Can you feel the love tonight, “Saturday Night Live” fans? The show’s back, and with quite the host/musical guest: Sir Elton John. You might think Saturday night’s alright for fighting in the comments section, and sorry sometimes seems to be the hardest word when opinions start flying. But I don’t wanna go on with you like that, fair readers. So let’s hope the time off since the show’s last airing has recharged the writers/performers of “SNL,” in addition to giving The Lonely Island boys the chance to produce a digital duet with Elton John that could rival anything Justin Timberlake has done with them.
Too optimistic? Perhaps. Only one way to find out. Onto the recap!
“The Lawrence Welk Show”: “I’m Nancy!” “Like me!” Looks like the show will take in-sketch advantage of John’s musical chops. No shock there. This sister act kills in the studio, though it’s never been a personal fave. Still, Sir Elton acquits himself nicely as a faux Liberace, which isn’t exactly too far from his stage act in the past. Let’s see what he does without a musical accompaniment. [Grade: B-]
“Monologue”: OH GOD, HE’S A FLOATING HEAD! Oh wait, sorry, he’s just wearing all black. “The bitch is back!” he declares, stealing my bit from the opening paragraph. Lots of jokes about his past drug abuse, which hopefully indicate that he’s not afraid to mock himself later on. Things segue to life with his new son, which leads to harmless but still pleasant novelties about the child’s life. Considering how often the show goes the musical route during the monologue, it’s remarkable that other than a few acapella bars of “Your Song,” it’s music-free. The monologue didn’t need it, however. The crowd was already on John’s side before he stepped out onstage, and he did nothing to sway them from that opinion. [Grade: B]
“ESPN Classic: Lady Shot Put Championship”: Whoa, Will Forte is back in the house! And yet no reaction from the crowd at his return. Also in this sketch: Carmelo Anthony, fresh off wondering why his time with the New York Knicks hasn’t been a steady stream of hugs and puppies. As immature as they are, the rhyming pitches the sportscasters give the show’s feminine hygiene products always make me laugh. I’m apparently 11 years old that way. And, whoa, Tom Hanks too? Everyone is in this sketch…except Elton John. Kinda weird. I don’t think I can remember a post-monologue, prime real estate slot NOT featuring the performer. Maybe the costume in the next sketch will explain the absence. [Grade: A-]
“Fancy a Jar, Do You?”: What a fantastic premise: all the knighted celebrities in Britain summoned to fight a dragon! Brilliant. I’m giggling just typing that. It’s an excuse to have a lot of cast members do a lot of celebrity impressions, in addition to Hanks, back again because…well, who cares? Tom Hanks, people! John, sadly, looks terrified throughout the sketch, uncomfortable except when slamming “Spider-Man: Turn off The Dark.” (Also: his costume doesn’t at all explain why he wasn’t in the ESPN Classics sketch.) Highlights included a solid Ringo Starr impersonation by Fred Armisen and a Chevy Chase-esque Ian McKellan done by Taran Killam. (It’s not really a remotely accurate impression, but hysterical all the same.) Throw in Paul Brittain’s spot-on BBC announcer, and you had another great sketch. Would have been a solid A, except for John’s shaky delivery. Still, I’ve been greatly entertained for two consecutive sketches. I’m rolling with it at this point. [Grade: A-]
“Laser Cats: The Musical”: More Hanks. More Carmelo Anthony. And Elton John in his full “Tommy” regalia as evil musician Droz. (AKA: Dr. Oz, a clever way to repurpose existing signs.) Other than Spider-Man intermittently wiping out in the background and Bill Hader/Andy Samberg screaming “GET OUT OF THE SHOT!”, not a lot here, sadly. I know this is their favorite of all the recurring Digital Shorts, but I think it’s a lot funnier to them than to anyone else. There’s following your muse, and just producing stuff that almost no one else likes. I think “Laser Cats” falls into the latter category. [Grade: C-]
Tom Hanks introduces Elton John, playing with Leon Russell. They perform “Hey Ahab” off their recent album “The Union.” Forty plus years of hits, and he plays this? File under “following your muse,” I suppose, though this is far more entertaining than “Laser Cats.” John doesn’t have to turn this show into a stage for his greatest hits, but a little fan service wouldn’t go amiss in later performances tonight. [Grade: B]
