Look, Josh Hutcherson seems like a nice enough guy. And I understand he”s one-third of the love triangle in what is currently the biggest non-Marvel, non-“Star Wars” franchise around. So when I say I don”t know why he”s hosting, I want you to understand that I understand the business side, just not the creative side. If you want to pimp out “The Hunger Games”, there are probably a dozen other people in that film franchise that would generate more excitement as host than Hutcherson. Again: he”s a good actor, when the material is right. (Check out “The Kids Are Alright” if you don”t believe me.) And I hope I”m surprised by how well he does. But if the first half-hour consists of Panem-centric parodies and Hutcherson playing himself, strap in for a world of pain.
Along for the ride tonight is musical act HAIM, an all-female, up-and-coming indie pop band. As always, I”ll be liveblogging the proceedings. This week, I imagine Team Peeta will be out in full force to tell me how wrong I am in addition to the usual throng. I will try and keep my “Hunger Games” puns to a minimum. I”ll let the show be my guide. See you at 11:30 pm EST when we kick things off officially.
Piers Morgan Live: George Zimmerman is back in the news…well, his new girlfriend, at least. “I”m a sucker for bad boys…and I like when a man”s features are being sucked into the middle of his face.” Why don”t the police help stop his recent activities? “He has way more guns than us!” declares the police chief. Finally, George Zimmer (head of Men”s Warehouse) comes on the complain about “dragging the first two-thirds of my name through the mud.” This wasn”t really a sketch so much as three short takes strung together to stitch a cold open together. Maybe cold opens are something this show shouldn”t do anymore? I”m struggling to remember the last one I actually liked. [Grade: C-]
Monologue: You know, he doesn”t look so short when he”s not standing next to Jennifer Lawrence! So that”s a plus. Hutcherson mentions that the “SNL” cast are huge fans of “The Hunger Games,” so naturally a parade of cast members help carry Hutcherson carry the monologue. Noël Wells is semi-excited to be chosen for the “SNL” version of the Games, since it means extra screen time…until Strong”s Katniss steps in to steal her thunder. (Can we stop with the inside jokes about how the new six cast members have been underused? Please?) Hutcherson gets an honest-to-goodness laugh when he reveals that he didn”t realize “The Hunger Games” films were based on books. Other than that, this was fine-but-predictable stuff. I”ll give it a pass for now and reserve any “Hunger Games”-related exhaustion for the fourth sketch that milks that franchise. [Grade: B]
Girlfriends Talk Show: If you were worried that Cecily Strong would get a reduced sketch load due to hosting “Weekend Update,” this show is putting that fear to rest. I think Hutcherson is the first male to be in “Girlfriends.” So, history! Hutcherson” hunk is in the a cappella group at school…but only sings the back-up part, making his solo here pretty funny. Other than that, he basically sits there and looks good. His presence lets Aidy Bryant”s character mine new areas, especially when she tries to flirt with him. Honest question: At this point in the sketch”s run, shouldn”t Morgan punch Kyra in the face? Kyra is straight-up awful, and we”ve seen them together enough to recognize how destructive this friendship is. I know, I”m asking about continuity in a sketch based on a note-by-note recreation of the original template. But it”s increasingly hard to laugh at Morgan, because Bryant does such a good job grounding the character in a recognizable reality. [Grade: B]
Mr. Patterson”s Office: “He has the mind of a genius, and the body of a baby.” Well, it”s not often that the pitch for a sketch makes it into the dialogue that directly. A few weeks ago, I offered Beck Bennett some advice on how to break through the casting clutter. I know he didn”t read it, but creating something Mr. Patterson wasn”t far from my suggestion at that time. A character this broad lives and dies by its execution, and Bennett”s physicality here is fantastic. Having the clean office devolve into a sea of spaghetti helps add to the overall build of the conceit. I”m not sure this is going to be a runaway character by any stretch, but it”s a fine way to get Bennett some screen time. Working out the “rules” of his physical/mental statuses will be key in the long haul to make this a recurring prospect. [Grade: B+]
Matchbox 3: Hutcherson, Kenan Thompson, and Jay Pharaoah are subway performers who specialize in performing in crowded trains. That involves deploying moves such as the “Running Neck” and “Stirring The Espresso”. Unsurprisingly, Hutcherson seems infinitely more comfortable in the preproduced arena than in sketches. (“I will be holding up a flag for your reference!”) While not as adventurous as other digital shorts this season, it does manage to weave in something of a story involving Hutcherson”s mysterious mid-performance disappearance. Not a bad idea for a segment, but it didn”t really go anywhere after the initial dance moves were revealed. [Grade: B-]
Already time for music? OK, take it away, HAIM. They bring “The Wire” to the table, though I”m pretty sure this has nothing to do with Omar and Cutty. The bluesy vocals ground the rather bland pop arrangement, with some of the vocal runs owing to Elvis Presley as much as Stevie Nicks. This is probably the biggest performance in the band”s history, and they chose a song that doesn”t grab the audience by the throat so much as gently wave at them. It”s neither here nor there in terms of the song itself (which is fine, if not great), but curious from a career perspective. [Grade: B-]
