by Brendan Wahl
This season has been about half-and-half of returning hosts and SNL virgins. While the season’s hosts have been steadfast and, at some points, excellent (Jon Hamm & Emma Stone), this is the first time I was a little weary of a returning host. Now, let’s get this out of the way first. Scarlett Johansson is a fantastic young actress, she’s super-hot, and she’s clearly close to Woody Allen, which means she has made a bundle of quality films. When she hosted for the first time in 2006, she was jittery, awkward and just came off as unprepared for the experience that was SNL. Her second time hosting was a similar affair. So when I heard the announcement that she’d be hosting the show for a third go-around, I wasn’t really highly anticipating the event.
Arcade Fire, on the other hand, I was totally anticipating. The band appeared about three years ago in a terrific episode with host Rainn Wilson and the idea of them coming back was a wonderful notion. The band is also quite unique in their style; I love the big-band style they bring to the table and the fact that they all have various jobs throughout that they seemingly rotate with throughout the band.
In the words of Brian Fellow, let’s get goin’!
1. Chinese Press Conference (6:26)
In what is essentially a rehash of the cold open from Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Dave Matthews Band from last season, President Obama (Armisen) meets with Hu Jintao (Hader), while his interpreter (Pedrad) humourously translates for him. Although it is pretty much the same sketch, there are some differences in the subject matter and Jintao goes even more over-the-top this time. After the meeting between the two heads of state, Jintao constantly brings up the fact that the US still owes China tons of money and makes a few sexual allusions. B+
2. Monologue (3:50)
Scar-Jo remarks at the celebrities who are bombarded by the paparazzi and how they can avoid this before she is joined by Dina Lohan (Wiig) and Ke$ha (Elliott) to perform a number about how women aren’t classy anymore. It’s nice to see Abby get some solid screentime, but this thing felt thrown together. At least Scarlett looked very reserved and calm on the stage. Might have something to do with her recent Tony nomination. C+
3. Maternity Television (1:24)
MTV has transformed into a network full of shows containing pregnant people including My Super Sweet 16 and Pregnant with one rich pregnant girl (Johansson), Pregnant Dance Crew, Wild’n Out with insults directed towards a baby by Nick Cannon (Pharaoh), and my favourite was Cribs. Snooki (Moynihan) makes another appearance too! Very accurate parody. B
4. Millionaire Matchmaker (3:19)
In a parody of the Bravo programme, the host (Johansson) of the vapid reality show tries to help mousy lawyer Candice (Bayer) find her true love. Only problem is that the host of the show is an uncaring, rude, and a generally horrible human being. I’ve never seen the source material, but the sketch is still pretty funny and moves along at a very quick pace. Also, Taran Killam shines in a brief role as one of the eligible bachelors. B+
5. the Manuel Ortiz Show (4:30)
I’ve never been a fan of this dancing talk show but this time they tweaked the sketch and it succeeds because the direction is changed somewhat. Scarlett is game here as a guest who isn’t quite sure who her baby’s daddy is and thus must figure out if it’s her husband’s (Samberg) or lover’s (Hader). Bill Hader’s facial expressions are definitely the highlight of this sketch, but Manuel Ortiz (Armisen) is a fun character and just like the last sketch, it moves along at a rapid-fire pace. A-
6. Unstoppable (2:08)
The trailer for the new Denzel Washington (Pharaoh)/Chris Pine (Killam) vehicle sees them making ridiculous youngster and old age jokes at each other’s expense as they bond. Piling up on those great moments though is the constant commentary by the dispatcher (Johansson) comparing everything to the Chrysler Building. It’s a great mish-mash of impressions, satire, and another fun performance by Johansson. A
7. Hollywood Dish (4:24)
Brady (Hader) and Anastacia (Wiig) are back, this time interviewing Scarlett Johansson and providing the usual distractions on their end, which of course derails the interview. The same antics take place but much like Manuel Ortiz, they throw enough changes in there to tweak the sketch and make for some hilarious moments. Bill semi-cracks up, but it only adds to this great installment of the recurring gossip show. A-
8. Arcade Fire performs “We Used to Wait” (4:25)
With a unique set design behind them, Arcade Fire belt out an enjoyable tune with some terrific instrumental accompaniment as per their usual modus operandi. B+
9. Weekend Update (8:37)
