by Brendan Wahl
I overrated last week’s episode. Granted, it was a great one but giving almost every other sketch an A grade was going a little too far. Jim was a dominant presence in a night full of laughs and it might be a strong contender for one of the top broadcasts thus far, but it was not as amazing as I first stated. With that in mind, I head into the next episode review with a deep breath and an attempt to not be so positive all the time. It’s really hard to be negative on a show I truly adore and even on bad nights, I can usually find something I like about it. That brings us to tonight’s broadcast.
That’s right, Shakespeare’s lover herself, Gwyneth Paltrow, makes her third hosting appearance and her first in almost ten years. It’s been far too long since the talented young actress has taken center-stage in 8H and the day has finally come when she once again comes by to promote her latest film. This time it’s Country Strong, a movie about a washed-up country singer played by Paltrow who’s set to make her comeback with the help of a young up-and-comer. I probably won’t ever see this but just like I said last week, if it gives a good host a reason to be there, I’m all for it.
Joining Gwyneth is Cee Lo Green, he of the number one hit “Fuck You.” Or as you may know it on the radio, “Forget You.” Yes, the radio edit is mighty annoying and there is no way in heck that we’re going to hear the original version tonight. Nevertheless, Cee Lo has proven himself over the last few years with his time in Gnarls Barkley and his successful solo career as well, which should make for some good performances. It is also worth noting that there is a connection between Ms. Paltrow and Green here, as she performed his song on “Glee” a little while back. I didn’t watch that episode (I can’t force myself to watch the show in general), but I would imagine that she did well.
1. FOX News (4:27)
-Elliott, Hader, Moynihan, Sudeikis, Wiig, Pedrad
Embracing the nation and promising to be a lot more civil in terms of their strong political viewpoints, Greta Van Susteren (Wiig) and her panel of Sean Hannity (Moynihan), Michelle Malkin (Pedrad), and Glenn Beck (Sudeikis) do their best to not be crazy. Their attempts to censor themselves are pathetic, as they change the Job-Killing Healthcare Bill to the Job-Euthanizing Healthcare Bill, followed by something much more one-sided. Their efforts are thwarted when they’re visited by an excited James Carville (Hader) and a hijacking of Beck’s chalkboard by leftist Rachel Maddow (Elliott). The FOX News parodies are always pretty bang-on and this was no exception. Terrific cold open. A
2. Monologue (4:37)
-Paltrow, Cee Lo, Sudeikis, Wiig
After professing her love and admiration for country music despite a very limited knowledge of it, she is soon joined by Kenny Rogers (Sudeikis) (or “Garth Brooks!,” sez Gwyn), but she is completely lost on the singing of “Islands in the Stream.” Dolly Parton (Wiig) stops by, but it is Cee Lo Green who finally puts Paltrow’s worries at ease at the thought of a duet with him, but turns things around when he wants to join in on the country jammin’ as well. Paltrow’s attempts at singing the lyrics were pretty hilarious. A-
3. The Cape (1:42)
-Armisen, Hader, Moynihan, Samberg, Sudeikis, Thompson, Wiig, Pedrad
I don’t know if any of you have seen or heard of this new NBC series about the man with the magical cape, but it looks absolutely ridiculous. Either way, this quick and clever parody takes it to a ridiculous measure with other types of magical apparel with my absolute favourite being the leg warmer (“He’s kicking crime’s ass with a warmed-up calf!”). B+
4. Secret Word (5:09)
-Paltrow, Hader, Thompson, Wiig, Killam
The fourth appearance of the recurring 1960s gameshow sees Mindy Grayson (Wiig) facing stiff competition with a borderline-racist rich lady (Paltrow), who also has trouble relaying clues to her partner (Thompson). They switch it up a bit this time with Mindy finally getting the hang of the game at first but approaching it like a game of Charades ruins her momentum. This sketch always gets a laugh out of me, especially Wiig’s antics and that they usually give her a humourous opponent too (Gordon-Levitt, Law, Lynch, and now Gwyn). B+
5. Film: Andy and Pee Wee (3:18)
-Pee Wee Herman, Samberg
Excuse me for a second. HOLY SHIT!!! Pee Wee Herman himself appears in this digital short to do shots with Andy Samberg and wreck havoc around town like smashing a chair over Anderson Cooper’s back (“Here’s a headline!”) and a police officer (using the same punchline in hilarious nonsensical fashion). Eventually, some friends (Armisen, Thompson, Wiig) provide an intervention along with some of Pee Wee’s Playhouse buddies. This was absolutely wonderful and easily the best digital short of the season. A+
6. Rockin’ Bar Mitzvah (5:24)
-Paltrow, Cee Lo, Armisen, Bayer
Hosting a bar mitzvah for his son, Jacob (Bayer), his father (Armisen) has managed to reach out to some big-time musicians to appear and sing some Jewish-inspired versions of their hit songs. These include Taylor Swift (Paltrow), Jay-Z (Pharoah) and Alicia Keys (Pedrad), Katy Perry (Elliott), and Cee Lo himself. The sketch is mainly an excuse for some impressions by the cast and they are good ones, but there’s not much else to it. Granted, Vanessa Bayer is wonderfully understated as the young Jewish boy becoming a man. B
7. Forget You, FCC (3:23)
-Paltrow, Cee Lo, Samberg, Sudeikis, Brittain
A record exec (Paltrow) hosts a meeting with her assistants (Samberg & Sudeikis) where they discuss the censorship of his newest song. Throughout the entire sketch, they use some pretty hilarious replacement words for all of the cursing and there is a great moment from Cee Lo in response to him using the word “pussy.” It’s hard to describe the sketch without giving it proper justice, but suffice to say it’s quite clever and my favourite sketch of the night. A+
