New theory: The qualities it takes to play Spider-Man are the same ones it takes to properly host Saturday Night Live. The former must be charming, plucky, a bit of an underdog, and possessed with an awareness of how inherently silly he looks in costume — and sophomore web-slinger Andrew Garfield does indeed embody those traits. Despite how much some of us might've preferred to see his doppelganger, Ben Schwartz, a.k.a. Jean-Ralphio, get the chance to go first, Garfield delivered the goods last night in his inaugural outing as our friendly neighborhood SNL host.
Sometimes the less expectations a host incurs, the better. Maybe the hardcore Garfield fans (the Garfanatics?) had a sense that the rookie would ensnare the crowd in a web of good cheer, but most of the general public must have only a vague sense of this guy. Other than Spider-Man, his most notable part was Mark Zuckerberg's too-nice early Facebook partner in The Social Network, and an ongoing role as Emma Stone's real-life boyfriend. (He cameoed in her last SNL-hosting effort, so it was pretty much inevitable that she'd do the same here.) Ultimately, though, Garfield's dark-horse status made it a pleasant surprise that he was brimming with charisma and personality, and eager to please, without coming across as too eager. His performance evened out a couple shaky sketches — Oliver Twist, wedding speech — and elevated the episode overall, like a man bitten by a radioactive spider using super-strength web goo to levitate a rogue subway car, or something.
Sterling Lining of the Week
Community pillar Bobby Moynihan hasn't had as much time to shine in recent episodes, so it was a delight to see him sink his teeth into the role of noted racist basketball impresario Donald Sterling. People have been taking Sterling to task on an unending loop for the past week or so, but Moynihan makes the role seem fresh by ladling contempt over everything he says. He's surprised Adam Silver turned out not to be "one of us," considers a black eye to be the worst kind of eye, and nearly goes apoplectic when Dennis Rodman makes as if to touch him. Perhaps the most telling remark, though, is when Moynihan's Sterling concedes that Magic Johnson is clearly "one of the good ones," an example of a racist streak apparent even in contrition. It should also be noted that Kenan Thompson is very funny in his role as (now former) Los Angeles NAACP president Leon Jenkins, whose donation-appreciation here seems to have won out over integrity in a landslide.
British Revelation of the Week
Remember how I mentioned earlier that all of us together (read: especially me) didn't know much about Andrew Garfield? Well, one of those unknown things, it seems, was the dude's country of origin. "The cat is out of the bag," he announces early in his opening monologue, "I'm British." (Mind. Blown.) Some upstage-y mucking about with Emma Stone follows, but much of it failed to register above the sound of us reconciling this new accent. Also, apparently, Aidy Bryant's cameo in The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man 2, mentioned here, is real.
Fart Joke of the Week
Say what you will about the Stanx sketch, and you probably won't say very much, but at least SNL is willing to get gross when it embraces the lowest common denominator — which is, of course, farts. This ad for Spanx-like black biker shorts that hold in one's gas emissions had at least one funny moment in showing Beck Bennett confidently drinking milk at the gym. Eventually, all his held-in farts escape and make a Backdraft-style explosion, which apparently is preferable to farting in social or work situations. How true that is depends on where you are in life.
Timberlake 2.0 of the Week
The first moment Garfield really comes into his own is during this Family Feud sketch. It's a musicians-only episode, which means one of those famous SNL impersonation-hurricanes is coming. Kenan's Steve Harvey, push-broom mustache and all, welcomes our host as Justin Timberlake, "America's prom king." Garfield absolutely nails the sleekness, the pleading sincerity, and overall ham factor of JT, his Social Network costar, without being so mean that Timberlake won't soon forfeit his seeming "anytime" pass at Studio 8-H for cameos or hosting duties. Other impressions include Kyle Mooney as Skrillex ("My contract says I will not work with spooky ghosts," Thompson's Steve Harvey says of him), Aidy Bryant's bubbly and uncouth Adele, and Taran Killam's super-serious Russell Crowe. Jay Pharoah's Drake could use a little work, although he's got some of the vocal tics down cold. Steve Harvey nails the rapper and recent SNL host, though, when he asks, "How come everything you say sounds like you're accepting an award?"
