Chances are good for an aca-awesome episode of “Saturday Night Live”, with host Anna Kendrick appearing for the first time. And since Pharrell Williams is musical guest, there”s an equal likelihood that you might feel “Happy” while watching. But all puns inside, all things are aligned for a fun episode of the show to follow up a strong outing last week. Kendrick has a winning personality, seems game for anything, and can shine equally with both the men and women of the cast.
Will the show live up to expectations? That”s for the weekly “SNL” liveblog to decide. As always, I”ll be grading each segment as it airs. As always, this approach will send a small portion of you into a frenzy. As always, I love you all enough to join you in singing “Don”t You (Forget About Me)” at a national singing competition anyways. See you here at 11:30 pm EST to kick things off.
General Motors Ignition Switch Recall: Kate McKinnon is CEO Mary Barra, claiming to represent the “new” GM. What that means: refusing to answer any questions about the recent recall in front of Congress. The sketch starts off slowly and never really picks up steam, as the segment never gets beyond “McKinnon”s character not answering any question posed to her.” Well, that was a disappointing start to things. Then again, last week”s cold open was also the least interesting part of the show. Maybe this is a new trend! A terrible trend, but still! [Grade: C-]
Monologue: Kendrick kicks off with a “Beauty And The Beast”-themed musical introduction. Her enthusiasm is infectious, yet worries the rest of the cast due to its intensity. (“OK, pace yourself!” warns Bobby Moynihan.) If you want a way to justify having such a large cast, you could do worse than staging them behind her to close out the number. That was a pretty impressive visual. In between are some clever riffs on the lyrical patter of “Belle,” none of which are mind blowing but still very well-executed. As far as musical monologues go, this is in the upper tier, historically speaking. Not a all-time great one, but an excellent example of the subgenre all the same. [Grade: A-]
FOX And Friends: This first subject of the latest iteration of this sketch: enrollment in Obamacare. Kendrick plays a “survivor” of the program, a woman who is in fact just an alcoholic with rage issues. It”s a “blink and you”ll miss her” performance, given that the sketch immediately moves onto climate control with Kenan Thompson”s Neil deGrasse Tyson. Tyson proceeds to blown the hosts” minds with his vast knowledge and vocabulary, but mostly I wish the sketch had stuck with either Obamacare or climate change. Both were individually fine, but barely got started before ending. Luckily, the “corrections” at the end are always gold. My favorite? “Game Of Thrones is not an adult version of musical chairs.” Tell THAT to Tyrion Lannister! [Grade: B-]
Dongs All Over The World: Look, the Christmas-themed “(Do It In My) Twin Bed” is a stone-cold classic. I knew “(Do It In My) Twin Bed”. I was friends with “(Do It In My) Twin Bed”. And you, “Dongs All Over The World”, are no “(Do It In My) Twin Bed.” You could almost see the audiences” shocked faces while this travesty aired. And you could certainly hear their absolute lack of laughter. I got excited to see what Kendrick and company would do together in a pre-produced musical sketch. But we got this DO(ngs)A song instead. There was nothing playful about this, just immature language as replacement for actual comedy. Man, this was unfortunate on almost every level. [Grade: D]
The Little Mermaid: Everyone enjoying the Disney Musical Catalog Hour so far? Cool, same here. Sadly, we don”t get “Part Of Your World”, but rather Ariel (after some unfortunate technical difficulties) busting out some Ke$ha and Britney Spears instead. Ursula is less than thrilled with these options, likening the vocals on “Womanizer” to “a baby having sex.” Kendrick is fun as a vocal chameleon, but Aidy Bryant steals the show here as Ursula, downplaying anger in favor of snide, cutting remarks. (The bit about Ariel”s “racist” song selection was phenomenal.) Not sure why the sketch ends with Jay Pharaoah singing 2006″s “Temperature,” but then again, invoking “The Little Mermaid” isn”t exactly contemporary in and of itself. This was fine in pieces, but a bit too shaggy overall to earn something in the “A” range. [Grade: B]
Neighbors: The plus side: I can actually hear Kyle Mooney this week without turning up the volume on my TV. So this is progress! Mooney and Vanessa Bayer are very awkward neighbors that keep getting thhhiiisssss close to asking each other out, but then bail at the last minute. What saves this from being an exercise in diminishing returns is Beck Bennett”s intrusion as another, more forward neighbor that straight up asks Bayer for sex. She says yes, but also accepts a date with Mooney. It”s a nice twist, since it doesn”t undo the sweetness of the earlier part of the sketch but rather adds an additional layer to it. After a few weeks of not being on the Mooney/Bennett digital short train, it”s nice to hop back on. This is no “Beer Pong,” but it”s pretty darn great. [Grade: B+]
Pharrell Williams hits the stage to perform a brand new song…just kidding, it”s “Happy.” AS IT SHOULD BE, DAMNIT. The song doesn”t need it, but having a backdrop of dancing teenagers adds to the overall joy of the tune. And since it”s clear I”m in the bag for this song, let”s talk about Pharrell”s hat: What secrets does it hold? Does it have its own zip code? If you look inside, will it sort you into one of the houses in Hogwarts? So many questions! [Grade: A]
