I really wish there were an Olympics happening right now, because I want to make an analogy about compulsory scores and artistic impression. Because, on the compulsories, this show would not have scored well. Non-actor hosts are a gamble, and Adam Levine's short time on American Horror Story was insufficient preparation for the comedic snap needed for this hosting gig. The show didn't hide him, either. He was out front and center on a lot of sketches, and he was not very good. And yet ... there was a quality to this episode. An energy that was completely lacking with Jennifer Lawrence last week. That energy helped propel even the night's worst sketches and made for a show that felt way better than it actually was. It makes a difference.
Historical Revisionism of the Week
A slight but amusing cold open with Kenan Thompson as the ghost of Martin Luther King Jr. visiting Barack Obama on Inauguration night just to gossip about Beyonce and Michelle's bangs. I'm probably an easier mark than most for the trope about important historical figures being secretly shallow, but even beyond that, it was a briskly paced little sketch that never left itself enough time to get stale.
Host-Propping Cameo(s) of the Week
You see this a lot with a host who's not an actor, especially one who's as well-connected in celebrity circles as Adam Levine is. He got the Timberlake treatment, essentially, right down to the Andy Samberg sponsorship. Samberg's appearance in the Voice-spoofing monologue wasn't surprising. Cameron Diaz and Jerry Seinfeld showing up felt way more random, but any road that leads to Adam Levine with his shirt off is a road worth traveling.
Creepy Multiculturalism of the Week
The "learning Thai for my sex-crime vacation to Thailand" joke seemed like a fleeting one-off in the Rosetta Stone commercial parody until it became the actual point of the sketch. The whole thing felt kind of slapdash but the "going to Thailand to commit sex crimes" trope is a venerable one for a reason. Thai sex crimes are just funny.
Gay Adam Levine Is Gay Update
I don't know what it was about last night, but that was a super gay episode of SNL from top to bottom ( ... oh, grow up). The first 40 minutes featured two gay-themed sketches for kind of no reason. I preferred "Circle Work," the "Gay Network" show featuring Adam and Kenan as "the kind of gays that think every man is gay." Not only did it feature some more Vanessa Bayer Plays Quiet Dignity, which you know I love, but Kenan spelling out "as gay as a gay goose at a gay geese pride parade" was probably the best bit of the whole night. I still don't quite get the point of the whole sketch, and the stereotype of gay guys thinking every other guy is gay is really kind of offensive, and it makes me wonder why Adam Levine is so obsessed with gay people. Protesting too much, Adam? I'm on to you!
Kate McKinnon Takeover Update
The "Sopranos Diaries" sketch was strong enough that I actually never got ahead of myself enough to anticipate McKinnon showing up as Carmela, which is a huge compliment to the sketch, because on any given day, I think about Kate McKinnon's Edie Falco impersonation once every 48 minutes or so. This sketch also managed to gift us with Cecily Strong's wonderful Lorraine Bracco impersonation, which probably won't have too many natural outlets for reprise, but I loved it just the same.
Gay Bill Hader is Gay Update
I can't say I found too much to love in "Screaming Queen: The Sketch," even though it's usually pretty fun when they just sort of hand a sketch over to Hader and let him freak out repeatedly. Also, the name "Rula" when screamed by an unbalanced closeted homosexual is actually really funny in an elemental way that I cannot describe. Plus, fine, I cannot begrudge a well-deployed Don't Trust the B joke.
Actual Digital Short of the Week
Samberg's presence this week brought the Lonely Island crew back for a nostalgic trip to 2012, when Digital Shorts were clearly labeled as such and any number of weird things could happen to the tune of a thumping club beat. Weirdly, I think Andy Samberg was the only human being on earth qualified to address the YOLO phenomenon, so I'm glad they waited until he was back for the week. Anyway, the lesson of this short is twofold: 1) Stay away from kids — their hair is full of mad lice; and 2) Danny McBride is available for literally whatever.
MVP of the Week
Kenan was crushing it last night, and his best bit came on Weekend Update with his manic, weepy, disconnected-from-reality take on Ray Lewis. I can't wait to watch him ascend into heaven. Also, I forgot how much I loved Nasim Pedrad's Arianna Huffington. Always an adventure trying to anticipate the rollercoaster twists and turns of an Arianna sentence.
The Old West-style showdown between Maroon 5 and Train (and later Jason Mraz and John Mayer) was dumb but fun and allowed Levine to check off the "show I have a good sense of humor about how my dumb little band is perceived by most of the world" box. Taran Killam gets the MVP as ultra-douchey Pat Monahan, and once again Kenan gets a laugh just by saying "Yeah, it's me, Hootie again."
Look, I'm not happy that "catfish" is now just the accepted term for our new national trend of everybody being a fake person on the internet. But at least we got Adam Levine playing NEEEEEEEV on SNL out of it. Oh, NEEEEEEEV. So adorably despicable. Really strong sketch with a laser-focus on the Nev-centrism of the show. Definitely Levine's best work, performance-wise. Also, "Ace Applebees" is a stellar alias for a guy who looks like Brian Williams's head on an Abercrombie body.
Gay Adam Levine Is Gay Addendum
The adventures of Janet and her Danny-Glover-postered Murphy bed were classic 12:45 a.m. fodder. Didn't make a ton of sense, random Law & Order chung-chung and chyron, tremendously vulgar, once again Adam Levine in a gay-ish milieu (the masculine nature of Janet being one of the sketch's selling points). Maybe it was the lowered expectations of that time slot, but "I will sit on that face tonight if it kills me" really landed for me.
Obligatory Macho Man Randy Savage Reference of the Week
The Joe Biden Inauguration Bash sketch was an afterthought, but there were some clever bits in there. "Can you jump higher than Joe Biden?" was one. Neil Diamond Impersonator of the Year Contest Participant was another. Jason Sudeikis still hanging around doing Joe Biden impersonations is starting to seem like your friend's older brother who couldn't walk at graduation last year because he was a few credits shy and is now just hanging around school taking French 3 and nothing else. I'm glad he's around, his Biden is a delight, but I also want to sit him down and discuss the benefits of community college.