SNL made tremendous improvements this past weekend compared to last week's rather lackluster premiere. Ryan Reynolds was a strong host, but it was musical guest Lady Gaga who stole the show.
The episode was a little shaky in the beginning. SNL is still struggling to crack the Obama nut and this week's performance was nowhere near the nut. Fred Armisen played an odd Obama satire this week and skewered the administration's lack of achievement. The sketch was clever because it ridiculed both Democrats and Republicans. Any Obama sketch still lacks an essence of the actual President, which Will Ferrell and Darrell Hammond were able to capture with George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, respectively. People complain that it's Armisen's fault for the flat Obama, but it's more because the writers still haven't determined which Obama bits are strong enough to warrant satire. The Daily Show is very successful with highlighting Obama's entertaining moments, probably because Obama works better in sound bites than long form comedy, which does not work to SNL's advantage.
Scarlett Johansson made a cameo appearance, reprising a previous character in a porcelain fountain sketch. For those of us who live in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, this sketch was exceptionally funny and I find myself actually enjoying Scar Jo. I usually do not like her performances because I cannot figure out why she is such a big deal. But seeing her do comedy — granted, it was very brief — makes me think that she should seek out comedy projects besides Woody Allen's nervous films.
The big steal of the night came from Lady Gaga who joined Madonna for a sketch. Madonna's appearance was surprising, particularly because she has nothing to promote right now, except herself and her boy toy. Poor Madonna, though, had a malfunctioning mic, but one managed to catch her best line to Lady Gaga: "What the hell is a disco stick?" We still don't know.
Lady Gaga's musical performances were practically middle school musicals compared to her VMA show. No blood, no flying trapeeze routines, but tight, live musical numbers. Her final musical medley was exceptionally good as it maneuvered some NASA-type training gear onto a piano bench. The highlight, though, was a sketch with Andy Samberg where they both wore the same outfit. Lady Gaga made fun of herself and had impeccable timing.
Besides Lady Gaga, though, the female performers were scarce throughout the episode. Nasim Pedrad killed as Mrs. Ahmadinejad and Jenny Slate was cute in a Court TV sketch. It is safe to assume that you have to earn your weight to earn screen time, but one must also consider if the writers are creating sketches that aren't centered on Kristen Wiig, who is great on the show. Hopefully we'll see this trend end as we move throughout the season.