As per usual, I’ll be grading each sketch live in order of appearance. As per usual, those grades will throw most of you into a fevered delirium the likes of which has not been seen on the internet since that last thing that made everyone so mad. It’s just one of those things that makes technology so wonderful. See you at 11:30 pm EST with the start of the live blog!
Presidential Address: President Obama holds a press conference to note the extremely slow-moving gun reform legislation currently moving through Washington. But he’s pushed offstage almost instantly as two members of the Senate list a series of “compromises” inside the current form of the bill. Even though this lasts four minutes, there’s almost none of the bite that consisted in a single line about gun control during the Fall debate sketches. Do I need to write “watered down political cold open” again? Or can we all agree to take that as a given at this point from here on out? [Grade: C]
Monologue: What did Vaughn learn is the most important thing from his last time hosting? The audience. Nice suck-up, Vaughn! With that in mind, he heads into the crowd to get a feel for the room. He singles out a single audience member, Paige, and asks her to be his rock throughout the hour. Afterwards, he meets Eric, a very nervous man. In both cases, Vaughn handles them like a master showman, playing easily off two very different vibes. If this wasn’t more than 50% scripted, I’d be shocked. But regardless, it feels off the cuff, which is the most important part. By the time it gets to the third member, the scripted nature of this really shines through, which is a problem. By this point, it feels less like a monologue and more of a filibuster. We’re getting sketches tonight, right? I’m enjoying this. But dear GOD it’s long. [Grade: B]
Al Pacino’s HBO Serial Killer Movies: Like Bill Hader’s Al Pacino impression? Then this is the pre-produced sketch for you. Noting that Pacino has played two serial killers in recent HBO films, we see Hader take on several high-profile murderers. They range from the obvious to the obscure, but then we get to him playing Dr. Conrad Murray in blackface and the crowd clearly gasps a little. At least the sketch has the good sense to have Pacino wonder if he’s gone too far. (“You cool with this?” he asks the African-American judge.) This is more of an idea than an actual sketch, but it’s fine for what it was. [Grade: B-]
Stormy Skies: It’s The Weather Channel’s first scripted drama, y’all. The basic premise: they still act like weather anchors, but inside a scripted environment that contains not only dialogue but the overall cadences of a news broadcast. Little touches like a constant update on the time/temperature and the use of the national emergency broadcast signal to bleep out a profanity-filled tirade break things up slightly. But overall, it’s another sketch that announces its intent upon stating the premise and rarely surprises after that. The best part of this whole sketch? Aidy Bryant’s obnoxious-citizen-partying-in-insanely-terrifying-weather. I could have watched her dance in the background for the entire segment. [Grade: B-]
History Of Punk: Ian Rubbish And The Bizarros are the subject of this fictitious biography, with Fred Armisen standing in as a Johnny Rotten-type figure in the late 1970’s. The twist, and it’s a pretty good twist, is that the start of the Margaret Thatcher age turned Rubbish into a government-loving rock star. (“You’re a very special lady!”) Bonus points to “SNL” for having Sex Pistols’ guitarist Steve Jones around to lend credence to the proceedings. Special note must be given to the production here: the contemporary interviews look as lush as anything you’d see on a big-budget documentary, and the “old” footage has enough veracity to fool anyone channel surfing with the sound down. Armisen has been saving a lot of his really strong material for “Portlandia” lately, but here’s a premise that really couldn’t air anywhere but “SNL”. I expected a mention of Thatcher in “Weekend Update,” but not here. This is a happy surprise indeed, given the creative response inside this sketch. [Grade: A-]
Short Term Memory Loss Theatre: Ooooh, boy. This sketch is pretty much DOA, with a psychiatrist trying to help his patients overcome their memory loss by staging a play in which he tells each of them their lines one by one. At least Hader is having fun, as he nearly breaks early on in the proceedings. I had slight hope when Jay Pharoah’s character came on that we’d get a new flavor in the sketch, but it was sadly more of the same. I’ll give the show credit for having Pharaoh appear as a character not overly reliant on a celebrity impression or overly dramatic affectation. But that’s about as much credit as I want to give this. [Grade: C-]
Migeul take the stage to perform “Adorn”. I love the simple guitar line that opens the song, but above and beyond that? I love it when musical artists play with the stage itself. It really helps sell the performance, and really helps visually separate it from the rest of the show. (That’s a shallow observation, but I hope other artists take chances in this way in the future.) As far as the song itself, it’s an interesting mishmash of rock, pop, R&B, and just a hint of dubstep. There’s enough space in the song, musically, to allow access to new listeners such as myself. Plenty of electronic pop is dense to the point of being unapproachable. No such problem here. By the time we get to the falsetto ending, I’m a convert. Great stuff. [Grade: A-]
