In Cameron Diaz, “Saturday Night Live” has its second consecutive host making an appearance after a lengthy absence. Although Diaz has hosted the show three times before, this is her first time doing so since 2005. Will there be “Annie” sketches? Probably! Will there be a Jamie Foxx and/or Quvenzhané Wallis cameo? Possibly! Will Bruno Mars make an in-sketch appearance in addition to his musical role tonight? Likely! Will this be an exciting episode or one that puts audiences to sleep faster than Thanksgiving dinner? Who knows!
As always, I”ll be liveblogging the show in real time, assigning grades to each segment. As always, I”ll remind you that comedy is subjective and the grades don”t have any more power than you allow them to have. As always, a few of you will ignore that last statement and quibble over a “B-” versus a “B”. It”s cool. We can all hold hands and sing “Massachusetts Afternoon” together when it”s over.
See you at 11:30 pm EST when things kick off properly.
School House Rock: President Obama helps to introduce the “Executive Order” character into the classic cartoon series, with Bobby Monyihan's Order replacing Kenan Thompson”s bill to help pass immigration reform. Thompson crying all the way down the steps multiple times should not have been as funny as it was, especially since that was basically the sole joke of the cold open. The idea of executive orders is a fertile ground for political comedy, but as per usual, “SNL” skirted around the issue rather than deal. Too bad: More of Moynihan”s outrage at the content of his order would have been fantastic. [Grade: B-]
Monologue: Oh, it”s the “Audience Question” monologue! They range from “Is Shrek really that grumpy in real life?” to, “You”re hot!” It”s a really, really, really phoned-in monologue, using a stale concept and doing nothing with it. I wonder if they wrote this ten minutes before air. [Grade: D]
Back Home Baller: “(Do It On My) Twin Bed” was one of my favorite sketches last season, and the show has tried to recreate the magic there ever since. The immediate follow-up “Dongs Around The World” was truly atrocious. This one fares much better, with the insanely long WiFi password plus Leslie Jones” bowl breakdown producing very loud laughs in my living room. This didn”t reach the “Let”s Do It” heights, but I love watching the women of “SNL” team up to strut their stuff together. Extra props for the return of Jean! It's always a whole thing with Jean. [Grade: B+]
HBO First Look: Annie: “My dad is Wyclef Jean…and my mom is Bonnie Raitt!” Leslie Jones gets the call here as a 43-year old woman with the hots for Daddy Warbucks and hatred for Vanessa Bayer”s Annie. There”s not much to it after Jones” appearance, with neither Diaz nor Jay Pharoah bringing much to the sketch, but Jones has energy to spare, and the non-sequitur end of Thompson singing “Black Annie” was just weird enough to work. [Grade: B]
Nest-spresso: “How does it work?” “I don”t know that part!” OK, Vanessa Bayer has been underused this season, but she”s incredible here as the extremely ignorant owner of a kitchen appliance that instantly makes chickens. (That is, if you do it right, otherwise it produces a pile of bones. It”s best not to ask why.) This is one of the weirdest sketch premises I”ve seen in a while, and Lord knows this probably made no sense on paper, but Bayer”s work here is absolutely brilliant. She”s far better than the actual sketch. [Grade: B+]
Theatre Showcase: OK, this hits a little close to home. As someone who”s done theatre in the past, and certainly some as pretentious than this, “SNL” is cutting close to the bone here. But it”s also pretty damn accurate as well, so I can”t be THAT mad. My favorite aspect of this sketch: This is an ensemble sketch in the vein of “Les Jeunes Des Paris” that feels unique to this iteration of the cast. Throw in Thompson/Bayer as the disgruntled parents, the catchy scene-change music, and the variety of mini-scenarios on display, and you have one of the best sketches of the season thus far. [Grade: A-]
