Saturday Night Live: “Adam Levine/Kendrick Lamar”  
C

Saturday Night Live: “Adam Levine/Kendrick Lamar”  

C

Saturday Night Live

“Adam Levine/Kendrick Lamar”  

Season 38, Episode 12

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Now, that was inarguably one of the weakest Saturday Night Lives of the season. Adam Levine was pretty much a no-show as host, half the sketches were dire or (even worse) just boring, and the surprise return of Andy Samberg and the Lonely Island for a Digital Short was a bit of a let-down (although it was still nice to see them). Still, I’m glad I watched the whole thing, because it was worth it for The Sopranos Diaries. Funny how one sketch can almost save an entire 90-minute show, especially a sketch that silly, but that’s how good SNL can be.

Still, there’s a lot of mediocre stuff to address. The cold open was another Obama sketch that relegates Obama to background character as a bigger personality comes in and makes a bunch of dumb jokes. Here it was Martin Luther King Jr. (Kenan Thompson), appearing as a ghost to ask questions about how hot Beyonce is and why there aren’t any “black children” in One Direction. I’m fine with political sketches that never get political as long as they’re funny, but the premise here was pretty hacky (at least MLK didn’t ask about the new iPhone or something).

At no point did Levine’s introduction involve him singing, which was a blessing and a surprise, but obviously he couldn’t be relied upon to deliver an actual monologue, so in came a cavalcade of guest stars in spinning chairs from The Voice, each more unlikely than the last! Samberg was just a pleasure to see (I miss that dude), Cameron Diaz made a There’s Something About Mary joke which emphasized the randomness of her appearance, and Jerry Seinfeld didn’t seem very enthused about the whole thing (NBC should make him host again, he hasn’t since 1999).

All of the standout sketches this week were pre-taped, which is never a good sign since they tend to be shorter and a bunch of bad live sketches is enough to sink any episode. But I heartily enjoyed the Rosetta Stone ad—Bill Hader was my favorite of the Thai-learning creeps, and his reason was fantastic (“So I can go to Thailand for…a thing”) and it snuck in some nice little visual gags like Taran Killam’s stash of extra-small condoms. Also, props to Kenan. You associate him with over-the-top sketches like What’s Up With That, but that guy plays a well-meaning, boring office guy like nobody’s business.

“Circle Work,” which, we were lazily told, was on “The Gay Network” (because we really needed an extra hint), had a funny ending. The premise was easy to guess and not that funny—straight people come onto a gay talk show looking for advice, and Kenan and Levine tell them they’re gay, or their husband is gay, or whatever. Plus Levine vamps around like an attractive person dressed in silly clothing might. The second guest is Jason Sudeikis, and he realizes they’re right, he IS gay. Perfect way to end the sketch, but it didn’t really earn the laugh. Everyone seemed to be going through the motions before then—the premise was just too simple and easy to guess.

Then, finally, a shining gem of a thing. The Sopranos Diaries is a dumb premise that is only saved by the review snippets mocking its existence as a cheap rip-off of The Carrie Diaries. Mobster impressions are about the most warmed-over thing in the world. Still they made this work beautifully. Bobby Moynihan has done about a thousand tough-Italian-guy impressions since he started on this show, but his Tony Soprano is nonetheless perfect. He maybe doesn’t have the heavy Gandolfini breathing down, but I’ll forgive it since this was a teenaged Tony. Otherwise, perfect. Kate McKinnon rose the occasion too with her Carmela; I felt like I was watching “Whitecaps” all over again during their big library fight. Sometimes, even when the premise is pedestrian, as long as the execution is this superb, it works. Perfectly.

The episode immediately dynamited all that goodwill with Bill Hader’s screaming fireman character who just has to dance and complain about Levine macking on his ex-girlfriend. This was bafflingly unfunny on several levels, as well as being way too long, and also had me concerned about Hader’s increasing power over the show since he’s inarguably its MVP. Kristen Wiig was always great, but her problem was that Lorne/Seth Meyers/whoever was letting her get any flimsy premise onscreen, because they knew it’d hit enough. Now, this is just the first appearance of this guy, and maybe we’ll never see him again. But I don’t want another Secret Word on our hands.

Then, a digital short! Holy shit! #YOLO! Adam Levine is there, of course, to give us backing vocals and not much else. Pretty much sums up his entire experience on this show. The premise was fine—taking “you only live once” to its logical extreme and avoiding everything that’s possibly dangerous about life, like kids (hair filled with lice) or furniture or your teeth or mailman. The biggest thing I took away from this? It looks like it was shot in L.A. Sigh. Part of the fun of many of the Digital Shorts was that they had just grabbed a camera and whatever celebrity was hosting that week and done something weird with them on the New York City streets. Put simpler: I miss those boys, even if this wasn’t their best effort.

The rest of the episode is honestly not worth talking about. I’m happy Nasim Pedrad has a recurring character the writers seem to like in Ariana Huffington, but that was a flimsy Weekend Update spot to say the least. Kenan’s Ray Lewis impression was a little better (he sure has that crying-face down hard). The Maroon 5/Train/Jason Mraz/John Meyer/Hootie showdown at a restaurant that serves wine after 7 was heavy on the lazy impressions, light on the jokes, and actually starred Adam Levine, which explained why he was backgrounded most of the night, because he was not up to it. The Catfish spoof and the Biden sketch were the pre-taped things that didn’t work at all (the Biden stuff was particularly dire, and felt not like a weird late-night sketch but a lazily tossed-off time-killer). The return of Janet was a little better but she’ll never top “flesh cube.”

Next up, in two weeks, we got Bieber, for his first hosting gig, although he’s been in sketches before. I’m not excited, but the kid is more competent doing this sort of stuff than Levine.

Stray observations:

  • MLK doesn’t love Michelle Obama’s bangs. “What is she, guest-starring on the New Girl?”
  • Samberg sells Levine on his SNL experience. “I was in 100 digital shorts and 3 live sketches.”
  • Taran Killam is learning German. “So I can pretend to be German when I’m in Thailand.”
  • Paulie’s material about the “space bears” in Return Of The Jedi had me in hysterics.
  • “Two words about furniture: killing machines.”
  • Janet’s diet is 90% Peach Snapple. 

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