Saturday Night Live: “Justin Timberlake”
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Saturday Night Live: “Justin Timberlake”

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Saturday Night Live

“Justin Timberlake”

Season 38, Episode 16

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Look, I’m a bit of a curmudgeon. I’m not going to love an SNL episode just because Justin Timberlake is hosting, no matter how many famous guest stars, past hosts, and legendary sketches he revives. I don’t care if Jay-Z shows up to perform with him or Dan Aykroyd squeezes back into plaid pants as one of the Festrunk Brothers. All I want is a funny episode. Oh, what’s that? This episode was pretty darn funny, start to finish? Yeah, good point. In fact, even though this was obviously the big “event” episode of the year, crammed with audience-wowing moments, it’s safe to say SNL could be on a roll.

Things started very inauspiciously. Justin Timberlake doing an Elton John impression reading wacky Wikipedia facts about Hugo Chavez? I was ready to pronounce this patient dead on arrival. I don’t know which annoyed me more—the tired “Candle In The Wind” gag or the utter lack of any politically relevant jokes in a (supposed) political cold open. At least Don Pardo was back to announce everyone. I know he won’t be around forever, but last week really put a scare in me.

Timberlake’s monologue piece quickly segued into his induction in the five-timers club, with appearances by some (but not all) of its hallowed members. There have been funnier versions of this thing (Tom Hanks’ original is still the best) but I’ll admit to getting a little thrill when some of these guys show up. Steve Martin was undeniably sexy. Paul Simon was hilariously tiny. Chevy Chase successfully kept Bill Murray from popping up and seemed mentally checked out, but that made it all the more fascinating. We also saw Aykroyd and Martin Short (not members, but why not have a Three Amigos reunion), Candice Bergen (that one was a shocker), and Alec Baldwin. The Mandingo fighting was a cute gag, foreshadowing Bobby Moynihan’s utter dominance for the first half of the night.

A dating game sketch (not even an attempt to give the game any weird details) led to an unsurprising reveal (Timberlake and Andy Samberg in “Dick In A Box” character) and a very surprising one (the Festrunk brothers) and, well, you can guess where it went from there. I enjoyed all of the singers’ lines and the way they’d finish each others’ sentences (“BOTH OF US RAILIN’ ON YOUR BUTT!” “Romance.”) but the wild and crazy guys weren’t useful for much past nostalgia. Moynihan, on the other hand, absolutely slayed as the ignored straight man.

We shift right into another Timberlake classic, the “bring it on down to somethingville” guy, this time dressed as tofu and singing songs about veganism. At this point I was beginning to think SNL has turned into a two-man show with Timberlake and Moynihan and that every sketch would involve Moynihan’s humiliation in some way or another. Just for the record: I would watch that show. The Harlem Shake reference almost ruined everything but Timberlake’s exuberance was undeniable as usual.

NuvaBling was a funny concept executed pretty well (“Did you get those earrings at Tiffany’s?” “Close, I got them from my vagina”) and worked a lot better for me than the later pre-taped bit in which Nasim Pedrad had a dick. That just shocked me for its hackiness—I assumed the punchline would be something far weirder. Not that I didn’t love Fred Armisen’s unexpected appearance as Eugene Levy—in fact, most of the jokes worked for me, it was just the central premise that didn’t.

Stefon showed up on Weekend Update and it became clear that pretty much every sketch on this show was going to be a returning success of some sort. I’m glad they didn’t integrate Timberlake at all—Stefon is about the interplay between Hader and Meyers after all. I think it’s safe to say this was the greatest Stefon of all time, even though they tend to blur together after a while. But he opened saying “this job writing for Smash is killing me,” essentially a nudge from John Mulaney to tell us he comes back to write these sketches. By the time he did Donald Duck having a Vietnam flashback, I wanted to pick up the phone and start calling my relatives with the good news. The rest of the show could have been a 90-minute Karmin performance and that Stefon sketch would have guaranteed an A-.

I have no idea what to make of “The Tales Of Sober Caligula” because it was A: not funny and B: not a returning sketch. Very surprised it slipped in there and even Timberlake seemed bewildered, taking epic pauses between each line for no discernible reason. With Weekend Update running so short (only one panelist) I was surprised this managed to survive the cuts.

But the last two sketches brought the train into the station. Man, this show is on fire when it’s returning to sketches that worked before but haven’t been overdone yet. There will come a day where I’m sick of Maine Justice: it’s as inevitable as my own death, and I’m resigned to that fact. But not yet! Certainly not if Jason Sudeikis is going to refer to Samberg as a “little muffuletta.” This is another sketch that seemed a little sloppy but it’s also a sketch where execution doesn’t really matter at all, just insane volume from Sudeikis and bizarre sight gags like a human-sized alligator.

Even better was the sequel to the Swarovski ad. This time the spacey former porn stars (Bayer and Cecilia Strong) were shilling for “Moet and Chandon” and Timberlake was feminist porn actor Ricky V.I.Penis. The fact that this show returned to two sketches from the Jamie Foxx episode shows how underrated that one was, but I’d definitely argue that this sketch was a step up from an already-strong start, with some truly disturbing personal revelations from the stars, like that Bayer’s “middle parts” have been replaced with plastic bags, or that Strong once woke up covered in blood and was like, “Hello?”

SNL isn’t really stretching itself when it gives us an extravaganza like this. If it did it every week, we’d roll our eyes. But once in a while, it’s good to take a trip down memory lane with a pro host like Timberlake.  

Stray observations:

  • Missing five-timers: Buck Henry, Christopher Walken, Elliott Gould, Danny DeVito and Murray (Drew Barrymore and John Goodman got portrait mentions).
  • Steve says hi to Chevy. “I never see you anymore!” “I know, it’s a shame!” “No, it’s on purpose.”
  • “I KILLED MY FRIEND!” “And I love Drunk Uncle!” “Thank you!”
  • “There is a side effect to smoking crack. It’s called fun!”
  • “If you liked Russell Crowe in Les Misérables, you might want to hear Jasper the gorilla pass a kidney stone!”
  • Stefon asks if Seth will spend spring break with him and why not. “I’m taking my serious girlfriend to Mexico.” “To kill her?”
  • A nice pair to that joke: “One time I did a weird shoot in Mexico. Two of the girls disappeared but I’m alive. Thanks champagne!” 

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