Weekend Update: If “SNL” was going to tackle Bill Cosby, doing it through Michael Che in “Update” was probably the smartest way to do it. Che did about thirty seconds of material (mostly about “The Cosby Show”) and moved on. The show was damned either way, but this was at least a way to acknowledge the controversy without derailing the show. Afterwards, Angela Merkel (Kate McKinnon) discusses the G20 Summit with Colin Jost. “I was told at the summit I have Resting Bitch Face. This cannot be true: In Germany, we do not rest, we toil until we collapse!” Merkel”s absolute joy at imagining President Obama”s virility is infectious, because McKinnon is a national freakin” treasure. Her almost-kiss with Jost at the end was the most alive Jost has been onscreen thus far in his short tenure. Afterwords, Charles Manson and Star Burton (Taran Killam, Cecily Strong) arrive to discuss their romance. It”s a fairly dead segment until Burton reveals she thinks Manson was incarcerated for tax evasion. Even then, it doesn”t fully work. Luckily, this is the only bad part of an otherwise strong “Update” segment. [Grade: B+]
Baby Boss: Taking this concept out of the office and into the home is a logical progression. The visual gag of the adult-sized baby seat alone is worth the change in scenery, and bringing in Diaz as Beck Bennett”s wife offers up some new chances for physical humor. Putting Sasheer Zamata in this four-person sketch certainly elevates her overall visibility in the episode, but unfortunately she isn”t given a lot of material to work with, functioning primarily as the newbie to the premise. Still, this was a solid sketch, albeit a slight let down from the previous few. [Grade: B-]
Dr. Dave And Buggles” Animal Hour: How many penis jokes can a show shove into a single sketch? The answer: MANY. What initially seemed like a one-note joke somehow transcends its limitations through the specificity of each iteration. (The image of Thompson”s host shaking a detached penis through his pants leg had the audience simultaneously laughing and retching.) Just as Bayer elevated “Nest-spresso,” so did Thompson here make this far more entertaining than it had any right to be. If I haven't said it before, it's worth saying now: While “SNL” may not have a breakout star right now, Thompson is the glue holding this season together. He's the show's most valuable asset at this point from a pure utility perspective. [Grade: B]
I”m Going To Fight Andy Rydell: The Bennett/Moody shorts are hit-and-miss at this point, but this high-school sketch (making a second appearance after a successful one last season) works. The heavy-metal music, the 1994 PowerPoint, and the non-sequitur stock footage all make me giggle. I prefer their shorts to have some sort of loopy morality to them, but pure stupidity is fine when it”s actually funny. Look, I”m in a good mood this week! The show has put me here! I”m rolling with it. [Grade: B]
Poetry Class: I praised Bayer several times already, but this is one of my least favorite recurring characters of hers. On the other hand, it feels like she”s gotten more screentime tonight than this entire season combined, so that”s a good thing! Diaz plays an equally dippy friend of Bayer”s substitute teacher, who recites an incredibly inappropriate poem about her UPS man. Oh well, not all sketches can be winners, and that was quite the solid stretch between the monologue and now. It might have been the strongest stretch all season, actually. [Grade: C-]
Night Rumors: Cecily Strong seems to own the “sexy-yet-odd 12:55 am sketch” corner of the show. It”s kind of her thing. She, McKinnon, and Diaz are nighttime chat operators that also have ulterior motives. The best? McKinnon”s character, who has a weird obsession with bets that involve frozen 20-pound turkeys being thrown at her back. This sketch never really went anywhere, which is too bad. I think connecting the lives of the three women might have made for a more unified whole and allowed each character to bounce off one another rather than kill the individual momentum of each story. [Grade: C+]
Best Sketch: Theatre Showcase
Worst Sketch: Monologue
How Were Mark Ronson And Bruno Mars? Fun and funky! A lot of the energy came from the slick dancing employed by Mars and his crew. That was also one of the best musical sets I”ve seen in the show”s history, both simple and graphically eye-catching. It looked like “Solid Gold” with an actual budget.
In Short: The best episode of the season? Let's just say that it was my favorite, since “best” is totally subjective. But considering this has been a strong season overall, I don't take calling this my favorite episode lightly.
What did everyone else think? Sound off in the comments below.