I was underwhelmed at the idea of Gwyneth Paltrow as a guest host despite her decent turn on that episode of Glee and the promise that she would duet with Cee-Lo Green. This was no hit on her comic abilities, but it just felt like an SNL I might skip if I wasn't reviewing it. It turns out the show was underwhelmed on having her, too, barely featuring her in a lot of sketches and just having her sing with Cee-Lo briefly in her opening monologue. But the show itself wasn't terrible, with no sketch that really had me wincing, except maybe at the sight of Paltrow being given two lines in some nothing role. It's not like I really look for the guest hosts to dominate proceedings every episode, but it's kinda awkward when they don't, in a way.
The political cold open went the route they took in the Anne Hathaway episode—mock the pundits, rather than have Armisen onscreen as Obama—in an acknowledgment of the shootings in Tucson without ever mentioning the event (Weekend Update also skirted around them), because obviously that's where you'd draw the comedy from: the pundits' attempts at civility in the wake of a national tragedy. It's usually best to have a lot of impressions goings in these sketches, because what's so deathly is the "address to the camera" format, where it's just five minutes of one actor. So you get Moynihan as Sean Hannity, Wiig as Greta Van Susteren, Sudeikis as Glenn Beck, with Hader doing his Jimmy Carville and Elliott her Rachel Maddow, everyone getting time for one decent jab before moving onto the next impression. It's not a particularly original way to write sketch comedy, but because SNL has struggled so much with more nuanced political humor recently, it's definitely the best route to go.
Gwyneth's monologue was tiresome at first with applause line after applause line (it's not that big a deal that you performed at the Country Music Awards), but it had some nice, gentle self-mockery where she failed at duetting with Kenny Rogers (Sudeikis), making some nice nonsense noises along the way. Then, in a great example of confusing sketch order at SNL, the show's weakest effort (a reprisal of the '60s Secret Word show from Jane Lynch's episode) came next. Paltrow wasn't terrible at whatever the hell she was supposed to be (some sort of drunken quasi-racist socialite), and Wiig just did what she always does, but I never understand why just tired re-treads get pushed so far to the front of the show. In between, there was that cute parody of The Cape that mostly had me laughing at the closing line, "NBC: Take it or leave it."
But then, the middle of the show was pretty strong, even if it was centered around Cee-Lo being very badly served by the SNL set as he sang (sigh) "Forget You." I was happy to see the show acknowledge the absurdity of making him not say "fuck" at midnight on Saturday with an admittedly juvenile swear word replacement sketch. Gwyneth was fine there, too, especially when she said she'd cut off someone's dixie cup and forget him in the ear with it, but Cee-Lo popping in to say "what's up, my Nintendo" definitely upstaged her.
And before that, there was a cute Digital Short with Samberg and Pee-Wee Herman raging all over town after some shots, clobbering Anderson Cooper and enduring an intervention by Chairy and the rest of the playhouse gang. I imagine the more tolerance you have for Pee-Wee Herman, the better that sketch worked, but I thought it escalated nicely, especially when he hit the cop with the chair, using the same line he had for Anderson ("here's a headline!"). And I like to see Anderson Cooper brutalized and sworn at by a talking chair.
The Bar Mitzvah sketch had a kinda lame central gag that led to some half-hearted impressions (Gwyneth as Taylor Swift, Jay Pharoah as Jay-Z, Abby Elliott as Katy Perry), with some half-hearted Bar Mitzvah jokes. But it worked because of Vanessa Bayer's performance as Bar Mitzvah boy Jacob, who was compellingly embarrassed ("I just wanted a modest luncheon!") and called to mind many of the Bar Mitzvahs I attended as a kid. She had that wide-eyed stare just right. At this point, Bayer is obviously being groomed by the show; she definitely seems to get more screen time than the other featured players, but when she's that good, it's hard to object.
Things settled down after Cee-Lo, although I was very taken with Seth Myers' "constitution corner" on gun control (he's good when he's worked up about something) and couldn't help but love the return of Jimmy McMillan. Sure, they're stretching a one-joke performance by Thompson about a one-joke stunt candidate, but I knew they'd find some way to shoehorn him back into the show, and I liked his line about the $14 trillion deficit. "That is enough to rent a small one-bedroom in The Bronx with barely enough left over for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!"
"False History," with actors doing coming attractions at the Globe Theater and various other old-timey gags was a sketch that must have been really funny on paper and was perfectly funny to watch, although it didn't fly perfectly just because it was so damn complicated. But it had a lot of nice little jokes, like Jay Pharoah as a loud audience member or the let's go to the lobby song concluding with "and eat some boiled duck!" And Samberg makes for an excellent pissed-off audience member (just look at that face!).
The Fresh Prince bit was just an opportunity to revive Pharoah's strong Will Smith impression, but it made the deadly mistake of having Kenan play Carlton (uh, what?) when he should have been Uncle Phil. That man was born to spoof Uncle Phil! SportsCenter Deportes, like the French-speaking sketch a few episodes back, did well never to segue all the way into English, and Paul Brittan and Gwyneth both did a good job staying in character, even after shouting things like "POP GOES THE WEASEL!" and "WHAT YOU TALKING ABOUT WILLIS!" but the joke was up a couple minutes before the sketch was. And the tail-end sketch with Eliot Spitzer had Hader doing his usual good job in that role, despite being burdened with lame sex gags that wouldn't look out of place in a 1998 Monica Lewinsky sketch. Oh well, at least it's nice to know Spitzer will never live that shit down, no matter how many prestigious news networks he works for.
In total, Gwyneth had two sketches where you could claim she had a starring role (the Forget You execs and Secret Word) and otherwise was reduced to taking roles they'd normally hand off to featured players. Two weeks from now, we'll get Jesse Eisenberg (and maybe, finally, a Social Network sketch or two), who definitely has me rubbing my chin in interest if nothing else. Here's hoping he makes more of an impression.
- Nasim Pedrad played a white (Christina Aguilera), Filipino (Michelle Malkin), black (Alicia Keys) and middle eastern (Christiane Amanpour) character in this week's episode, a bit of an indictment of the lack of color in SNL's cast.
- "My skeleton looks just like me," James Carville confirms.
- "By the way, I'm a huge fan of Nat King Cole."
- "There are no secret words to an actress. I see the word, and I explore it."
- "Kids who bend forks should be locked up in the Bronx Zoo!"
- "How can you speak of militias when steel dragons fly through the sky!"
- If McMillan is not elected, "I'm going back to Vietnam to finish what I started!"
- Forgot to praise Hader's wonderful, bellowing impression of Cher. Too bad that skit relied on jokes about sexual reassignment surgery.
- "In case of a fire, the emergency exits are nowhere, so please, make your peace with God."
- "Ah, que blooper."
- "Everyone here just calls me the bone ranger!" "No one calls him that; that's something he's trying to start!"