Some people, apparently, haven’t forgiven Anne Hathaway for the 2011 Oscars. I think it’s time to get over it and enjoy her beautiful, goobly face. I would rather see someone try so hard — like Judy Garland–style trying hard — than just zombie walking, or should I say Sloppy Swishing, his or her way through a hosting gig on SNL. But all of this is beside the point. If Rihanna’s performance of “Diamonds” doesn’t single-handedly legalize marijuana in every state (magenta dolphins!), then we’ve lost a very important battle. That set made my heart into a giant, throbbing bong that emitted a curl of smoke that spelled out RIHANNA in cursive and then wrapped around my ring finger and covered it in tattoos of screensavers. OK? OK.
The cold open began promisingly enough: Mitt Romney (Sudeikis) popping milk cartons like beer cans, guzzling them secretly, and chewing the fat with a revolving door of family (and Karl Rove) at his consolation party. Color me devastated that Donald Trump was only represented in a one-liner delivered by Killam (“Donald Trump is doing a very amusing thing where he’s racist”), because this sketch could have used more oomph, and The Donald deserves a smackdown not only because of his brink-of-crazy tweets, but also because his only weapon of defense is throwing Nielsen rating stats at his enemies like blow darts. It’s easy when it’s fun. McKinnon’s Ann Romney was watchable as ever, but unfortunately she had little to do here other than be scandalized by a peck from Mitt — “What has gotten into you?” “Oh, I dunno, like 10 gallons of milk” — and the bit ended with a bizarre, momentum-killing cartoon heart around their faces and a banner saying Mitt & Ann Forever before the sketch U-turned into “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” It was a choppy way to say good-bye to Sudeikis’s Mittens, but maybe it’s just time for some new characters.
Hathaway’s monologue was a return to the musical numbers after last week’s Louis C.K. stand-up break, but this was a good one: The whole cast joined the host in a rendition of “One Day More” with lyrics revolving around cooking up some good ol’ Sunday chili, Hathaway playing Stefon (gasp mouth), and Kenan’s plans to vote (on Sunday — “this will be a great election!”). It’s no surprise that Hathaway’s a great singer (will Fantine sell her two front teeth in this screen adaptation of Les Misérables? Wondering about this has taken up a good deal of my time — desperate and willful tooth loss is gory and fascinating), but check out the pipes on Cecily Strong! She and McKinnon are dominating the screen time this season, and with good reason. “Girlfriends Talk Show” gave Strong a lot to play with as teenage host Keira (maybe the younger incarnation of Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party), who has ousted her co-host and formerly singular best friend Morgan (Bryant) with a new BFF, Tara (Hathaway). The three share a sofa upholstered in social hierarchy problems and insecurity, slowly and completely alienating Morgan. Bryant really shined in this sketch, and it was great to see her finally get some play. Hathaway (or, as Morgan dubbed her, “Roach Warehouse”) was way too believable as the sort of Mean Girl who might have part-time modeled for dELiA*s, all snark and exposed bra strap.
This may not be a popular opinion, but my favorite sketch of the night was what followed: a bizarre, pre-taped Manu Chao–esque segment called “The Legend of Mokiki and the Sloppy Swish,” a “stupid dance created by a crazy person.” That crazy person would be Killam, wearing a top knot, sandals, leggings, and zombie lips, infecting people with the Sloppy Swish by spitting neon green venom at them (including Hathaway, who gets swirly eyes on the subway platform when he hypnotizes her). Was it stupid? Absolutely. Did I laugh? Yes, through my nose. Instead of comparing this unfavorably to Digital Shorts gone by, I’d like to think of it as its own genre: the spitting-pints-of-bile-at-the-host niche. Killam’s dead stare while he watched zombie Hathaway cuddling a baby doll (“they’re starting a family!”) did something for me. Next up was a parody of Homeland, with Hathaway nailing it with her take on Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and her grab bag of dynamic expressions (the Grand Weep was totally aces). Bill Hader does a great Mandy Patinkin, too, especially when he kept it real (and let his beard do the mumbling) so Hathaway could shine as she worked herself into a manic frenzy over by the corkboard and slithered around to jazz.
I felt as though the McDonald’s sketch left something to be desired, though there were some great facial reaction shots (Killam especially, but also Nasim Pedrad: I miss you, girl). When Hathaway summons the fry team to conduct some layoffs, two disgruntled employees (Moynihan and Strong) jump the gun and, assuming they’re going to be fired, set about insulting the entire payroll (“Brian, your breath smell like creamed corn, and you ain’t even eat no creamed corn today!”). This was a yelling sketch, and those tend to get old for me quickly, but Hathaway can’t be faulted for that: She kept the volume low, and at one point was shoved in the face by Moynihan. Good sportsmanship, because her mug already had green goo splattered all over it by Mokiki earlier that week.