Weekend Update: German Chancellor Angela Merkel (McKinnon) comes on to discuss her recent negotiations with Vladimir Putin, likening the talks to, “…being trapped in the corner with someone who just started CrossFit.” She laments being in the middle of Obama and Putin, comparing the two to different types of prom dates. It”s too much stress for her, as she laments, “I want to take off this man”s blazer…and put on a man”s Hawaiian shirt.” McKinnon is a delight in the role, even if the segment is less an interview and more of a monologue. Later, Brooks Wheelan appears as himself to discuss responsible drinking. He tells a story involving a drunken blackout and a stick of butter that represents some of Wheelan”s best material on the show to date. You can almost feel the audience welcome him to the cast, even though he”s actually been here since September. Afterwards, George R.R. Martin (Monyihan) appears to discuss the upcoming season of “Game Of Thrones.” Poor Martin is burned out, noting that the next book takes mostly in Denver rather than Westeros. There”s not too much to this, unfortunately. It”s almost as if “SNL” realized it should do SOMETHING as “Thrones” approach, but could only muster this. As far as Jost/Strong: It”s pretty much a lost year for them at this point, but a memory loss bit in the middle of “Update” suggest the show”s at least trying to get them to acknowledge they are both onstage at the same time. So that”s something! [Grade: B]
Les Jeunes De Paris: AND IT”S NOT EVEN MY BIRTHDAY! I mean, look: I get why this sketch perplexes people. And that”s fine! As I say every week, I never expect anyone to agree with any grade I level. Comedy”s a subjective game. But subjectively, I love the living hell out of the “Les Jeunes De Paris” segments. And while it”s tempting to rate this one the best in the moment, I think that assessment might hold up in the cold light of day. A delirious number of pop culture references (“Madeline,” “The Fifth Element,” “Pitch Perfect), finely executed choreography/staging, and the overriding sense that everyone on stage is having an absolute blast combine to create the best sketch so far tonight. This sketch series just hits me in the chest with a blast of joy each time. I”ll be keeping this episode on my DVR for a few months, just so I can revisit this one again and again. [Grade: A]
Norfolk Zoo: Principal Frye in the HOUSE, y”all! He”s supervising a school trip to the zoo, where students are trying to create Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Kendrick is an enthusiastic zoo employee who is less than thrilled that the students have named an incoming elephant “Ashy Larry.” But this is all about Frye, who is incensed that a student gave a smartphone to a monkey who subsequently started a SnapChat account. (I laughed far too hard at that, but there you have it.) We know Pharaoah can do non-celebrity characters besides Frye, and while this was a perfectly fine sketch, I also want to see him branch out and get new ones into rotation. [Grade: B-]
Pharrell Williams returns to perform “Marilyn Monroe.” How do you know Pharrell Williams is super cool? (Besides that hat?) He gets Hans Zimmer to help conduct an orchestra on live television. That”s how! This song continues Pharrell”s recent trend of writing and recording classic pop-soul tracks with seemingly no effort at all. The spoken-word part in the middle is a bit suspect, but transplant this song”s musical track to 1977 and imagine John Travolta dancing to it. Fits perfectly, no? [Grade: B+]
Mine Collapse: Taran Killam is “Big Joe,” the local strongman attempting to help Kendrick”s brother out from under heavy boulders. And guess what? He can”t do it! He has brittle bones! That”s funny! Apparently! Only, not! Oh boy. Let”s not discuss this. Ever. [Grade: D]
Pharrell Audition: Kendrick and Bayer are fraternal twins performing “Take Me Or Leave Me” from “Rent” as their audition song. The problem here is that there”s no clear comedic hook: Ostensibly it”s about how Bayer is much worse than Kendrick, but she”s not actually appreciably worse. Kendrick just sounds slightly better. The song choice suggests the twins will perform the song in an inappropriate manner, just basically just sing it straight ahead with no interaction. There”s also a running gag about Pharrell”s hat, but it just feels tacked on. And with that, I”ve just thought more about this sketch than anyone actually involved with it. So that”s fun. [Grade: C-]
NCAA Best Of The White Guys: Until the last thirty seconds, this is a pretty standard clip-centric sketch with a title that explains the types of examples found on this fictional DVD compilation. But then, the fake commercial offers to also throw in the documentary “When It Was Fair,” narrated by Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, and the whole thing gets a slightly sinister undertone. It doesn”t really elevate this short, time-filling segment. But it certainly makes it a lot more interesting. Following that path to its seemingly logical, albeit faux-hateful, route might have been something. But we never got there. Oh well. [Grade: B-]
Best Sketch: “Les Jeunes De Paris“
Worst Sketch: I”m tempted to say “Mine Collapse,” because while “Dongs All Over The World” was incredibly disappointing, at least it had good production values going for it.
Aca-Assessment Of Kendrick: Pretty good! The show didn”t ask her to do much besides stand in place and sing for most of the evening, but she was a game host that got somewhat swallowed up at times by material which focused on cast members rather than her. Between “Mermaid” and “Paris,” there was a solid half-hour where she was nowhere to be found. It happens. But it”s still unfortunate. Anytime a show leaves you wanting more of the host, it's a mixed blessing. It means the host did well, but didn't get to do enough. Hopefully “SNL” will have her back next year to remedy this problem.
Next Week: Seth Rogen. Probably a lot of Seth”s comedic friends. Probably not a lot of the actual cast. Then a break before the final run of the season.
What did you think about tonight”s show? Sound off below!