There was an episode this week? I already forgot.
SNL POWER RANKINGS: Maya Rudolph/Sleigh Bells 02/28/2012
1) Kenan Thompson (Up 9) - I know. I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I hadn’t seen it. But somehow, a week after near-invisibility and a season of relative indifference, the SNL writers gave Kenan Thompson a huge part of last night’s episode. He was supporting in many sketches, including the Cold Open and his brief appearance as LL Cool J, but leads in “What Up With That?” (in which he clearly gave it his all) and “How’s He Doing?” and a hilarious appearance in “Maya Angelou Prank Show” gave him the edge needed to come out ahead in an abnormally even-spread episode.
2) Fred Armisen (Up 8) - Again, I KNOW. Two surprise leaps in the standings, and from the actors I would have thought least likely to mount such a climb. It’s most easily attributed to last night’s extreme focus on racial sketches. Armisen had a great opportunity to showcase (80s) black cultural icons like Prince, Cornel West, and Bill Cosby (the latter as Barack Obama, a double impression). His sketch volume was relatively high, and his contribution to those sketches was strong. All season people have tired of his schtick. Now that he’s found a way to do something fresh, he’s surely given himself plenty more screen time in weeks to come.
3) Bill Hader(Down 1) - If Armisen and Thompson (and one other actor I’ll be discussing shortly) benefitted from a fairly racially charged episode, Hader was relegated to either the straight man or the talk/game show host, roles he should be used to by now. But while Lindsay Buckingham and Game Show Host are characters he’s trotted out numerous times, it’s a sign that the show still believes in him that he was given so many lead or supporting roles. A high sketch volume with decent contributions lands him in the third position, though it’s likely he won’t stay there long.
4) Jay Pharoh (Up 7) – The third member of the cast to benefit from this week’s race focus (notice a pattern here?) was the one person everyone thought would be this high a lot sooner. Jay Pharoh did his usual impressioneering, with great turns as Morgan Freeman and Jay-Z, but for the first time, what impressed wasn’t just his mimickry but his comedic chops. In “How’s He Doing” and the Cold Open, he played a character rather than a real person, and did very well with it. His facial expressions and dynamics were solid, and he was in a large portion of the production. If he keeps this up, Jay Pharoh might just be the breakout star everyone’s predicted he would be in the years to come.
5) Jason Sudekis (-) – Who can take the world on with his smile? That guy. Jason Sudekis can work a stale bit like dancing in an Adidas track suit or poorly impersonating Joe Biden and make it funny just by grinning the right way. From the Cold Open to ”What Up With That,” Sudekis had screen time and charm, which is all he really needs to coast into the 5 spot.
6) Kristen Wiig (Down 3) - Wiig had the only funny moment in the monologue and her infectious cracking up saved the Game Show sketch from surefire mediocrity. Her screen time was slight, but her chemistry with her Bridesmaids co-star Maya Rudolph gave us all something to smirk about. It’s just unfortunate that the writers don’t seem to think she can handle the average-Jane women roles, bringing in Amy Poehler to do work with Rudolph and giving Wiig goofy gags that require her to break character to make her seem human.
7) Nasim Pedrad (Down 1) – Pedrad was one of several cast members to get spiraled down the bill this week because of guest stars and sensitive sketches. But her Nicki Minaj was the second best impression of the “Jay-Z and Beyonce” sketch (behind Justin Timberlake’s Justin Vernon), and sparky stand-out moments are the best she gets these days, which is a shame.
8) Andy Samberg (Down 7) -What did Andy do this week? Not a lot. After being practically handed last week’s episode, he found himself dancing in a George Washington outfit and playing second-fiddle to his friend JT, who he likely coerced into being on the show in the first place. Behind the scenes connections are a plus with this cast, but without screen time, it doesn’t take you anywhere.
9) Vanessa Bayer (Up 3) - Don’t let the improved placement fool you: The writers clearly have nothing to offer Vanessa Bayer right now, which is a shame. She was the straight woman in the Game Show sketch (barely a player), and a backup singer in “What Up With That” when you couldn’t really see her face. I can’t tell you why she’s been given so little to work with, as I think she’s adorable and pretty talented. But clearly someone isn’t liking what she’s doing.
10) Bobby Moynihan (Down 2) – Bobby Moynihan in a Teddy Roosevelt costume: Hilarious, right? All ten seconds of it were amusing. Shame that’s all he did this week. Seriously: This guy is dynamite! Give him a bigger part, and your show could be gangbusters. But then, who listens to me, or the fans, or to laughter?
11/12 [tie]) Taran Killam/Abby Elliot (Down 7/Down 5) -Where were these two? Lorne only knows.
HOST GRADE: A - Maya Rudolph is a former cast member, and like all former cast members who’ve hosted the show in the last three seasons, she has grown immensely since leaving SNL behind. It wasn’t the most stellar episode, and didn’t have the “water cooler” factor of Jimmy Fallon’s hosting stint, but Rudolph is a gem of a performer, and if it takes a mixed race host to get the writers to think about racial issues in their sketches, I’m all for it.
MUSICAL GUEST GRADE: B - I’m familiar with Sleigh Bells’ bombastic live shows already and know that they’re not just talented, they’re balls-out awesome most of the time. But SNL’s sound engineering is THE WORST on television, and somehow the band came across as limp and forgettable instead of brash and interesting.
SEASON 37 EPISODE RANKING
1) Jimmy Fallon / Michael Buble
2) Jason Segal / Florence and the Machine
3) Zooey Deschanel / Karmin
4) Melissa McCarthy / Lady Antebellum
5) Danielle Radcliffe / Lana Del Rey
6) Maya Rudolph / Sleigh Bells
-A smart week is great; the writers actually thought through the issues they were satirizing (and for once, it actually rose to the lofty title of satire!). But when it came down to it, it just wasn’t that funny. A few really funny sketches (Maya Angelou, Bronx Beat, Jay-Z and Beyonce) made it watchable, but I had forgotten the vast majority of what I’d watched by the time I switched off the TV and went to bed.
7) Alec Baldwin / Radiohead
8) Charlie Day / Maroon 5
9) Emma Stone / Coldplay
10) Anna Faris / Drake
11) Ben Stiller / Foster the People
12) Channing Tatum / Bon Iver
13) Steve Buscemi / The Black Keys
14) Charles Barkley / Kelly Clarkson
15) Katy Perry / Robyn
Next week is a re-run (Eli Manning is off the hosting schedule, and the universe can breathe a sigh of relief).
3/3 – Lindsay Lohan / Jack White: WTF ARE YOU DOING TO ME, LORNE?!?! God damn it.
3/10 – Jonah Hill / TBA: Academy Award Nominee Jonah Hill. Swirl that around in your brain.
Rumored - Justin Bieber: ……..F**k this.