And then it was time for “Diamonds” by Rihanna. Let me paint you a picture of this in case you missed it. Standing in front of some magical green screen, Rihanna (in great vocal form, by the way — maybe the best I’ve heard from her), wearing a big camouflage coat, quivered like some exquisitely beautiful Jell-O as the following images were projected behind her: paisley snail swirls, neon peace signs, a purple planet orbited by diamond clip art, palm trees, marble busts, the aforementioned magenta dolphins, a revolving Vitruvian man, a sun in front of a glacier, a tropical beach, and a checkerboard floor. I’m describing this in such detail as an experiment: Go get drug tested now. There’s now THC in your system. A ton of it. I put it there with words; that’s how powerful this crazy spectacle was. (Though not necessarily unique in terms of sashaying around the “‘old net’ aesthetic” — our own Molly Lambert Pandora-ed me M.I.A.’s “XXXO” and Azealia Banks’s “Atlantis,” with the caveat that Azealia’s video was more “seapunk.”) I don’t know what was going on with Rihanna during these four minutes, and I know I probably sound like a lunatic, but there are rare occasions during which a viewer becomes positively stunned by a music set, and this was one of those times. During the thank-yous at the close of the show, Hathaway called Rihanna a goddess. Dude, I know. Bow down. Let her eat her apples. This was amazing.
“Weekend Update,” however, was decidedly middle-of-the-road this week, other than an appearance from one of my favorite guests, Drunk Uncle (Moynihan). But first Seth was visited by a chipper Obama (Pharoah), who was feeling good about his reelection despite the fact that “this is a terrible job, and I hate it.” I thought this was one of Pharoah’s best Obama moments; he was allowed to be looser and have a little more fun than he usually does, and it suited him. Obama is tough to impersonate, however, and I’ll be glad to say good-bye to the mandatory weekly Obama sketches now that the debates and election are over. It’s a lot of pressure, and SNL has yet to capture this president as successfully as they’ve captured others. A gay couple (Hader and Armisen) from Maine, one of the first states to pass gay marriage by popular vote, were also on the roster last weekend but, unfortunately, they had little material to work with (they’re wearing cable knit sweaters! They have sex with each other!). I liked seeing Hader playfully slap at Armisen’s face, though. And I liked the beanies. Luckily, Drunk Uncle came stumble-wheeling over to Seth’s desk next, and the excitement I felt upon seeing him led me to wonder: Why do I love Drunk Uncle so? Is it the drooly-voiced commercial jingles he sings (“I want my country back, country back, country back Chili’s, that’s where I drink — and then I get drunk”)? Is it the way Moynihan somehow removes his mouth and glues it onto the side of his face when he talks? The beige all-weather uncle jacket? The across-the-board prejudice that’s so horrible it wouldn’t even be funny other than the fact that Uncle be so drunk, and so reminiscent of the real holiday relative everyone has — the one who takes hostages in the line to get yams with torched marshmallows? Drunk Uncle is the SNL character I would most like to interview, or to spend four hours in a broken elevator with. I love Stefon, but I need to know what makes Drunk Uncle tick. He can Spotify me anytime.
McKinnon’s great Ellen DeGeneres impression was the focal point of the next skit, which featured Hathaway briefly but successfully as guest Katie Holmes. It was the Night of the Small and Sideways Mouths (besides Drunk Uncle, there was also Killam’s Brody from Homeland), and I wished there had been more of Hathaway’s Holmes to go around — I guess we’re a few months late on that opportunity. Bummer. “American Gothic,” which explored the backstory of Wood’s painting as told by a museum tour guide (Thompson), was hindered by being too long and too repetitive (the best gag in the sketch was Hathaway crossing her eyes, so make of that what you will). Hathaway and Sudeikis played the portrait’s subjects, and both are varsity face-pullers (extra points to Hathaway for her crested lizard face), but there needed to be more going on here for it to work, I think. It was a full minute longer than the Homeland sketch. And felt like it.
Rihanna’s second number was a new song, “Stay,” and what it lacked in fractals it made up for in intensity (there’s some speculation that it may be about Chris Brown). I just keep typing and erasing entire paragraphs about how hard Rihanna murdered Saturday Night Live (embarrassed by my own fandom), so suffice it to say that both performances this week were among my favorites all season. I have a friend who, at a wedding recently, stood on the dance floor all night waiting for a certain Rihanna song to get played so he could get his groove on to it. I thought that was kind of weird at the time. Well, brother, I’ve come to understand you. Her Barbadian glory got to me and took over my SNL recap and now I’ll be the Drunk Uncle in a dress heckling the DJ, “Hey, SHINE BRITE LIKE A DIMON! SHINE BRIGHT LIKE DJIMON!”
As far as fake commercials go, “Flaritin” was solid: Finally, a medical solution to legitimize your fake allergies (to gluten, cigarette smoke, squirrel dander, Los Angeles, “rap,” Italians — “If I don’t like something, I say I’m allergic to it, so it seems more urgent”) — HOWEVER, and this is a big however, the visual vestiges of a sneeze Bayer let loose on Thompson at the close of the sketch were totally hurl-inducing. What did I ever do to you, Flaritin? I want to put it in jail for letting that image loose on my eyes. With an extra minute or so of dangling air, Hathaway got a chance to deliver a long good-bye and thank everyone from the cast to the celebrities she spoofed, tacking on the NBC pages for good measure. Well, that was gracious.
Next week! Jeremy Renner and Maroon 5. With any luck, Adam Levine will show up missing an arm fresh off his amputation in American Horror Story. I don’t mind spending Saturday night / out on your corner less my arm on the right.