Some time around The Social Network, when everybody decided that was the greatest movie that baby Jesus had ever gifted us with, the Justin Timberlake backlash really started to take shape. His acting projects were self-indulgent, his refusal to make another record was a slap in the face, he took too much attention away from Jessica Biel on their wedding day (?!?!) ... All that once seemed goofily eager about him was now a bunch of smug hipster doodling. And with SNL as the historical ground zero for Justin's branching out beyond music in the first place, his last couple hosting gigs seem to have drawn more intense scrutiny. Which makes his repeated success on the show — five times now — especially impressive (and probably especially vexing for Timber-haters everywhere). "Suit & Tie" may not be as Teflon-coated as his Futuresex-era hits, and he may or may not simply be settling into a career as a Janelle Monáe tribute act on stage, but he can still make the Omeletteville guy pop.
And it's a good thing, too, because the sketches on display this week were some seriously warmed-over offerings.
Underhanded Milk Council Propaganda of the Week
I'll admit I cocked quite the eyebrow when I saw that Hugo Chávez was the subject of this week's topical cold open. Of all the things happening ... this? But they won me over, with Timberlake playing Elton John, penning yet another personalized version of "Candle in the Wind." Not much in the way of groundbreaking ideas in the song, but the litany of Chávez's oddities (parrot with the beret!) rattled off to a legendary pop melody got the job done.
Springfield Retirement Castle Update
Obviously, Timberlake's monologue was going to reference his induction into the "5-Timers Club," and the show went there quite literally, taking us inside a clubhouse filled with the likes of Paul Simon, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Dan Aykroyd (who's only there to tend bar). We couldn't exactly expect such established vets to be thrilled to welcome such a disgustingly youthful member into their ranks, but did everybody have to seem so tired? Martin Short, Tom Hanks, and Alec Baldwin showed a bit more energy, but aside from a bit with Taran Killam and Bobby Moynihan death-fighting for the 5-Timers' amusement, they didn't have much to work with. Candice Bergen must've been thrilled to show up for three seconds to deliver a leaving-the-toilet-seat-up joke.
Uncomfortably Accurate Sociological Statement of the Week
I'm not sure that standing the "Dick in a Box" guys next to Martin and Akyroyd as the Wild & Crazy Guys says what the show wants it to about its legacy characters. Oh, how far we've come from disgustingly overt heterosexual come-ons to ... disgustingly overt heterosexual come-ons. The real highlights in the "It's a Date!" sketch, I thought, were Vanessa Bayer's enthusiasm for grossness in her men, and Bill Hader as the host. Hader is so excellent at these game show sketches — so delighted at how awful everything is going.
This Week's Surrender to the New Kale Dystopia
The fact that the 18th variation on Omeletteville can still wring begrudging laughs is a testament to how hard Timberlake is willing to work for a laugh. That kind of effort can often make him look like a striver (Ohhhhh, how we line up to hate strivers) but it also helps him power through, say, the dance break in "We Found Love." Obviously, dressing up like a huge block of tofu in order to promote Veganville was the next logical step for the -Ville franchise, and you knew the Harlem Shake was going to show up on SNL at some point. Props for knocking both concepts out in the same sketch, I suppose.
Gynecological Humor of the Week
Simple but hilarious commercial parody this week for NuvaBling, the diamond-encrusted birth-control device that sacrifices vaginal comfort for " a mega dose of faboosh!" It's crass, yes, but Cecily Strong's delivery of, "It's pizzazz that slides right up into my choch" is well worth any setup. It's no "Annuale", but what is?
Uncomfortably Prescient "Smash" Joke of the Week
Maybe Smash is like the Candyman, where you invoke its name and suddenly the quality of everything around you starts plummeting. After a solid lineup of punchlines from Seth Meyers (Honky Tonk Barflight Airlines, well done), we got the latest from Stefon, who began with a "This job writing for Smash is killing me" non sequiter. It's s solid joke, but the rest of the bit ... sorry, but we all have to admit that Stefon is running out of gas. The simple stuff is still the best ("a shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch, a sensible dinner, those shoes that nurses wear") but more and more he's resorting to concept Donald Duck voices to up the ante, and it's all just kind of dull. Though Hader's enthusiasm when asking Seth if he's taking his girlfriend to Mexico to kill her is admirable.
Unwelcome Horse-Porn Mental Image of My Lifetime
"The Tales of Sober Caligula" was a damn rollercoaster. Some really good jokes strung together like this was the first time anyone had run through the sketch before. I'm just not sure I'll end up remembering anything as much as I will a mostly-naked Taran Killam, gyrating around with a horse-head and later sadly caressing JT's bronze abs-plate. It's a LOT to process, okay? Additional props for Aidy Bryant's obvious enthusiasm for getting into a slap-fight with the world's biggest penis. And, okay, yes, playing Celebrity IS a preferable alternative to getting your testicles cut off and cooked, and I'm glad the show is taking a stand on that.
Cameo Casting Hang-Up of the Week
Once again, I'm quite willing to admit that Maine Justice is just not my thing and allow whomever does enjoy it to do so without any judgment from me. God bless Jason Sudeikis if all he wanted to do this week was fumble over bayou-inflected punchlines and grope at a frizzy blonde Timber-wig. But WHY was Andy Samberg playing the straight man? He'd already had his cameo, the part gave him nothing to do, and there are REAL CAST MEMBERS who were stuck backstage all night (Tim Robinson, Jay Pharoah, I feel you). At least this baffling decision gave me something to obsess over rather than continue to puzzle over Maine Justice.
Inexplicable Dick-Bleeping of the Week
Of all the things we can say and do and allude to on television, especially after midnight on a Saturday, we still can't say "dick"? Whatever. I like a good parody of romantic-comedy conventions as much as the next guy, but the twist that Nasim Pedrad's character had a penis was reeeally predictable. I guess everybody figured Justin Timberlake week would just write itself?
Eleventh-Hour Friends Reference of the Week
I'm not sure I ever wanted the Saboski porn stars to reprise their impeccable first effort, but halfway through their testimonial for Moey Chambin champagne, they'd justified their presence. It was either Vanessa Bayer's midsection full of plastic bags or Cecily Strong being banged back up to the surface by mole people that did it. I'll always be dismayed when a sketch is reproduced with the SAME jokes, but at least Timberlake's delivery (Monica & Chandler champagne!) bested Jamie Foxx's. Plus: Justin in jorts, which should maybe be the new state flag of Tennessee.