Weekend Update: To give some helpful travel tips, “The Worst Lady On An Airplane” arrives with her Baby Neck in tow. I”m President of the Aidy Bryant Fan Club, but this is the Anthony Crispino in her overall arsenal of characters. To be clear: this is a bad thing. “The Worst Lady” is just a listicle of bad travel experiences given human form. Oh well. She”s the only guest on “Update,” which I assume means the show has oodles of excellent sketches just waiting to go. Cough. The “Update” jokes themselves were fine, but there”s been little to no Meyers/Strong interactions this season. There”s no rule saying they HAVE to play off one another, but it”s curious how that just hasn”t happened. If nothing else, it”ll make the post-Meyers “Update” (assuming it happens at all) an easier transition. [Grade: B]
Josie: OK, I”m a huge fan of The Outfield”s “Your Love”. So an entire sketch based around this song is kind of my heaven. The problem is this: If you know the song, then you can see every punchline coming. If you don”t, it”s probably hard to understand the lyrics upon the first listen. Then again, it”s hard to focus on anything else but Vanessa Bayers” sweater dress. I”m so tempted to ask, “WHY IS ANY OF THIS HAPPENING?” The rules of this universe don”t make a lick of sense. (What was that whole thing about “texting” early on? Does this take place in some sort of ’80s hell dimension?) Then again, how many of us have made up questions in the car along with the radio to have the song “speak” to us? Just me? Drat. Oh well. I do. So I liked this, even if it was an imperfect version of a pretty perfect sketch idea. [Grade: A-]
Best Buy Team Meeting: OH NO WHY? Look. I love Bobby Moynihan and Cecily Strong as much as I hate these two characters. This is the third time deploying these two jerks, and it wasn”t funny the first time. If we see it a fourth time, we may reach a level of crisis not seen since the dark days of “The Californians”. Life”s too short to say anything more about this. [Grade: D]
Dancing: The Kyle Mooney Era of digital shorts has been a highlight of this Fall, with films like “Beer Pong” being some of the best moments overall. This iteration features the rise and fall of a wanna-be dancer”s career within a matter of minutes, essentially playing out the arc of an entire movie in roughly one hundred and eighty seconds. This week”s odd obsession with the 1980″s continues, with Walkmans, VHS players, and decade-specific clothing adorning the sketch. This has more of a Lonely Island vibe than most shorts this season, with logic flying out the window in favor of increasing absurdity. It was still a hundred times more muted than anything Andy Samberg ever did, but as with “Matchbox 3,” this short didn”t quite match the highs already established this season. It was good, but never really got interesting. Given how fascinating some of these shorts have been, that”s a bit of a bummer. [Grade: B-]
HAIM return to perform “Don”t Save Me”. I can”t shake the feeling that the bass player is mad at me about something. Maybe I”ll pay attention to the keyboardist/percussionist stage right instead. She seems nicer. And that”s a good description of the song: “nice”. This track has the happiest freakin” cowbell I”ve ever heard. Earlier I compared the trio”s vocals to that of Stevie Nicks, and here, the drum beat comes straight out of mid-period Fleetwood Mac. It”s a bit uncanny. But since I like mid-period Fleetwood Mac, I”m down with this song. [Grade: B]
Animal Hospital: You see, it”s animal hospital, but they kill all of the pets that come into it! That”s funny, right? No. No. No. Having the animals actually be alive at the end of the sketch didn”t salvage a thing. Profoundly unfunny, mean, and dumb. Not “so dumb it’s clever”. Just dumb. I don’t know if I hate the employees more, or the pet owners who clearly don’t research the hospitals to which they bring their pets. Welcome to the “Worst Sketches Of The Year” Gallery, ye three minutes of my life I”ll never get back. [Grade: F]
Bugs: Where The Heck You Gotta Be?: I dig Mike O”Brien, since he has what feels like the most bizarre sense of humor on the show. It”s almost aggressively odd. This short has crazy eyebrows, slick editing meant to look sloppy, and some even better sound effects. (The tuba stinger make me spit out my water.) Maybe I”m just happy to not really dislike a sketch that I”m overestimating my own appreciation of this. It”s totally possible. I might rewatch this tomorrow and hate it. But for now, I”m happy! Once again, Hutcherson (as O”Brien”s younger brother) shows more life on film than live in-studio. Then again, aside from one or two sketches, they haven”t asked him to do anything interesting. I wonder if the material just didn”t suit him (in which case, bad job writing, “SNL”) or if they instead chose to largely hide him (in which case, bad job for hiring him to host, “SNL”). [Grade: B]
Thanksgiving Dinner: OK, who slipped me a buncha drugs? Because it looks like Vanessa Bayer is dressed as a turkey and eating corn out of Josh Hutcherson”s hands….like a turkey. A turkey that talks…and agrees to eat her former neighbor. Is this some metaphor for tolerance? And why, when she leaves, does she turn into a real turkey? Was that the reality all along? How many questions will remain unanswered? I”d give this sketch the HAIM bass player stink eye, but I”m honestly just too confused to be mad. [Grade: Gobble Gobble]
Best Sketch: Josie
Worst Sketch: Animal Hospital
Best/Worst Sketch Involving an Actor In A Turkey Suit: Thanksgiving Dinner
Trend I Should Have Loved Yet Found Oddly Off-Putting: All the digital shorts, but only because the show seemed to lean on them for running time rather than because it had a ton of really strong ideas
Thing I’m Most Grateful For: No “Hunger Games”-related stuff after the monologue
In Two Weeks: Paul Rudd starts a run of three December episodes
What did you think of tonight”s episode? Did Josh Hutcherson acquit himself? Did he let the show down? Did the opposite actually occur? And what did you think about the three digital shorts, especially when paired with an overly short “Update”? Is that a positive or negative trend? Sounds off below!