Recap: ‘Saturday Night Live’ – Jamie Foxx and Ne-Yo

After a three-week break, “Saturday Night Live” is back with host Jamie Foxx. He”s here promoting his upcoming film “Django Unchained,” which pretty much makes me what to refer to him as “Djamie” throughout tonight”s recap. (In both cases, the “D” is silent.) Foxx initially shot to stardom through small-screen sketch comedy “In Living Color”, so it will hopefully be fun to see him in Studio 8H tonight. Along for the ride will be musical guest Ne-Yo, who has been all over television this week. He appeared on both “The Voice” as well as CBS”s Grammys Nomination special, so I”m super stoked to hear the “Let Me Love You” trifecta tonight.

I know better than to have high or low hopes based on host alone at this point. So let”s let the episode unfold and see what happens. As always, I”ll be recapping each sketch in order as they unfold. As always, you will read those grades, shake your fist to the heavens, and then attempt to place an objective grade upon a subjective medium. It”s all I want for Christmas, really. (Well, that and for you to subscribe to my weekly “SNL” podcast that I host every week with The Huffington Post”s Mike Ryan. I”d like that as well, please.)
On with the recap! I’ll try live-blogging this as much as possible.
Fiscal Cliff Press Conference: Obama announces that he”s reached an agreement with Representative John Boehner, on the basis that he is “sorry” for his political adversary. Rather than aim for political satire based on actual policy issue, we instead get jokes about Republicans pulling Boehner”s pants down in the ladies” bathroom. Bill Hader”s Boehner is hysterically pathetic, but it”s basically a sadder version of his newsman Herb Welch. It”s amusing, but divorced from anything resembling reality. That doesn”t mean it”s a bad sketch, but it does put a ceiling on the segment that wouldn”t be there if the sketch actually decided to delve into actual issues rather than grade-school bullying. [Grade: B-]
Monologue: Some hosts approach the monologue stage as if approaching a firing squad. Foxx has no such confidence problems, owning things from the second he appears. “How Black Is That?” turns into a catchphrase, referring not only to Jay Z”s ownership in the New Jersey Nets, his role in “Django Unchained”, and Obama”s re-election. “The first four years was the white side of him,” Foxx assures the audience. Then he heads to the piano for the musical part his monologue. (I wish I could bet on things like “Jamie Foxx singing during the monologue.”) Eventually, 2 Chainz joins him to sing “Birthday Song”. It was a disjointed monologue to be sure, but each part of it was individually strong. I”m just hoping this confidence translates into the sketches. [Grade: B+]
Bitch, What”s The Answer?: Did you know that saying “bitch” is funny? Apparently it is, according to this sketch. This game show features Foxx as a game-show host that constantly yells at his contestants. Things pick up slightly when Bobby Moynihan”s character tries to engage with the host, rolling with the constant insults that proceed from questions such as “What”s Up With Carbon?” and “Where Jupiter?” But overall, I”m stunned this aired so early in the show. (Actually, I”m slightly stunned it aired at all.) I need to look back at every episode this season thus far, because my Lord it feels like “SNL” has a high percentage of post-monologue sketches that kill the show dead before it even has the chance to start. I”m worried we just saw the latest. I have no doubt I didn”t like this sketch at all. I”m just hoping the show can pull up before crashing. [Grade: C-]
J-Pop America Fun Time Now: The two hapless students invent a Japanese version of Christmas, which involves decorating a bonzai tree with a ninja star. Foxx plays a grad student Dante, who also owns a local, underpopulated dojo. He”s promoting his clothing line “FJBJ”, but all I can hear is “duh duh” at the end of each line from every character. (I”m probably transcribing that incorrectly, but it”s as close as I can get.) I used to love this sketch, but at this point, I would rather see a digital short involving Jason Sudeikis” horrified professor after a taping of this show. I think they”ve milked this as far as it can go, which means we”ll see it at least a half-dozen more times this year. [Grade: C]
Tyler Perry Presents Alex Cross 2: Medea Special Ops: “The first buddy cop movie starring one actor!” promises the narration. Foxx deploys some impressive physical comedy in this, overcoming a fairly weak premise. There”s something to be said for a performer”s commitment to bland material, after all. But commitment alone can”t save this. We”re about a month too late in making fun of this movie, so this feels like the writers recognizing Foxx could do a could Medea impression more than anything else. Mostly I”m waiting for something, ANYTHING, to actually make me laugh tonight. This is not a good episode thus far. [Grade: C-]
Ne-Yo takes the stage, and it says something that I”m actually excited to hear “Let Me Love You” for the third time this week. That”s how rough things are going right now. This is the third different staging I”ve seen, which is pretty impressive in and of itself. When I got married five years ago, I spent 3 months learning one four-minute routine for our first dance. But here”s the third variation in six days. This is why Ne-Yo is onstage and I”m at home. (Also, that whole “I can”t sing thing” probably contributes to that.) As for the song itself? It”s like Fun.”s “We Are Young”: it”s all chorus, with any part of the song separate from it dull as hell. But man that chorus is catchy! This will be another night in which I go to bed humming this track. So there”s that. [Grade: B]
Weekend Update: Mrs. Claus (Aidy Bryant, making her first appearance tonight) is excited about the alone time that Christmas Eve offers her. She”s a horny ol” lady, don”tcha know. (“Manscaping hasn”t reached the North Pole…or the South Pole.”) Bryant is cheerful, but doesn”t quite go far with the idea to make it anything more than “semi-adorable”. She starts off on one note and just stays there throughout. Afterwards, a Ding Dong (Foxx) appears to discuss the recent controversy surrounding the potential loss of Twinkies. “I used to be the top of the snack game!” laments the Ding Dong. (There”s a sentence I didn”t anticipate typing in 2012.) Somehow, Foxx gets the audience to sing along with him, which covers up the approximately six times he trips over his cue cards and/or breaks character. But hey, if Hader can do it while performing Stefon, it”s fair play for everyone I suppose. But hey, I enjoyed the Ding Dong portion of the show more than anything thus far. If that”s not an indictment of the show to this point, I don”t know what is. [Grade: B]
Dylan McDermott Or Dermot Mulroney: Oh my God. They wrote this sketch for Sepinwall, didn”t they? Too funny. The three African-American contestants on the show fail to understand the difference between the actors. I”m not sure they have to be African-American in order to be confused, but that”s neither here nor there. What is here AND there is the verbal dexterity Bill Hader displays as the host of this show. (“You can McDermott McDouble your points!”) Things get even beter when Dylan…Dermot…one of them shows up. It”s Dermot Mulroney holding a photo of Dylan McDermott. And the fact that I had to think about that pretty much proves the premise. It doesn”t hurt that Mulroney thinks he”s McDermott. To top things off, the three contestants get mad they didn”t get a chance to play “Djimon Hounsou Or Chiwetel Ejiofor,” a joke that finally explains the composition of the contestants. My word, where has THIS show been all night? That was fantastic. [Grade: A-]


