Tonight marks the third time that Zach Galifianakis has hosted “Saturday Night Live,” with each of his prior appearances coming in solid if non-classic installments. Aside from Jason Sudeikis, there are few remaining cast members with whom Galifianakis has extensive sketch experience. That means there”s plenty of opportunities for new combinations onscreen tonight for the bearded member of “The Hangover””s Wolf Pack. The two constants in his first two outings: a pre-corded sketch involving a dramatic piano theme, plus a bizarre shaving ritual just before the final sketch. He”s already shaved his beard and head on “SNL”: what”s left?
Along for the ride tonight is musical guests Of Monsters And Men in this, the first of the final three installments of the season. Next week, Kristen Wiig returns in what will be either a season highlight or the single most excruciating walk down Memory Lane possible. In the finale, Ben Affleck joins the Five-Timers Club. For the next three weeks, we”ll do what we always do: liveblog the proceedings, inspire feelings of horrors when the mostly arbitrary grades don”t line up with your own, and forget about the whole thing by brunch tomorrow. I”m cool with that if you are.
Be sure to join us starting at 11:30 pm EST when we kick off the live blog!
Fox And Friends: Well, there”s three weeks to cover, so why not use this solid stand-by to cover some of those topics? (And no, the “W” in the WBNA does not stand for “worse”.) After tackling the Jason Collins story, the hosts shift to Mayor Bloomberg”s attempts to increase gun control in New York City. The star here, as always, is Bobby Moynihan, who has honed his idiot persona to something approaching epic levels. Also epic? The “corrections” list, which includes such updates as, “Peeking at ladies” butts is not a background check.” Duly noted! Hardly a classic cold open, but it”s miles better than a boring press conference. [Grade: B]
Monologue: Galifianakis” brand of humor has almost nothing to do with what happens inside the sketches, which makes this part of the show an oasis of bizarre non-sequiturs. His jokes range from playing charades with deaf people to being urinated on in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel. Before long, he”s at the piano, just like his first monologue in Season 35. He warbles about things Google doesn”t know (how many Mexicans live in North Korea) and what it does (the number of candles owned by Dave Navarro). From there, he moves into bad impressions. It”s all funny, but it”s also exactly what we”ve seen before. I guess we”re due for a bidet sketch before “Weekend Update”? [Grade: B+]
Game Of Game Of Thrones: Three hardcore fans of the show are here to compete for prizes and the Iron Throne. They know every part of George R.R. Martin”s fantasy classic, but don”t know the capital of Wisconsin. Because in some weird world, people who are smart enough to be able to read these dense novels have no connection with the world around them. Also, their best friends are their grandmothers! I know I”m overthinking this, but it really bugs me when the show takes a popular piece of pop culture and then exhibits something approaching to contempt for them. Jaime Lannister himself, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, shows up for added credibility, but it can”t be fun for him to see his most popular work celebrated yet simultaneously marginalized. I”m not the biggest “Game Of Thrones” fan, but one thing I”d never call its devotees is “stupid”. I”d opt for “way, way smarter than me” as a general assignation. [Grade: C]
Martha Stewart Match.com: Kate McKinnon inherits Stewart from Ana Gasteyer and Kristen Wiig, and unsurprisingly does a great job at conveying the mogul”s lust for both tasteful place settings as well as down-and-dirty booty calls. There”s almost nothing to this segment, but it”s also a brief one, to its credit. A four-minute version of this would have been interminable. But at less than sixty seconds? This was great. [Grade: B+]
Jennifer Aniston Look-Alike Competition: Galifianakis + blonde wig= comedy, I guess. But really, it”s wigs for all, as most of the male cast is involved in this competition as well. The majority of the sketch is Zach yelling, but Vanessa Bayer”s Aniston impression, coupled with her look, is PHENOMENAL. Then Taran Killam steps up and delivers a great impression as well. Sadly, Galifianakis is the weakest part here (although his line, “Also, who the hell”s ‘Ross”?” killed me), but really, the entire point seems to be to get Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms onstage in a cameo to promote “The Hangover Part III”. Ed Helms looks like Michael McKean in “This Is Spinal Tap”, and it”s freaking me out. The audience ate this UP, so I”m probably an outlier here. But most of this was self-indulgent, designed to entertain those performing rather than those watching. [Grade: B-]
Of Monsters Of Men appear to perform “Little Talks”, which sounds like what would happen if Bjork had a bunch of babies with Mumford And Sons. I mean that as a compliment, I promise! I”m a sucker for male/female back-and-forth in-song dialogue, so I”m in the bag for this tune, even if I”m pretty sure I”m over this genre of music in general at this point. Yes, it”s unfair to lump in The Lumineers, The Civil Wars, and this band into the same genre made popular by Mumford. A few years from now, we”ll look back and think, “Remember how we all dug songs in which people randomly shouted ‘Hey!” over acoustic instruments?” And we”ll smile, and then put the cybernetic musical implant embedded deep with our brains to “Shuffle” and listen to whatever is popular then. [Grade: B+]