“Weekend Update”: Seth Meyers starts off with a nice run of jokes comparing Republican presidential candidates to members of “Celebrity Apprentice.” Afterwards, Armisen’s Moammar Khadafy comes out full of optimism and early 1990’s references. Weirdly, the show uses Khadafy as a way to poke holes in Obama’s reasoning for getting involved in recent events there. Huh. Not saying it’s right or wrong, just…huh. Dind’t expect that. Which is probably the point. Next up: the zookeeper that lost the Egyptian cobra comes on and promptly loses it again. Yawn. Love me some Keenan, but this was DOA. Finally: let’s bring out another celebrity to cover up for the fact that apparently the show has no faith in Elton John’s non-musical abilities: Jake Gyllenhaal, here to promote “The Source Code” alongside Samberg’s Nic Cage. The former calls the latter “the white Samuel L. Jackson,” which makes me think Gyllenhaal needs to host again before the season’s out. Wow, packed “Update.” A mixed bag, but an impressive amount of stuff culled from the time off, and more worked than didn’t. [Grade: B]
“Royal Wedding”: “SNL” busted this sketch out during the Anne Hathaway episode this year, and it killed. Here, it’s three people yelling in the general direction of the cue cards. Unfortunately, the funniest bits involved Samberg’s Prince William, and he was only in 10% of the sketch. Where have you gone, Tom Hanks? Carmelo Anthony? Jake? Bueller? [Grade: C]
“The Silver Screen”: OK, for the first time all night, John seems comfy in a sketch. He and Killam have fantastic chemistry as a pair of film critics on the Logo Network. Here’s the odd thing: John did well in both this sketch and the cold open, and yet has been utterly unable to actually play himself. That’s straight-up weird. The “Sucker Punch” stuff is a little to “Men on Film” for my tastes (I expected one or both to say “Hated it!” after seeing the footage), but by and large this sketch worked as its own entity. Maybe the writers were too busy coming up with stuff for the other forty-seven guest stars this week to come up with better original characters for Sir Elton to play. Because this sketch proves he can do “SNL” with the right material. [Grade: B+]
“Bruce”: Interesting concept, not so stellar in execution. John doesn’t match the earlier highs and lows of earlier sketches, but maintains a adequate level of competence as a gay cowboy in the Old West. Points to the sketch for taking what could have been a homophobia-laced premise and turn it instead into an eventual celebration of an interesting stranger. Unfortunately, it’s fairly one-note, and as such overstays its welcome. But given how awkward he’s been at times tonight, it’s good to see John navigate a sketch successfully. It’s been like watching a kid in a school play at times. [Grade: B-]
Carmelo Anthony introduces Elton John and Leon Russell back onstage, this time to perform “Monkey Suit.” It’s another old-fashioned stomper, though it’s again not a song many people would have heard before tonight. Oh well. Sir Paul did it his way, and Sir Elton did it his own way. Legends both. Who am I to judge, in the end? Oh, right. I’m the guy giving the grades here. [Grade: B]
Best Sketch: “Fancy a Jar, Do You?
Worst Sketch: “Laser Cats”
Oddest Choice: Bringing on enough firepower to essentially drown out the combo host/musical act. Just really strange. Not sure if the stars just (literally) aligned this way, or the cavalry was called in late in the game in order to cover up what was a limp show. But maybe this paves the way for hosting duties in the traditional sense give way to a more fluid method of bringing in outside talent to produce a 90-minute live sketch comedy show. Unlikely, but it’s something worth considering.
What did you make of Elton John’s combo act? Did the rest of the surprise stars overshadow his performance, or did he hold his own? Should “SNL” keep bringing in as many people that they can fit on per week, “host” be damned? And did you miss the marked absence of most of the female cast this week? Sound off below!
BY RYAN MCGEE – A slew of guests upstage Sir Elton’s turn as host and musical guest