It”s been twenty-five years since Woody Harrelson originally hosted “Saturday Night Live,” and more than two decades since his last appearance on the show. In that time, he”s gone from “lovable bartender on 'Cheers'” to someone who is simultaneously part of one of Hollywood”s biggest film franchises (“The Hunger Games”) and co-lead in one of 2014″s most talked-about television shows (“True Detective”). What”s hosting a live sketch-comedy show on top of that already stuffed year? I”d be shocked to not see a parody of at least one (if not both) of those aforementioned pieces of pop culture, but mostly I want to see Harrelson let his comedy freak flag fly with this cast and see what happens.
As always, I”ll be grading in sketch in real time. As always, you shouldn”t worry too much about the grades. We”re all here because we love “SNL,” even if we don”t always love the same parts with equal vigor. Unless you”re just hear to say how the show hasn”t been funny in years, in which case, I give you a hearty Jebediah Atkinson-esque suggestion to read the NEXT article on this fine website.
Come back at 11:30 pm EST when things start off properly!
Obama/McConnell Drink: It”s a political cold open in 2014, so it”s time for Publisher”s Clearing House jokes! Topical! Still, the image of Obama and McConnell freaking out over Hillary Clinton calling them is fairly amusing, plus Jay Pharoah and Taran Killam have a lot of fun acting progressively drunker. There”s even something approaching teeth here when McConnell overtly comments upon Obama”s race. For something that started out as tepidly as it did, the sketch definitely built up steam as it went, even if it wasted Sasheer Zamata as FLOTUS. [Grade: B]
Monologue: Harrelson has a bone to pick with Taylor Swift”s album “1989,” the year that he originally hosted. He”s here to sing, and I really wish he wasn”t. Thank God the male leads of “The Hunger Games,” Josh Hutcherson and Chris Hemsworth, appear to save him (and us) from the ill-advised ditty. And it”s not just the male leads, but Jennifer Lawrence (or “the REAL Taylor Swift” according to Harrelson) as well! Lawrence completely flubs a joke about Harrelson always being stoned, but because she”s Jennifer Lawrence it”s somehow TOTALLY ADORABLE. This was all sloppy as hell, but also designed for news outlets to talk about the cast of “The Hunger Games” being on “SNL” tomorrow, and as such worked as designed. [Grade: B-]
The Dudleys: Ah, the perils of crowdsourcing creative television decisions! (A thing that has never actually happened, but let's just roll with it.) It”s a little odd to have this come out the same week as “Too Many Cooks.” Sure, the two are cut from different cloths, but once you”ve seen “Too Man Cooks,” it”s just hard to move onto anything else, even if they involve “Crazy Eyes” from “Orange Is The New Black.” This feels like 1) the show being oddly reactive to something without actually adding anything to the table, or 2) having bad pop-culture timing. This is probably fine for those who haven”t seen “Too Many Cooks,” but it”s wholly redundant for those that have. In a pure vacuum: A few of the gags land, but most are telegraphed once the concept is established. [Grade: B-]
Match”d: What feels like it's going to be an entire sketch based around the word “horny” gets a twist when the host/ex-Marine (Harrelson) reveals that he”s the father of the contestant (Cecily Strong). It”s a simple premise with fantastic execution, especially since it”s not clear until the end whether or not Strong”s character is in on the joke or not. I almost wish the “Moment Alone” didn”t reveal the contestants weren”t fully cured by the host”s admissions, since I enjoyed the fact they these idiots recognized their stupidity almost immediately upon the twist being revealed. But I laughed a lot here, especially at Kyle Mooney”s strong work and odd verbal phrasings. [Grade: A-]
A New Day: Cheetos-stained denizens of New York emerge from their apartments upon learning about the city”s more tolerant marijuana laws. There”s not much of a joke here, except the production itself, which depicts a celebration not unlike Luke Skywalker and Han Solo receiving medals after blowing up The Death Star. It”s a fairly big production for so small a joke, and the anti-climax that cuts it off is probably the point. But it”s still a lot of noise signifying nothing, especially since the short film revels in as many stereotypes as it wants to send up. [Grade: C]