Weekend Update: After what feels like a long absence, Bill Hader busts out James Carville to make an appearance to discuss the current state of background checks on purchasing guns and his plans to scare Wayne LaPierre. Hader”s already formidable mime skills seem to have improved during the recent “SNL” break. (I loved his series of casino-related moves while Seth Meyers attempted to ask him questions.) Afterwards, Randall Meeks (Fred Armisen) comes on as the “SNL” tech expert to discuss Google Glass. Spoiler alert: the segment is about how the technology doesn”t work, which renders the segment mostly just Armisen saying the same word over and over again in frustration. The Girl You Wish You Hadn”t Started A Conversation With At A Party returns to abuse the English language and say things more than vaguely racist. I feel like Cecily Strong hasn”t quite cracked this character yet, but there are hints that there”s something more than just malapropisms. (“Truth or false, Seth?” “About what?” “Exactly. And that”s the choice women have to make every day.”) A good overall “Update,” but it never really hit that extra gear. [Grade: B]
M&M Store: Galifianakis playing “Racist Jim,” a new greeter at the store who is asking forgiveness for his rude behavior on his first day. Of course, that just leads to more inappropriate discussions. Since the majority of the sketch features Zach in-frame reading cue cards, there”s not a whole lot of energy to the proceedings. But when he gets to Kenan Thompson”s “Black Joe,” the sketch turns into something else altogether, with the writing and performances suddenly sharper and darker and semi-dangerous. I wouldn”t go so far as to call it “cutting edge”, but given how bland most of the humor on this show is when discussing how nerds don”t know what day of the week it is, it”s welcome all the same. [Grade: B+]
Darrell”s House, Part I: On paper, this sketch is fantastic: just unleash Galifianakis” absurdist humor as the host of a poorly-made public access show. However, with every other line an exhortation to the off-camera producer Marcus to edit something, there”s no real forward momentum, giving off the impression of a car that stutters down the road. I want to give “SNL” credit for actually giving the host so much solo time, as often the program buries its guests in the middle of large crowds rather than spotlight them. But there”s probably a reason why Zach”s more confrontational humor doesn”t work as well in-sketch as it does onstage. I liked Kenan Thompson’s barely-hidden giddiness at potentially being on TV, but Zach’s character throwing a vase at his wife put the audience in a place from which it never really recovered. The audience felt nervous, the sketch felt stilted, and everything was an unfortunate misfire. [Grade: C-]
Of Monsters and Men return to the stage to perform “Mountain Sound”. Other than suddenly noticing the Rory Culkin look-alike playing bass, there”s not a lot to differentiate itself from the last performance. That doesn”t mean I dislike this, but makes me wonder how much else this band has to offer other than what I”ve heard. They write catchy music, but do they have any other tricks up their sleeve? I don”t doubt they do. I am just keenly interested to discover if this is true or not. [Grade: B]
Michael Jordan Wedding Jugglers: Galifianakis and Sudeikis are performing at Michael Jordan”s wedding reception. What starts off as a painful 12:55 am sketch involving coke-loving jugglers turns into a parade of celebrity impressions and parental speeches. (“Michael, I love you…and hope to one day meet you!) Jay Pharoah comes out of wherever he”s been hiding all night to do his take on Dikembe Mutombo, and it”s awesome. But the increasingly manic actions of Galifianakis and Sudeikis? Less so, betraying the flop sweat that has been over much of tonight”s episode. [Grade: C+]
New Balance Ad: I just rummaged through my closet to make sure I didn”t own any of these sneakers, which can”t be making New Balance happy. After all, here”s a parody ad stating the only people wearing these are overweight men in their late thirties and early forties. (“At least there”s one part of my body that just kinda hurts!”) There”s not much going on here, but like the Martha Stewart segment earlier, it doesn”t overstay its welcome. But unlike the Stewart segment, there may have been more comedy to mine here. It was either cut for time or never existed in the first place. [Grade: B]
Darrell”s House, Part II: Nice job, Marcus! The edited version of the earlier sketch even includes Jon Hamm, although what part is actually live, if any of it, is completely unclear on first view. I could see all of Hamm”s stuff filmed earlier in the week, mostly because the crowd didn”t lose its mind when he appeared for the first time. I hated the original sketch, but as a payoff to that, I enjoy “SNL” linking segments of its show together. They did this with “Z Shirts” when Kevin Hart hosted, and it worked then as it did tonight. “SNL” need not turn into “Monty Python”s Flying Circus” with its internal continuity, but forcing people to pay attention in case callbacks happen later feels like a good way to reward those watching live as opposed to on Hulu later on. [Grade: B]
Best Sketch: “M&M Store”
Worst Sketch: “Darrell”s House, Part 1”
Biggest Takeaway: The tension between “SNL” and Galifianakis, comedy-wise, is an interesting experiment. But I”m not sure it really delivers anything but intermittingly rewarding moments. More often than not, the strengths of each get diluted, or Galifianakis” persona/style of humor overwhelms and alienates the sketch and the audience. Sometimes two flavors compliment each other. Sometimes they don”t. That says less about the individual elements and more about the combination of them.
What did you think of Zach Galifianakis” hosting performance? Did the “Game Of Thrones” sketch annoy or delight? What would you think about “SNL” threading jokes and concepts throughout an episode rather than containing them within singular segments? Sound off below!