Saturday Night Live: “Anne Hathaway/Rihanna”
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Saturday Night Live: “Anne Hathaway/Rihanna”

Just as she’s spent the last few years winning over America’s hearts (brief Oscar-hosting hiccup aside), Anne Hathaway has become one of SNL’s most reliable hosts, the female Jon Hamm, pretty much expected once every two years whether she has a movie to plug or not. She sings, she dances, she can do a few impressions (one, Katie Holmes, was successful enough to make a return appearance this time). She’s good enough that I actually pine for her in sketches—although she had some standout moments in this very busy episode, it left me wanting more from her, which I rarely think of a host.

We just had an election, so there was a lot to cover this week, but the political material continues to feel a little toothless (last week’s pre-election stuff was very thin indeed). We open with a goodbye to Jason Sudeikis’ Mitt Romney and all of the tropes SNL liked to harp on mercilessly. His straight-arrow nature, his cadre of creepy sons (this time all wonderfully played by Taran Killam, the best sight gag of the skit), his chaste but weirdly touching love for Ann. Aside from a welcome, quick dig at Donald Trump and a request for $300 million from Karl Rove, the sketch didn’t land any real punches.

Barack Obama’s appearance later in the program (he was relegated to a Weekend Update slot, but of course, this impression isn’t going anywhere for four more years) was similarly soft, with him gloating over the Republicans’ weakness for campaigning without providing any specifics to poke at. Sure, he mocked the two Senate candidates who couldn’t stop talking about rape, but the jokes never went anywhere, they just mentioned their screw-ups and laughed about it. It’s just a hop and a step removed from a snarky Slate article (although I will say that Pharoah’s Obama grows on me more every time I see it).

Back to Anne Hathaway. Her monologue, of course, ended in song. Even if she wasn’t plugging the forthcoming Les Miserables, she’d be singing something, that’s her thing these days. Anyone who reads these reviews regularly probably knows how disdainful I am of monologues that quickly break out into song for lack of a better idea, but the best way to bring it home is with bombast, so getting everyone onstage to sing about how they’re all excited for Sunday, well, it could have been worse. Especially given that boring subject matter. I’m sure the writers really do enjoy their day off, but does that really have to be sung about on national television?

Leading off the night was a new sketch that’s obviously aiming for recurring status, the “Girlfriends Talk Show” that sees Cecily Strong in what’s becoming regular territory for her—a fairly vapid, slightly mean Valley-girl airhead. Aidy Bryant, who hasn’t made much of an impression on me until tonight, was a lot of fun as her nervous, self-conscious friend (Hathaway was the bitchy Forever 21 clerk trying to steal Strong away). The format of the “talk show” was a little too loose, and the joke didn’t really escalate enough for my liking, but there were moments I laughed out loud at. Like “you have a basement?” Any incredulity from Bryant, really.

The “Legend of Mokiki” film, much like Lincoln last week and Sad Mouse before that, continued to show us what the digital shorts are gonna look like now that Andy et al have departed. Mokiki was very weird, not that funny, but really well-made and kind of beautiful, in a weird dumb way. I liked Kenan Thompson’s over-the-top narration, I liked the gross-out gags, I liked Taran Killam’s vacant stare (he really had a strong episode this time around).

That led us into a Homeland spoof that was the highlight of the night for me, and every other Homeland fan around. Which among the A.V. Club readership is probably very high, but among the country maybe not so much. Obviously this was a very broad take-down of a complex, fascinating show, but who cares, it’s fun to make fun of things like Brody’s very tiny mouth (Killam, doing great work again), Saul’s continued, irresponsible trust of Carrie (Hader was the first and last choice for that killer Patinkin impression) and, of course, Carrie’s many nutbag traits (I liked her obsessive cork-boarding the best, although her come-ons with Brody were pretty great also).

But the Homeland spoof was built for me, since I love that show and all its idiosyncrasies. Whereas the Ellen spoof didn’t mean much to me since I never watch that show (I mean, I know she dances, it wasn’t that much of a mystery to me). That’s the problem with those sketches, I suppose. I can’t help but laugh just at Hader wearing a Mandy Patinkin beard, but I don’t even know if Ellen has a disaffected DJ in her studio somewhere. None of it’s particularly original, but if it’s familiar, it can work well.

Speaking of familiar things working well, the arrival of Drunk Uncle saved a mediocre Weekend Update that struggled even to find a cute line about the election. The gay couple from Maine were funny enough (but any sketch about people being low-energy doesn’t take as long to run out of steam). Obama had a couple good lines. But Drunk Uncle, for some reason, continues to bring it home, even as he gets more off-the-wall (as Seth Meyers put it, he might be too drunk at this point). Like Stefon, I always fear they’re finally gonna break this one and won’t be able to put it back together, but so far, Moynihan has kept hope alive.

Then there were two original sketches that didn’t have a ton of laughs, but each surprised me in their own ways. I thought the Moynihan/Strong starrer about McDonalds had some point to arrive at, and it never did. It really was just about hurling abuse at characters we’ve never met before. Which could be fun, but also got dull after a while. Meanwhile, the making of American Gothic painting really came out of nowhere. Again, you got the idea after a while (they’re chipper, the painting isn’t!) but the final gag of them freezing up actually lived up to the build-up, even if there was nothing original to it.

This was a weird one. I didn’t love any sketch, but I tolerated-to-liked a bunch of them. Hathaway did a good job, but she wasn’t given nearly enough screen time. Taran Killam’s been a fave of mine for the last year, but this felt like the first episode this season where he really got to crush it (even in the McDonald’s sketch, where he has no lines and 3 seconds of screen time, he’s the biggest laugh). I’m not too enthusiastic, but at the same time, it was a job…done. Not badly at all.

Stray observations: 

  • Please come inside father, Donald Trump is doing a very amusing thing where he’s racist.”
  • Really dug Hathaway’s Claire Danes as Carrie. Especially the “no, David, NO, DAVID!” But Killam and Nasim Pedrad were the MVPs of that sketch.
  • Along with serial-killer Killam, I loved Jason Sudeikis’ brief moment in the McDonalds sketch. . “This is the first I’ve heard of it, I’m married!” “That’s on you, Don, that’s on you!”
  • Drunk Uncle opened with his strongest joke, about dressing up fancy to go vote.
  • I liked the Flaritin ad, surprised it ended up rounding out the night. I’m sure we’ll see it again someday.

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