Recap: ‘Saturday Night Live’ – Melissa McCarthy And Imagine Dragons

Normally, I”d kick things off by saying how excited I am by the prospect of Melissa McCarthy hosting for the third time in three seasons of “Saturday Night Live.” She”s been a fantastic host in each of her previous two attempts, and already at the point where having her as host every year (if she wants to do it) seems like a desirable option. But tonight, it”s all about the end of the Seth Meyers Era on “SNL”. It might seem odd to say goodbye to someone who will actually be on NBC more often per week than now once he takes over “Late Night” after the Winter Olympics. But as head writer for almost a decade, Meyers has shaped the content of the show in ways we won”t really know until his departure.
On top of that, his generous approach to anchoring/co-anchoring “Weekend Update” may not place him atop the list of all-time anchors, but featured a style that shunned the spotlight in favor of those whose characters were made famous due to Meyers” onscreen investment in their success. Stefon simply isn”t Stefon without Meyers there to help facilitate that character”s unique viewpoint, period. Drunk Uncle would still be funny, but not nearly as funny as when playing off Meyers. Seth served as audience proxy: When he enjoyed those who appeared on “Update,” more often than not the audience did as well. The second longest-tenured member in “SNL” history (only Darrell Hammond stayed around longer overall), Meyers cast a shadow as large as it is invisible. We simply won”t know the extent to which he helped shape the show since 2001 until time passes and we see the next phase of the program”s evolution. For now, we can sit back and expect something great in tonight”s “Weekend Update.” And if McCarthy also turns in a typically great performance, this show could be something special indeed.
But that”s for us to find out, as I work through tonight”s liveblog. As always, I”ll be grading each segment in real time. Unlike always, I”m in a pretty nostalgic mood tonight, so expect the curve on tonight”s grades to skew high unless this is a catastrophically terrible show. In short: if there was ever a time to break out “The Californians” again, tonight”s the night, baby! See you all here at 11:30 pm EST, when I kick things off officially.
Super Bowl Halftime Coverage: With Bruno Mars and The Red Hot Chili Peppers rerouted due to the polar vortex, the “best and brightest of Broadway” have stepped in to perform instead. I”m guessing the joke here is “football is manly, and Broadway isn”t,” which marks the second week in a row that “SNL” has featured an awkward intersection of sports and sexuality in the cold open. This is somewhat worse: At least in last week”s ice-skating sketch, the show mocked the lack of skill in the heterosexual skaters. I”m not sure what the real joke is here, especially when the camera cuts to the incredibly annoyed FOX hosts. (Well, except Michael Strahan, who is DELIGHTED.) The musical here isn”t intentionally bad, nor is it actually good. It”s just half-formed, as is the idea for a sketch. Especially due to the fact all the rock/pop performances on display at Super Bowl halftimes are already essentially Broadway musicals, why is any of this supposed to be funny at all? Ugh. My Meyers-inspired goodwill is being tested early.  [Grade: D+]
Monologue: McCarthy is happy to be back, but Bobby Moynihan is less than pleased. Why? In fake footage from her last time on the show, we see her acting like a diva after the program. So in the present, we get a wire-fu fight between the pair. I have no living idea why this is happening, but Lord knows all involved are committed to the action, and it”s certainly a new twist on the increasingly-supple monologue slot of the show. Memorable? Eh. Amusing? Sure. [Grade: B]