Halftime Speech: Laughing about people suffering from the long-term effects of concussions is funny, right? Wrong. Mocking safety rules while depicting the effects those rules are trying to stave off is just mind-boggling dumb. [Grade: D-]
Young Tarts Old Farts: Any sketch involving rapid-fire impressions by the entire cast is always going to make me smile. Highlights here: Zamata”s Diana Ross (“I invented gay people!”), Kenan Thompson”s B.B. King (“Need water!”), Killam”s Sam Smith, and Kate McKinnon”s Lorde. There”s nothing here to really analyze: It's just an excuse for the cast to pitch ideas and play dress-up for a bit. Most worked well enough, even if I”ll probably forget most of this sketch by the time the episode ends. [Grade: B]
Weekend Update: Leslie Jones appears to talk about the California stalker who snuck into a man”s home after they met online. Jones and Jost continue to have fantastic chemistry, to the point where putting her on “Update” as much as possible seems like an EXCELLENT idea. She had an unfortunate sketch with Chris Rock a few weeks ago, but you”d never know it here, which bodes well for her ability to bounce back as well as the show's confidence in her. Afterwards, Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey (Killam) come on to discuss casting for season two of “True Detective.” Harrelson is clearly tickled by Killam”s performance, which in turn has the audience in the palm of their hands. It”s the first time all night Harrelson has actually seemed comfortable onstage. As far as Che/Jost: Che continues to fight with the cue cards, but Jost had probably his strongest hosting job yet. There”s a long way to go here, but some positive signs are starting to emerge. [Grade: B]
The Good Old Days: Four men sit at a bar and lament about the “new” New York. Most of them miss good food and the old atmosphere, but Harrelson”s character just misses crack. He”s doing a semi-Sylvester Stallone vocal impression here for some reason, but it works! It”s a one-joke sketch, but Harrelson”s performance sells it all the same. The rest of the participants just have to sit bug-eyed at his craziness. This is another sketch that will undoubtedly disappear from my memory shortly, but I enjoyed it in the moment. [Grade: B]
Camp Fire Songs: Remember the Bryan Cranston “Sparkling Apple Juice” sketch from five years ago? Well, I just put that out of my head thanks to a lot of hard work plus hypnotherapy, and now this song reminds me of it all over again. That”s $10,000 down the drain! It takes a long time for the sketch to reveal that all of Harrelson”s friends actually know the song he”s trying to teach them, at which point the harmonies actually make the tune something to enjoy rather than preemptively fear. This was the most Fred Armisen-esque sketch since Armisen left the show. I”m pretty sure that”s a good thing, even if this segment didn”t complete work as a whole. [Grade: B-]
Last Call: This is a perfect sketch for Harrelson”s sensibilities, and a great way to close out the evening. Like a fine wine, this sketch gets better with age. (“I replaster unpopular glory holes!” got a genuine shocked laugh from the portion of the audience that actually understood the reference.) The cellophane wrap smoochfest was a marvel of physical comedy and the cherry on the top of this profane but always funny sketch. [Grade: A-]
How Was Kendrick Lamar: Dramatic! I loved his low-tech approach to theatrical production, which favored simply lighting effects versus over-the-top staging. And while I”m the world”s worst expert on hip-hop, I can still appreciate the way Lamar writes and performs. I especially enjoyed the interplay between him and the percussion during the initial song “i”, where the line between the two often seemed blurred.
Best Sketch: Last Call (had “Match”d” stuck to its guns, it would have come out on top)
Worst Sketch: Halftime Speech (let”s never speak of this again)
Hey, how do I get “Sparkling Apple Juice” stuck in my head for another five years? Easy!
What did everyone else think about tonight”s show?