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Saturday Night Live Episode Recap

Episode 3813: Justin Bieber

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Justin Bieber hosts Saturday Night Live
Photo courtesy NBC

Of the three big pop stars that have hosted Saturday Night Live this season -- which includes Bruno Mars, Adam Levine and now Justin Bieber -- young Bieber was actually the weakest (Mars, for the record, was the best). That came as something of a surprise, since Bieber has appeared briefly in sketches in the past and seemed to do ok, plus comes with the most baggage for the show to work with in creating comedy. Instead, he played versions of himself or nerdy teenagers (Because he's NOT one! Get it? THAT'S THE JOKE!) and was pretty lousy in everything. The good news is that the cast seemed to rally in an attempt to be funny around him, and were mostly successful. Though it was another uneven episode in a season that's been full of them, with far too many repeat sketches and characters used (we had The Californians, the long and unawaited return of The Miley Cyrus Show, Vanessa Bayer and Fred Armisen as the "best friends" during "Update" and Principal Frye all in the same show). Still, there were more laughs here than there have been in past weeks, and the episode was a good reminder of just how funny and talented the current cast really is. Bieber or not, they got to shine.

Sketch Highlights

  • "Cold Open: Super Bowl Blackout" - What started as a fairly obvious source for an opening sketch -- last weekend's big power outage during the Super Bowl -- got funnier and funnier until it won me over. Kenan Thompson had a good week, beginning with his work here; the way he kept promoting 2 Broke Girls and the increasing desperation in his wide-eyed expression (still the most effective in Thompson's bag of tricks) were funny, as was the hard cut to the empty frame after Taran Killam bailed. The funniest moment, though, came when Thompson determined that the sportscaster were living "in a new world," one in which they would all have to start "admitting to some stuff." The punchline was a come down, but everything building to that worked. One of the better cold opens of the season, I'd say. (Watch the "Super Bowl Blackout" video)
  • "Justin Bieber Monologue" - Though he always seemed fine when appearing in sketches in the past (usually cameos), Justin Bieber was not very good as host. Even in the monologue, which just required him to be himself and do his obnoxious over-singing (15 notes where one would do just fine), he was awkward, mumbling his words too much and mostly looking down at the floor. I never thought I would say it, but Kenan Thompson actually saved the bit, injecting some energy and personality into the monologue. There were some funny jokes in Bieber's Valentine's Day/Black History Month song -- I like that he kept crediting different people with inventing the peanut -- but it was mostly lame. The surprise reveal of Whoopi Goldberg in the audience was supposed to excite us all, I assume, but it is no longer 1990 and did not have the desired effect. (Watch the "Justin Bieber Monologue" video)
  • "The Californians: Runaway" - Not only is Saturday Night Live repeating this sketch way too often, but they need to stop putting it so prominently up front. It may include the whole cast -- that part is nice -- but it's never strong enough to support that kind of prime real estate. No one has really figured out how to do the bit as well as Fred Armisen, though Cecily Strong made a good showing in one of her many featured showcases in the episode (she has risen through the ranks very, very quickly, and seems perched to become the next female star of the show now that Kristen Wiig is gone). Bieber was weak, because he was weak in every sketch. The bit where everyone goes the mirror consistently stops the sketch cold; the only saving grace this week was the repeated cutaways to Bill Hader's reaction (though they should have done it about 12 more times). The show needs to mix up the well-worn jokes like this more often. (Watch the "Californians: Runaway" video)
  • "Bravo TV Shows" - Another solid piece for the night. Even though the joke is pretty obvious -- a lot of people are getting reality shows on Bravo (hence their new slogan: "Everyone in the World"), SNL is so good at recreating the specific style and cadence of those promos that it would be funny on a technical level even if the jokes weren't funny. Many of them were, though, especially Cecily Strong and Aidy Bryant doing "Her grandpa may have directed Apocalypse Now...but we're sluts!" in the promo for the excellently-titled A Coppola Coconuts. It made me laugh. Judge me all you like. (Watch the "Bravo TV Shows" video)
  • "'50s Romance" - Ok, so I know it isn't great, but this made me laugh. Once again, Bieber is the weak link in the thing, and I guess the overriding joke is that women want to have sex with him even though he looks like a little boy (this came up a lot throughout the episode, which made me wonder if it would be less "funny" if the jokes were about a young female star -- trick question! Neither are funny). I really liked the ridiculous mugging and Grease-inspired overacting of the regular cast, plus the singing of "Say more stuff." The best part of the sketch, though, were Aidy Bryant's questions/reactions. She crushed it in this. (Watch the "'50s Romance" video)
  • "The Miley Cyrus Show" - Yet another of this week's many repeat sketches and characters, at least this was the first appearance of "The Miley Cyrus Show" this season (and the season is already more than half over). What I liked about it is that they didn't just trot out the exact same material as usual (even though they kind of did), and appear to have put some thought into how to evolve the sketch after doing it so many times. That meant putting the focus on Miley's new "grown up" persona, complete with new haircut and "butthole" jokes. Bieber pretty much dragged the thing down, especially his tossed off and completely insincere reference to getting caught smoking weed, but I'm sure there are some people who will call the jokes he made at his own expense "being a good sport." Vanessa Bayer's energy is what kept this afloat. (Watch the "Miley Cyrus Show" video)
  • "Protective Brother" - Earlier in this episode (I think it was during "The Californians"), I was thinking to myself that Taran Killam makes every sketch better, always finding a way to be funny in even the smallest role. Well, here comes "Protective Brother" to test that theory and mostly prove it wrong. Given center stage in a pretty lame sketch, even Killam's abilities aren't enough to make this one funny, despite his total commitment to the bit and the fact that he nearly gets Bieber to crack up. Far too much emphasis was put on the word "glice," which I understand was the point, but it didn't have the desired effect. This is one example of the back half of the episode falling apart somewhat. (Watch the "Protective Brother" video)
  • "Valentine's Day Message from Justin Bieber" - I want to be annoyed by this, because a) it puts way too much focus on Bieber, who just isn't very good and b) it once again sexualizes him in a way that I guess I'm supposed to be ok with, but I'm not. Last time he was on the show, he was a child. Not that much has changed. Still, this was probably the best thing he did all night, and a couple of the jokes worked (like "Oops, that's Ultrasound Gel.") And while I can't defend it, I really liked Bobby Moynihan's bizarre creation, Taco, and how little he actually factored into the sketch -- just a quick reference every now and then. And having him pull out the tiny potty at the end was the best. (Watch the full "Valentine's Day Message from Justin Bieber" video)
  • "Principal Frye: Valentine's Day" - Enough already. Another repeat sketch. Another bad Bieber performance that's mostly based around sex. Even Jay Pharoah's Principal Frye creation has gotten too far away from what it once was to still be funny, as though he sensed the sketch wasn't working and started doing some extra mugging to compensate. Not the best note on which to close out the night. (Watch the "Principal Frye" video)
  • Original Air Date: 2/9/13
  • Host: Justin Bieber
  • Musical Guest: Justin Bieber
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