Seth’s jokes are good as per usual this week with some talk of the Cindy & John McCain arguments over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” but my favourite had to be the Pamela Anderson bit about fur hats no matter how crude it may have been. Blaming A Prairie Home Companion for all those car accidents was well-deserved and a nice bit as well. George W. (Sudeikis) and Kanye West (yet ANOTHER great impression by Pharaoh) show up to reconcile their differences and speak of their newfound friendship in a hilarious segment, while two survivors from the carnival cruise ship Splendor, Frank (Armisen) and Gladys Madden (Bayer) show up to speak about their not-so-horrifying ordeal. It’s not as good of a segment, but it’s still pretty amusing. It’s a pretty solid edition of Update this week. B+
10. St. Kat’s Middle (4:49)
Shown on the Disney Channel, St. Kat’s Middle features a group of inspirational students (Johansson, Samberg, Wiig, Brittain, & Wiig) try to coach their wheelchair-bound friend, Marvin (Thompson), out of his chair and on his feet. Kenan’s indignation while laying face-down on the floor is amusing, but it grows thin and the sketch wears out its welcome after a short amount of time. C
11. Film: Model UN (2:30)
This week’s digital short features a presentation by the Model UN and its speaker (Samberg), presenting their opinion on world history. Essentially the song boils down to a rant against everything followed by a variation of “what was THAT all about?!” It sounds one-note and it kind of is, but Samberg really sells it and then once Arcade Fire comes out, it really goes over-the-top and hits the right notes. B+
12. A Treat from Paula Deen’s Kitchen (2:41)
Cooking expert Paula Deen (Wiig) introduces a big 8-ply roll of paper towel so they can soak up all the excessive amounts of butter and oil she makes with her dishes. I give credit to Wiig for really trying here but this sketch felt pretty flat and didn’t really go anywhere. C-
13. Arcade Fire performs “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” (5:01)
The second number has the chick in the band on lead vocals (don’t know her name!) and she has a nice set of pipes. Aside from that, she’s also kind of cute in a weird Bjork way. Plus, streamers! Everyone loves streamers! All in all, it’s a better song than the first one and brings them home in a big way. A-
14. Stars of Tomorrow (4:57)
A new series on TLC features a talent scout (Moynihan) telling the tale of Laura Parsons (Bayer), a little girl who does auditions for plays based on films that are way too adult for kids to perform. She gets huge until she is challenged by Amanda Starr (Johansson), who also does some similar auditions. The sketch is high on laughs and pretty conceptual, which makes this the best sketch of the night and the most well-written one also. A
15. Mike’s Busteria (2:12)
Ah yes, I knew they were going to bring this back! This time, Mike (Armisen) and his daughter Lexi (Johansson) sing the praises of ceramic busts. While this sketch usually works for me, this time it just felt a little off. I don’t know if they were nervous because the show was running long, but Fred seems a little off-kilter and Johansson tries to hold her own. C
Scarlett thanks Arcade Fire, cast, and crew before waving goodnight to one and all.
Scarlett Johansson was so much more relaxed in this episode! Colour me surprised. Where her last two stints had her giving off a nervous and jittery vibe, Scarlett managed to keep it together for the entire span of the episode and her comic timing also seems to have improved. I hereby take back any reservations I have for Johansson hosting the show. I’d actually like to see her come back again and even become a five-timer.
Arcade Fire was as great as I expected them to be. Where their first number was strictly by-the-books, their second one was bouncy fun with a lot of terrific instrumental work. And streamers! The band was cool enough to make a hilarious appearance in the digital short as well (much like the last time they were the musical guest) and were clearly very glad and willing to be a part of the broadcast.
There was a good effort by everyone involved tonight; however, we have ourselves a good, but not great, episode. The first half (sans the monologue) was pretty strong, but the second portion of the show faltered a bit due to three sketches that fell as flat as Kenan did in the Disney Channel sketch. Those notwithstanding, it was still an enjoyable show and Scarlett was a delight this time out.
I prefer Forte, but Bill Hader more than held his own in the cold open as Hu Jintao. Pedrad is also fun in the interpreter role (“I like to have the lights on when SOMEONE IS DOING SEX TO ME!”)
“Use a mirror. They’re like cameras… that forget.”
“Girls today wouldn’t know class if it tried to kiss them and puked in their mouth.”
“Whoa, our moms are here!”
Bill and Kristen almost cracking up in the Hollywood Dish sketch was too funny.
Oops! Kenan got up a bit too quickly.
Host Rating: B+
Musical Guest Rating: A-
Show Rating: B