We’re here in the final stretch of the “Saturday Night Live” season, with just three consecutive episodes separating us and wild speculation about the fortieth season of the program. I have a few thoughts on what to look for over these three weeks, but the promos this week suggest “SNL” might have an extremely fun and game host in Garfield. He has cameo’d in the past when real-life girlfriend Emma Stone has hosted (look for her to return the favor tonight), but this is his first chance to show the comedic touches he brings to Peter Parker in a sketch-comedy setting. Along for the ride is musical guest Coldplay, who ironically last appeared on “SNL” when Stone hosted. Maybe Spider-Man will fight them as two-thirds of The Sinister Six. Not an EXTREMELY sinister six, I’d grant you. But hey, what do I know?
As always, I’ll be liveblogging, assigning grades in real time. Now, you’ll get those grades inside HitFix’s new layout, which has been updated since Seth Rogen hosted. So that means you can see the graded with which you’ll undoubtedly disagree that much easier! It’s all about value-added service here. I have a feeling this will be a really fun episode, and I’m keenly interested to see how the show ends this tumultuous season. Change and adversity are built into the show’s DNA, but how those elements affect the show are wildly unpredictable.
See you at 11:30 pm when we kick things off.
Adam Silver Press Conference: It’s a bad week for the NBA, but it’s a fabulous week for the NBA’s commissioner. Bobby Moynihan gets the plum role of Donald Sterling here, and while the writing could be a lot edgier, it still qualifies as semi-shocking this season. But really, Moynihan does more when Dennis Rodman (Jay Pharaoh) tries to touch him than anything he actually says. That was incredible. Kenan Thompson comes on at the end as the president of the NAACP, who sheepishly has to explain why he won’t give back the $10 million donation that Sterling gave them. All in all, a pretty great cold open, one that addressed THE topic of the recent past without shying away from its uglier elements. [Grade: B+]
Monologue: Unshockingly, Emma Stone appears almost instantly to “support” Garfield during his monologue. And by “support” I mean “completely usurp.” Hey, Stone’s a fantastic presence, and she’s hosted some of the best shows in recent memory. But this reeks of “we don’t have confidence in him pulling this off” rather than “isn’t it cute these people are dating and will produce the prettiest babies ever amirite”. Having Aidy Bryant also lend a hand means we get very little Garfield at all for those still reeling from the fact that Spider-Man is British. [Grade: C-]
Stanx: It’s funny when balloons inflate inside a man’s pants to replicate the gaseous content of 200 farts! Apparently! Wrong. [Grade: D]
Celebrity Family Feud: It’s an all-musician edition of this sketch, the last iteration of which lasted approximately 13 years. (In fact, it might still be ongoing as we speak in a parallel timelines.) Once again, the intros to each impression take longer than most actual sketches. But the impressions themselves are all pretty damn funny, especially Garfield’s Justin Timberlake, Kate McKinnon’s Shakira, and Taran Killam’s Russell Crowe. The secret weapon here is Kenan Thompson’s Steve Harvey, whose reaction to each artist is varied and entertaining. (I’d watch him flirt with Adele for an entire sketch.) In terms of actual flow, this sketch had next to none. But it had more individually funny moments than most sketches in 2014. So it balances out nicely. [Grade: A-]
Oliver Twist: Cecily Strong is Deirdre, an adult woman trying to get some more food before Oliver and company. Strong is having a good year, but this isn’t one of her better characters. The audience wants to go along with the premise, but neither the writing or the characterization is there. The lack of internal logic really undercuts things, leaving those watching unsure what the hell is going on. What’s left is an awkward five minutes that had me longing for the good ol’ days of Kyle Mooney’s Skrillex. [Grade: D]
The Beygency: To be fair, the punishment that Garfield’s character goes through seems appropriate. NO ONE SAYS BAD THINGS ABOUT BEYONCE. Even Jack Bauer and Chloe O’Brien, in a neat piece of “24” cross-promotion, learn the hard way not to deem Rhianna superior. Tonight’s turning into one of those episodes where the sketches are great or terrible. There’s no room for middle ground thus far. Luckily, this is GREAT sketch, full of great spectacle, excellent cinematography, and supreme silliness. This will be THE viral clip come tomorrow. If this sketch had only features Garfield’s ten-second high-pitched scream, it would get a B+. Since it featured tons more, it gets… [Grade: A]
Coldplay hits the stage to play “Magic.” Look, it’s super easy to hate on Coldplay. It’s not cool to like them. Generally, I do! But “Magic” leaves me cold. The band’s going for a slightly muted, more grounded rhythm section here to counter their typically expansive arrangements. But rather than render the song approachable, it feels tethered rather than recognizable. When the song finally adds Chris Martin’s acoustic guitar, it’s too little too late, leaving the song feeling like a writing exercise rather than an emotional expression. [Grade: B-]
