After a brief hiatus, “Saturday Night Live” is back, hopefully with its batteries recharged. Because let”s face it: if having “SNL” stalwart Jon Hamm on the show doesn”t produce a solid episode, then the writing staff needs more rest. Tonight: returning host Scarlett Johansson and returning musical act Arcade Fire. Johansson has proved a game host in the past, so let”s see what the show has in store for her this time around.
Onto the recap!
“Cold Open”: Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao meeting at the G20. “SNL” is dipping into the well here, with Nasim Pedrad interpreting for Bill Hader”s Jintao. But it”s a damn funny well, and compared with most politically related cold opens this year, it actually inspires hope that the rest of the show would be strong. Pedrad”s increasingly angry claims of “DOING SEX TO ME!” might never get old. [Grade: B]
“Monologue”: Short hair, long legs, Scarlett Johansson, everyone! Without anything to promote, she gives instructions on how to stay out of the tabloids in between projects. Starts off pretty slow, but then she starts singing “Class” from the musical “Chicago” alongside Dina Lohan and Kei$ha. Not actually funny per se, but well-performed. Seriously, every other show does a musical episode: why not “SNL”? [Grade: B-]
“[Insert MTV Show Here] and Pregnant”: It”s like the Reese”s Peanut Butter Cup of MTV programming, with most of their shows getting a baby added to them. Funny? Not especially. But short, and the revamped “Cribs” actually was a nice touch, even if it had the unfortunate effect and making the audience go, “Oh, that…that”s not actually funny. True, but unfunny. Know what? I”m calling our daughter to make sure she”s at home right now.” [Grade: B-]
“Millionaire Matchmaker”: Johansson takes her accent from the old “You Gotta Get a Chandelier!” sketch and applies it Patti Stanger, helping out a woman that for some reason sounds like Kermit the Frog. Stanger”s insults were pretty great, especially the one about what to do should a guy actually take interest in her client. Also, I plan on using “You look like a visible fart!” as soon as social occasion permits. Four pieces in, and nothing has been unwatchable. This qualifies as an unmitigated success this season. [Grade: B]
“The Manuel Ortiz Show”: Crap. I spoke too soon. I apologize. This sketch needs to die. I mean, just put in front of a firing squad and just filled with bullets, ASAP. Why this keeps getting pulled out of repetitive moth balls, I”ll never know. Had the “Dexter” in this sketch actually been a serial killer that only kills other serial killers, maybe this would have been an excuse to revisit it. Alas. Luckily, the crowd”s apathy might have done my work for me. Absolutely dead silence for most of this. Totally warranted. [Grade: D-]
“Unstoppable”: Yes. Yes. Yes. Tony Scott should sue the show for all ticket sales that will be lost due to this parody. This was so good that I”ll ignore the fact that Johansson busted out the same accent from “Millionaire”. Downside: thanks to Taran Killam”s impression of Chris Pine, “Star Trek” just became 8% more ludicrous. A great palate cleanser from that last sketch. Also? “SNL” should consider producing a spin-off show consisting of all preproduced material. Nearly everything that”s been done ahead of time this season has been rock solid, and often saved bad shows from being completely forgettable. [Grade: A]
“Brady and Anastasia”: Oh. God. I just realized that “Unstoppable” was the delicious meat in a turd bread sandwich. This sketch needs to go into the vault along with Manuel Ortiz. Increasingly silly reaction shots to incredibly flustered guests? Yawn. This gets a slightly higher grade than “Ortiz” only for the random appearance of the hosts” mothers. [Grade: D]
Hey, it”s that band from the “Where the Wild Things Are” trailer! I know better than slamming Arcade Fire, not just because I know a lot of people really like them, but also because merely “really liking” Arcade Fire is apparently not psychologically possible. So let me say that this band isn”t on my wavelength, but I have nothing against this band, and did like their performance of “We Used to Wait” here. I also appreciated Win Butler busting out into the crowd briefly, another example of bands using their performance time more creatively this season. (If he performs well, do people Tweet “FTW, Win!”???) [Grade: B]
“Weekend Update”: I enjoyed the hell out of Jason Sudeikis” Dubya with Jay Pharoah”s Kanye West. Not as silly as the real-life feud, but pleasantly fun. As for Frank and Gladys Madden, passengers from the Carnival Cruise liner recently stranded in the Pacific: the less said about that, the better. (Poor Vanessa Bayer: she”s gotten Miley and almost nothing else this year to showcase her talent.) You take the good, you take the bad. As for Seth Meyers: as HitFix”s Alan Sepinwall might say, at this point Seth do what Seth do. [Grade: C+]
“St. Kath”s Middle”: The power of positive thinking goes awry in this Disney Channel show parody. The close-ups of Kenan Thompson”s face saved the sketch from being a simple exercise in repeating the same premise multiple times, and his cry “I thought it was RECKLESS!” killed. Kenan haters probably threw things at the screen during this sketch, but I”m no Kenan hater. I”ll take this over Manuel Ortiz any and every day of the week [Grade: B-]
“Model U.N.”: This week”s Digital Short just threw a bucket of ice water on my earlier idea about an all-preproduced version of the show. By the time Arcade Fire showed up, all goodwill had been lost. Decent hook for a song, but bad premise for a digital short. [Grade: C-]
“Paula Deen”s Big Ol” Soakums”: Kristen Wiig has lost some of her luster over the past few years for falling back on a revolving door of similarly shrill characters, but Deen is different enough (and, I think, brand new on the show) to remind viewers why she was recently the show”s MVP. But, um, where was, I dunno, THE HOST OF THE SHOW in this monologue of a sketch? Let”s see if the next sketch required a major costume change. If not, semi-inexcusable. [Grade: B-]
Nope, not even a sketch. It”s Arcade Fire, back with super cool jackets and a song that sounds like a mellow (though still insistent) hybrid of The Scissor Sisters and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. “Sprawl II” shows another side to the group”s sonic arsenal, and you know what? Maybe I”m tuning more into their frequency than I did at the start of the show. Well played, band. Well played. [Grade: B+]
“Stars of Tomorrow”: Here”s a fun drinking game: drink every time Vanessa Bayer talks like Kermit the Frog. Between this and the “Millionaire” sketch, you”d be on the floor by now tonight. The faux rivalry between two preteen girls using inappropriate monologues has potential, but the sketch squashed that by playing it too safe. This needed a fearless, “It”s Always Sunny” approach to really sell it. As it was, this just sort of sat there, even with their insertion into “A Raisin in the Sun” and “Brokeback Mountain.” [Grade: C]
“Mike”s Busteria”: You wanted it, you got it. (Well, I did, at least.) It”s simply not a Scarlett Johansson episode without an iteration of this sketch. I”ve hated most of the returning sketches tonight, but I have a soft spot for Johansson”s Lacey “Look at this one…and that one” bit. That being said, it”s placement this late in the show means they put it on out of creative laziness as opposed to having a quality piece of comedy to air in the last slot. [Grade: C-]
Overall impressions: The good outweighed the bad, but not by much. As with the “Back to the Future” bit a few weeks ago, the preproduced “Unstoppable” stole the show, which doesn”t speak well of the show”s ability to produce memorable live sketches anymore. One reason for this problem might be the cast”s size: there are just too many on the roster right now, and almost none get a chance to even stretch their legs much in an individual episode. It”s like constantly rotating your bench in basketball every time down the court. Sure, it keeps your players fresh but also really doesn”t allow them a lot of time to get into the flow.
What did you think of Scarlett Johansson”s performance? What were your Hits and Misses in tonight”s episode? Leave your thoughts below!