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Saturday Night Live Recap: Rihanna Is Beautiful Like Fractals in the Sky

I've never quite understood why Anne Hathaway is such a divisive figure in popular culture, but ever since that regrettable gig hosting the Oscars two years ago, the community of Hathaway haters has crystalized. I guess because she comes off as very actressy? I can see that. I love when the show runs just slightly short and the host and cast are left with more time than usual for the goodbyes at the end; it can be a window into performers' real, unrehearsed personalities. Hathaway's brand of vamping involved a lot of breathless "I can't believe this is my LIFE!" stuff, calling Rihanna a "goddess," thanking the NBC pages, et cetera. It can be hard to take that brand of performative humility at face value. I tend to find her whole persona endearing, like when she thanked Katie Holmes and Claire Danes, I guess to stave off awkward interactions at the Golden Globes come January. And more importantly, for purposes of reviewing SNL, I have always found her to be incredibly game for whatever the show throws at her. Back for her third hosting gig — I will always remember her first appearance as the week that Kristen Wiig debuted Doonice — Hathaway fit right in, playing to her strengths (singing; impersonating Katie Holmes) and not falling into the try-hard trap. Joseph Gordon-Levitt felt similarly lived-in earlier this season.

The episode was light on big laughs, but it was steady enough. My main complaint is that nobody listened to me all week as I was begging for the season's first "Miley Cyrus Show," with Hathaway as special guest Taylor Swift. Was that really too much to ask? Though I guess the absence of pretty-cool Miley all season is symptomatic of the season's greater Vanessa Bayer Hostage Crisis. It's currently Day 57 of the crisis, and the outlook is grim that the show will allow Bayer to star in a sketch again any time soon. Courage.

Sketch of the Night

Hands-down the most memorable part of the show — and really, the funniest — was Rihanna's performance of "Diamonds," set in front of a green-screen where every screen-saver you ever had in 1998 was being projected. Rihanna's DGAF levels have been off the charts for a few years now, but this kind of overt weirdness — to promote her best single in a long time — was pretty endearing. Who knew she was so into fractals?

Kate McKinnon Takeover Status

Lots of McKinnon this week, though if we're talking "takeover," we might have to start adding Cecily Strong to the equation. Give that another week and see what develops. As for McKinnon, while the promising return of Ann Romney in the cold open never went anywhere, she really got to shine in the Ellen DeGeneres sketch. We'd seen a snippet of McKinnon's Ellen earlier this season, and the fully blown-out sketch lived up to the promise. She nailed Ellen's voice and goofy enthusiasm while also confronting the troubling question: What happens if Ellen doesn't feel like dancing? And that was all before Hathaway showed up to deliver her killer Katie Holmes impersonation. Gold stars and text messages with Sofia Vergara ("Aiiiiiiii!!!") for everyone!

Requiem of the Week

Alas, Mitt Romney, it's time we say goodbye. Sure, Jason Sudeikis was doing a pretty great job impersonating you. Sure, this week's cold open hit on a great recurring gag about your dozens of sons and how they all look exactly alike. And the milk-as-beer thing was pretty cute. And I guess it's pretty telling and a feather in your cap that SNL chose to open their first post-election episode with you instead of President Obama. But it's time to sail off into the undying lands of national politics now. Say hello to Norm McDonald's Bob Dole and Jon Lovitz's Michael Dukakis when you get there. 

Best Publicity Gambit

We're still about six weeks away from Les Miserables opening (Christmas Day! Nice knowing you, family!), but what better way to get people excited about it than to have Jason Sudeikis show up in the middle of Anne Hathaway's monologue and launch into "One Day More"? Look, I'm going to fully admit that I have no shot at objectivity here. I may or may not have spent my weekend burrowing down a YouTube hole of Les Mis performances and repetitions of the new trailer. (There are a LOT of flash mobs doing "One Day More," you guys.) I may or may not have watched this monologue three times before moving on. I may or may not have gotten one or two goosebumps (three max) at the idea that Hathaway's Fantine won't get to participate in "One Day More" in the movie, so this monologue must have be extra fun for her. It's just nice when the entire cast can pull together for a complex musical number about what they do on their Sundays off, based on a song about French revolutionaries steeling themselves for battle, okay?? 

Best Single Line of Dialogue

What a great night for over-the-top insults! The McDonald's sketch, besides being a great opportunity for Cecily Strong and Bobby Moynihan to get aggro-funny, was overflowing with great random epithets to toss at your friends for no good reason this week. ("Your breath smell like cream corn and you ain't even eat no cream corn today!") But as great as it was to yell at Beverly for copying those Mad Libs, the burn of the night came earlier in the "Girlfriends Talk Show" sketch (another showcase for Cecily Strong), where Aidy Bryant hollered at Anne Hathaway, "YOU should be called Roach Warehouse!" Stealing it. Not sorry.

The "A for Effort" Award

I am loving the weird energy to be found in the Now That's What I'm Not Calling Digital Shorts clips every week, even if a precious few of them have really slayed me comedically. Mokiki and the Sloppy Swish was a great opportunity to just try something stupid, and however manic things got at the end with the green vomit, the sight of Taran Killam slouch-dancing around New York City like a weirdo was pretty great. 

Bill Hader Celebrity Impersonation of the Night

I was really mixed on that Homeland sketch. The writing felt a little flat, as if someone had just finished a Homeland marathon, jotted down his or her observations, and then regurgitated them in list form on set. All the observations were on point, though — the jazz; Dana's dumb plotlines; Claire Danes's battery-powered chin-wobble — and I fell in love with Taran Killam's small-mouthed take on Damian Lewis and especially Bill Hader's low-key Mandy Patinkin. I know his "big" impersonations like James Carville get all the attention, but the beauty of Hader is that he can nail an impression just by going subtle.

Best Burn on Spotify

Kind of a rote Weekend Update this week. We knew we had to get Obama at some point, and since he wasn't in the cold open, Update was the next best guess. Jay Pharoah did yet another riff on his Cocky Obama, but it never really went anywhere. Also, Hader and Fred Armisen's gay couple from Maine felt like a rehash of years-old sketches about non-stereotypical gay dudes. The joke is that they're gay but also real men! Anyway, who cares about any of that when we get another visit from Drunk Uncle, who is understandably crestfallen about the election results and dismayed that nobody dresses up fancy to go vote anymore.

Best Face-Pulling

Hathaway was manic and hammy enough in that American Gothic sketch that you could have convinced me this was a cut bit from her Oscars hosting gig with James Franco. Of course, Jason Sudeikis is a better foil for her, and the two of them were just having fun, being goofy, knowing we're already well past midnight. I'm not going to say something so reckless as "cross-eyed humor is the lowest form of human entertainment," but it is pretty basic. Then again, so is someone falling down, and I'll laugh at that, too. 

Sharpest, Most Accurate Social Commentary

Can I get a round of applause for the "Flaritin" commercial parody? Because they nailed it, advertising a pill for "Made-Up Allergies That You Invented to Get Attention." I especially loved Vanessa Bayer announcing to her entire office that she's allergic to yogurt. ("Even though you're eating it, I can get sick!")