Zach Galifianakis returns to the “Saturday Night Live” stage tonight for the second time. Whereas the potential greatness for a Miley Cyrus-centric show was only “pretty cool,” the sky”s the limit for Galifianakis”s return performance. Last time around, the show seemed unable to truly hone his unique sensibilities, save in the monologue (essentially his stand-up routine) and in pre-taped bits. Will Zach 2.0 yield better results? Will he once again shave mid-show? Will the name “Zach Galifianakis” break my auto-spellcheck function? And will I actually know who Jessie J is by the end of the night?
Only one way to find out. As always, I”ll be grading segments in real time. And I”ll be doing so while sitting between two ferns. Like I always do. Onto the show!
“Selection Sunday”: No, it”s not about the NCAA basketball tournament, but a Worldwide Craziness ranking special. I never thought I”d see Dick Vitale talking about Rep. Peter King, but hey, there you have it. And it didn”t take long for the shine to come off Melissa Leo”s recent Oscar win, did it? Throw in the obligatory appearance by Hader”s Sheen impression, and you had a cold open that dealt as per usual in politics, but in a semi-fresh manner. Nothing memorable, but nothing that made you worry about the show as a whole, either. [Grade: B-]
“Monologue”: A steady string of Galifianakis-isms at the start, for which mileage may vary. Personally, he gets hybrid-esque miles, but I can see how a lot of things he does ring false for others. By the time he started up a weird mix of “Annie,” Andy Kaufman, and Bob Dylan”s video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” I was in stitches. Does “SNL” need sketches tonight? How about 90 minutes of this, please? [Grade: A]
“The Talk”: Kristen Wiig as Julie Chen? Ummm….OK. Do I need to rant about the lack of ethnic diversity in the cast again? Maybe I”ll save it for a lamer sketch in the bottom half of the show. But Abbie Elliot”s Leah Remini is fantastic. Then again, most of Elliot”s work is pretty fantastic. (And yet she”s criminally underused on the show. Can”t figure it out at all.) And while Hader”s impressions are usually spot-on, his Steven Tyler is pretty bland. As is the entire sketch. There”s a difference between a sketch based around the awkward vibe of “The Talk,” and having an awkward vibe in a sketch about the awkward vibe of “The Talk.” Galifianakis had almost nothing to do here, probably because they were too busy de-glittering his beard from the end of the monologue [Grade: C+]
“The Original Kings of Catchphrase Comedy”: Oh. Oh dear. Those first two minutes were as rough as rough gets, even with the anti-humor of “Airhorn” being slightly amusing. But once it slipped into quick, 5-second jokes rather than impossibly stretched out premises, we were back on slightly safer ground. (I”m SO using “Boston Powers” next time I”m out on the town.) But Lord almighty, even then I felt more relief than anything else. “SNL” is supposed to be topical. How is a Yakov Smirnoff knockoff supposed to be fresh? [Grade: C-]
“Scared Straight!”: Normally, I hate sketches that essentially use the Mad Lib formulation of sketch writing between one iteration and another. But for whatever reason, this one bypasses my defenses, especially when there are tacit implications that the people involved know they are in a repetitious sketch. (“That”s only the first one! You”re leading off with that?”) Having Galifianakis as a Hannibal Lecter type kept things on an appreciably odder level than normal, especially when referencing his own movie “The Hangover.” Plus, as always, the wordplay is at once disgusting and yet oddly impressive. I”ll never be able to pronounce Helena Bonham-Carter”s name the same way again. This sketch pulled the show up just before crashing into the corn field. [Grade: A-]
“Zach Looks for a New Assistant”: Weird: “Zach + children” should be a homerun, but yet it”s not in this instance. Too overly scripted to seem like anything but a well-edited piece, the whole thing fell flat. Usually, the crispness of the production of the digital shorts works in its favor, but had the kids” reactions been genuine/unscripted, this could have played much better. And if these WERE genuine reactions, it sure didn”t seem like it. I need to keep telling myself the sun will come up tomorrow, albeit one hour earlier than normal due to Daylight Savings Time. [Grade: C]
Jessie J hits the stage, looking like Uma Thurman in “Pulp Fiction.” She”s singing “Price Tag,” a title I know thanks to the miracle of Google. So I can only judge on first impressions, which are quite positive: it”s a little Amy Winehouse, a little Lily Allen, a little Macy Gray, and a whole lot of tight pants. B.o.B. comes on halfway through to drop a verse, and hey, color me sold. Maybe I”m the last person to know about Jessie J, but I like what I”m hearing. Without the overly dramatic ending, I might have given this a grade in the A range. But still, a solid performance as a whole. [Grade: B+]
“Weekend Update”: Julie Taymor explains her removal from “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark” and brags about her new project: a middle-school production of “Our Town” replete with jetpacks. Liam The Teenager Who Just Woke Up later steps on the stage to talk about oil prices, but instead talks about his weird dreams involving Barack Obama and Belinda Carlisle songs. Neither really connected, and the rest of the jokes were fine but nothing that will make the Sunday morning political talk shows. Can we fly in Elton John for the second half of the show? Why wait until April? [Grade: C]
“Noodles”: The death of a family pet turns into a bizarre episode of “Law and Order,” with the children”s interrogation of their dog”s disappearance yielding ever more bizarre explanations from the parents. What should have been the sketch”s climax (the true reason behind Noodles” death) instead was only its midpoint, as for some reason the dog is not only dead, but has a human voice. A voice with initial microphone problems and a love of showtunes. This had the chance to be the best sketch of the night, but the final minute kills any chance of that. [Grade: B-]
“Winnipeg Celebrity Scoop”: I can”t tell if Galifianakis”s extra long vowel pronunciations are supposed to be funny in and of themselves or if he”s making a point of just how unfunny the premise is through his overuse of it. Other than that, it”s just, “Didja know Canadians are wicked nice?” I”d much rather see a sketch about completely bitchy Canadians, just for funsies. In a related note, I”d like someone to punch me in the face hard so I can feel anything but the despair this episode is producing. [Grade: D+]
Help me, Jessie J: you”re my only hope. Wow, that”s quite an outfit. I wonder where the rest of it is. Maybe she lost it on the way to the stage to sing “Mamma Knows Best.” For this one, she adds a dash of Marilyn Monroe to the act, via early-era Madonna. Her performances scream, “Here I am, America!” And if people react the way I am right now, then she”ll see healthy sales in the near future. Another great performance. [Grade: A-]
“Corn Syrup Producers of America”: 60 seconds mocking those already annoying corn syrup commercials? Sure, why not? If nothing else, this sketch reinforces one thing: Bobby Moynihan must figure his best way to get into more sketches is to be an inappropriately dressed child. [Grade: C]
“The Women and Children of Titanic”: I think the show”s just beaten me down at this point. Galifianakis”s pathetic exclamation point on this sketch just reinforced what a stinker of an episode this was. There was a kernel of a good idea in that sketch (the Captain”s fairly amusing journal), but it was buried in cross-dressing humor that never developed beyond the initial reveal of the beard. Who needs a drink? [Grade: C-]
“Closing Credits”: Galifianakis with a Mr. T haircut? Funnier than 90% of what just happened. Sigh. Tonight should have just been a one-man production of “Annie.”
Best Sketch: “Scared Straight!”
Worst Sketch: “Winnipeg Celebrity Scoop!”
Biggest Losers: All of us that stayed up to watch the show live!
What did you think, “SNL” fans? Was I too hard on the show? Was I too kind to Jessie J? Does the prospect of Elton John as both musical guest AND host excite or alarm you? Sound off below!