Some Dumb Little Thing From CVS: Does this hit a little too close to home? You betcha! Other than the G-rated dice, however, there”s little funny about this after the title card displays. Rather than building to any crescendo, it”s simply repetitious jokes that don”t break any ground already established by the premise. [Grade: C]
Delaware 1 Special Report: Representative Michael Grimm has nothing on freshman Congresswoman Sheila Kelly (McCarthy), who angrily reacts to a series of cameras recording her outbursts. It”s not just a variation on her basketball coach bully from last season: it”s the same character, now a Congresswoman. Once again, all footage is pre-recorded. Once again, it”s crowd-pleasing but fairly one note. Once again, I have so little to say that it”s almost comical. I have no idea what is going on and why the show thus far has been so poor. But it’s distressing. [Grade: C]
Women”s Group: While other members of the group want to “slow down” or “take more photographs,” McCarthy”s character wants to “avenge the death of her father.” Like ya do. Whew. This is more like it, with McCarthy getting a brand-new character to play and a calm demeanor than belies her murderous intent. Wisely, the sketch doesn”t waste time with the secondary characters and just delves into McCarthy”s character and her twisted vision boards and mysterious boxes. (“Each time I”ve erased a individual as part of my journey, I”ve taken a trophy and put it in here.”) On top of that, ending the sketch with her in a sniper’s line of fire is a great way to punctuate things, in addition to giving her a great reason to leap out a window. Not a total classic sketch (it went on a bit too long and took its time to get to the good stuff), but a breath of fresh air tonight all the same.  [Grade: A-]
Guess That Phrase!: Everyone will talk about McCarthy”s character here, I imagine. But the most fascinating one? Vanessa Bayer”s contestant, who hates her daughter and tortures dogs with dance lessons. What a bizarre set of traits for a secondary character! Once again, like last week”s Jonah Hill-centric game show sketch, the game show itself is actually the least important, with the secret origins of “Pass The Mash!” taking center stage by the end of things. This segment does feature a recurring character like Sheila Kelly, but it FEELS like it does, which is to say it seems like “SNL” either enjoys putting McCarthy in the same type of sketch over and over again or McCarthy just really likes playing these types of characters on the show. She”s skilled at playing them, to be sure, but she”s probably great at a lot of other things. I just want onscreen verification of this thesis before the night”s over. “Women”s Group” should have been the start, not the end, of that process. [Grade: B-]
Black History Month: Jay Pharaoh is having a great year on the digital shorts front, and this one”s no exception. Having the “SLAVERY!” punchline delivered so abruptly and so early gave the song a needed edge, and also makes its point without dressing it in catchy melodies or clever lyrics. This isn”t the type of sketch that would have aired earlier in the season, not because of any calendar-related issues but simply because neither the cast nor the writer”s room was particularly equipped to produce it. Having something like this as part of the show”s comedic pool only makes the show better, especially given the fact that this was one the best sketches of the night so far. [Grade: A-]

