This week's episode of SNL was one of those "gamble" shows in which they chose an unconventional host in musician Bruno Mars, who, to the best of my knowledge, has never displayed any acting or comedic ability. Sometimes, these episodes are fun -- either because we get to discover a new comic talent we weren't aware of before (Peyton Manning is very funny!), or because we get to watch someone totally outside his or her comfort zone do something really hard. Other times, these episodes are disastrous (does anybody remember Nancy Kerrigan? Or even Michael Phelps?). This week's show fell into neither category, with Mars showing more talent and enthusiasm that I had expected but not really distinguishing himself as someone who should come back and host again.
The most noteworthy sketch of the night, in which Pandora Internet radio goes down and Mars has to perform as every artist, isn't available on the NBC site because of all music copyrights, but it was probably Mars's best hour as host. He got to sing a bunch and act silly, and demonstrated that he's a pretty good mimic. It was only an ok sketch, so the fact that it was the best thing in the episode isn't saying much.
- "Cold Open: Town Hall Debate" - The election is only a few weeks away, which means SNL is already running out of episodes in which they can mine the current political climate leading up to the big day. This week's effort didn't make the best use of what few episodes they have left, with a sketch that amounted to not much more than Jay Pharaoh as Barack Obama and Jason Sudeikis as Mitt Romney bullying each other. Yes, that's pretty much what the debate that's being parodied consisted of, too, but you've got to bring something else to the table if you're going to do good satire. (Watch the "Town Hall Debate" video)
- "Bruno Mars Monologue" - Bruno Mars seemed genuinely positive and happy to be hosting the show, and I suppose I can't complain that he did a singing monologue, since that's what he's known for (it would be like me getting upset if Louis C.K. does jokes on the next episode, of which he is the announced host). The song wasn't very funny, but Mars had a lot of energy and it was very well produced. A good number but lacking in substance and laughs. (Watch the "Bruno Mars Monologue" video)
- "Brad Pitt Ad" - There were four of these spread throughout the episode; I'm only posting a link to the first one because they were all pretty much the same. Taran Killam is a gifted impressionist (his Paul Ryan on last week's show killed), but his Brad Pitt isn't quite there yet. He has a lot of the affects down, but it's neither close enough nor does it have enough of its own personality to compensate for the lack of accuracy. It doesn't need to sound just like Brad Pitt, but it has to be its own character if it doesn't (think Chevy Chase's Gerald Ford). These recurring sketches are often pretty good, because it allows the writer to have them build and get progressively weirder. That didn't happen this week, though. It was all basically the same level. (Watch the "Brad Pitt Ad" video)
- "Haters" - Here's a sketch that felt like it might have made more sense in the '90s, when trashy talk shows like Jerry Springer had much more cultural relevance than they do these days. Good to see Cecily Strong getting a little showcase, even though she ultimately had very little to do. I think I like what they're trying to do here -- to make fun of our culture of obnoxious bragging, bullying and generally horrible behavior -- but it felt too much like a piece way out of time. Plus, host Bruno Mars dressed up like a woman. Anytime the host appears in drag, it's a good indication that they've got nothin' this week. (Watch the "Haters" video
- "Sad Mouse" - I guess SNL isn't going to stop doing Digital Shorts even though Andy Samberg is now gone. They're not calling them that, of course, but that's what this was. I'm ok with that, as long as they're more inspired than this one. The energy felt low even on video. (Watch the "Sad Mouse" video)
- "Weekend Update: Stefon" - I thought I had grown tired of Bill Hader's Stefon character, because it's basically the same thing every time -- a bunch of non-sequiter jokes and Hader eventually breaking down into laughter. This week's installment did not disappoint, with what might have been his biggest break of all time (coming after announcing the name of the Jewish Dracula). Maybe it's because the rest of the episode was pretty uninspired, but I found myself really appreciating Stefon this week -- probably because it's a great joke character of some truly absurd material. Even when they don't all work, there are enough that land (courtesy of Hader and writer John Mulaney) that make it well worth the time and effort. (Watch the "Weekend Update: Stefon" video)
- "Amusement Park" - This was a sketch that showed up back when Justin Timberlake hosted the show, as he was really good at the pop-and-locking required to create the robotic movements of the amusement park robots (I don't know what Taran Killam's excuse is, but he is awesome at it, too). Funny that Bruno Mars -- another host/musical guest combo -- got roped into doing it, too. He was great with the physicality and didn't have to say any lines or create a character, so it worked out pretty well. Plus, Tom Hanks reappeared and got the biggest laughs of the sketch. And he didn't accidentally say the F word once. (Watch the "Amusement Park" video)
- "Wilderness Lodge" - Not just the worst sketch of the night, but one of the worst sketches Saturday Night Live has done in recent memory. Too much Bruno Mars, a weak premise and a running time that was waaaay too long added up to a real dud. (Watch the "Wilderness Lodge" video)
- "Underground Festival" - This has officially become way too much of a good thing. What was once an inspired bit has become relegated to the 11:55 slot, and the show has gone back to the well a few too many times. Like Stefon, there are still some good jokes ("We've got Cavuto!" being one), because with that many at-bats the writers are bound to get a few hits, but the ratio has skewed way more towards misses since the first time we saw this sketch a few years ago. (Watch the "Underground Festival" video)
- Original Air Date: 10/20/12
- Host: Bruno Mars
- Musical Guest: Bruno Mars