Oliver Twist Ending of the Week
As I mentioned in the intro, this Oliver Twist sketch was one of the weaker moments of the night. The joke is that in this PBS Masterpiece Theater production of the Dickens classic, Garfield's Oliver is interrupted during his historic gruel-request by a "full-grown woman" named Deirdre, who could also go for some gruel — orphan-status notwithstanding. Deirdre is a random Cecily Strong character who is perhaps fated to interrupt other major moments from literature in a selfish way in the future. Although she has a couple funny lines (an explanation of how to deal with her night terrors, especially), I'm in no rush to see Deirdre back soon.
Surfbort Supremacy of the Week
"The Beygency" is honestly quite brilliant. Here we have a sketch that will satisfy the following groups: those who would literally die for Beyoncé, people who kind of like Beyoncé but feel overwhelmed by her attendant fandom, and those who actively dislike Beyoncé. The premise of this fake action-movie trailer is that to even suggest this third category exists is an offense bordering on treason. In this world — and, frankly, ours as well — thou shalt not speak ill of Beyoncé. When Andrew Garfield admits at his own birthday party that he doesn't love "Drunk In Love," all Matrix-style hell breaks loose — with fedora-clad agents out to erase him from existence. If you've already seen this sketch, mention your favorite part in the comments. (There are so many to choose from.) If you haven’t seen this sketch yet, watch it right now.
Cold Discomfort of the Week
On the heels of the season's best digital short, and one of its better sketches altogether, comes a powerhouse Weekend Update that included three stellar guests and the definitive joke about George Clooney's impending nuptials. First up is the return of Kate McKinnon's Russian villager Olya Povlatsky, who is here to talk about Ukraine launching an attack against Russian forces. McKinnon's long-suffering character has a big, worthy takedown of the First World-y expression "FML" and wrings several good jokes out of the rather standard premise that Russians get everything in pop culture way after Americans do.
Dominant Debut of the Week
Next up is fairly recent writing staff hire, formidable stand-up comic Leslie Jones, making her on-screen debut. Jones comes to the Weekend Update desk as an in-house Image Expert to discuss Lupita Nyong'o being named People magazine's Most Beautiful Person in the World, and my oh my, does she ever discuss it. With an otherworldly self-assuredness, Jones spars with "delectable Caucasian" Colin Jost over current standards of beauty vs. those in the slavery era, when the six-foot force would have been "the #1 slave draft pick." This is funny, edgy stuff — especially for SNL. Also, look for "Can a bitch get a beef bone?" to become a meme, immediately.
Deconstructive Criticism of the Week
Taran Killam's Jebidiah Atkinson is back, and it is not an unwelcome return. Considering that Killam unveiled the character earlier this season, and we've already seen him at least four times now, you'd think we'd be due for a break. Somehow, unaccountably, you'd be wrong. The newspaper critic from the 1860s is here this time to lay waste to the Tony Award nominations, his every word dripping with noxious vitriol — especially the word "next," which he seems to tuck into like a full meal. Atkinson not only rails against current theatrical works, though; he also reduces Rent to "521,600 minutes of garbage" and expresses a fondness for the play that was showing when Lincoln was killed.
Kiss Confusion of the Week
No point in having Emma Stone join her costar for a monologue cameo without having her come back for a Spider-Man sketch. In this varietal of the old SNL trope of a movie scene that just won't go right, the two leads are trying to film a climactic kiss scene before it emerges that they don't know how kissing works. After the first two attempts — a cheek mashing and a wide mouth collision — I was sort of over the premise. But then the sketch just kept getting weirder and I got back on board in a big way. Andrew Garfield says things like "Hop aboard the kissy train, the normal kissy train," which sets the tone for a level of kiss confusion that includes he and Stone blowing air in and out of each other's cheeks. Throw in Coldplay and a fun Variety headline kicker, and it's a rock-solid sketch.
Rogue Rom-Com of the Week
In the final new sketch of the night — digital short "Bird Bible" is a repeat — Garfield plays the world's worst wedding guest. His character Kevin seizes a moment to pledge his love to the bride, a scene that feels intentionally ripped from a bad romantic comedy, and the bride is not having it. It's only then that we find out Kevin is actually the best man. Further details emerge that make Kevin's outburst seem more and more like a major betrayal and a wedding-killer. It doesn't all quite work, but Garfield throws everything he has into this misguided character and makes the sketch a fun experiment that could not have been saved by just any first-time host.