Weekend Update: My “SNL” girlfriend, Olya Povlatsky, makes her first post-Seth Meyers appearance to discuss the Russia/Ukraine conflict. She’s fired up about the conflict…and the fact that her village just got “Full House” on television. Working opposite Strong gives the character a new spin, as Olya fantasizes a friendship with “Cecil” involving clubbing (albeit one in which Destiny’s Child lyrics feature wolves instead of ballers) and other activities. McKinnon holds down the fort admirably here, even while Strong still struggles at being the straight man on “Update.” Afterwards, in-house image expert Leslie Jones (an “SNL” writer making I believe her first onscreen appearance) arrives to both celebrate Lupita Nyong’o’s People Magazine cover and lament how her own time as an eligible romantic partner has come and gone. “I would have been the number one slave draft pick!” she exclaims, comparing her own prospects before the Civil War to Lebron James’ prospects now. It’s a great appearance for Jones, who betrays some nervousness but covers it up with pure energy and presence. Finally, Jebediah Atkinson arrives to give his thoughts on the recent Tony Awards nominations. At one point, Killam says “Tommy” instead of “Tony,” and in the moment that follows, I swear to God I thought Killam was having a stroke on live TV. That was terrifying. As for the bit itself, every joke concerns plays that were originally staged years, if not decades, ago. So many of the jokes are extremely stale. He repeats Jones’ send-off phrase (“Can a bitch get a beef bowl?”) at the end of his own segment, which ends up being way funnier than anything involving feline AIDS. “Update” has decided to fill itself with talking heads and just ride out the season at this point, which is fine. Maybe Strong and Jost can spend the summer honing their act if they are both to return behind the desk this Fall. [Grade: B]
The Amazing Spider-Man: Stone returns to recreate her role as Gwen Stacy to help stage the climatic kiss in the latest film. It gives her and Garfield the chance to engage in some silly physical comedy, as we learn the pair doesn’t know how to kiss like “normal” people. Eventually, Chris Martin comes on to offer his help, which Stone is only too happy to accept. Instead, in a TWIST, he picks Garfield, because nothing’s funnier than two dudes smooching, apparently, judging by the audience's reaction to this chicanery. I’m sure this will be another viral clip tomorrow, but in 2014, maybe it shouldn’t be. I put less blame on the sketch and more on the in-house reaction to it, but there's still plenty to go around here. [Grade: C+]
Wedding Reception: Garfield’s Kevin interrupts the reception to confess his love for Brittany, asking the bride to come with him. She shoots him down instantly, causing all sorts of awkwardness. Soon, we learn he’s actually the best man at the weeding, with his WIFE the maid of honor, which makes his earlier outburst even odder. Much like Drake in the “Indiana Jones” sketch a few months back, Garfield sweats his way through some rough material and tries to make it all work through sheer force of will alone. It’s a good idea for a segment, but probably needed another few passes to actually give it some shape. Still, that is a heroic effort by Garfield, who really hasn’t been given that much to do onstage since “Celebrity Family Feud.” [Grade: B-]
Coldplay returns to perform “A Sky Full Of Stars.” I’d love to know how this band hasn’t completely exhausted every chord progression that projects fantastically to the back of a stadium, but apparently they haven’t! Much like U2 and other anthemic bands before them, Coldplay knows how to reduce their best songs to their most essential elements and invite the listener into that space to share the vibe. I can imagine The Edge sitting at home hearing this song and smashing one of his fifty effects pedals in anger for not writing this hook himself. [Grade: A-]
The Bird Bible: We don’t grade repeat sketches round these here parts. Odd that after three weeks off, we get our first repeat of the year. (I could be wrong on that...If so, let me know in the comments!) [Grade: N/A]
Best Sketch: “The Beygency”
Worst Sketch: “Oliver Twist” (“Stanx” was horrid, but at least it was short)
Biggest Trend: A whole lot of Killam and Thompson, and not much else from anyone else. We didn’t even get a Mooney/Bennett or Mike O’Brien short, breaking up a long streak of episodes with at least one of those. (It’s possible one of them wrote “The Beygency,” but that didn’t feature their signature comedic voices.)
Next Week: Charlize Theron and The Black Keys
What did you think of Andrew Garfield’s hosting ability? Did the lack of featured players make you worry about their future on the show, or is their absence just par for the course? At this stage of the Strong/Jost “Update” era, how are you feeling? Sound off below!