Weekend Update: Brad Paisley and LL Cool J (Jason Sudeikis and Kenan Thompson) come on to discuss their recent single “Accident Racist”. “Racism’s over, y’all!” shouts LL Cool J. They insist it’s not about the quality of the song (which they both admit is terrible) but about starting conversations. (Sample conversation: “Don’t follow me around the store!” “Don’t talk during the movie!”) Afterwards, Marina Chapman (Kate McKinnon) comes on to talk about her time raised by monkeys between the ages of 4-9. It’s a slight retread of McKinnon’s Russian character Olya Povlatsky from a few months ago on “Update.” But I LOVED that character, so I’m pretty delighted by this retread. (Also delightful? The way certain simian inflections enter into her discourse.) Not an epic “Update,” but a solid one all the same. [Grade: B]
North Side Junior High Prom: Vaughn plays “a rich man who lives on a hill” who donated $100,000 to help pay for the dance. It’s a character that Christopher Walken would play, if Christopher Walken wanted to play a rich, possible pedophiliac benefactor. The entire vibe of the sketch goes sideways almost instantly, and the audience is absolutely, positively not on the side of what’s happening. Putting aside the “is this guy trying to sleep with teenage boy” aspect, Vaughn’s character is a loathsome a-hole that sucks everything fun out of the room. Let’s go back to that 45-minute monologue and try to regain some of that positive energy Vaughn tried to generate. Lord, I hated every second of that. [Grade: F]
The Tesh Brothers: John Tesh jokes? TOPICAL! Last week, we went back to the 1990’s for no discernible reason. Now, we’re revisiting the origins of “Roundball Rock,” and I’m at an equal loss. Vaughn plays the straight man here, and it’s so straight that really there’s no need for him to be in the sketch at all. I’m all for giving Tim Robinson more screen time. And if the entire sketch had been “The Tesh Brothers Daintily Break Things With Tiny Hammers,” it might be in consideration for sketch of the week. But it took so long to get there that the overall grade is still mediocre. [Grade: C+]
Miguel returns to the stage to perform “How Many Drinks?”, a song seemingly designed to replicate the feeling of having a few too many cocktails. Unfortunately, this HitFix recapper is sober, even though this episode has given him the desire to consume more than a few adult beverages. I appreciate songs like this that try to approximate the emotional landscape of its subject matter, but there’s something to be said for things like “melody” as well. The almost heavy-metal breakdown midway through sounds like something Prince would kill to compose, but the rest of it comes off atonal during first listen. Still, I fully admit I might love this after another 8-10 listens. But it took that speed metal interlude for me to even want to give this one another try. Still, Miguel came to make a mark tonight, and his onstage presence is extremely compelling. Good night for him overall. [Grade: B]
Donnelly’s: This is the same sketch that ended the Louis C.K. episode a few months ago. Then again, that didn’t include the phrase “blended genitals,” so this is its own beast. Still, whereas McKinnon and CK had near-perfect chemistry, there’s something slightly off about this one. It’s still strong, and much better than almost everything else tonight. Then again, it’s easy to forgive crisp back-and-forth dialogue when McKinnon is climbing inside Vaughn’s sweater and he’s getting to second base with her nose. Kenan Thompson’s harried bartender is a variation on a character he’s played two hundred times on this show, but I do like how his character reacts. He’s not acutely upset. He just knows the drill, which gives the sketch a lived-in quality that suggests equally awful hookups when we’re not looking. [Grade: B+]
Best Sketch: History Of Punk
Worst Sketch: North Side Junior High Prom
Takeaways: Not much, really. This wasn’t a solid show, but there are weeks when “SNL” doesn’t have it. With little tether to anything in the current world, sketches like “Stormy Skies” just float in the ether, forgotten as soon as they’ve ended. I guess you could say this was a good night for McKinnon, but that’s not really a trend so much as this simply being her week to shine. This season really hasn’t had one true breakout star, and it’s equally hard to say who the “lead” on the show is. The latter isn’t really a problem: I’d rather have a strong ensemble rather than a central cast member overshadowing the others. But the former is a big problem, especially in light of the show losing Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg, not to mention any potential holes that will need to be filled should this be Sudeikis’ last few weeks on the show. It’s one thing to not have a single face representing the show. It’s another to be a faceless show.
What did you think about tonight’s episode? Was I too harsh, or not harsh enough? Who would you dub the “star” or “breakout performer” this season so far? Looking forward to Zach Galifianakis in May? Sound off below!