SNL #36.2 RECAP: Host Bryan Cranston, musical guest Kanye West

Somewhere in New York City this afternoon, Seth Meyers and other cast members from Saturday Night Live are explaining themselves (again) as part of the New Yorker Festival. I feel like they've done this before, and not just because they have. They have.

Somehow I doubt they'll explain what happened last night. Although that'd be fun to hear them Sunday-afternoon quarterback their show. Almost as much fun as reading whatever I have to say right here, right now? No. Nothing could be that much fun. Especially now that everyone has convinced me how fun it is to assign points and power rankings. Oooh, boy. It's about to get mathematic up in this site! Let's get statistical…

Unfortunately, we're starting in negative territory with -40 points taken away from whomever decided Rahm Emanuel's departure from the White House Chief of Staff's job to run for mayor of Chicago was what everyone needed to see up top. Fred Armisen earns 3 points, one for each season he has tried to convince us that he can impersonate Barack Obama. Meanwhile, Fred lost 72 points, one for each second he was onscreen, distracting people by making viewers question why he's still Obama. Andy Samberg, as Emanuel, gets 10 points for getting to say "Live from New York, it's Saturday night!" Andy lost 1 point for making me focus on his jaw line. The whole sketch lost another 100 points for failing to have what's known in the business as jokes, but gained 200 points for inevitably getting this sketch talked about on all of the Sunday morning TV political shows — which is, as far as I can tell, the only reason this sketch is on at all. Don't worry, Bobby Moynihan, we see you as Pete Rouse, all scared with the facial expressions as Emanuel's successor, which earned you 50 points.

Am I really doing this for every sketch? But first, the opening titles, since I didn't touch on them last week. Is it just me, or does it sound differently with 92-year-old Don Pardo recording the intros beforehand? And was it just me, or did anyone else notice that they introduced the featured players out of alphabetical order in the season premiere? Alrighty then. Let's go to the monologue!

Host Bryan Cranston shows off pics of him in his tighty-whitey underwears, then, before my friend in comedy journalism Dave Itzkoff can pick up his 100 bonus points for suggesting a Gilbert & Sullivan parody due to Aaron Sorkin's Facebook movie, we learn once again that 30 Rock is not Studio 60, and Rockefeller Center is not the Sunset Strip. We do, however, get a musical tribute. Raise your hands if you recognize the words and melody from Citizen Kane! OK, now put your hands in the air if you thought this came from The Simpsons! We're awarding 2 points each to Bill Hader, Kenan Thompson, Moynihan and Taran Killam for wearing the candy stripes, plus another 2 points for "singing" and "dancing" behind Cranston. Nasim Pedrad and Abby Elliott get 1 point apiece for all-too-brief candy-stripe cameos.

This point-scoring already is making me weary.

Fake Ad!

OK. So I get that Nasim Pedrad is supposed to look like a woman who goes clubbing, and perhaps even with a hint of Jersey Shore, so of course, those people are diarrhea in human form already. Give Killam and Andy Samberg points for appearing in the ad, too. But there's something missing from this "Pepto-Bismol Ice" spoof. Is it the lack of anyone "icing" Pedrad or Samberg on the dance floor? Or have we become so numb to the idea that human garbage produces human diarrhea that there's nothing in this to produce outrage in the form of laughter? Do not discuss. Just move on.

Because moving on, we find a great sketch out of a premise that did not portend greatness. Behold: "The Miley Cyrus Show."

Newcomer Vanessa Bayer has an infectious smile, and she manages to hold our attention portraying someone who should not hold our attention (and yet Cyrus herself did do that for a while, didn't she?), and pulls it off smoothly. Cranston does a serviceable job as papa Billy Ray Cyrus. But how amazingly awesome was it to see a sketch held together completely by SNL rookies! Paul Brittain disappeared into the role of Johnny Depp, and even though he played it straight, he played it great. We also saw Samberg stuck in a bad movie with Cyrus, and Moynihan as Billy Ray's drummer. Points awarded: 300 for Bayer! 250 for Brittain! 1 each for Moynihan and Samberg.

Oh, man. If you didn't FF through the commercials, you saw a quick shot of "What Up With That" being set up, and an old man helped up to the stage. The suspense! Also, those animated bumpers?!?

This was perhaps the best "What Up With That" ever. How could that be? Let me count the ways.

1) Do not be thrown off by Killam taking the place of Will Forte in announcing the show. Just let it happen. Transitions. 2) Look at Morgan Freeman! 3) Look at Ernest Borgnine with that s#it-eating grin! OK. Before I continue counting, it's important for someone to note — if not me, then whom? — that we're encountering another way for celebrities to promote their upcoming movies. Freeman and Borgnine are in this sketch, as it turns out, to help promote their upcoming movie, Red. SPOILER ALERT! They won't be the last actors from that film to turn up in this episode of SNL. Is this going to become a recurring thing? If so, is someone going to notify us of this? Just curious. Back to our count-up! 4) The back-to-school edition included graduation students painted like statues and/or dancers, and they were SNL writers! 5) How many points can we award for a slow-motion-dancing Jason Sudeikis? 1,000? 2,000? 6) The look on Freeman's face when Kenan Thompson bugs out and wants to get up and sing. 7) The look on Freeman's face noticing Cranston's tighty-whiteys all up in his face. 8) The fact that Borgnine cannot keep that grin off of his face. I've read some people give him a hard time for that, but when I'm 93, I'd like to be on TV surrounded by something this silly. 9) Jay Pharaoh's Bootsy Collins. 10) I'm not sure if this counts, but SNL knows that Vili Fualaau, the kid who had kids with Mary Kay Letourneau, is Samoan, right? 11) Let's focus on Sudeikis and Borgnine again, shall we? We shall!

