While recent host Seth Rogen took nearly five years to return to “Saturday Night Live,” Charlize Theron makes that period look downright short by comparison. Her one and only other hosting gig took place in November 2000, making tonight’s return thirteen and a half years in the making. (To be fair, filming “Aeon Flux” took a lot out of everyone involved with that production, so we can’t fault her too much.) While preferring dramas to comedies in terms of her film choices, Theron does have “A Million Ways To Die In The West” on the way to your local movie theatre. Pairing her with Seth MacFarlane in that film might seem strange, but that’s probably precisely the point. That film sure looks a long way from "Monster" and "North Country." So maybe we’ll see a different performer than the one that graced Studio 8H at the turn of the century. Hell, maybe she's now the new drummer in The Black Keys. Anything is possible!
As always, I’ll be grading each segment as their air. As always, you will disagree with them. As always, this is a totally healthy thing. I’ll have cookies and milk at the end for us all. See you at 11:30 pm EST when things officially kick off.
A Mother’s Day Message From Michelle Obama And Hilary Clinton: I could be wrong, but this is the first time either Sasheer Zamata and Vanessa Bayer have played this two politicians. (Don't quote me on that.) The sketch wants to have a playful tension between the pair, but the jabs between the two are so harsh that the audience isn't always sure how to react. Know who probably loves this sketch? Republicans, since it features two of the most powerful women in the Democratic Party going for each other’s jugulars. But as a piece of comedy, this was too mean by half to seem like anything but a chance to have powerful women snipe at each other rather than augment each other while outlining their differences. In a season when it seems like the cast has been competing for air time rather than work together to make the show better as a whole, it’s an "interesting" approach to say the least. [Grade: C]
Monologue: Theron knows she’s not perfect, and can’t sing, but that doesn’t stop the rest of the cast singing on her behalf. So we get “She Cannot Sing,” even though I doubt there are six people watching who would remember her lack of singing in a "Gemini’s Twin" sketch from 2000 without prompting. And while this is a perfectly hummable song, there’s a dearth of laughter as people try to keep up with the patter. Only Beck Bennett staring at her chest gets any overt guffaws. The song tries to make her seem humble, but really boils down to, “Theron’s life is better than ours in 99.9% of every conceivable metric.” So, not so humble, then. [Grade: B-]
Mother’s Day Game Show: Kate McKinnon’s host is a mother whose three children are forced to compete over who knows her the best. Categories such as “What Emails Did I Send You Last Week?” and the lightning-fast “Dad Round” punctuate general questions that prove the children’s love/fear of their mother. It’s a fun premise for a sketch, although Theron’s delivery is about half a second too late every…single…time…which…kills…the…momentum…dead. Still, I can’t hate on a sketch that features Brooks Wheelan this early in the show, especially since it’s unclear if he’ll be around next Fall. [Grade: B]
Girlfriends Talk Show: Morgan and Kyra are back, and they have brought their drama teacher Ms. Christine (Theron) with them. Ms. Christine recently got fired from her job after two days for trying to stage “The Vagina Monologues,” but she’s here to continue her brief teachings. Morgan gets flustered by everything Ms. Christine says, such as, “I’m a bitch on feet.” Theron gives this ingénue role all she can, but there’s something a little off about putting adults into this sketch, especially when it shames Morgan for not being sexually experienced. It’s just a really weird note for the sketch to play, especially when Morgan’s original outsider status simply came from her being less socially aware than Kyra. It’s probably time to retire this sketch, although a retooling over the summer to return it to its roots might also work well. [Grade: C-]
Dragon Babies: The Year Of Mike O’Brien continues as we watch Rick Shoulders, a retired Chicago cop, voice the lead in this upcoming animated film. This “HBO First Look” parody goes behind the seasons of the recording sessions for the movie. Eventually, we learn Shoulders was the casting director’s AA sponsor, which explains why the ill-equipped Rick is the lead in this film. Before that, we get a lot of throat clearing and a shocking amount of decent CGI animation. (I wonder how long it took to cull all that together.) If nothing else, I’d watch a series of sketches about Shoulders and his wife (played by Cecily Strong) doing alternate voice takes on existing animated properties. The two ping off each other well here. This went on about ninety seconds too long, but was still plenty interesting and amusing even if too bloated. [Grade: B]
The Man Plan: Nasim Pedrad’s motivational speaker Heshy Farahat is back, this time with her friend Gayle (Theron) along for the sound effects-laden ride. This is the most fun Theron has had all night, and the energy is infectious. There’s no reason why the word “Gayle” accompanied with a hip thrust should be funny, but God help me, I laughed every time. But it’s Pedrad’s characterization and specific physical movements that really make this shine: Even if the jokes themselves don’t work, her execution keeps the audience engaged. And when the jokes DO work (such as when a man calls her body “a complex network of flaws”), the sketch works like gangbusters. [Grade: B+]
