence’s character interact with other customers, as she did momentarily near the end, would have established a nice back-and-forth rhythm. Oh well. [Grade: C-]
 
(Hey!) It’s The Lumineers! (Ho!) (Hey!) It’s that song again! (Ho!) I’ll never escape it! (Hey!) I mean, I really like it and all! (Ho!) But my God, it will haunt me until my grave at this rate. (Hey!) I wonder if Mumford And Sons ever throw darts at pictures of this band! (Ho!) Will we look back in five years and wonder why this kind of music was suddenly popular again, the way we now look back at that brief period in which everyone pretended to like swing music again? (Hey!) [Grade: B+]
 
Weekend Update: There are dozens upon dozens of possible talking heads to introduce as the first one in 2013, so naturally “SNL” picks Anthony Crispino, one of three worst possible options. I love me some Monyihan, but this is his worst character, bar none. But the show LOVES this character, and so here we are. And the next guest was…no one. They had a month to come up with ideas, and the best they could do was this. That’s almost unfathomable. Maybe the show needs another month off. The jokes delivered by Seth Meyers were fine. And there’s no rule saying how many talking heads need appear in an “Update” to make it successful. But with all that’s happened in the time between shows, “Update” should be bursting at the seems, not struggling to fill its slot. [Grade: B-]
 
Top Dog Chef: Oh. Oh no. If you’re an “SNL” fan as well as a Furrie, you’re in total heaven right now. At least the show let Lawrence have some fun by freaking out upon hearing a doorbell ringing, so that’s something. Without Monyihan’s flamboyant contestant Hershey, this would have been an extremely painful segment. Even if you could see what would happen a mile away with Hershey, Monyihan’s exuberant delivery gave the proceedings enough juice to help me power through. Here’s a fun mental exercise: imagine if Louis C.K. had been asked to do this sketch. So, points to Lawrence and company for professionalism in the face of a terrible sketch. But let’s all go and pretend this never happened. (That might serve us well for this episode in general.)  [Grade: C]
 
Richard And The Buffalo: This was one of my favorite sketches last season, though I’m extremely surprised to see it return.  Let’s just say my delight did not seem to be shared by many. Basically, this is a combination of jokes about the radio show’s early time slot (“Even Al Roker’s still asleep!”), the dark conditions of its Minnesota setting (“Flo Rida is from Florida, which is the farthest away place in the world!”) and the crazy chemistry between Killam and Monyihan. On top of all that goodness, Lawrence seems more alive than at any point thus far, game to show off her character Busty Rhymes’ horrific lyrical skills and serious promotional skills. Vanessa Bayer, who has been relatively AWOL tonight, grounds the show as news anchor Karen/MC Jigglebutt. Despite my love of this sketch, I’m also praying that the show doesn’t run it into the ground before the 39th season starts. Which…pretty much means I’ve just ensured that will happen. [Grade: A-]
 
The Lumineers return to the stage. Apparently, they have another song. Who knew? I kid, I kid. This time around, they perform “Stubborn Love”. I’m so happy that it’s anything besides “Ho Hey” that I want to kiss this song full on the lips. It’s possible that I’m also starved for anything made of quality tonight. We’ve had two good live sketches and one decent pre-produced piece that was marred by technical difficulties thus far. I’m gonna go stare at my Swarovski crystals and hope for a good sketch to end the night. [Grade: B]
 
Danielle: A Free European Woman: Hey, it’s late-night “SNL”, so why not have a parody of some late-night Cinemax programming? This…this is extremely, extremely strange. The horrific overdubbing may or may not be completely accurate for this type of programming (I plead the fifth), but it also gives off the effect that everything is running extremely, extremely fast. The audience clearly has no idea what to make of these proceedings, and neither do I. (There's a difference in understanding what's being parodied and understanding WHY such a parody need exist in the first place.) By the end, I worry that I’ve been slipped a whole mess of drugs and now live inside The Matrix. For sheer bravado, I don’t want to completely punish this segment. On the other hand….THEY HAD A FREAKIN’ MONTH OFF AND THIS WAS AMONG THE BEST MATERIAL THEY CONCEIVED. [Grade: D+]
 
Civil War Lovers: Two lovers exchange letters during a time of great strife in our nation’s history. Maybe I’m super punchy right now, but Robinson’s “bro” soldier is making me laugh out loud. It’s a strange sound, one unfamiliar tonight in my office. (“I was shot…for treason!”) It’s a one-note joke, and eventually fizzles out, and for some reason Lincoln is there at that end to grieve this poor excuse for a soldier. But I’m happy, primarily because this wretched episode is over. [Grade: C+]
 
Best Sketch: Richard And The Buffalo
 
Worst Sketch: Danielle: A Free European Woman
 
The Verdict On Lawrence: When given good material, she rose to the occasion. But the show spent the first hour giving her intentional dour roles, and the sketches around her were generally subpar. I don’t think any single host could have elevated this installment above and beyond what it was. At least Adam Levine has a fairly easy job next week. After all, it’s hard to see the show being worse than this anytime soon. That “SNL” had a bad episode isn’t a big shock…except that after such a long off-cycle, you’d think there would be a backlog of ideas that would produce a much stronger episode upon return. But you’d think wrong.
 
What did you think of tonight’s episode? Did Jennifer Lawrence hold her own on the live stage? Sound off below!