Marcus Banks: Tree Pimp: “The game is the same,” says Banks, trading in a life of pimping for one selling holiday trees. The silence from the crowd watching this sketch is deafening, and it”s hard to blame them. The idea of treating Douglas firs as prostitutes is a weird one, but weird is fine so long as it”s funny. Instead, this just goes on…and on…and why is Kenan Thompson humping a Christmas tree again? I”m confused, and lost a lot of the good will engendered by the last sketch. Looks like we”ve ended the streak of shows with strong preproduced material. Oh well. [Grade: C-]

Maine Justice: “Hey, what the hell is going on here?” asks Moynihan”s confused participant, asking what everyone else watching this was thinking. Everything about the sketch screams “Louisiana”, and yet everyone besides Moynihan pretends like they are in Maine. At least the sketch owns up to its own weirdness early on, which allows Sudeikis to indulge in his best “drunk Colonel Sanders” impression without viewers trying to parse things together. Adding to the non-sequitur nature of things, Charlie Day shows up at one point to help the plaintiff make her case. Eventually, we learn that all involved are transplants post-Katrina, who may or may not also employ a space-time portal in order to split their time between the two areas in the country. Here”s a sketch that depended less on jokes that energy, and Lord knows this sketch had the latter in spades. Eventually, I surrendered to the flow, even if I was still as confused as Moynihan”s character. [Grade: B+]

Ne-Yo returns to perform the ballad “She Is”. I”m a sucker for acoustic guitars and syncopated drums, so this song is in my wheelhouse. I”m still not convinced Ne-Yo is a particularly gifted singer, as he tends to get overwhelmed by his musical accompaniment in live settings. In up-tempo numbers like “Let Me Love You,” that makes sense. In quieter numbers such as this, it”s less forgivable. But this is still better than his initial number tonight, if for no other reason that it”s the first time this week I”ve heard it. That”s a shallow reason to be sure. But I”m a TV critic, not a music one. (“No kidding!” cryeth the masses.) [Grade: B+]


Swarovski Crystals: “Hi, we”re not porn stars anymore!” greet the two saleswomen for the jewelry line. Cecily Strong is basically doing Dalia Royce from “Suburgatory”, if Dalia made all of the wrong life choices possible. This is the most 12:55 am sketch all year. It”s balls-out weird from moment one. (“Once I was with eight guys at once. And I thought that was a pickle. But now it”s crystals!”) Once again, Foxx loses the perpetual battle against the cue cards, but that”s fine. I”m not sure how Swarovski Crystals is going to feel about this, but nothing here was any worse than that “Every Kiss Begins With K” nonsense in terms of overall offensiveness. At least this made me laugh, so point to “SNL” in this case. [Grade: B+]
Best Sketch: “Dylan McDermott Or Dermot Mulroney”
Worst Sketch: “Bitch, What”s The Answer?”
Biggest Takeaway: “SNL” needs to figure out a better way to program its sketches, as the three live segments post-“Update” were much, much stronger than those before “Update”.
What did you think of tonight”s show? How did host Jamie Foxx do? Which sketches were highlights and lowlights for you? Sound off below!