After weeks and weeks of middling episodes with few dizzying highs or wrenching lows, Lady Gaga’s hosting gig was refreshing in that it featured sketches that I either hated or adored. That was not much to do with Gaga herself, who did not get a lot of heavy sketch time although she did a perfectly adequate job with what she had. But even though I snoozed through some of the material, I’m largely a happy camper. The show seems closer to figuring out the new vibe that will come with its new cast, and the amount of original material that’s resulting is refreshing.
Obviously the show will repeat more sketches as the seasons go on with this iteration of the cast, but right now, the writers are throwing a lot of things at the wall, so I feel very forgiving when something doesn’t stick. I’m much happier watching a new bit that doesn’t really work for me than I am watching the fourteenth iteration of The Californians.
We started with SNL’s civic duty, making fun of the top news story of the week, Rob Ford’s ongoing implosion as Mayor of Toronto. Yes, there’s nothing we can do about the fact that Chris Farley is dead. No disrespect to Bobby Moynihan who I love dearly, but the role of Ford was created for Farley and bet even the embattled Mayor is upset that he’s not around to play him. Moynihan did fine work, and the goofy face he made when his picture was taken was perfect, but the sketch was otherwise tepid, relying too much on lame Canadian “aboot” jokes. Still, when a political figure is as funny as Rob Ford is in real life, it’s gonna be hard to top on a sketch show.
Gaga’s opening monologue was a terrific number, if not particularly funny, but a great introduction to someone who’s always been a game sketch performer (I’ve liked all her work on the show so far) but otherwise seems to take herself way too seriously. This settled her image down and was the rare song-and-dance number that actually seemed fully appropriate, not just tossed-off cause the writers didn’t have any better ideas.
After a quick, dashed-off jab at Obamacare (thank God that didn’t have to be the cold open) we got a Kim Kardashian/Kanye West talk show that consisted mostly of them ripping on Gaga, dressed as a nerdy Apple Store clerk. My problem with this sketch was my problem with Kim and Kanye’s union—I don’t see how they go together. Jay Pharoah’s Kanye impression is largely jokes about his supreme, godlike arrogance, and Nasim Pedrad’s Kim is just poked at for being a dummy. There’s more of a wealth of satire about Kanye cause he’s annoying in an interesting way. I dunno. Gaga was kinda hammy and this sketch was mostly boring, but not execrable.
Taran Killam as Adam Duritz introducing the worst ever covers felt like a sketch that would murder in the writer’s room because the thought of Adam Duritz doing anything is pretty much inherently funny. Kenan as Rick Ross doing the cups song from Pitch Perfect was my favorite (be Rick Ross more, Kenan!) but Kate McKinnon belting out in a Scottish vibrato as Susan Boyle was a close second.
Weekend Update was the star of the show for me tonight. Kenan’s Mr. Senior character bothering people on the street is something I’d like to see more of. It’s a bit of a surprising character for Kenan because his Update bits are usually more catchphrase-oriented, but I like the idea of him just playing a generally cranky old men and walking the streets bothering people.
Even better was Jebediah Atkinson, Taran Killam’s devilish 19th century speech critic, who caused me to rush to twitter and proclaim him the new Stefon. Maybe I’m getting too excited, but I just love it when Killam puts on fancy clothes, a posh accent, and launches devastating catty remarks. “Oh, was that too soon? Get over it, he’s on the five,” he snarked after the crowd murmured at his Lincoln assassination joke. Killam obviously blew one of the lines, and his and Seth Meyers’ recovery was perfect. I’ve already watched it multiple times.
The co-op board thing was an interesting case of a sketch not going far enough. I liked Kenan’s restraint as he described the key hanging behind his balls, and I liked Gaga’s left-field Marisa Tomei non-impression (in that she wasn’t actually supposed to be Marisa Tomei, just someone interested in her). In short, the sketch often zagged when I figured it would zig, but that didn’t make it laugh out loud funny, more intriguing than anything else.
This was followed by the acting camp for kids sketch, which I figure some people must have loved but left me snoozing. I like Vanessa Bayer, but she has a lot of similar modes – her Miley Cyrus isn’t too far from her “child actor” voice, and they exist in the same universe as Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy (her greatest character of all). Yeah, recreating Training Day and Breaking Bad with kids is a cute idea, but the execution didn’t work for me. Again, though, I like that we’re seeing this stuff. Even when I don’t love a sketch like this, I’m at least happy it exists.
The digital shorts (which, again, I believe are being done by Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett in their Good Neighbor style) continue to be an early standout of the season. They are in a completely different direction from what Samberg and co. did, they’re often kinda quiet and take time to build to a weird gag, they’re continually dreamlike and tell a complete story, and they’re beautifully made. That is the best possible paean to Blockbuster’s demise that I could ever imagine.
We wrapped up with my two favorite sketches of the night. John Milhiser finally got to star in a sketch as an eager stage parent, doing choreographed sketch moves alongside Gaga to direct an unseen child. It was a terrific way to stage the sketch, never letting us see the kid (I love it when sketches start with a cool twist), it wasn’t overlong and it ended pretty much perfectly. More Milhiser! I like that guy!
Finally, a perfect 12:55 sketch, although it was somewhat surprising that Gaga’s biggest starring role came in the last sketch of the night (her two musical performances were great though, and all hail R. Kelly forever and ever amen). The idea of her as a faded, Gloria Swanson-esque icon in the future was smart, and Kenan was a great straight man to her swanning around her future-apartment, dropping dump future jokes and praising Empress Beyoncé (long may she reign). What was so surprising about this sketch was how melancholy it was, and how willing Gaga was to poke fun at her showboating and lust for the limelight. Props to her, capping a middling night with such a strong performance.
- Rob Ford apologizes. “My face is as red as a Boxing Day ham.”
- “I think people who try too hard with their outfits are maybe hiding something.” GEDDIT
- Oh my god, Adele cackling during the L.A. Law theme. I forgot about that. That was tremendous.
- “It’s 60 degrees outside and I already have to decide which black Christmas movie I want to see!”
- “And don’t get me started on that beard. What was her name, Mary Todd?”
- Nice Fools Rush In shout-out. And giving a cardboard cutout from The Croods a Viking funeral was just beautiful.
- “Looks like you tripped and fell in a deli. You know, a space deli.”