‘SNL’ With Host Cee-Lo, Musical Guest Gwyneth Paltrow and a Very Special Episode of ‘Pee Wee’s-Playhouse’

A little late this week so let’s get right to it:

We get it Gwyneth, you can sing!  You already proved it with Country Strong, your appearance on Glee and your CMA performance (and with Huey Lewis in Duets ten years ago).  But you had to show us again in your monologue, as Taylor Swift in this My Super Sweet Bar Mitzvah sketch, and by joining meandering songsmiths Kat and Garth on “Weekend Update.’  Listen, Gwyneth, WE GET IT.  It’s a wonder they didn’t hold off the “Worst of Soul Train sketch another week so Paltrow could play some kind of disco queen.  But they probably thought that would be overkill.

Also, Cee-Lo, we get it.  You’re a big deal right now.  Gwyneth Paltrow covered your hit song, and hugs you and treats you like her best friend.  But we don’t need to see the you also singing during the monologue and in the Bar Mitzvah sketch and also appearing in the “Record Label Meeting” sketch that was just a device to introduce your musical performance.  What’s that we said about overkill?  We mean, c’mon, it’s not like the guy is Paul McCartney.  And, sure, we admit, “F*** You” is one of those songs we heard about ad nauseam before we ever actually heard it (much like “Umbrella”), because the only radio we listen to is sports talk and NPR.  But it is good, at the very least, it’s dangerously infectious.  However, isn’t “F*** You” just like “Hey Ya,” but not as good.  Seven years later we still think the former is a great song, not sure if the latter will fare so well in 2018.  Will it be a classic or a novelty?  Only time will tell if it stands the test of time.  But, until then, we could have done with at least one less Cee-Lo appearance.

However, despite those complaints, and the general critical reaction, you might be surprised to find out that we thought the show wasn’t terrible.  Not great, sure, but it had some clever, at the very least buzzworthy, moments.  Chief among those was, of course, this Digital Sketch featuring Pee-wee Herman, we which have to agree is pretty damn good.

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We’re not so sure it needed that ending, continuing the Digital Shorts’ tendency to add unnecessary or bizarre buttons to the sketches (or, perhaps, all those years of watching Intervention have made us especially sensitive to the process of recovery (speaking of which, how much better would have it been if Fred Armisen, or Chairy, explained to Andy and Pee-wee that they’re “just a bunch of people that love you like crazy and feel like they’re losing you” and then invited them to join the fight? Just saying)), but outside of the ending this piece was pretty perfect, figuring out a way to reprise Pee-wee’s bar top tequila dance without it feeling forced or like a cheap callback.  Now, we’ll never, ever, condone whacking Anderson Cooper with a chair, but we forgive Pee-wee for recognizing that Anderson’s eyes ARE indeed a national treasure.  Good work, Andy.  This one felt fresh, funny, but focused.

Whereas this Globe Theatre sketch really wasn’t fresh, or novel like showing previews before Shakespeare plays, but, yet, it might have been our favorite sketch of the night.  Like the Wizard of Oz sketch a few weeks back, or last season’s Beauty and the Beast bit with Gerard Butler, we particularly enjoy these kinds of premises, taking 21st century ideas and affixing them over earlier eras or classic stories.  They’re certainly not the most unusual or relevant sketches, and don’t have the buzz or zeitgeist appeal of the Digital Shorts, but they can certainly be highly entertaining when done right.  Especially when they include Jason Sudeikis, however briefly.

One of the least memorable parts of the show was the cold opening, which once again forgoed their traditional Armisen as Obama format.  However, unlike last week’s address from NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg, which was a successful step outside the box, this Fox News roundtable sketch was wholly unremarkable, without any real perspective.  It was their response to the Tucson shootings, or rather their response to the media’s reactions to the Tucson shootings, but it failed to say anything relevant about the tragedy, instead using the new era of civility to trot out a gallery of impressions from opposing political parties.    The next day we thought about the opening and really couldn’t recall anything specific about it besides Kristen Wiig’s smirk as Greta Van Susteren and Bill Hader’s always terrific James Carville.  So, in the end, it seemed like just an excuse to feature the Ragin’ Cajun.

There was, however, a bit of a nice Bill Hader politician impressions to bookend the show, as the night ended with Hader as Eliot Spitzer interviewing possible new co-hosts for his CNN program.  However, what made no sense to us was why this sketch was stuck at the end of the night, and not flip-flopped with the earlier Fox News sketch.  The Spitzer sketch was far more winning, even before it brought out Armisen as fellow former Governor David Paterson, one of our all-time faves.  Perhaps this sketch wasn’t political enough, or too silly, to appear as the cold opening.  But it was funnier, and that’s what really matters.

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And then there was this Fresh Prince of Bel-Air boxed set sketch:

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Now, this is another sketch that should be right in our wheelhouse.  We’re a pushover when it comes to 80s and 90s sitcoms.  But, although this sketch was amusing enough, we couldn’t help come away thinking two things: 1) he’s immensely talented, but we’re just not sure if Jay Pharaoh is going to work.  He can’t get by solely on Denzel Washington and Will Smith impressions.  Maybe we’re wrong, but as spot-on as his impersonations have been, it just doesn’t feel like it’s clicking when he’s on-screen.  And 2) in an SNL retrospective ten years from now will Kenan Thompson being saying the same things about Jay Pharaoh that Alfonso Ribeiro says about Will Smith in this sketch, like “I learned to be patient with Will [Jay] in those years?”  Like Ribeiro was trained on Silver Spoons, Kenan cut his chops on All That and is now the trained professional, while Pharaoh is the amateur.  We wonder if some of those thoughts are crossing Kenan’s mind now.

And this sketch was worth it just for the Jeff Van Gundy reference.

So, like we said, not horrible, despite being hit over the head with the fact that Gwyneth Paltrow can sing and that Cee-Lo exists.  WE GET IT.

SNL returns January 29th with Jesse Eisenberg and musical guest Nicki Minaj (who, apparently, is NOT Barbie doll).  JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE APPEARANCE ALERT!

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Filed under Analysis, Good Humor, Impatience, Saturday Night Live

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