If Saturday Night Live welcomes back one of America's iconic award-winning actors as a returning host, and adds a couple of surprise cameos from big-name comedians, then we can just pretend that on paper, this would have been a great episode and forget that they actually aired the thing. Right?

But that's why we play the games. Oops. Sorry. Focused a little bit on sports and ESPN recently. The mixed metaphor still applies here, though, because, no disrepect to Robert DeNiro and SNL, but maybe they shouldn't keep asking him back if he cannot do the job of reading lines on live TV, or if they cannot do the job of writing cue cards in big enough letters for him to read them properly. Really, Seth and Amy?!? OK, just Seth. OK, just Lorne, then.


 

The episode actually got off to a solid start, with a misdirect cold open message from President Barack Obama (and yes, still played by Fred Armisen, so just groan and bear it) interrupted almost immediately by Julian Assange (Bill Hader), the guy responsible for WikiLeaks. But this turns out to be a misdirect, as Assange is heading up a new made-for-TV version called WikiLeaks: TMZ. I try not to watch and thereby support the TV version of TMZ, because in doing so, we're all encouraging the paparazzi to attack anyone anywhere anytime. That said, I did recognize the guy Andy Samberg was trying to play. Armisen shows up as Gaddafi with Kristen Wiig on his arm, DeNiro plays Harmid Karzai, Vanessa Bayer plays Hillary Clinton with an upskirt, and there are roles, albeit minor for Kenan Thompson, Bobby Moynihan, Paul Brittain, Jay Pharoah, Nasim Pedrad and Jason Sudeikis as Joe Biden.


 

Robert DeNiro's monologue was passable, with the premise being that he can say whatever he wants to say about NYC and get away with it, because who's going to challenge him on it? Not some pesky SNL writer posing as an audience member! Although there's a warning sign already due to lack of emotion as DeNiro reads his lines.


 

Fake ad time! Have you ever seen a TV ad for a book written by a best-selling thriller writer? They're weird. So is this one, which poses DeNiro as Harlan Kane, the author of a series of books poking fun at such thrillers and their premises. Can't wait to find out what happens in "The Pokemon Directive." Not sure about that closing line, though. Maybe if the VO (by Higgins!) said it instead of DeNiro? I don't know. Moving on.

We see in the ad break that Pedrad is going over the dance moves with Bayer for "What Up With That." Ooh. Eee.


 

OK. What's up with What Up With That? And by that, I mean, Kenan Thompson sings "What's up with that?" in the lyrics, but the sketch is clearly "What Up With That." Also: Why would you have DeNiro up the ante by putting the brakes on Thompson's singing, and then not actually heighten the sketch? Will Sudeikis catch his track-suit pants before they fall down as he dances? Is Robin Williams reading cue cards or improvising? How many hairdos does Shasta Taffy have up her hairline? Why would Robin Williams tease us about Twitter if he does not have a Twitter account? Big tease!


 

Here is where things really got roughage. DeNiro as "Mr. Produce" reminded me of the Tony on WCBS-TV here in NYC who has a regular produce segment on the local news, except the real-life Tony never is at a loss for words and doesn't have to work with his son, played by Samberg as a guy who responds to questions with questions. Did you like when DeNiro slipped and called Samberg "Andy"? How about when he then stopped and stumbled over his next lines? The only time he seemed in his element was when he was throwing produce off-screen. Then he found some sort of rhythm.


 

It's an SNL Digital Short, and it would appear that Samberg, Hader and DeNiro are re-enacting the surprisingly popular 1989 film Weekend At Bernies, but with a twist. A couple of twists! Is that enough for you? Or were you hoping for something a little more original? Someone in my Twitter feed just joked that SNL has officially become MADtv. Rut-ro. Are you going to sit there and take that zinger? No, you're not. You're going to come right back with a great holiday show thanks to Paul Rudd and Paul McCartney, that's what you're going to do!

Diddy's rap-singing really makes you appreciate what Kanye West has done the past couple of years, doesn't it? As for Dirty Money, one of the women was in Danity Kane, in case you're wondering which one is Dirty and which one is Money.


 

On Weekend Update, we got to see the three oldest Kardashian sisters — Kourtney, Kim and Khloe, the KKK of Kardashians — as played by Pedrad (Kim), Bayer (Kourtney) and Elliott (Khloe). Their credit card was a fraud. Go figure.


 

On Broadway, its biggest-budget ever production, a musical version of Spider-Man, has suffered from multiple technical difficulties. Samberg swings in upside-down in the title role. It's goofy enough. But why did he have to ask for the kiss, again? Oh, right. That's what this SNL crew does. Goes for laughs because men kissing men is funny. Oooh, gross, cooties!

And then there was Janet Judytran. Kristen Wiig's portrayal of a coked-out aerobics teacher from the 1980s is inspired by videos such as this one from Jazzercise. The Wiig version isn't up due to music clearances yet, so for now, just enjoy the original inspiration.


 

Got it? Good. Let's move on.


 

Two seasons ago, on the Bradley Cooper episode, Bobby Moynihan played a kid who accompanied his mom back to the locker room of a hockey team to meet all of his heroes, and was excited about seeing all of them except for Cooper. That character, Keith, returned tonight to visit the set of Little Fockers, and was excited to meet everybody except for, of course, Robert DeNiro. That went double rainbow when Ben Stiller showed up in a surprise cameo, and Moynihan's character shut DeNiro down with a nod to Permanent Midnight. "Now that's how you do drama," he deadpanned at DeNiro. That was after his earlier deadpan about DeNiro's makeup job.


 

Diddy made a big stink all week about wanting to do a sketch with DeNiro. Great. Just great. So for this, we get another dose about Blizzard Man (Samberg), a white guy who raps cheesy lines. I kept waiting for Sudeikis and Wiig to reprise their A-Hole originals in response to this, but alas, they did not. Thompson did try to inject some reality. And there's a weird breaking-the-fourth-wall moment when Blizzard Man and Diddy enjoyed hearing the live audience respond to the call of where was Brooklyn at. Brooklyn was at home, watching this mess. Especially when DeNiro showed up in drag as Blizzard Man's mother, and there was bumping and grinding. OK. Great, Diddy got his wish. What about Chris Gethard's wish to have Diddy do his show? What about that wish? Do we need to get Diddy drunk on Ciroc to do it? Apparently. What a mess.


 

Bill Hader's Italian talk show with Vinny Vedecci gives Moynihan a second crack at DeNiro. You'd think an Italian guy like DeNiro would speak Italian, no? No? "You tricked me!"

Why did they bring back that Bosley pubic hair transplant ad? OK, who screwed up this time? I want names!

Why did they bring back that Diddy-Dirty Money? OK, who screwed up this time? I want names!

For the final live sketch of the night, Sudeikis and Samberg go in a dive bar and ask the proverbial question, "Who do I have to screw to get a drink  around here?" Turns out it's old man DeNiro, and also Ben Stiller? Sketchy premise. Especially when the sex takes that many hours before you get one beer. You'd think they could find a store or someplace to buy beverages in that time. "Not worth it!"


 

The show ends with another installment of former SNLer Fred Wolf's "Beyond the Comics" collaborations, called "I Hippie," narrated by Dana Carvey.

And that's that. At least we have next week to look forward to, right? Or think back to that Anne Hathaway episode from the previous week. That was fun. Now you know why I waited until Monday afternoon to post a recap. Just couldn't get terribly excited about this one. But there's always another new episode right around the bend.

Dec. 11, 2010: Paul Rudd hosts, with music from Sir Paul McCartney!