Coming off an unexpectedly great episode with Martin Short to close out the year, this return after over a month off felt like a layer of rust had developed. Jennifer Lawrence isn't known as a great comedienne, but she's charismatic and seems like a good sport. Unfortunately, the show around her was unfocused and short on laughs. The beauty of SNL is that even the lamest episode will yield a memorable sketch or two. I'm just not sure what those would be in this case. Maybe Bill Hader as Tommy Lee Jones doing this.
Headline Skimmer of the Week
You knew this week's show would include takes on Lance Armstrong, Manti Te'o, and possibly even Jodie Foster at the Globes. The fact that all three were thrown into the same pot for a Piers Morgan sketch felt like there was no one great idea for any of the three. Taran Killam did a good job as Morgan, "the British Mario Lopez," nailing his contempt for his guests. And each of the three headline-makers had a cute line or two (Jason Sudekis's unapologetic Armstrong: "Am I sorry I did it? Yes. Ish."; Kate McKinnon's uncanny Jodie Foster: "... the voices of reason in my life, Robert Downey Jr. and Mel Gibson"). It just felt like a poor man's Weekend Update rather than a sketch that stood on its own two feet. I did appreciate the egg-within-an-egg nature of McKinnon as Foster referencing the old Molly Shannon "I'm 50!" sketches, as Foster herself did at the Globes.
Mildest Burn of the Week
Jennifer Lawrence's monologue was an odd beast. At some point on Saturday evening I became convinced that they'd reference Lawrence's First Wives Club moment at the Golden Globes, and that would then lead into her performing "You Don't Own Me" with two cast members (feels like a Nasim Pedrad and Cecily Strong moment), possibly in matching white pantsuits. Instead, the idea was Jennifer Throws Shade at Her Fellow Oscar nominees, which was intriguing in theory, though Lawrence never seemed to fully commit to it. The jokes were (purposefully?) toothless and were all followed up by some sincere "You are my light and inspiration" praise, none of which ever jelled into a solid concept. I did enjoy those cutaways to Tommy Lee Jones in the audience, though.
"Been There" Moment of the Week
Solid commercial parody this week, with the Starbucks home latte maker that gets your name wrong and screws up your order, then acts indignant about it afterwards. Replicating the service-industry experience in the comfort of your own kitchen!
Thora Birch Comeback of the Week
I was happy to see Girlfriends Talk Show return, if only as a vote of confidence for Aidy Bryant. Her poor, sheltered, guinea-pig-loving tween still can't deal with her BFF hanging out with a cooler girl. This time, we got Lawrence as a painfully cool New York City visitor who dresses like Thora Birch or perhaps Alison Lohman in the later stages of White Oleander. "Our band is called Vag Hat, does that scare anyone?" was the first real laugh of the night, and Lawrence ended up delivering a few more in this sketch. ("Everyone in New York is bi because they're in such a rush.") I really love Bryant's escalating mania as she tries to defend herself against the cool girl's guinea-pig-related put-downs. "Do these human fingers look like paws???"
Short Joke of the Week
I don't know what the idea behind the Hunger Games post-game press conference sketch was, beyond an obligatory referencing of Lawrence's billion-dollar franchise. It was just a series of half-formed jokes about how boring sporting event press conferences are, plus more half-formed jokes about how the reporters are starving. I did enjoy all the Sad Peeta stuff, with some great reaction-shot work from Taran Killam. Still, another in a string of sketches that should have been sketched a bit further.
Surprising Non-Short-Joke of the Week
It's not that the jabs at The Hobbit for being overlong, boring, and stretched thin into endless sequels weren't warranted, or even funny (I particularly enjoyed the bickering between Sudekis's Bilbo and Lawrence's Galadriel: "We are gonna be so late"; "NO WE'RE NOT!"). It's just astoundingly dated. This is a month-old movie that was forgotten almost the minute it hit theaters. It's a bummer that the culture churns through things that quickly, but that's the way it goes.
Harshest Burn of the Week
I'm not really familiar with the genre of theme restaurants where the waitresses act like low-level insult comedians to you, but the "Johnny Two-Tones" sketch sold the concept to me quickly enough. And that was just the setup for the night's most successful character: Brenda, whose malevolence is not close to theatrical. Loved how her brand of insult includes vicious, cutting insights into your weak spots. ("You peaked in high school and now you'll sleep with anyone who will ask.") And I really loved the revelation that Brenda is perfectly lovely to other patrons, just not Bayer and Moynihan.
Missed Opportunity of the Week
Seth Meyers brought some of the week's funnier bits this week, including a line about the Mississippi State Legislature being 30 hissing possums in a barn that killed me. But I couldn't get past the part where they actually referenced Ann Romney and yet somehow didn't think to bring back Kate McKinnon to play her at the Update desk. They couldn't have gotten any mileage out of McKinnon's Romney talking about turning down Dancing With the Stars? Instead, we got Secondhand News Correspondent Anthony Crispino, who is kind of a poor man's Drunk Uncle. It's always fun to see Seth and Bobby enjoy each other's company, but by this point, I was crestfallen.
Lutz-Penned Sketch of the Week
"Top Dog Chef" was straight-up an overflow idea from 30 Rock, and nobody will be able to convince me of anything different. That is a TGS sketch that's being rehearsed in the background while Pete grouses to Liz about Jenna locking herself in her dressing room again. Not even one that Tracy Jordan deigns to star in. That is a Danny Baker TGS sketch idea. There was a moment there — when Lawrence, Sudekis, and all the other dogs were all freaking out at the doorbell — that I thought this would at least devolve into anarchy, and they'd hit some absurdist heights, but beyond "Mario Barktali" with crocs on his paws, the sketch didn't have much else to offer.
Vanessa Bayer Quiet Dignity of the Week
Lord knows I love Vanessa Bayer's more outwardly performative characters (bring back "The Miley Cyrus Show," y'all!), but she also has a real gift for playing the beleaguered straight woman amid anarchy. Thus her role on the Early-Morning Minnesota Fake-Thug Shock Jocks sketch as newsreader Karen, a.k.a. MC JiggleButt. She was the highlight of a recurring sketch that features Taran Killam and Bobby Moynihan showing admirable commitment to obnoxiousness but which always wears out its welcome with me. I did like Jennifer Lawrence's awful rap skills, though.
Non-Digital Un-Short Update
I was intrigued by the idea of the "Cinemax Classic" late-night movie, "Danielle: A Free European Woman." The English-dubbed-over-English conceit was weird and cool and the vaguely French seventies erotica concept felt committed. This is basically the realization of "Rochelle, Rochelle: A Young Woman's Erotic Journey from Milan to Minsk." It just didn't really go anywhere. Still, I tend to be more forgiving with these experimental shorts. Good effort, I guess?
Tim Robinson Update
I'm pretty sure the Civil War Letters sketch is the most we've seen Tim Robinson do all season. He was solid in a cute sketch that would have benefited from being a bit shorter. I did kind of love the absurdist tag at the end with Hader as Abraham Lincoln, weeping at the bedside of a fallen soldier who died without ever getting his tit-pic. Kind of half a joke, but that pretty well sums up the entire show this week, so it felt appropriate.