Well, usually the third episode of “Saturday Night Live” in a row without a break signals a weak effort. The strain of producing the show non-stop for that long tends to produce a subpar episode. But throwing Russell Brand into that third slot? Well, color me more intrigued. Will giving him a live stage upon which to perform yield buzzworthy television? And what will have to say, if anything, about beleaguered musical guest Chris Brown? Let”s just establish this right now: if that combination of guest host and musical act can”t provide at least a few memorable moments tonight, then the show”s no longer allowed to put on three consecutive episodes.
Agreed? Whew. Glad we got this settled in a way that is easily applicable and enforceable. Yea internets! As always, I”ll be grading each segment live, as they happen. Put on your skinny jeans and let”s do this, people.
“Cold Open”: It”s “The O”Reilly Factor,” with a fictitious rendering of the third part of the contentious O”Reilly/Obama interview from the Super Bowl pre-game. Given Jason Sudeikis” ability to channel angry energy, his O”Reilly was oddly tame, with more energy given to “Live from New York” than any of his other lines in the sketch. As for Fred Armisen”s Obama, other than his mouthing, “What the f#ck?”, just typical stuff there. It”s Jay Pharoah”s time for Obama, “SNL.” Pretty freakin” please. [Grade: C-]
“Monologue”: Did you know Russell Brand wears tight trousers? He wants you to know he”s wearing tight trousers. It”s quite a long monologue, one that in some ways harkens to the earliest days of the show when comedians could perform their own material for prolonged periods throughout the show without sketch accompaniment. Slow at first, but truly gained steam by the time he talked about the “ordinary” problems in his marriage with Katy “I”m Going to Be Featured In Every Episode of ‘Glee” Until The Apocalypse” Perry. Strong stuff, but will his energy and point of view translate once confined within sketches? [Grade: B+]
“Gublin and Green”: A law firm dedicated to settling lawsuits from people seeing “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark”? About time! Decent enough until the reasons for lawsuits popped up (look, seeing Green Goblin”s junk WOULD be terrifying), which picked things up a notch. Inconsequential, but didn”t overstay its welcome. That bumps the overall grade up a bit. [Grade: B]
“Ultimate Vacation Giveaway”: If this is the lead sketch, I weep for this show. Just a carbon copy of the past iterations of this bit, none of which were remotely funny in the first place. It”s time for the show to retire it. Put this out of its misery. “Kristen Wiig mugging for four minutes” does not a sketch make. [Grade: D-]
“Don” You Go Rounin” Roun to Re Ro”: Hey, what if everybody talked like Brad Pitt in “Snatch”, only with a British accent? Wouldn”t that make a funny preproduced bit? No? Oh. Too late. Other than Nasim Pedrad”s “But what if you”re wrong?,” just about everything fell flat. The “Three Week Rule” is in full effect so far. [Grade: C-]
“Royal Taster”: Some of the dialects from “Rounin” Roun” managed to come into this sketch, but at least Brand delivers the King”s bravado with the incredible phonetic precision of his monologue, which heightens the absurdity of the endeavor. Throw in Hader”s equally angry chef, Taran Killam”s hapless taster, plus the absurd ending (“This has been ‘The King”s Speech”!”), and you had the first decent sketch of the night. Thank God. [Grade: B+]
Chris Brown hits the stage to a precorded version of his new single, “Yea 3X.” I say prerecorded in that he only sings about 50% of it live, if that, in order to focus on his dance moves. Obvious dancing skills aside, the song”s pretty terrible, and the guy singing it is even worse. Forgive and forget? Not so much. The crowd seemed to be more amenable to his comeback tour, however. Their prerogative. I”d be interested to her your opinion in the comments below. [Grade: C-]
“Weekend Update”: I like the idea of replacing the “cellphone in the dirty pic” with a Shake Weight. I can totally get behind that. Hosni Mubarak steps onto the scene in the wake of his dismissal from power. His Borscht Belt act is still amusing the second time around, especially when invoking Bette Midler to express his thanks for United States” support for his reign. Lil” Wayne and Eminem hop onto the scene to perform their Valentine”s Day song, “Softer.” Pharaoh”s Wayne is basically Dave Chappelle”s Lil” Jon, but Killam”s Eminem is a total revelation. WOW. For tips on Valentine”s Day hotspot, my favorite correspondent Stefon comes on to enlighten the audience. Gizblows? Jupids? Human suitcases? Oh Lord, yes. Slow start to “Update”, but what a finish. [Grade: A-]
“Livin” Single”: Vanessa Bayer can apparently only do Miley Cyrus, but in different accents. Luckily, Brand”s hypersexual cook and Killam”s hypersensitive DJ save the sketch from being five minutes of faux girlpower concealing the desire to be with a man to complete them. (Seriously, Killam”s been on fire in 2011, easily the standout of the new crop in terms of onscreen material/performance in the early proceedings.) Wish they had shown more of the in-sketch audience reacting to the proceedings, but oh well. Still, decent. [Grade: B-]
“A Spot of Tea”: It”s British Coffee Talk! Well, kinda. This is the type of sketch Monty Python or The Kids in the Hall would have performed well in their sleep, but felt sterile in “SNL” hands. Problem is, the former troupes would have gone for nimble/absurd wordplay, not the repetition of gags involving hot women burning themselves with hot liquids during earthquakes. (NOBODY EXPECTS THE TALL CABINET FULL OF GLASS!) [Grade: C]
Chris Brown is back, letting is know it”s 3 am and he’s horny. Is this a more ribald remake of Lady Antebellum”s “Need You Now”? Nope, it”s “No Bullsh#t,” which is the actual title of this song. Not making this up, I promise. I have to believe “SNL” booked him for breathless takes about the validity of his appearance, giving ink to the show that isn”t deserved. So no I”m not taking the bait. Just giving this the grade it deserves and moving on. [Grade: C-]
“Pentagon Time Machine”: Now THAT is the type of craziness I want in my 12:55 am sketch. Nancy Pelosi killing a confused, time-traveling George Washington, thereby changing the entire course of human history? Bring it on. It wasn”t exactly funny, but it was definitely weird. And at this point in the show, I”m fine with “SNL” testing the boundaries of what it can put on live television. If anything, I wanted this to be even weirder, but either writing considerations or time considerations didn”t let this sketch”s freak flag fly as high as the British one above the newly christened White House. [Grade: B-]
Best Sketch: “Royal Taster,” though the second half of “Update” was actually funnier than that
Worst Sketch: “Ultimate Vacation Giveaway”
Most Interesting Fact: Only six live sketches tonight, plus “Update.” In a 90-minute show. And you thought “American Idol” knew how to pad.
What did you think of Russell Brand”s performance? Did Chris Brown”s presence bother you as a person, a music fan, or neither? And what do you think about the show performing over three week stretches: is it better to have subpar “SNL” than no “SNL” at all? Sound off below!