The 39th season of Saturday Night Live reminds me a little bit of the New York Jets, which for those of you don’t follow football, does not mean to break out into an S-N-L, S-N-L, SNL SNL SNL chant; but rather, it’s one week’s great, the next week’s not-so great alternating for reasons that aren’t readily apparent. You just don’t know which team is going to show up.
This much we knew beforehand about the prospects of Lady Gaga hosting SNL in addition to performing as this weekend’s musical guest:
She’d be great. The 27-year-old singer/songwriter/musician born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta stole the show when she first performed on SNL four years ago. With a stage name, an eccentric fashion sense and over-the-top theatrics, of course — of course — she’d inhabit any character with verve, spunk and charm.
What about the rest of the show, though?
Um. Er. Well. Sometimes real-life wackiness serves up gift-wrapped comedy, and sometimes you look that gift hoarse-mouthed mayor and don’t know quite how to make it any funnier than it already was.
Which brings us to this cold open, regarding Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his apparent abuse of drugs, alcohol and anything in his path in 2013, politically or personally. So why go so quickly to the hackiest Canadian accent joke as the joke? Are you that afraid that we won’t get the rest of the jokes, when we’ve already made all of the easy jokes about Rob Ford that could be made. Yeah, sure, you betcha it’s Bobby Moynihan playing the part in a fat suit. It’s a little weird when Jay Pharoah shows up as the crack dealer, but not as weird as Moynihan seeming like a Chris Farley impersonation of Ford with the podium pratfall. And yet, none of that is as weird as shoehorning a crack at 60 Minutes into the bit — this sketch is playing solely to the media’s Sunday morning political shows and not to the rest of us — no matter how much I love Kate McKinnon (playing Lara Logan here, not that you’re even paying attention at this point).
Lady Gaga makes her first appearance of the night in the monologue. It’s clever enough to tie in her song “Applause” with lessons in garnering cheap applause from the audience. There’s also the ol’ cast members acting as plants in the audience trope, and a medley that includes bits of “New York, New York,” so that’s why you don’t see it online here just yet.
Wait. Here it is. Gaga herself found and shared it.
Fake ad in the fake ad slot! They get Jay Pharoah to show up as President Obama without having to do too much, because he’s had a tough fall. Obama, that is, politically. Hence the ad for presidential depression, Paxil second-term strength, tagged with Republican strength also for sale.
Waking Up with Kimye, the talk show with Nasim Pedrad as Kim Kardashian as Jay Pharoah as her baby daddy Kanye West. The “Kardashian 11” of hangers-on of the main hanger-on are onstage as the band. The jokes at Kim and Kanye are expected, and Nasim and Jay hit all of their marks. But it’s really about Gaga dressing down as Karen, who works at the Apple Genius Bar. Kanye takes issue with anyone else calling themselves a genius, so we get to hear a lot about that.
Talk about working backward with a sketch premise. As you saw above, Gaga readily jumps at the chance to poke fun at herself. Back in 2009, she wrestled with Madonna onstage during an SNL sketch. Here, she’s performing a cover of Madonna’s “Express Yourself” while actually only singing her own “Born This Way,” only this time with Madonna dance moves. C’mon, vogue. All of this is supporting the original sketch premise, which sees Taran Killam play Counting Crowes frontman Adam Duritz to sell us on “Whaaat? Worst Cover Songs of All Time” album. We also see Noël well well Wells as Britney Spears singing “Hallelujah,” Kenan Thompson as Rick Ross doing “Cups,” Cecily Strong as Lana Del Ray with Bobby Moynihan as Nathan Lane doing Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me,” Aidy Bryant as Adele doing the L.A. Law theme, and Pharoah as Lil’ Wayne with Kate McKinnon as Susan Boyle torching Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire.” But I just want to know how the SNL writers sold the sketch to Gaga, or if she sold them on it, first.
And here’s the full sketch:
Ladies and gentlemen, Lady Gaga. And R. Kelly!!! When she sings “Do What U Want,” she means push ups and not pee-downs. It’s still a little much. Wouldn’t you agree?
Mr. Senior (Kenan Thompson) as the Update desk’s common sense correspondent delivers a piece, taped in the field outside 30 Rock, on the early arrival of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza. We saw taped reports in the earlier days of SNL but it has been a while. Could this be the start of a revival for this? Interesting counterpoint to what you’d see on The Daily Show.
And then there’s Jebidiah Atkinson, back from the future as a newspaper critic from the 1860s (played by Taran Killam) who had panned the Gettysburg Address. His old newspaper just now published a retraction!? So here he was to offer his even more scathing snark on some of history’s most famous speeches. There’s not much on the cue cards to go with, but Killam gets the most of it and Meyers sitting beside him.
The final half-hour begins with a NYC-centric sketch focusing on the condominium co-op board interview for prospective tenants (played by Vanessa Bayer and Beck Bennett). They have to put up with eccentric current tenants and their probing questions, with Gaga showcasing her impersonation of the woman Marisa Tomei based her My Cousin Vinny character upon, apparently. Tomei’s Oscar-winning performance. Thompson, Strong, Pedrad, Bryant and Kyle Mooney are the other tenants on the board.
Spotlightz! The serious camp for kid actors, allows for some eager overacting by Vanessa, Gaga, Taran, Kyle and Noël. As cute as you stand from a real-life overacting kid, but with grown-ups!
Matt & Oz directed this short film written by Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider eulogizing Blockbuster Video. Mike O’Brien, who convinced plenty of celebrities to kiss him in his webseries, “Seven Minutes in Heaven,” locks lips with Gaga in dreamland, and Aidy Bryant, too! Taran Killam, Bobby Moynihan and Beck Bennett are other Blockbuster employees kicked to the curb.
Once again, Lady Gaga. This was “Gypsy.” And that guy dancing and handing Gaga her guitar was Asiel Hardison.
Finally, John Milhiser gets a chance to shine, as one of signature showcase bits — the eager stage parent of pre-pubescent pageant girl — comes to life in this sketch. For its debut on SNL, he’s adapted the bit to include Lady Gaga as his wife, the unseen fourth-grader’s mother. They’re super-proud parents of Ashley.
We’re zipped next into the future, to 2063 and NYC’s Upper West Side, where Lady Gaga is known simply by her building superintendent Thorgon (Kenan Thompson) as Ms. Germanotta. She cannot seem to jog his memory (because he wasn’t alive in 2009 or 2013 to know her songs when they were hits?) about her past as Lady Gaga. Oh, to be trendy means to someday not be timeless. If only she were Beyonce. Empress Beyonce. All of Gaga’s Gaga songs are too much to allow this online just yet. Wait. Here it is…
Gaga wrote Sunday via Twitter about this sketch: “Been dreaming this up for a while, was so happy the writers rallied and brought it to life!”
And finally, in the five-to-one sketch, we’ve got a play on Sunday’s “Red Zone TV” channel for NFL fans, with “Rosé Zone TV” for trashy “reality” show moments. “Just Hot Garbage 24/7!” I feel like people may love this taped sketch for all of the wrong reasons. And that TV producers, particularly, may take this to close to heart and fill our TV channels with even more hot garbage. Please make me wrong!
That’s it, everybody. Good night! See you next week with that other guy from the Hunger Games!