Anne Hathaway and musical guest Rihanna are our captains for tonight”s “Saturday Night Live”. Both have history with this show: this will be Hathaway”s third time hosting, and Rihana has appeared several times as both musical guest and sidekick for Adam Samberg”s “Shy Ronnie”. Without Samberg (or Digital Shorts, at least in their former incarnation), it seems that the likelihood of seeing Rihanna with a Tommy gun again seems unlikely. Oh well. What I do hope for? Hathaway in a “Les Jeunes de Paris” sketch. That”s not asking for much, is it?
Let”s break things down on a sketch by sketch basis. As always, I”ll grade each segment as a stand-alone piece. As always, you”ll express shock that comedy is a subjective experience yielding different viewpoints. The formula is set. The recipe is locked. Let”s do this.
Mitt Romney”s House: Mitt stands on his balcony, guzzling contraband milk that he hides from his family. His plans post-election include “learning how mayonnaise is made”. Taran Killam plays multiple Romney sons, which is hilarious. (“Donald Trump is doing a very funny thing where he”s racist!”) But not as hilarious as Mitt”s response to news that Paul Ryan is doing feats of strength downstairs. “Well, I”d like to see him carry Wisconsin!” Mitt yells, in what might be the best political line of the season thus far. There”s something oddly sweet about Mitt”s final moments with Ann, even if he blames it on all the milk he drank. This feels like both a goodbye to the campaign and also to Jason Sudeikis as Romney. If all goes according to currently announced plans, Sudeikis will be leaving the show in January. So look for plenty of send-off sketches like this in the coming months. [Grade: B+]
Monologue: Hathaway notes that rehearsing “SNL” is different from rehearsing her recent 5-month production of “Les Miserables”. The cast then comes to sing a parody of “One Day More”, in which they express the desire to relax on Sundays via song. Hathaway joins in, expressing her wish that she could have played Stefon this week. Soon, several cast members get a chance to weigh in, either about the election (Kenan Thompson) or their small role in this week”s episode (Tim Robinson, Aidy Bryant). The best part of the entire song? Watching Jay Pharoah pretend like he has a clue what”s going on. Delightful! (Go back and watch only him. He looks like someone who is having a nightmare that he”s forgotten all his lines.) The group sing is a bit of a nightmare during the counterpoint, but avoids complete disaster at the last moment. That was an obvious way to handle the monologue, but it was executed in a clever and mostly clean manner. [Grade: B+]
Girlfriends Talk Show: Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong star in the post-monologue sketch? Awesome. Love it when the supporting players get big roles early in the show. They play best friends Morgan and Keira, the latter of whom has obtained a new bestie in the form of Hathaway”s Tara. This is really Bryan”s time to shine, and she delivers her best character to date on the show. Being yesterday”s news in the eyes of Keira bums Morgan out, but the writing and performance never push the sketch into overly maudlin territory. Instead, we get oddly specific putdowns (“No, YOU should be called Roach Wearhouse!”) and throw-away lines that give mountains of backstory to their previous friendship (“You have a basement?”) If Strong and Hathaway”s characters had that level of specificity, this might have gotten a perfect grade. As it stands, I”ll still watch several more times for Bryant”s bravura performance here. [Grade: A-]
The Legend of Mokiki And The Sloppy Swish: Well, either I”m in a really good mood, or this show is on fire early on. First of all, I”ll be humming this damn tune for weeks. So that”s a sign of quality. Secondly, the titular “Sloppy Swish” is a great sight gag, with Taran Killam”s lopey maneuvers contrasting with his pale face, exotic clothing, and zombie-esque expressions. The lyrics are silly, but also provide context for a sketch that wouldn”t need any yet is the better for it. Having Hathaway be a girl hypnotized by the dancing and eventually transformed by venom into a Mokiki-esque figure herself is only icing on the cake. (“They”re raising a family!”) At the outset, I noted that we”re in the post-“Digital Shorts” age. But man oh man, this felt like a great Lonely Island jam, albeit one that seems filmed the same year that “Superfly” was. [Grade: A-]
Homeland: OK, I”m torn. On one hand, Bill Hader”s version of Saul is the best of all possible things. It”s both a great Many Patakin impression and a great take on the character”s insane blind spot towards Carrie Matheson. Killan”s Brody is similarly fantastic, especially since David Estes can”t understand him. And having Dana just wander into highly-secure locations is really funny. But Hathaway”s Carrie goes beyond being simply over the top for comedic purposes into a gross misinterpretation of what makes Carrie one of the best characters on TV. I”m a total “Homeland” homer, so maybe I”m oversensitive here. But given the specific importance of Claire Danes” performance as Carrie as a complex female protagonist, I kind of hate this sketch for turning her into a straight-up psychopath. As a sketch, I liked it. As “Homeland” criticism, I kind of hated it. I”m torn. I”m grading this as a comedy sketch, but it”s hard to rule out the other part. [Grade: B]
McDonald”s Staff Meeting: Hathaway”s manager has to make some changes, which prompts Strong and Moynihan to start dissing each of the other employees before the axe falls upon their necks. Here”s an excuse to get everyone onstage at once, just so Strong and Moynihan can yell “bitch” at everyone. The sketch turns the volume up to 11 and never stops the screaming. Luckily, it goes on for what feels like 20 minutes. So that”s a plus! [Grade: C-]
