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Saturday Night Live Recap: The Bruno Mars Experiment

You know what? I was going to start this recap by making a big deal about the fact that simultaneously hosting Saturday Night Live and serving as the musical guest used to be a prestigious thing, but then I checked and remembered that Taylor Swift did it a few years ago. Still, though, Swift was riding a huge crest of fame at the time, having recently been interrupted on stage at the VMAs by Kanye West. Who has Bruno Mars been interrupted by at an awards show? Nobody, that's who. He's not an actor, even in the meager, fakey ways a lot of musician hosts have been, nor is he the kind of runaway pop sensation that demands such double duty (though, seriously, kudos for bringing the Miami Sound Machine back during those musical performances). Any way you slice it, this is a dubious hosting gig, a fact fully acknowledged by Mars in his "Why am I here?" monologue. 

The whole show kind of played like a science experiment, where the task is to identify Bruno Mars's talents and try to build out sketches around him. Does he have a Billie Joe Armstrong impersonation? Kinda! Can he dress up like a convincing teenage girl? Run with it! The show certainly featured Mars more often than they did the comedy-challenged Daniel Craig, and that man can act. Is Lorne Michaels trying to prove a point here? That he can make anyone a host? That even with Tom Hanks present for multiple cameos, he can expect the audience will swallow this semi-famous non-professional? It was all pretty fascinating to watch, to be honest. One expects the show will be more relaxed about proving a point when Louis C.K. hosts on November 3rd, with musical guests fun., so punctuation fetishists had better GET READY.

Most Improved

The first two debate sketches had been pretty watered down, but this cold open really hit the mark. Sudeikis and Pharaoh were great at playing up the extreme contentiousness of Romney and Obama, and the jokes about the increasing weirdness of the Town Hall question-askers kept getting funnier. Though that bit about how neither candidate has any intention of doing anything about assault weapons was met with only scattered, polite laughter; gotta love it when the political insights get too real. Props to Taran Killam for his "Let me at 'im, Dad!" one-liner as Tagg Romney, and to Aidy Bryant, who not only held her own as Candy Crowley but got to deliver the "Live, from New York..." line for the first time. 

Celebrity Impersonation of the Night

Super glad the show revived Taran Killam's great take on Brad Pitt in the running gag mocking Pitt's elliptical Chanel no. 5 ads. That Killam dropped his voice a few octaves to match Pitt's weird delivery in the ads was an admirable attention to detail, but it took away some of the fun of his impersonation, which usually sees Pitt more jocular. No commercial parody can stand up to four iterations in the same episode, however, and by the final recurrence, the audience was pretty burned out. 

Thinnest Existential Excuse

"Haters," a daytime talk show parody about ... stuff, I guess ...  was an odd choice for the first post-monologue sketch. Why such prime real-estate for a sketch that did not have much of an idea of what it wanted to be? What exactly was being satirized here? Hater culture? Daytime talk shows? Booty-popping dances? It didn't even give Cecily Strong anything good to work with as the host. Back to my science experiment/in-your-face theory, this might have been the show deciding to put Bruno Mars's best foot forward, that foot being the fact that he's surprisingly comfortable snapping it up as a (frankly, beautiful) teenage girl. You take talent where you can get it, I guess. 

Hulu-Resistant Sketch of the Night

You know, I always assumed there were regulations against showing hand jobs on television (certainly network television), but what else would you call SNL devising an entire sketch just as an excuse to let Bruno Mars haul out his Michael Jackson impersonation? The whole idea of a systems meltdown at Pandora, necessitating live singing by a beleaguered (yet oddly talented) employee, was already pretty thin. But if you're going to throw a spotlight on your host and basically say "Look at all the singers he can impersonate!" you really have to deliver better than one decent (if grating) Green Day, a seal-barking jab at Katy Perry, and no effort at all to sound like Steven Tyler. One good joke ("Does anyone have a Michael Jackson glove?") can't make up for a suuuuper lazy sketch all around, down to the part where we got the second "What a Wonderful World" rendition in three weeks. Timely!

Unexpected Pathos of the Night

Okay, Sad Mouse. Points for making me feel something, I guess. The show continues to experiment with ways to replace the Digital Shorts in a post-Samberg universe, but the change in comedic styles in the middle of the show is going to be disorienting until something establishes itself with the familiarity of a "Lazy Sunday." The growing pains will persist, but props to the show for trying something different. 

Most Heralded Return

Stefon was back for the first time this season, spicing up a decent Weekend Update (still trying to recreate that "Really?!?!" magic with "Do's and Don'ts"; not quite getting there). Stefon continues to defy the odds: he's a one-joke premise; it's kind of a homophobic joke at that; and sketches that rely on the performers breaking to provide laughs should make everyone feel dirty. And yet it works, every time. Credit the goofy wordplay (Bark Ruffalo; Nick Nolte & Gabana), the ideas that clearly came from a 3am Netflix binge and got tossed in the "Stefon" bin for future use ("Frasins" — raisins that look like Frasier), and one ooooold joke structure given new life (Jewish Dracula Sidney Applebaum), but whatever it was, kudos on walking that tightrope one more time.

Kate McKinnon Takeover Status

Absolutely NO progress on the McKinnon Revolution this week, mostly because the female cast members were severely back-burnered, for whatever reason. (My theory: nobody gets to look prettier than Bruno Mars out there!) Vanessa Bayer showed up a couple times to play the straight woman, Cecily Strong got the aforementioned non-starter character in "Haters," and this supremely weird final sketch was the only sighting of Nasim Pedrad all night. Bonus outrage: teasing us with a McKinnon as Ruth Bader Ginsburg impersonation that went nowhere!

Best Performance By a Hanks

Every time Tom Hanks was used in a sketch, the knife just got plunged a little deeper and the fact that he wasn't hosting instead of Mars became less and less palatable. Loved him in this "Haunted Castle" sketch where the animatronic attractions are sentient and seemingly have murderous intentions. Here's Hanks gettin' handsy! 

12:45-iest Sketch of the Night

The wilderness lodge at Yeti Point was the truest example of a 12:45 sketch you're going to get all season. The dumbness (all those eyepatchy dramatic takes), the indulgence, the "oh, what the hell?" nature of on-screen Yeti rape. Keep pushing that envelope, guys!