This is where I usually criticize "SNL" for lazy writing or an underwhelming guest host or bad musical guest (MY OPINIONS MATTER). But not this week. Maya Rudolph returned to Studio 8H as a host after departing in 2007, and "SNL" had its best episode in years. There were no bad sketches (I know, right?), and even the two least funny ones featured Paul Simon chilling with Stefon and Bill Hader losing his sh*t over a segment gone awry.
Rudolph hosting brought out an energy among the cast members that isn't always present. Maybe it's comfort factor or because the cast doesn't have to worry about C-Tates screwing up their delivery, but this episode seemed lively and effortless — just like when Jimmy Fallon hosted last year. BUT BETTER because this one had Justin Timberlake as Bon Iver, Kate Upton, and Fred Armisen as Prince.
But don't worry: Lindsey Lohan hosts the next new episode, on March 3 (followed by Justin Bieber two weeks later, if rumors prove true), so we'll have plenty to complain about soon enough.
Things got off to a strong start when "SNL" DIDN'T DO ANOTHER POLITICAL COLD OPEN. That, and because the writers found a clever, "linteresting" angle on Linsanity that hasn't been done to death.
There's no reason why "Bronx Beat" had to be eight minutes long, but “We’re going to go to a Panera Bread and talk about you" is a pretty good line. (Amy's off-the-cuff mug-flipping was great, too.) The Poehler/Rudolph pairing is one that doesn't exact in the current cast, and that's a damn shame. As much as I like Abby Elliot and Vanessa Bayer, they don't have the same sense of rhythm that these two do.
My favorite sketch of the episode. I rarely LOL IRL, but I did during "Prank Show": “Sister Maya, was this an act of malice?” “No, Brother West. It was an act of whimsy.” Rudolph's slowed-down delivery was what really sold it for me, and the whole thing was so bizarre that I didn't mind the show never getting around to the seemingly-inevitable Whitney Houston In Heaven sketch.
"SNL" really needs two "Weekend Update" anchors. There's a certain zip to the jokes when they're being delivered by multiple people that doesn't exist when they're coming from Seth Meyers only. My picks: John Mulaney and Nasim Pedrad. Just step aside, Seth.
Another reason why this episode worked so well: the humor was different, more "black," and you rarely see that with "SNL." Rudolph hosting allowed the show to do "Blue Ivy," "Obama Cosby," "Maya Rudolph," and "What's He Doing?" without the awkward fear of running out of non-white people. (Nasim played a fine Nicki Minaj, but still...) Lorne, please hire a black female. PLEASE. And then hire Justin Timberlake to a one-year contract.
Will "What's Up with That?" ever get old to me? Nope. I can't hate on Lindsey Buckingham. I do wish Bill O'Reilly — sitting WAY too close to Kate Upton for anyone's comfort — hadn't been in on the joke, though; it would have been a lot funnier if Kenan could have made fun of the doddering, old racist. Plus:
A terrible sketch made funny by four likable people realizing it was awful halfway through, and deciding to have fun with it. Props to Vanessa Bayer for never breaking character, though.
Fred Armisen should always impersonate Obama by way of Cosby.