SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE didn’t exactly hide its fears about Adam Levine’s comic chops as host when the show loaded up his opening monologue not only with the inevitable The Voice parody, but with guest “mentors” Andy Samberg, Cameron Diaz and Jerry Seinfeld. (Samberg and Seinfeld got off a couple of funny lines, while Diaz’s There’s Something About Mary gag just served to remind us how long it’s been since There’s Something About Mary). The concerns about Levine were mostly well-founded, as he struggled horribly with his cue-cards, and was a wan presence in the majority of his sketches.
Levine’s one high point was a pretaped Digital Short with Samberg and the rest of the Lonely Island production team, who haven’t even been gone long enough for us to miss them. Still, the very slick parody music video for a paranoid reconsideration of the YOLO lifestyle was a reminder of how solid the Digital Shorts era was. Levine also held his own in a pop artist rumble sketch, where Maroon 5 faced off with Train–although the biggest laughs in the piece went to Jason Sudeikis as Jason Mraz and Bill Hader as John Mayer (“They say he’s legally insane.”)
Another sign of the show’s lack of faith in Levine was the number of pretaped bits. Apart from YOLO, there was a Rosetta Stone commercial that turned into many repetitions of men learning Thai so they could have sex with little boys in Thailand (one would have thought that the shot of “Extra Small Condoms” would have put this one later in the show, but there it was, right after the monologue–also, if SNL absolutely has to make Joe Sandusky jokes, as they’ve done in several episodes already, this would have been the place to do it). There was also a Joe Biden inaugural party pretape, a showcase for Sudeikis to trot out his high-energy idiot Biden bit (which works better when he has someone to play against). A promo for “The Sopranos Diaries,” with the familiar characters in high school a la The Carrie Diaries, featured sharp work by Bobby Moynihan and Kate McKinnon as Tony and Carmela, and a good bit of Dr. Melfi as Tony’s guidance counselor, but didn’t have anywhere to go.
The rest was downhill. There were not one but two bad gay sketches, one with Kenan Thompson and Levine as gay talk show hosts whose advice to every guest was that he (if a guy) or her boyfriend (if a woman) was actually gay, and another with Hader so over-the-top as a closeted fireman that it was like an episode of The New Normal. The cold open, with Martin Luther King’s ghost (Thompson) visiting President Obama (Jay Pharoah) was yet more proof that the political sketches on SNL can barely manage to gum their food these days. Update had the return of Nasim Pedrad’s Ariana Huffington, one of those bits that was amusing at first, and really don’t need to be repeated, plus Thompson as Baltimore Raven Ray Lewis, who’s crazier and funnier in clips on ESPN than the way he was portrayed on the show. A parody of the MTV series version of Catfish repeated every other reality-show parody gag of the last decade, and whether or not the 12:45AM sketch, with Moynihan in drag trying to seduce Levine, could ever have been funny (probably not), it was destroyed by Levine’s aggressive fight against the cue-cards.
Up next: more singer hosting, with Justin Bieber also serving as his own musical guest (unlike Levine, who had Kendrick Lamar handle the music this week) on February 9.