8. Cee Lo Green sings “Forget You” (3:24)
Sure enough, the sketch segues right into Cee Lo’s performance of his giant hit and yes, it is the censored version. However, the preceding sketch was a pretty brilliant way to screw the FCC in the ear just before succumbing to them and performing this very entertaining ditty. A-
9. Weekend Update with Seth Meyers (13:45)
-Also: Gwyneth Paltrow, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Bobby Moynihan, Kenan Thompson, Kristen Wiig, Vanessa Bayer, & Nasim Pedrad
The segment is loaded with guests this week but not before Seth launches into a brilliant rant concerning the founding fathers and what they would think of gun control today. His diatribe goes in the direction of the founding fathers and how they would be more distracted by things like the strange metal dragons that roam our streets and why the slaves are allowed to roam free. Seth’s jokes are pretty sharp this week as well with a story on baboon (“Baboons aren’t that good at science”). The commentaries then arrive in the form of Jimmy McMillan (Thompson), who announces his candidacy for the 2012 Republican Party. The guy is clinically insane and this was amusing the first time Kenan did it, but this time he really swung for the fences and was even better. Vanessa Bayer then chimes in to report from the Golden Globes and interview Christina Aguilera (Pedrad), Cher (Hader), and Cher’s son/daughter, Chastity (Moynihan). This was an okay segment that was made all the funnier by Hader’s manic Cher impression. Finally, “Mick Jagger’s favourite singing duo” Garth (Armisen) & Kat (Wiig) swing by for another visit, but this time they bring along companion Kim Castle (Paltrow) to help out. More goofy fun with these singers (“I’LL DIE!”) and Gwyneth only adds to the fun. Overall, a fairly solid edition of Update this week. A-
10. False History (3:21)
-Paltrow, Armisen, Hader, Moynihan, Samberg, Sudeikis, Thompson, Wiig, Bayer, Killam, Pharoah
The setting is the Globe Theatre in Shakespeare’s time where several patrons (Samberg, Sudeikis, Wiig, Bayer, Pharoah) are anxiously awaiting The Taming of the Shrew but are first thwarted by several previews for other upcoming Shakespeare plays. This was a pretty clever juxtaposition and made for some good voice work from Hader. Much like the FCC sketch, talking about this too much would give away the joke but suffice to say, it was very funny. A
11. Fresh Prince of Bel Air 20th Anniversary (2:53)
-Paltrow, Thompson, Pharoah
Focusing on the over-the-top reactions that Will Smith (Pharoah) usually delivered on Fresh Prince of Bel Air, this sketch has Will and Carlton (Thompson) talking about the difficulties working with a very green Fresh Prince. His reaction to a friend being injured in a car accident was probably the highlight as he chooses to react to the attractiveness of the female police officer (Paltrow) reporting the news. Another good excuse to have Pharoah roll out his impressive Will Smith impression. B+
12. Sportscenter Deportes (3:17)
-Paltrow, Armisen, Moynihan, Brittain, Killam, Pedrad, Pharoah
The Spanish version of the long-running sports panel show features two anchors (Paltrow, Brittain) reporting on various happenings while resorting to very awkward English for peoples’ names and catchphrases. This was a very accurate portrayal of “foreign-language” news/sports programs as they do seem to resort to very straight-forward and awkward English so that they can be understood by one and all, I guess. One of the weaker sketches thus far, but still fairly entertaining. B-
13. Cee Lo Green sings “Bright Lights Bigger City” (3:37)
The second song by Cee Lo is quite a bit different than the first tune, but that’s not a bad thing. Green is positively electric here and his song fits the tone of the show very closely, so whoever coaxed him to choose this song is pretty smart. A-
14. Parker/Spitzer Co-Host Auditions (2:54)
-Paltrow, Armisen, Hader, Killam, Pedrad
Due to Kathleen Parker leaving the panel show with Eliot Spitzer (Hader), several people are tested for the show to take her place. Christiane Amanpour (Pedrad) finds herself bickering with Spitzer (“I once convinced an escort to accept a Borders gift card!”), Heidi Klum (Paltrow) is a top pick for Spitzer, but she can’t seem to pronounce words properly and thus only one man can be brought in for the job: Governor David Paterson (Armisen). Basic filler, but it worked well. B+
Gwyneth thanks Cee Lo and the incredible cast before giving Jay Pharoah a monster hug. Aaaaand we’re out.
Well, that was another strong episode that only adds to the large number of great episodes we’ve gotten this season. Gwyneth was a stalwart host and made a superhuman effort throughout the entire night. It really showed in her performances as well. I know this will probably never happen, but she deserves to become a five-timer. This episode also continued the tradition of strong hosts this season as I believe the only bad one so far was Robert DeNiro… and even he showed a lot more effort than previous stints.
Cee Lo Green was a terrific musical guest and despite only playing himself in the sketches he appeared in, it was just nice to see him have fun with the rest of the cast as well. They took a very clever approach with him as well and it just gives the show an extra boost of enjoyment when the musical guest gets involved as well.
As for the cast, Bill Hader continues to be the best castmember, but there were solid performances throughout the night from the likes of Vanessa Bayer and Jay Pharoah, especially. Plus… Paul Brittain finally got some solid screentime! The most he’s gotten since Stone/KOL.
Host Rating: A-
Musical Guest Rating: A-
Show Rating: B+/A-