Justin Bieber and Kenan Thompson on 'Saturday Night Live'
This is going to be terrible. Unless it’s awesome. Then again, it could be mediocre.
Look, there’s an intense amount of hype about tonight’s Justin Bieber
-hosted “Saturday Night Live
”. But predicting the overall quality based on any host is a fool’s game. We’ve seen sure-fire selections fizzle under the lights of live television, and those that seemed destined for failure rise up and exceed expectations. The metrics that went into select Bieber himself may be suspect (come on, this is about ratings above all else), but there’s no reason to think this will be any better or worse than anything else we’ve seen thus far this season.
Indications that Bieber will or will not be a good host should be evident early on. Does the show bust out a host of other celebrities to surround/protect him? Will Bieber play himself in the majority of the sketches? Will he be OK with putting his carefully calibrated image upon the comedic chopping block? Ultimately, this isn’t really about Bieber being a good host so much as a game one. So long as he’s one or the other, it’s a success for him. The success for “SNL” will be putting forth its first good episode of 2013. That somewhat rests of Bieber’s shoulders, but more on the strength of the sketches themselves.
Now that I’m back in Boston (under two and a half feet of snow), it’s time to once again live-blog these proceedings. Join me starting at 11:30 pm EST, where I’ll be grading the sketches as they happen in real time. Feel free to scream at me in the comment section not unlike a Belieber might, though without all that “love” and more with the “I can’t understand why you’re allowed to write about ‘SNL’ when you don’t agree with me on the quality of each segment”. We good? Good.
Super Bowl Blackout: Oh right, THIS happened. Doesn’t it feel like years ago? In any case, let’s all remember how absolutely no one associated with CBS Sports had any idea how to improvise under the less-than-ideal circumstances. Still, Jay Pharaoh’s Shannon Sharpe is something I could watch for an hour, so I’m OK with this approach to the debacle. We learn that James Brown wants to watch “2 Broke Girls” right now, which makes exactly one of us! By the end, the announcers start losing their minds and admitting things. (“Ray Lewis knows who killed those people, because it was him!”) A little more of the manic energy from the final sixty seconds would have made this a classic. As it stands, at least it ended strongly. [Grade: B]
Monologue: OH MY GOD HE’S SO PRETTY! (Sorry, had to get that out my system.) Eight seconds into his monologue, the music kicks in. And my oh my, there are screamers in the house. This might be painful over the long haul. He wants to seduce girls in the crowd, but also educate them about…Black History Month? Sure, why not? Too bad he doesn’t have all his facts straight. (“Did you know Denzel Washington invented the peanut?”) He’s awkward as hell, but at least he’s not afraid material that makes him look dumb. So points to him for that. Eventually, he makes Whoopi Goldberg his Valentine. One guest star down. How many left to go? [Grade: B-]
The Californians: Oh sweet heavenly God, why hast thou foresaketh me? The ship has sailed on this sketch, "SNL". It sailed before Gandalf left with Frodo and Bilbo to the Grey Heavens. Take it out back and put a bullet through its thick skull. Sadly, the cast/crew of “SNL” hasn’t gotten the message, and so we’re constantly subjected to this comedic torture device. What can I say about this sketch that I haven’t venomously delivered before? I’m glad these people enjoy looking at themselves, since I can’t stand to watch myself. On the plus side, this sketch is approximately 45 minutes long, so I have time to nap before the next sketch. I'm tempted to think the show knows how loathed this sketch is, and it doing some kind of performance art by airing this as some weird form of protest. [Grade: D-]