The Black Keys take the stage to perform “Fever.” Look, if you’re not on board with The Black Keys, individual songs are probably not going to sway you one way or the other. They work inside a very specific musical spectrum, and while they find a surprising amount of variation within that spectrum, it’s not like you’re suddenly going to come across a track that sounds wildly different from any other. "Fever" pops on the radio, but lead guitarist Dan Auerbach looks more focused on executing the song than connecting with the audience here. It doesn’t help that this is middle-of-the-road Black Keys material in the first place. It’s fine, but it’s not in the upper echelon of their overall output. [Grade: B]
Weekend Update: We get a Barbara Walters clip reel before the actual Walters herself joins the “Update” desk. And she’s plenty peeved (in that not at all way) about the treatment that “SNL” has given her, goshdarnit. She chastises Strong for not being a “real” journalist, but Strong hits back with low blows about “The View.” (Again, there’s some weird woman-on-woman sniping happening tonight, no?) Walters is initially nervous, but warms up nicely as her segment goes on. Afterwards, Drunk Uncle appears to discuss graduation season. He is typically disgusted by today's teenagers, muttering things like, “All kids care about is Beats By Dre!” in between attempts to buy the L.A. Clippers. But hey, it’s hard for anyone once voted “Least Likely To Live” to have a positive outlook on life. As for Strong and Jost: They certainly had a better comfort level than in recent weeks, even if the material was hit-or-miss. The “Breaking Nudes” might lead to something where Jost occasionally pranks Strong mid-"Update," which would at least give this pair some sort of comedic hook that differentiates them from past duos. [Grade: B-]
Bikini Beach Party: “I like surf music: It’s just kind of nothing!” OK, I snorted at that, even if no one in the audience thought it was funny. Sadly, the sketch isn’t about surf music, but a dead whale that’s about to explode. So it’s really all about the build up to the explosion, which is graphic and extensive and a huge crowd pleaser when it finally occurs. Unfortunately, there’s no real sketch here, just a few buckets of blood instead of actual sketch writing. I would have preferred to stay at the actual dance party and seen a deconstruction of that scene. There was the germ of a good sketch right there, but everyone involved just wanted to get to the whale carcass. It got big, but easy, laughs. But it got laughs, which is the show's job. I just happened to be one of those not laughing. It happens! [Grade: C]
A still-bloody Theron returns to introduce The Black Keys, who perform “Bullet In The Brain.” This features an atmospheric, somber intro before kicking into a high-velocity stomp. Auerbach seems more focuses this time around, because he clearly read this live blog during “Update” and decided to amp up his energy. Cough. The driving bass line really works well with Patrick Carney’s reliably great drumming, leading to a measurably better song and performance than the initial one tonight by almost every metric. [Grade: A-]
Whiskers R’ We: “One man’s trash…is another man’s cat.” Look, the sketches haven’t been that great tonight, but some of the individual lines have been DYNAMITE. While ostensibly a segment about cat adoption, it’s really about Theron’s obsession with McKinnon’s character. (“I’m not a fan of this cat…little dumbass!”) But on top of that through line, we also get baby jaguars (who eat only bald eagles) and the sociopathic cat Damian, so there’s plenty of animal-related humor as well. Something about Theron’s wide eyes in this sketch sold me on her character, and as with Gayle earlier, she’s relishing the opportunity to play “weird” rather than “pretty.” “The Man Plan” was probably a better-executed sketch, but this was the weirder, funnier one. [Grade: A-]
Tourists: I want very desperately to believe this is in fact a hidden-camera concept in which all the “marks” are real people actually unaware of what’s going on. It’s so much funnier and sweeter if so. What initially appears like another Kyle Mooney mumblecore joint opens up into a scenario in which various cast members get to test-drive new characters almost certainly inspired by real visitors to New York City. Theron, in particular, disappears into her character’s mom jeans as she continually walks away from people after handing them a camera to take her photo. But the real highlight is Moynihan’s tourist, who asks someone if they know where a certain street is, only to give precise directions after the inevitable response of “no.” What a fun way to end the show, even if I’m generally not a fan of having something preproduced in the final slot of the evening. [Grade: A-]
Best Sketch: “Whiskers ‘R Us,” but tomorrow morning I could make a case for either “The Man Plan” or “Tourists”
Worst Sketch: Girlfriends Talk Show
Weird Trend (Worst): The cold open, “Weekend Update,” and “Bikini Beach Party” all featured some ugly woman-on-woman sniping that went beyond mere comedic conflict and straight into some outright mean territory. There’s certainly a place for any and all edgy dialogue between any combination of gender, race, and sexuality, but there was only one type truly on display tonight, and it happened so often that I couldn’t help but notice.
Weird Trend (Best): The weirder the character was, the better Theron was. I’d love to see her in a role not unlike Cameron Diaz in “Being John Malkovitch” and just going to town in that film.
Next Week: Andy Samberg closes out the thirty-ninth season of the show.
What did you think of tonight’s show? Did Theron hold her own or hold the show back? Did the omnipresence of McKinnon, Strong, and Bryant delight, or did the absence of almost everyone else tonight disappoint? Sound off below!