The last time Christina Applegate hosted this show, I was in junior high and discovering Chris Farley for the first time, as Matt Foley bellowed about living in a van down by the river, and David Spade and the girl who played Kelly Bundy (and, more importantly, SueEllen Crandall) struggled to maintain straight faces. Christina mentioned that sketch briefly in her monologue, before delivering a solid enough hosting gig that traded more on her song-and-dance background (Tony-nominated for Sweet Charity, what!) than one might have expected. Certainly that aspect of her career got more attention that her starring role on Up All Night, which meant anyone who was holding out for a cameo by Applegate's co-star Maya Rudolph went to bed disappointed.
Palest Reflection of the Original
I guess it's not too harsh to say that the actual Vice-Presidential debate was more entertaining than SNL's take on it in the cold open — that was some uncommonly good political theater. The SNL take on it hit all the points it had to, but really, only the gag about Paul Ryan sipping more and more water from increasingly ridiculous objects felt like it went far enough. There wasn't enough punch to Laughing Biden; Martha Raddatz's "don't try and f*ck me like I'm Jim Lehrer" line, while funny, was just kind of left to hang out there, and the Usain Bolt cameo was the very definition of random. I did love the line about "the Major League Baseball playoffs have begun, now please speak personally about abortion," which got to the heart of how ridiculous that question was, but overall it should have been a stronger sketch.
Harshest Joke of the Night
Applegate's monologue might hold the honor for thinnest excuse for a song in the entire history of Saturday Night Live, as she led her cast-mates in a performance number about how it is, in fact, mid-October. In between broadsides against Big Pumpkin (seriously, the backlash against pumpkin flavoring this fall is reaching Vampire Weekend in 2008 levels) and an appearance by the "Fruppets" (off-brand Muppets, naturally), Jason Sudeikis took the stage with his Dane Cook impression. Because, see, they're off-brand Muppets, so instead of a Swedish Chef, they got a Dane Co— yeah, you got it. I like a good joke at Dane Cook's expense as much as anybody, but — considering the week he's had, I'm surprised NBC didn't cut him a break. Hacks have feelings too!
Look, those Gillette Pro-Glide ads with Adrien Brody, Andre 3000, and Gael Garcia Bernal trimming their overly fussy facial hair and then striding through the streets like groomsmen at the wedding of an especially rapey Kennedy cousin are the absolute worst. That's a given. But if the uncomfortable titters from the audience were any indication, maybe Jerry Sandusky isn't the go-to source for tossed-in hilarity that we might have thought he was.
Best Achievement in Real Talk
The "Tech Talk" sketch did not have a very elusive target — slamming iPhone-obsessed American consumers for their first-world problems — but the peasant laborers from China were appropriately shaming. By the time they got to the sad Chinese violin and traditional sarcastic dance, the sketch was one of the night's clear winners. "Does diabetes count as an American product?" Ouch. Too close.
Missed Opportunity of the Night
The fake ad for the Taken-like, Expendables-ish "Give Us All Our Daughters Back" was a great setup for that most venerable of sketch genres: the round-off of celebrity impressions. But while I'll tip my cap to Taran Killam's shockingly on-point Liam Neeson (find a way to get that its own sketch!), and it's always unnerving how accurate Jay Pharaoh's Denzel is, Applegate's prosthetic-nose take on Uma Thurman was a letdown. And since Denzel was already there, my mind started to wander to that awful "by a nose" jab he delivered to Nicole Kidman when she won her Oscar for The Hours, so I was too distracted to properly appreciate how they blurred out Steven Segal's man-boobs.
Best Sexual Tension
After Passion Pit sang that song from the Taco Bell commercial about how you should Instagram your tacos, Seth Meyers delivered a strong Weekend Update, highlighted by Nasim Pedrad hauling out her Arianna Huffington impersonation and repeatedly hitting on her little potato pancake, Seth. Pedrad's had a slow start to her season, and she's been definitively eclipsed by Kate McKinnon when it comes to celebrity impressions, but her Arianna was super funny here, whether discussing her occasional bafflement with female genitalia ("My vagina will do something and I'll be like 'What was that?!'") or her assessment of Paul Ryan as a Lifetime movie villain.
Most Welcome Recurrence
Thank God Lance Armstrong admitted to constant systematic doping, thus proving his French critics right, or else we wouldn't have had an excuse to see French Def Jam comic Jean K. Jean get his ZUT ALORS! on. "Bruthas be eatin' some gruyere," indeed.
Second-Most Welcome Recurrence
Ah, "The Californians"! Sure, the returns continue to diminish, but there's still some juice to be squeezed from this Valencia orange. Applegate was basically doing an impersonation of Kristen Wiig's impersonation of a transit-obsessed Californian, and Bill Hader and Fred Armisen couldn't make each other crack up, despite their best efforts. But I got a lot out of Taran Killam's pastel explosion of a wedding planner, and at the very least, Usain Bolt's cameo managed to break the world record of randomness that he set only minutes earlier in the debate sketch. The man just obliterated barriers normal humans would find unbreakable.
Hulu-Repellent Sketch of the Night
Hope you caught the sketch about Odysseus and the sirens when the show aired last night, because there's no way the music rights on all those chick songs from the '90s were going to extend to online short-form content. Too bad, because punch-lines based on Shania Twain's "That Don't Impress Me Much" should be encouraged as much as possible.
Wheel-Spinning of the Night
The "Hell-o-Ween Ball" sketch felt like a four-minute setup for a different sketch that never happened. I kept waiting for Marty and Bobbi Mohan-Culp to show up and sing holiday-specific variations on current pop music, or perhaps the Roxbury Boys would start freak-dancing on Applegate's buttoned-up librarian. But, nope. Nothing.
12:45-iest Sketch of the Night
Once again, Applegate seemed to be doing her best Kristen Wiig voice as a Fosse-obsessed dance instructor. This one really traded on Christina's musical background (three-time So You Think You Can Dance guest judge, bitches!) and featured a decidedly punch-drunk Kenan Thompson. It didn't make no sense, but few things do in the witching-hour slot.