Justin Bieber At Madison Square Garden: Psst, Justin: you have to use your outside voice. I can barely hear you. But hey, Jason Sudeikis is now my personal hero for saying, “Well, neither are you, homey” when Bieber complains that the black Bieber decoy hired to help protect his identity won’t fool anyone. I can’t believe that actually just happened. I’m giddy. There’s an interesting tension here, with the crowd firmly pro-Bieber and the sketch mercilessly skewering him. Rather than hammering one joke into the ground, the sketch then devolves into a weird bit about Saddam Hussein before an appearance by Ellen Degeneres. All of these bits more or less worked, but the primary problem here is that Bieber isn’t a strong enough actor to actually sell the fact that he’s in on the joke. I have to believe he understands what’s happening here. But mostly, he conveyed severe hesitation, which gave off the vibe that he wasn’t comfortable with what was going on. Still, that tension made for some riveting TV, even if it wasn’t always funny. [Grade: B]
The Moroccans Of Mulholland Drive: Full disclosure: I don’t watch any of the “Real Housewives” shows, nor their offspring. Still, the idea that every single person in Hollywood has a show on Bravo, E!, or a dozen other networks is fine…for one joke. Unfortunately, this went on for a dozen jokes. That’s pretty much the theme for tonight’s show: not a single segment knows when to quit. Like the Energizer Bunny, they keep going…and going…even though we at home are generally begging them to stop. [Grade: C-]
On Twitter, I just joked that I’d rather watch “Justin Bieber: Unplugged” than "The Californians". Well, here’s what I get for trying to make jokes. Bieber hits the stage to perform an acoustic version of “As Long As You Love Me”. So long as I don’t look directly at him, it’s…not bad! (Sorry, but that outfit makes him look like he’s about to have his hat handed to him inside the Thunderdome.) The plan here is simple and easy to understand: convince people he can actually sing without the aide of Auto-Tune. What’s most striking is the comfort level he exhibits here compared to inside the sketches. Yes, they are two completely different beasts. But watching Adam Levine and Justin Bieber succumb so completely to the pressure in back-to-back weeks helps shine a light on how damn hard what “SNL” attempts to do each week really is. [Grade: B+]
Weekend Update: King Richard III’s Best Friends Growing Up appear to defend the king after his bones were discovered this past week. We’ve seen Fred Armisen and Vanessa Bayer do this a half-dozen times already, so this is really putting lipstick on a pre-Elizabethan pig. The premise is always the same: they always loudly protest their love for Person A, and then whisper their complaints. (Oddly enough, those whispers are still louder that Bieber’s normal speaking voice in tonight’s sketches thus far.) Afterwards, Corey The One Black Guy In Every Commercial comes on to discuss the quality of the Super Bowl commercials. Kenan Thompson brings some welcome edge to the character, who apparently will die if he doesn’t high-five a Caucasian every twelve seconds. (Helping this segment? Seth Meyers’ clear joy at Thompson’s performance.) Thompson’s appearance saves what it otherwise a respectable if rote installment of “Update”. [Grade: B-]
Grease Rip-Off Sketch: Sure, that’s not the actual name of the sketch. But let’s call it what it is and move on. Luckily, it’s not a pure rip-off of “Summer Nights”, but an exploration of male sexual panic and false bravado. There’s an expert build from simple confusion surrounding the workings of a car door to the misunderstanding of the meaning of “sweater puppies” to eventually inventing the fashion stylings that would make Kris Kross the seminal hip-hop act they were. I’m not sure the sketch should have made Bieber’s character eleven years old, however. That seemed to retroactively rob the sketch of some of its bite. Still, for the increasingly worried reactions from Cecily Strong’s companions alone, this was a pretty good sketch, an oasis of laughs in what’s been overall a fairly dire installment. [Grade: B+]
The Miley Cyrus Show: Miley’s back, with a new haircut and a new “sexy” attitude. She also has a tattoo that looks like the one Pam Poovey has on “Archer”. So, that’s something! Bieber plays Pete, the president of the Miley Fan Club and someone who hates…Justin Bieber. Not only does this let Bieber poke fun of himself, it’s also the show’s way of letting him sneak in a “mea culpa” about his recent marijuana bust. What I will say is that Bieber’s more comfortable here than at any other time tonight. Maybe it’s because he just has to sit in a chair and read from the cuecards. Who knows? Who cares? At least he doesn’t look like his family is being held hostage backstage. [Grade: B]
