'Saturday Night Live' recap: Channing Tatum stripped and Bon Iver hit a high note. Plus, the return of Lana Del Rey (sort of.)

Channing-Tatum-SNL

If there was one thing to take away from Channing Tatum’s debut hosting effort on Saturday Night Live it’s that he definitely isn’t ashamed of his stripper past. In fact, in addition to addressing his exotic history in the opening monologue, Tatum (who had the full support of pal Joseph Gordon-Levitt) appeared in no less than four other sketches in which they had him shirtless, thrusting, or both. While it’s a little tough to complain about the sight of the hunky actor showing off his best assets (the folks behind Magic Mike were no doubt encouraged by the hoots and hollers from the Studio 8H crowd in response to the star’s moves) it would have been far more satisfying had he flexed more comedy muscles.

Before Tatum hit the stage, SNL kicked off with a different kind of political cold open. Fast forwarding to the year 2014, Newt Gingrich (Bobby Moynahan, who had a very busy night) is president of the moon with Herman Cain (Kenan Thompson) on board as an admiral. It was certainly stronger than most of the cold opens this season (the line “May divorce be with you” certainly helped) but it didn’t provide any major laughs. Which, unfortunately, set the tone for the rest of the night.

As previously noted, Tatum talked about his male stripper past during his monologue and had run-ins with former, embarrassed clientele, played by Kristen Wiig, Vanessa Bayer and Fred Armisen. The Vow star certainly seemed in his element here, but the same couldn’t be said for his first real sketch in which he attempted to imitate his Magic Mike co-star Matthew McConaughey. Unfortunately for Tatum, Thompson’s “It’s Getting Freaky with Cee Lo Green” isn’t nearly as funny as “What Up With That” (despite Bill Hader’s best efforts as the deranged Colonel Nasty) and Matt Damon has set the bar way too high for McConaughey impressions.  Watch the monologue here:

I’m not sure what it says about the current state of SNL when the strongest sketch of the night doesn’t include any of the show’s stars (with the exception of a voice-over from Andy Samberg), but the Spike TV commercial for Downton Abbey, or Fancy Entourage if you will, was certainly the highlight. Expect the oddly accurate (“Like eavesdropping? Then this show is for you”) rundown of everyone’s favorite obsession to go viral.

A repetitive and rather weak sketch about a botched NBC football promo, as well as the equally repetitive recurring “Secret Word” sketch followed (with Wiig reprising her over-the-top Mindy Elise Grayson and Tatum playing a traumatized astronaut) thankfully made way for the first performance of the night by indie favorite Bon Iver. The magnificent Justin Vernon and his talented bandmates made a strong first SNL impression with the haunting, sweeping “Holocene” and later in the evening with “Beth/Rest.” While both performances were lovely, it unfortunately served as a disappointing reminder that the Best New Artist nominee won’t be playing at the Grammys next weekend. Enjoy the “Holocene” performance here:

It’s doubtful Bon Iver will be getting any Lana Del Rey-caliber complaints, but it seemed SNL still didn’t feel right about the reception their last musical guest received a few weeks ago. During Weekend Update (which ushered in a much-welcome return of Moynahan’s spot-on Guy Fieri) the show gave the singer a chance to defend herself and her performance. Well, Kristen Wiig as Del Rey, anyway. The Oscar nominee did a great job imitating the “stiff, distant, and weird” pop star and making fun of the reaction to her now-infamous visit. (“I must have clubbed a baby seal while singing the Taliban national anthem”). While it was certainly decent of the show to stick up for their visitor, it felt somewhat strange for them call the criticism bullying when they’d compared Madonna to “a weird bucket of mussels” mere moments before. Was the reaction to Del Rey harsh and overblown? Perhaps. But most people have already forgiven her and in the end, sometimes a bad performance is just a bad performance. (Somewhere, Ashlee Simpson is awaiting Abby Elliot’s imitation.) Watch it here:

While the Del Rey moment was unquestionably a memorable one, the rest of the night’s sketches were forgettable. In the span of three sketches, Tatum played an inappropriate Bat Mitzvah dance partner, Tom Brady, and an exercise infomercial host. But the one viewers most wanted to erase from their memories was the season-low male strip club sketch. (Congratulations, Anna Faris’ Ferrari calendar sketch, you’ve been dethroned.) You could feel the air get sucked out of the room during the uncomfortably unfunny finale which included a dreadful Jerry Sandusky joke, Taran Killam humping a little person, and Tatum — you guessed it — stripping.

It’s certainly admirable that Tatum was more than willing to poke fun at himself and his past, but the otherwise likeable star hardly made for a solid Saturday Night Live host. That said, we’d better get used to him considering he’s starring in everything in 2012. But what did you think of Tatum’s turn, PopWatchers? Did he make up for his lack of comedic skills with his abundance of abs? Or was he far too stiff for a guy who gyrated most of the night? Was all forgiven thanks to those great Bon Iver performances? Or was the entire episode — with the exception of the Downton Abbey and Lana Del Rey bits — a misfire? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Read more:
Channing Tatum hosts’Saturday Night Live’: Talk about it here!
Channing Tatum practices saying his name in ‘Saturday Night Live’ promo — VIDEO
Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer in exclusive ‘Magic Mike’ photos

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