"Saturday Night Live" usually taps actors as its hosts, with the occasional sprinkling of athletes or musicians. This week, Lady Gaga made her debut as host, in addition to being the musical guest. And like so many of her performances, it was fantastic.
Sometimes it feels like Gaga's whole life is just one long performance — life as theater. So, it wasn’t too much of a surprise that she could pull off some smart comedy. The energy she brought felt like a breath of fresh air for the show; in fact, this episode may just be the best so far of the season.
It all started with the monologue (forget the cold open — it’s dead to us these days). Lady Gaga, of course, sang and danced, a monologue staple that usually makes us groan. But she did a clever reworking of her hit song "Applause," which not only poked fun at her public image but also zinged how people get cheap applause by pandering to the audience. The lyrics had shout-outs to ladies, people from out of town, and New York firemen.
Gaga's actual musical performances were more … uh, Gaga-esque in that they sought to shock. R. Kelly showed up to duet with her on "Do What U Want" and the two sort of pantomimed having sex.
Overall, it was a quality evening, at least comedy-wise. Here are the best and worst sketches:
As usual, the best sketch of the week is a pre-recorded one. This is a melancholy masterpiece, an ode to the dying Blockbuster franchise. It captures all the little details that made Blockbuster what it was — the cardboard cut-outs, the stacks of boxes, familiar blue-and-yellow employee polo shirts. This sketch feels like a mini-movie, and even incorporates Lady Gaga as a dream siren.
We really enjoy sketches that are basically just a series of impressions. This bit takes it to another level, with Gaga and the "SNL" cast members playing kids at an acting camp who perform memorable scenes from movies. Gaga kills it as an earnest little girl tackling a scene from "Training Day," and the "Forrest Gump" scene with Vanessa Bayer is brilliant.
Second Runner-up: "The Worst Cover Songs of All Time"
Like the sketch above, this is a series of impressions, this time of singers doing really mismatched cover songs — like Britney Spears ruining "Hallelujah" or Adele "singing" the "L.A. Law" theme song. Gaga even pokes fun of herself doing a cover of "Express Yourself." The best one is Lil Wayne and Susan Boyle covering Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire." It's simultaneously horrifying and hilarious.
Worst: "Condo Co-op Board"
Even the best "SNL" episodes have duds, and this definitely falls into that category. It has no energy, the "jokes" are thin, and the sketch feels all over the place.
Best Use of Host: "Talent Pageant"
This isn't so much a sketch as just a few minutes of totally weird craziness. But we like it! Gaga's enthusiasm, at this late stage in the hour, is infectious, and she and new cast member John Milhiser spark as overbearing stage parents of a fourth grader. We don't always require a "big idea" for a sketch, and this one shows that sometimes just being wacky can be funny.
Best Impressions: "Waking Up With Kimye"
Real applause to Jay Pharoah for a side-splitting take on Kanye West! Nasim Pedrad has done Kim before, and she is as good as ever. Kanye gets mad at an Apple store employee (played by Gaga) for daring to use the word "genius," as in Genius Bar. It's all genius!
Best Character: Jebediah Atkinson, "Weekend Update"
Ever since the departure of Bill Hader and Stefon, "Weekend Update" has felt a bit empty. But Taran Killam introduces a new character named Jebediah, who is the one critic who trashed Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address ("With dialogue that clunky, I'm surprised he was shot by an actor. Too soon?!"). We foresee Jebediah becoming an "Update" regular — and we approve.
Check out Twitter reactions to Lady Gaga's "SNL," and then sound off in the comments below!
Gaga was great on SNL. Charming, funny, happy to laugh at herself. Who doesn't love Gaga???— Colin H (@planetCH) November 17, 2013
I have a whole new respect for Lady Gaga after seeing her host SNL. Soooo good!— Sarah Ashley Smith (@sasmith384) November 17, 2013
...So i see Lady Gaga and R. Kelly were trying to make a baby in their SNL performance.— Quincy 'Q' Brown (@thatNYUkid) November 17, 2013
"Saturday Night Live" airs Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. on NBC.