Saturday Night Live returned with its first new show in almost a month, and its return was a disappointing collection of uninspired sketches and unwelcome characters showing their faces again. Any show that includes both a "Manuel Ortiz Show" and the first "Gilly" in more than a year can't be a very good one. Like a lot of this season's sub-par episode, what didn't work can't be blamed on the host (unless the host is Lindsay Lohan). Sofia Vergara did what she could, but that was limited to mostly just energy; she never had a character to play or any good jokes, and while she's a fine comedic actress (people that watch Modern Family seem to love her), I don't know that she's funny on her own. She did her best, though, and that's all that can be asked of a host, who can only ever be as good as his or her material. This week, it just wasn't there.
The most noteworthy thing about this week's show is that it marked the debut of a new cast member, Kate McKinnon, a former Upright Citizens Brigade member who was recently signed as a featured performer (possibly in response to the fact that several of the key cast members could be leaving in just a few weeks). She didn't really show up until almost the end of the episode, but she was good in what she was given. I appreciate that Lorne Michaels gave her a showcase on her first night, and I'm looking forward to what she does in the last few shows of the season.
- "Cold Open: Mitt Romney" - Things started off uninspired, with yet another sketch about Mitt Romney being a square robot. At this point, I have to wonder if the soullessness of these political sketches is some sort of meta-commentary on the soullessness of the Romney campaign, but that's an overreach. I think SNL would always rather make us laugh than marvel at some sort of clever construction. The problem with this piece -- aside from Jason Sudeikis's flat impression of Romney -- is that it didn't know where to stop. There were just so many different examples of Romney meeting with niche groups, either because the writers couldn't choose which ones to cut or because, knowing that not one of them was a home run, they decided to just go for sheer numbers. It's the wrong way to start an episode, though; we don't want to be checking the clock before the monologue has even started. (Watch the "Mitt Romney Cold Open" video)
- "Sofia Vergara Monologue" - Whereas the cold open was endless and overstayed its welcome, the monologue was short and reasonably sweet (better yet, it didn't feature a bunch of male cast members as audience plants gushing about how hot Vergara is). It had one good joke -- that Vergara was greeted in the U.S. with "open arms and pulled-down pants" -- but mostly got by on the energy and enthusiasm of the host. (Watch the "Sofia Vergara Monologue" video)
- "Almost Pizza" - The best sketch of the night. The ending gets fumbled a little, but there were so many funny lines and reactions before it that, like a judge on Law & Order, I'll allow it (probably while looking down my nose over my glasses). The sound of glass breaking? Great. And I'm SO THANKFUL that nothing was explained. That would have ruined the joke. I'm sure this will show up again in the coming weeks, and I might not even mind. (Watch the "Almost Pizza" video)
- "Bein' Quirky with Zooey Deschanel" - I was willing to give this sketch the benefit of the doubt the first time SNL did it a few weeks ago, but this installment suggested a case of extremely diminishing returns. Very little about it was funny at all, and only Kristen Wiig's Drew Barrymore impression worked. Points to Sofia Vergara for trying to do something a little outside of her range with her Fran Drescher impression, even though it's really only appearance and personal style that separate Vergara from Drescher. Still, great job? SNL may want to take a break from this one for the rest of the season, unless a particular host justifies its return.
- "We're Just Friends" - The second commercial parody of the night (there was even a third, but it was what seemed like the 19th repeat of "Li'l Poundcake") couldn't hold a candle to "Almost Pizza," but it was just fine. The jokes were all pretty obvious -- especially that last one where Sudeikis has to take a phone call -- but Andy Samberg sells it with his expression. It was not great at all, and yet was probably one of the better sketches of the night. That's telling of the episode's overall quality. (Watch the "We're Just Friends" video)
- "Gilly in Sex Ed" - NO FAIR. We were promised over a year ago that Gilly wouldn't be showing up on SNL anymore, and I'm very angry that promise wasn't kept. The only explanation I can come up with for this horrible character's horrible return is that, as rumored, Wiig will be leaving the show at the end of the season and, as a result, is going to be trotting out all of her characters and saying goodbye to them. If that's the case, I guess I'm glad Gilly was first; the sooner she can be gone forever, the better. (Watch the "Gilly in Sex Ed" video)
- "News Team Promo" - Didn't SNL just do a sketch about a news team making faces or something just a few weeks ago? When Channing Tatum hosted? I think it was a little different, but not different enough. I like Fred Armisen and everything, but nothing about this sketch worked. (Watch the "News Team Promo" video)
- "Manuel Ortiz Show" - Because "Gilly" wasn't bad enough. Let's face it; with Vergara hosting, there's no way SNL wasn't going to do a "Manuel Ortiz" sketch, since she's basically who they're parodying every time they do it. It's always just so lazy, though, and trotting out the underage members of One Direction did nothing to liven things up. Only Taran Killam was kind of funny, mostly because he was clearly trying to keep things entertaining -- every time he did the "head snap" thing in the endless series of dance introductions, he came back with a different expression on his face. It wasn't much, but sometimes you have to take what you can get. (Watch the "Manuel Ortiz Show" video)
- "Watch What Happens Live" - I supposed Bravo's talk show Watch What Happens Live -- and, more specifically, its host, Andy Cohen -- are ripe for parody, but it's only going to work for what I have to believe is the relatively small number of people that actually watch that show. But whatever. I like when Taran Killam gets center stage, and I think the writers were smart to zero in on Cohen's self-obsession and belief in his own cuteness as a way of making the sketch accessible to anyone who doesn't watch the Bravo show. Other than that, though, there wasn't really anything going on; Vergara was thrown in as an afterthought, and the swipes that were taken at reality TV are about seven years too late. (Watch the "Watch What Happens Live" video)
- "Pantene Commercial" - This may be somewhat controversial, but this was actually one of my favorite sketches of the night. Not only did it finally showcase new cast member Kate McKinnon (after a brief appearance in a Tabitha's Salon Takeover parody) and her strangely observant impression of Penelope Cruz, but it actually went for more than just the obvious joke. I really thought when it started that we were going to be asked to laugh at the fact that these two women have heavy accent and can be difficult for Americans to understand, but that wasn't really the joke at all; instead, it was this weird thing where Penelope Cruz kept getting really difficult-to-pronounce shampoo ingredients. The sketch also worked as a commentary on just how many commercials Sofia Vergara has been in lately (all of which must have been aired during the episode) and just what is asked of her in each. (Watch the "Pantene Commercial" video)
- "Hunger Games Reporter" - As my friend John pointed out, it's weird that this sketch would appear as the last one of the night considering just how popular The Hunger Games is right now (and how much was spent on wardrobe and wigs). But perhaps the writers recognized that there weren't very many good jokes here (though way more than in "Gilly" or "Manuel Ortiz"), and that the sketch required a lot of really specific knowledge of The Hunger Games in order to be considered funny -- or even to get it in some cases. (Watch the "Hunger Games Reporter" video)
- Original Air Date: 4/7/12
- Host: Sofia Vergara
- Musical Guest: One Direction