Poor January Jones. Her Saturday Night Live hosting gig a few weeks ago was such a train wreck that she's become the standard against which all other hosts are now measured. When I first learned that Gossip Girl's Blake Lively, another tall, pretty blond TV actress would be hosting SNL, my heart didn't really swell with confidence. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find Lively a fun, goofy host who threw herself into every sketch. The show appeared to benefit from a few weeks off, too, as it was pretty watchable over all; not a new classic, but not the weekly mess we've come to expect. It followed my rules for SNL success: one or two good sketches and no horrible sketches. There were a few repeats that were lazy and forgettable, but they never matched the depths of the season's lowest points. Sorry, January Jones, but those mostly belong to you. Great job on Mad Men, though.
- "Obama Cold Open" - Did you hear some people crashed a White House party and had their pictures taken? Because that's pretty much exactly what happens in SNL's weekly "political" sketch. I smiled at the promise of what was to come when Kristen Wiig and Bobby Moynihan first appeared as the couple in question, but nothing much happened after that.
- "Blake Lively Monologue" - Blake Lively was pleasant and looked pretty in her monologue, but most of the heavy lifting was left to the show regulars doing their Muppet impressions (Bill Hader's Animal is the best). Not a great opener, but not terrible -- though it didn't instill a lot of confidence in Lively as a host. That turned out to be wrong, as she was fun and threw herself into every sketch. She was one of the better female hosts of the season.
- "Ladies Bowling" - I didn't love this sketch a few weeks ago when they did it with billiards, and I didn't really love it this week. It's certainly not a lead-off sketch. Jason Sudekis and Will Forte (who we saw a lot of this week; always a good thing) sure give it the hard sell, but the jokes aren't really there and Kristen Wiig's mugging is a little tough to take.
- "Tiger Woods Accident" - You knew it was coming, as the golfer's indiscretions were the biggest story of the week. Too bad the sketch was lazy and toothless and failed to capitalize on much of what's funny about the story -- assuming, of course, the destruction of a family in the public eye is funny.
- "Underground Festival" - Hands down, the best sketch of the night. Lots of good jokes, and I really like the way it makes fun of hipster irony without underlining the point too much. The name "Ass Dan" will always make me laugh.
- "Digital Short: Shy Ronnie" - Once again, Andy Samberg and company rely on funny raps and celebrity cameos for their digital shorts. And while his "Shy Ronnie" character was totally predictable and not unlike several we've seen him do, I still appreciated that the bit was set up to score laughs for Rihanna. Her throwaway lines were funny, and the sketch managed to find a few small ways to reinvent itself and take the joke someplace else. That's becoming rarer and rarer on SNL these days.
- "Update: Brittany Murphy" - This was obviously shoehorned in, because Brittany Murphy isn't news anymore -- even in joke form. I don't care, because Abby Elliot's impression is so accurate and funny and is yet another impression where you can't believe someone figured out how to do it accurately. Plus, it's the only time she appeared on the show this week. That demands to be recognized.
- "Gossip Girl: Staten Island" - As Gossip Girl parodies go, this one isn't terrible -- just slightly uninspired. It had its share of funny lines (mostly courtesy of Fred Armisen), and I like the conceit that there are only two sets for the show and one is a bathroom. Also, Blake Lively played a character -- a gross exaggeration of a character, but still better than some recent hosts (looking at you, J.J.).
- "Virginacia" - I've never been a fan of this sketch, which has been repeated a bunch of times. It strikes me as sort of racist. Props to Blake Lively's costume, though. (Watch "Virginacia" video)
- "Potato Chip" - Sometimes, the last sketch of the night is a piece of gold that takes advantage of its time slot to get away with something. This isn't one of those sketches, which relies way too heavily on a single absurd premise (someone ate a potato chip!). And, though it basically exists just to build to its gross-out climax, I'd be a big fat liar if I said that the payoff moment didn't make me laugh. It was perfectly timed and executed by Jason Sudekis. Even though Blake Lively was totally unnecessary to the sketch, at least she played a character.
- Original Air Date: 12/5/09
- Host: Blake Lively
- Musical Guest: Rihanna