Eddie: I’m guessing Taran Killam has been trying this character out for a while behind-the-scenes. Unfortunately, “SNL” chose this week to bring him out. Why unfortunate? Because the crowd is still pro-Bieber, and this entire sketch is dedicated towards browbeating him. On top of that, Eddie is a one-note character that sucks the oxygen out of the room. It’s no different that a myriad of other characters in “SNL” history that dominate the proceedings so thoroughly that they might as well be one-person sketches. The only person who find this funny? Bieber, who pulls a Bill Hader halfway through and finds it impossible to keep from breaking. There are hints of a solid character by the end (“Show me your secrets, beautiful drifter!”), so maybe this less-than-stellar test run worked out the kinks for the next deployment. Oh, who am I kidding? We’ll probably see ten installments of “The Californians” before we see Eddie again. [Grade: C+]
A Sexy Valentine’s Day Message From Justin Bieber: Who could be sexier than champagne, chocolates, and…Taco? Ah, Bobby Moynihan, you and your creepy man-child characters. You seemingly have a hundred of them, and at least forty-seven of them have been included in “SNL” sketches since your debut. There’s a good idea at work here, but Bieber’s limited range doesn’t allow for a true freak-out necessitated by the premise. I’m guessing there will be five thousand animated .GIFs of this on Tumblr tomorrow, and none of them will feature Taco. So it goes. [Grade: C]
Once again, we have a bandless Bieber, with Justin in front of a grand piano to perform “Nothing Like Us”, which Google tells me is about the Selena Gomez breakup. After further using Google to find out who this “Selena Gomez” person is, I settle in to listen to this song. (I kid. Kind of.) It’s a perfectly serviceable ballad, though more memorable for the piano than the vocal melody. That’s not a slam on Bieber’s vocals, just the songwriting itself. This is perfectly inoffensive pop music, perfect for a demographic that feels every breakup as intensely as this song attempts to portray. Mostly, I feel like giving props to Bieber for stripping things down musically tonight. He has to worry about his music career much more than his acting career, so if he had to increase his viability in one versus the other, he focused on the right one. [Grade: B]
Booker T. Washington Valentine’s Day Dance: Ah, Principal Frye. You’re my favorite of all the Pharoah original creations. This time, he’s hopped up on Ecstasy-laced punch, and he’s worried that people will wager on the intergalactic war being waged on the dance floor On top of that, Bieber once again finally seems comfortable, this time as one-half of an abstinence-loving teen couple who spend their time holding hands while his girlfriend sits on the dryer. Nasim Pedrad’s mannerisms here are downright eerily reminiscent of Cheri O’Teri’s old delivery, albeit fed through Pedrad’s hypersexualized teen character. (Seriously, close your eyes and listen to that line about chewing through a fence.) This wasn’t your typical 12:55 am sketch, but rather simply something placed last due to a variety of circumstances surrounding the show a whole. I mean, we needed all that time for “The Californians” to make us question our respective life decisions, after all. And yes, I’m still bitter. [Grade: B]
Best Sketch: “Grease Rip-Off Sketch”
Worst Sketch: “The Californians”
Most Compelling Sketch: That Madison Square Garden sketch was something else. I feel like I’ll be analyzing that like the Zapruder film for the next week. What a crazy, conflicted, tension-filled piece of live TV. Yes, there were surface-level things that were funny. (Hey, Bobby Moynihan doesn’t have six-pack abs and dances in amusing ways!) But in terms of brand management, it was interesting to see the host agree to have his image mocked and then have the show just turn all barrels upon said host. I’m not sure Bieber’s camp realized what was really going on until after it aired. (If I learned that Sudeikis' "homey" line made its debut during the live show, I would not be surprised in the least.)
OK, now it’s your turn to chime in. How did Bieber do? Was he fully in on the jokes, or did the show manage to have its ratings cake while simultaneously slaughtering its host? Is there anyone clamoring for more of “The Californians”? Sound off below!
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