The SNL writers must have thought the season was already finished, because this week's episode with host Eli Manning was obviously scripted in a frantic 15-minute dash before the show went up. But thanks to a host as dedicated and reliable as Manning, the night came off with a handful of highlights.
A Most Reliable Source
The good ol' newscasters at Fox & Friends kicked off the evening with a wrap-up of current events, including a heated debate on whether or not Osama Bin Laden is actually dead. (According to Vanessa Bayer's Gretchen Carlson, "You can do a lot with Photoshop.") And what does Kilmeade (Bobby Moynihan) think of hologram Tupac? "Maybe call the Ghostbusters."
Eli Knows Best
In the opening monologue, Manning gave expert advice to audience members on living in NYC. Thanks to his tips, we all now know that if you're looking for Italian food, Olive Garden is the only possible option. And yes, Cats is hands-down the best Broadway show of all time. Not too shabby, little Manning; sure, you're not inherently funny, but you're charming your way through this thing.
Madden Motion Capture Madness
Victor Cruz (Jay Pharoah) and Tim Tebow (Taran Killam) slap on their black tights and motion-capture balls to record their trademark touchdown celebration dances for a Madden video game. But Manning has to make it difficult -- the dopey quarterback acts like he's playing charades before he finally resorts to "Tebow-ing" in the Giants QB's signature prayer position.
Eli the Sext Offender
Here's a glimpse of what a murder trial would look like if the only available evidence was a text-message conversation. Manning took the stand as a hapless "sexter" forced to read his "hehe's" and "hey QT's" aloud, while trying his hardest to recreate the popular ";p" using his own face. In a rare SNL occurrence, this one was a winner from beginning to end.
In one of the best bits of the night, Manning lets his little brother complex shine as a member of the Little Brothers Program, a.k.a. older brothers' "worst f___ing nightmare." Watching the otherwise wholesome Manning mercilessly beat child bullies while calling them all "Peyton" was simply wonderful.
One More Missed Opportunity
And now, a testament to Eli Manning's hosting ability: the guy managed to stay in character opposite Bill Hader's geriatric reporter Herb Welch! The Occupy Wall Street sketch itself? Not so funny. What happened here, writers? You can't come up with a single chuckleworthy joke out of this goldmine premise?
Rihanna: Uncomfortably Distracting
Rihanna performed "Talk That Talk" in front of a giant spiderweb. I'm not sure if I heard a single note, though -- did anyone else notice the singer rubbing her crotch throughout the ENTIRE performance? Much better than this yawn-fest was the blink-and-you'll-miss-it tribute to the late Adam Yauch of The Beastie Boys. He will be missed.
Thumps Up or Die!
Sacha Baron Cohen brought his newest creation Admiral General Aladeen by the Weekend Update studio to promote his upcoming film, The Dictator. The admiral read glowing reviews of his new comedy -- from pieces of blood-soaked parchment. Not credible enough? He then brought out Martin Scorsese (yep, the real Martin Scorsese) to sing the film's praises while attached to electrodes. Best quote of the skit: "You think this is torture? I had to sit through The Aviator!"
Abby's Big Moment
Abby Elliott gave us further proof that she will be sorely missed if she does indeed depart SNL this year. As the host of the game show "What is This?", Elliott goes easy on the first two contestants, only to get all sorts of creepy on Ryan (Manning), the college student she is casually dating. Like so many SNL sketches, the ending could have used some serious fine tuning.
Most Likely to Succeed
A Swedish version of Chelsea Lately would have collapsed flat on its face were it not for the dedicated performance of newcomer Kate McKinnon in the lead role. For a sketch built around how well an actor can pull off a Swedish accent, McKinnon snagged some good laughs out of less than stellar material.
It's not that I blame typical heavy hitters Wiig, Hader, Sudeikis and Armisen for hardly creating a single memorable moment among them -- the actors simply weren't given anything to do this week. Luckily for Mr. Manning, this meant that his ambitious performance nabbed the spotlight despite overall lazy writing.
The writing team had better be on their game next week, because Will Ferrell is returning to host, with musical guest Usher. Here's hoping for the return of at least a few of his iconic characters.