The sketch is immediately followed by an ad for the movie Red. Timing!

The writers decide to mix up the Shanna sketch — aka Kristen Wiig as Betty Boop as Marilyn Monroe with gross noises — out of the workplace and onto the basketball court. This time, too: Cranston plays the boss who loves Shanna no matter what, Thompson, Killam and Samberg the employees who lust after her, but only to a point, and Elliott as the other woman in the office who doesn't get it.

I'll give Wiig 10 points for not making us sick of this character just yet — her facial expressions during the extended burp helped a bit, as did her bobbing-for-cows story, and her secret whistling talent. Elliott, Thompson, Killam and Samberg get 5 points each for doing the best they could with supporting roles.

An SNL Digital Short that turns a 911 call into an extended movie ad? Wait. Why would anyone use an iPhone app as a substitute for 911? Oh, that's the point, isn't it.

It's a long way to go for the payoff. 9.11 points awarded to the show as a whole.

Kanye West redecorated the musical backdrop all in white, he dressed up in red, got a bunch of women ballerina types and sang "Power." It certainly was memorable. As good as Lady Gaga's performance? Maybe not. But definitely memorable. And he changed the lyrics so as not to diss SNL on SNL, as well as remove profanities from the live network TV broadcast. Who says Kanye's not sensitive nor diplomatic?

Weekend Update jokes!

Weekend Update guests! In a week with Snooki news, you'd think we might see Bobby Moynihan's orange impersonation. But no. Instead we got to see him portray Anthony Crispino, distributor of second-hand news. His fingers are almost on the pulse. Just like yours. Just like ours. We should pay better attention, people.

Ack! No more Cathy? What will we do without Cathy?

How did Jessica Biel not make the highlights, again? 50 points each for Moynihan and Samberg, -5 points to the show for not showing us Biel.

Um, Kid Smartz. Cranston plays the game show host who is supposed to be a pedophile, right? This is going to be creepy. But will it be funny? Depends upon our kid contestants, played by Bayer, Elliott, Samberg and Thompson. Wait a second. This isn't about pedophiles being creepy. This is just another excuse to air that sketch in which men kiss each other repeatedly for laughs. They get said laughs. Why is the audience laughing so much at two men kissing? I'm just asking here, no homo. But seriously. Each time Cranston and Samberg kiss, audience members howl approvingly. Apparently, we are more immature than I was led to believe.

We're in the final half-hour, which is generally a time for risky choices. Let's just think about this sketch on the Bjelland Brothers. They're a musical act. Playing their hometown of Minneapolis. In the Target Center. To only a handful of people in the audience. They have only one song. Their only song has only one lyric: "I sent a bottle of sparkling apple juice to your house. Did you get it?" On top of all of this, Cranston and Armisen somehow manage to get
the studio audience to sing along. On live television. I'm beside myself in amazement. Points awarded in 3D: 30 points to Armisen and the show.

Kanye West sang his song that asks for a toast for the douchebags, assholes and the scumbags, which, ironically, douchebags, assholes and scumbags alike were toasting themselves to as DJs played this song in clubs around the world last night.

Nasim Pedrad is a beautiful young woman. And yet, somehow, she manages to create this character pieces in which she plays nerdy small boys and girls. Her latest creation is Henry, a nerdy boy who wants to paint his basement mural, while his dad (Cranston) wants to teach him how to fight properly. There's clearly something here, that, despite not being always laugh-out-loud funny, remains interesting to watch. Give Pedrad 30 points!

Looks like time to sneak in one more fake ad.

Kenan Thompson cannot sleep, so he uses Sharper Image's i-SleepPRO, which takes out white noises, as well as, ahem, black noises. Awarding 1964 points. Did they give out points that year?

Well, folks. We did it. Another show in the books. Some great strides for the new kids so far this season. As for this episode, I loved parts of it, abhored other parts of it, felt indifferent to even other parts of it. So. You know. Another SNL episode! I really get the feeling that this is shaping up to be a big transition year, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes in the coming weeks. If you kept track of the points, then please let me know who's winning!

Next week: Jane Lynch, with musical guest Bruno Mars.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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3 thoughts on “SNL #36.2 RECAP: Host Bryan Cranston, musical guest Kanye West

  1. Loved the “Henry” sketch!
    I’d watch more about Henry–but I have a feeling that every Henry sketch will be Henry getting hit in the face…which is one way to go, but I imagine there are other humiliations in Henry’s life that make him ponder and explain his predicaments without allowing him the chance to get back to his mural…
    And, it’s weird. I woke up today and there was a bottle of sparkling apple juice on my doorstep. Did you send that to me, Sean?

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