Is there any coming back for "Saturday Night Live"? The fair-weather fans fell off not long after the 2008 presidential elections, but even the diehards (myself included) are finding it nearly impossible to defend a show these days that so eagerly squanders great opportunities to crush our funnybones and leave us writhing on the ground gasping for air, rather than reaching for the remotes in gratitude that shows like "Funny or Die Presents" are getting it right.
Which is to say, those other shows don’t spend their time relying on comedic architecture three decades old, and are open to new ideas. As the most recent episode of SNL has shown, one thing the series is clearly not open to is new ideas. Gwyneth Paltrow was a good sport as a returning host, immersing herself in several skits, while Cee-Lo Green…. well, we need to talk about that.
Opening Sketch – The evening’s cold open finds Kristin Wiig doing a great Greta Van Susteren impersonation, but what purpose does that serve? I understand the need to convey intellect, but to play above the heads of your audience, the vast majority of which have absolutely no idea or concern for who the woman is, is instant show suicide. Last week’s New York-centric cold open was the same. It’s specific to an audience that’s not paying attention, and alienating the viewers tuning in, looking for a familiar reference in the laughs. Bobby Moynihan’s Sean Hannity could use a lot of help, but Bill Hader saved the moment with his corpsy James Carville impression.
Monologue – Gwyneth Paltrow made a few quips about about her Britishness, confusing Kenny Rogers (Sudeikis) for Garth Brooks. Her fumbling duet with Kenny Rogers on “Islands in the Stream” was endearing, but Cee-Lo’s involvement needlessly lengthened the bit and deflated it in the process.
Commercial – Perhaps the strongest moment of the night came via a ridiculous spoof of the promos for NBC’s "The Cape," replacing the ridiculous titular device with a barrage of hilarious accessories. Naturally, Wiig wins with a bullet-shooting whip bolo tie.
Secret Word – A tired repeat of a sketch that never really took off to begin with. Wiig and Paltrow play golden-era celebrities, massively vapid and cheerfully idiotic. If you’re old enough to remember "$25,000 Pyramid," you’re old enough to appreciate the joke, but chances are you’re not watching a sketch show at midnight. Chances are you’re asleep with a nice helping of Metamucil inside you.
Digital Short – The hope was strong when I heard the crowd cheering before the big even began. I’m nodding in approval when Samberg and Pee-Wee Herman are doing shots at a bar, laughing at the bar-top Pee-Wee tequila dance, spitting soda at the screen when Anderson Cooper gets hit with a chair by Pee-Wee. Shots! A fantastic moment. Kudos to Pee-Wee and Anderson for being good sports.
Jacob’s Rockin’ Bar Mitzvah – Aaaaand down the drain we go. Gwyneth Paltrow as Taylor Swift was a mess, singing her songs with a “Jewish” twist. Jay Pharoah doing Jay-Z on “Empire State of Mind” was glorious, but once the fake Alicia Keys came in it all went to hell. Abby Elliott was a waste as Katy Perry, and Cee-Lo saying “straight up meshuggana” was fun and all, but a depressing foretelling of what was to come.
Cee-Lo Green – Neutered. Yeah, ok, it’s live TV, but there’s a delay. Make that bleeper earn his paycheck. Really, who besides your pre-teen sister is interested in hearing this song if it’s not in its original, uncensored version? Nobody. The gimmick is tired, the stage setup is an eyesore, and this could’ve been done with so much more pizazz and danger. It’s so bad I’m not even showing you the performance.
Weekend Update – Seth Meyers’ Constitution Corner bit about what the founding fathers would really think if they were around today was a home run. Keenan Thompson returned with his tired “Rent is Too Damn High” bit, but nothing interesting came of it. “Switzerland: neutral on Nazis, tough on dogs.” “The guy with the pet skunk definitely also has weed.” Chuckles. It’s an overloaded segment, but somehow we’re not left cringing when Garth and Kat return – Fred Armisen and Kristin Wiig play a singing duo that improvises songs on the spot that they’ve supposedly pre-written. Wiig tries to keep up with Armisen as he makes up the words and melody, with headache-inducing results. Just as we tired of the same routine, Gwyneth comes out as a third-member, and gives the bit some freshness. Not enough to make us love it, but it’s something, right? By now we’re all looking at the clock, wondering if we should’ve just gone to bed.
Shakespearean Previews – It’s the distant past, and nobody has ever done show previews before, so naturally they’re all a bit suspicious of this, particularly Samberg as the skeptical peasant who doesn’t understand what these “previews” even are. It’s time to move on.
Fresh Prince 20th Anniversary Boxed Set – Finally, Jay Pharoah takes flight with a classic Will Smith impression. His first attempt (on Weekend Update in November) was a failure, but seeing Will in his Fresh Prince digs clicked everything into place. Keenan is fantastic as Carlton, and we’ll forgive the weight disparity for his gusto.
Sportscenter Deportes – Paul Brittain has some potential to shine, if Lorne and the gang will finally let him. This skit was good, in which Spanish speaking broadcasters inject the English words and expressions into the Spanish recaps, but once again it suffered from SNL-itis: it went on far, far too long.
New Co-Host for Spitzer – More fringe political humor that’s about scandal characters on the outskirts of actual current events. Hader’s Spitzer is excellent, but Nasim Pedrad’s Christiane Amanpour is just a mess. Gwyneth Paltrow did some damn fine German impressionism as Heidi Klum, but not enough to save the caboose skit of a show that we’re somehow still rooting for, despite so very many losses over the years.
Next Week’s host/guest is Jessie Eisenberg and Nicki Minaj. With the rampant success of The Social Network, we’re sure to see Eisenberg crammed into a whole lotta Facebook sketches. It’s not easy to look forward to this one.
CraveOnline’s Rating: 5 out of 10