Rihanna takes the stage…or, at least I think she takes the stage. It”s possible she”s inside The Matrix. In any case, she”s performing “Diamonds”, her newest single. I”m guessing she watched lots of late-60″s Jefferson Airplane concert footage and thought, “That looks awesome!” The production is incredibly distracting, mostly because it doesn”t seem to be related to the song itself. If the song were called “Crazy Acid Trip”, I”d get it. Oh well. If this were an upper-tier Rihanna tune, it wouldn”t matter. But the song itself is subpar, repetitive without having any melodic hooks. [Grade: C+]
Weekend Update: Jay Pharoah appears as President Obama, proving this is something “SNL” actually plans to still do in the future. Oh good. Feels like forever since we”ve last seen him. He tells Republicans that he”s surprised they lost, given that he offered them a “one-debate head start” in addition to high unemployment. He says that in the second term, things will be done his way. For some reason, Pharaoh has added Hader”s shoulder shake from his James Carville impersonation. “Bounce with me, Seth!” he cries out at one point. What has he learned in his first term? “That this is a terrible job, and I hate it!” Afterwards, a Gay Couple From Maine arrives to discuss the recent popular vote approving same-sex marriage in that state. Hader and Fred Armisen basically re-skin their gay Jersey couple for this segment, but it”s an oldie-but-goodie all the same. Finally, to wrap things up, Drunk Uncle comes on to give his election recap. He longs for the good ol” days as always. “If you wanted a House Of Representatives, you built one yourself!” He hoards 1950″s Playboys and dignity, like ya do. It”s a very full “Update”, with a lot of solid if non-transcendent segments. [Grade: B]
The Ellen DeGeneres Show: Kate McKinnon reprises her role as Ellen DeGeneres. In this conception, what she thought would be a one-time thing (her dance moves) has taken over the show, no matter how badly she tries to move past it. After moving through her usual paces of highlighting children made famous in YouTube videos (“This place is half talk-show, half weird day care!”), she introduces Hathaway, once again playing Katie Holmes on “SNL”. And she plays her for all of eleven seconds. That…that was weird, right? The sketch was so front-loaded with McKinnon-centric material that there was no room for Hathaway, nor was there room for Killan”s Ellen-obsessed male fan to return at the end. This was a bizarrely constructed segment, seemingly stitched together from five different ideas. [Grade: B-]
American Gothic: “I”m a lizard. The kids love it!” The behind-the-scenes story of the famous painting announces its comedic intentions almost immediately: the pose that we know went through many wacky variations before arriving at the final image. So everything hinged on execution rather than surprise. Luckily, the easy-going chemistry between Sudeikis and Hathaway is a delight throughout, with both enjoying each other”s company so much that it”s easy to join in with the good vibes. Not only are the characterizations endearing, but their hobbies (including the construction of corn puppets) work as well. Even the inevitable introduction of the pitchfork gets a fun twist, when Sudeikis faux threatens Hathaway with it. (“I get to show my dark side, which I never get to do!”) Hathaway”s cross-eyed stare sans glasses is also great. The sketch doesn”t really know how to end, and I”m pretty sure it didn”t need the modern-day museum tour to frame it. But it”s a fun segment all the same. [Grade: B+]
Rihanna returns, this time clearly in this plane of existence, to sing “Stay”. Its sparse arrangement puts her voice front and center, and the song is gripping in a way “Diamonds” simply isn”t. I understand the need to push a more uptempo song as the first single, but this the superior song by every conceivable metric. [Grade: A-]
Flaritin: Here”s a pre-recorded sketch in the 12:55 slot about a drug made for people that make up allergies. These “allergies” include reactions to gluten, rice, small penises, and Los Angeles. There”s a little too much gross-out humor for my tastes here. Plus? No Hathaway, which makes me think this was recorded earlier this season and got cut for time during another episode. I wouldn”t have particularly minded had this never aired, but sometimes, a 90-minute live slot demands content of certain lengths to air regardless of their relative quality over other material. [Grade: C]
Best Sketch: The Legend of Mokiki And The Sloppy Swish
Worst Sketch: McDonald”s Staff Meeting
Biggest Takeaway: The show is clearly taking the opportunity to explore what works in a post-Wiig, post-Samberg era. It”s even more vital to do so with Sudeikis leaving shortly, and Hader potentially gone after this year. Looking back at the season as a whole, you can see each week trying out something new and seeing what sticks. This week, Bryant got pushed to the forefront for a time, after McKinnon and Strong also getting showcase moments earlier far this year. We”ve also seen different combos tried out for size, such as Strong paired with Moynihan in tonight”s unfortunate “McDonald”s” sketch. The sketch wasn”t unfortunate because of that pairing, however. I”d love to see them to more things together in the future. I”d also love to see this season”s experimentation include Nasim Pedrad and Vannesa Bayer, who have gotten slight shrift thus far in the 38th season.
What did you think of tonight”s episode? Did Hathaway make an impression, or mostly fade into the background? “Homeland” fans, what did you make of that sketch? Did the “Sloppy Swish” have you tapping your feet or clasping your ears? Sound off below!