Imagine Dragons take the stage to perform “Radioactive”. I’m sure these guys are nice and call their parents on a regular basis. But I think I hit my saturation point on this song months ago, which makes its inevitable use in any “Days Of Future Past” commercials that much more terrifying. Also? For a song as naturally cinematic as this, it’s curious to see the band not try to go for any visual interest with its performance. Drake achieved this with only a pair of spotlights, so it’s not like it involves a huge budget. At least Kendrick Lamar arrives halfway through to recreate a bit of the magic of their Grammys’ pairing. His presence plus the quadruple drum attack give the song an urgency lacking in the rest of the performance. It’s thrilling stuff, mostly because it adds a shot of shock back into an all-too-familiar track. [Grade: B+]

Weekend Update: Atlanta resident Buford Calloway appears to discuss the effects of the recent storm on the city. He is verbose in describing to “Sethery” the effects two inches of “Obama”s White Friend” had on his life. Calloway is Taran Killam at his hammiest, which is usually fine, but here feels labored. “Update” itself is short, because the time is needed for Amy Poehler and Stefon to wish Meyers goodbye and take him “to the other side”. I”m torn: I wish that Stefon hadn”t come back so soon, but he”s so intertwined with Meyers that it makes sense as a one-time exception. (Also, the idea of a Human DVR sounds amazing, since I need to keep up with “Scandal” any way I can.) After a few minutes, Andy Samberg appears to sing some Boys II Men, and Fred Armisen makes a brief wordless appearance as former Governor David Paterson after a heartfelt goodbye from Meyers. Not sure we needed Samberg in there, but otherwise, that was a fine, earned emotional goodbye. [Grade: That Update Had Everything…Stefon, Amy Poehler, That Guy Who Will Host “Late Night” In A Few Weeks]
The Living Pictures Exhibition: Here”s a sketch that answers the question, “How could ‘SNL” kill the goodwill from that ‘Weekend Update” segment as quickly as possible?” Awkwardly paced, not very well-rehearsed, and generally mean in a way that the show rarely is, it”s an epic bomb that is fascinating from a “train wreck” perspective. This is a sketch that was written, accepted, produced, aired at dress, and miraculously made it on air. The story of how any of that happened would make a riveting documentary. On the plus side? BROOKS WHEELAN SIGHTING! HE LIVES! Poor guy. I bet he’s incredibly funny. We just have no clue. His best-bet for stardom this Spring is people mistaking him for the lead of “About A Boy.” [Grade: F]
Girlfriends Talk Show: Morgan finally gets to pick the guest, and it”s her older, divorced friend Donna. It seems like a twist on the sketch, but Kyra once again steals the scene by co-opting Donna as her own bestie. Still, having a woman on the talk show with an active sex life (involving a Hawaiian man named Pua) gives enough variation to not make this feel like a retread of past versions. Plus, Aidy Bryan”s Morgan always gets at least one to three perfectly written lines that almost justify the sketch”s inclusion in and of themselves. (This week, we get, “I”m dating the woman I”m becoming, and I love every minute of it!”) There”s something desperate about Donna that the sketch never truly explores (ie, is she really happy or just as sad as Morgan remembers, albeit expressed in a new way), but that”s probably due to a combination of McCarthy”s skill and my vast over-reading of the subtext here. There”s no way “Girlfriends” could support that subtext, but it was there all along all the same. [Grade: B-]

Imagine Dragons return to perform “Demons”. There are lots of songs that mean well and have messages worth hearing that still make me want to jump through a window when they come on the radio. This is one of those songs. It”s not you, Imagine Dragons. It”s me. This song brings out my demons, I guess. [Grade: D]

The Summer Of Diane: Moynihan”s narrator/onscreen protagonist woos McCarthy”s slovenly character in a combination of voice-over and mime. It”s not a bad approach, as the two often ironically juxtapose to fun effect. But holy hell, this is short. Maybe 90 seconds, tops? I”m all for a sketch that doesn”t overstay its welcome, but there was enough of an idea here to flesh out a few more clashes between wistful memory and crude reality. [Grade: C+]

Super Champions With Kyle: Another week, another man-child Kyle Mooney character. But what makes this one more palatable than the others: 1) The incredibly cheesy graphics that split up each interview, and 2) the fact that these are man-on-the-street improv sessions rather than scripted bits. (I can”t say for a fact that these weren”t written, but they didn”t involve any cast members, and it”s hard to imagine writing a better punchline for that Super Bowl protestor than the one that guy actually gave.) There”s certainly room on “SNL” for non-scripted bits such as this, and I”d love to see who could do this besides Mooney in the weeks to months to come. It”s not like anyone in New York would recognize any of the new cast members this year right now anyways. [Grade: B+]

Best Sketch: “Women’s Group”

Worst Sketch: “The Living Pictures Exhibition”

Biggest Surprise: They pulled off the worst show of 2014 on Meyers’ last show with a host that can be funny in her sleep. But this show was off almost from the start, with actual funny bits hard to find.

Biggest Non-Surprise: The farewell to Meyers was nicely done, and did as much to help give credibility to Cecily Strong’s future anchor performances as it did to honor those by Meyers.

Next Week: Olympics, and the week after that…and the week after that. The show doesn’t return until March.

What did you think of tonight’s show? A great sendoff for Meyers overall, or just on “Update”? Will you miss the show during its hiatus or do you think the show needs to recharge its batteries? Sound off below!