NBC’s Saturday Night Live ends its 36th season by bringing back frequent and popular guest Justin Timberlake as the host, and Lady Gaga as the musical guest. The monologue begins with Timberlake singing about how he’s not going to sing tonight, which proves to be extremely untrue over and over again. The episode is full of recurring sketches, including a revisit of The Barry Gibb Talk Show with SNL alum Jimmy Fallon, a new “Secret Password,” Timberlake singing in a cheesy costume, a broken amusement park ride with creepy robots, Herb Welch, and the third in a series of digital shorts that Timberlake and Andy Samberg perform. Lady Gaga also appears in several sketches, as well as doing her customary two musical numbers.
This is arguably the best episode of season 36. While the opening sketch with disgraced IMF chair Dominique Strauss-Kahn in a prison cell with two hardened-looking criminals talking economics before they rape him is only mildly amusing, as soon as Timberlake appears, almost every segment is strong. Besides the opening, the weak points are “Secret Password” and Herb Welch, which are both done to death, and are virtually always the same thing. It is time to retire them.
Perhaps the most anticipated sketch is the Digital Short. Timberlake and Samberg delight with “Dick in a Box” and “Mother Lover,” playing the same characters. Their newest begins with the duo leaving their moms’ houses, which means brief cameos for Susan Sarandon and Patricia Clarkson, who appear in “Mother Lover.” They are then both called to a girl’s house to have a threesome. In “Threesome,” Gaga proves she has real comic chops as she prepositions the boys, who have sex with and without her. The lyrics are hysterical, and the hapless, sleazy characters that Samberg and Timberlake play for the third time are good for many more laughs.
Lady Gaga dresses as a bottle of wine in a sketch where Timberlake, as a bottle of beer, faces off with Kristen Wiig, as a teabag who inadvertently says dirty things, as they battle for control of the crowd passing by. All three get to sing parodies as they try to lure the public to sample their beverages. While this is something done before, enough changes that it still feel fresh.
The third sketch to include Gaga is a game show called “What’s That Name?” In it, Timberlake is revealed to not know the names of girls he sleeps with or former N*SYNC band mates, while Gaga remembers small details about fans she meets only briefly. Timberlake shows a real willingness to poke fun at himself, while Gaga plays off of her reputation as caring Mother Monster. Because they are both playing versions of themselves, this sketch has a meta level, and shows they both have senses of humor.
Weekend Update, which is always funny, no matter how lame the show gets, brings back “Really!?!” with a solo Seth Meyers. It doesn’t work quite as well as when he does it with Amy Poehler, but “Realy!?!” is very funny, and it’s nice to see it’s not dead. Also in Update, Samberg plays Nicholas Cage berating Bradley Cooper (the real one) about why Cage is not in The Hangover Part II. Cooper is a good sport in the unexpected cameo. Finally, Update ends with Seth leaving to go on vacation with Stefan (Bill Hader), a character that gets more amusing each time he appears. It is a fitting end to the season.
All in all, SNL goes out with some very funny material, talented guests, and wonderful music-based sketches. If only this quality can be maintained next year, the series will be back on top in no time. Saturday Night Live will return this fall to NBC.