'Saturday Night Live' recap: The welcome return of Maya Rudolph... and Amy Poehler... and Justin Timberlake

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Image Credit: NBC

Saturday Night Live fans are a fickle, often divided bunch. You’re typically either of the variety that believes the show’s heyday has long since passed or you’re part of the group that will staunchly defend the current cast and the show itself until the very end. But it’s not as though those two groups can never intersect or see eye-to-eye on the long-running series. In fact, last night’s hysterical and edgy episode of SNL may have been the ultimate unifier: A fusion of greats from the show’s past effortlessly blending with the new.

Much like when Jimmy Fallon hosted back in December, Maya Rudolph‘s first time as host since being a full-time cast member was a heartfelt, energetic, and consistently funny affair. When a former SNL player returns to the stage at Studio 8H and they say they’re thrilled to be back, you can tell they really mean it. And much like a joyous Jimmy Fallon, Maya brought her A-game. She brought it all the way from her lively opening monologue,  in which she sang a little ditty about her promiscuous days on SNL (complete with appearances from Lorne Michaels, Paul Simon, and — yay! — Stefon) until the very last minute of the show.

But even before the fantastic host came out, the show was already on the right course. Swapping another ho-hum political cold open for a gut-busting, daring sketch about the phenomenon that is Jeremy Lin and calling out the sports media for all the overt racism that’s sprung forth from this Linsanity, it was, by far, the funniest opener the show has had all season. And once again, Taran Killam, you are lincredible. Oh, dammit. Check it out:

After those one-two knockout comedy punches, the episode only kept the momentum going, thanks largely in part to surprise appearances from both Amy Poehler (!!!) and Justin Timberlake (!!!). Hold on, in case you missed my excitement about that: !!!!!!!!!

Amy, who paid a visit to Jimmy during his episode, revived their always-hysterical “Bronx Beat with Jodi and Betty.” (I don’t care that it’s essentially “Coffee Talk” sans drag, these two ladies kill it every single time.) So many times with SNL, it’s only nervous, anxious laughter from the audience that’s heard, but during last night’s episode, especially with sketches like this, that was not the case. It all made way for genuine, gut-busting laughs from the audience (and, if you were like me, startling laughs at home) thanks to gum-snapping lines like “He fell asleep on the futon in the bonus room in a cloud of his own medicine farts” and Justin Timberlake as a crew member unabashedly hitting on a flattered Jodi and Betty. Watch every amazing minute of it, including Amy and Maya breaking (one of a few times last night) and then go discuss it in the comments section below or at Panera Bread:

Plenty of people were wondering if Maya would bring back her impression of Whitney Houston one last time during her hosting gig. SNL wisely opted not to have the actress do her take on the legend (the pop superstar had only been laid to rest a few hours prior to the show’s taping) and instead had her do other instantly classic impressions in her repertoire. I honestly can’t recall a smarter, funnier moment in recent SNL history than the genius of the Maya Angelou-meets-Punk’d sketch “Maya Angelou: I Know Why The Caged Bird Laughs.” The only thing more absurdly wonderful than watching the talented host as one of the most renowned, important poets of our time play eloquent tricks on the likes of Morgan Freeman and Dr. Cornel West is the universal agreement that we’d all absolutely watch that show. We’d all be better people for it. Watch this “act of whimsy” here:

It was pretty much impossible to top that Maya Angelou sketch (you know it’s a great night of SNL when it’s hard to pick the best moment), but the impression-heavy Jay-Z/Beyoncé/Blue Ivy welcome party still provided plenty of laughs. While a lot of the impressions were ones we’d seen before (Fred Armisen’s sheepish Prince, Jay Pharoah’s spot-on Jay-Z, Kristen Wiig’s excited Taylor Swift, and Taran Killam and Abby Elliott’s Brangelina, respectively), the long-winded bit was worth the while for Nasim Pedrad’s wide-eyed take on Nicki Minaj and JT’s return to hilariously skewer Bon Iver, whose moody singing put himself to sleep.

There would have been no way to sleep through either of Sleigh Bells‘ performances. The spirited pop rock duo were loud (in fact, lead singer Alexis Krauss seemed to be drowned out by the music) and practically dared viewers to get up and dance with their tunes “Comeback Kid” and “End of the Line.” Though, Karmin and Sleigh Bells take heed: Considering both Bon Iver and Lana Del Rey have now been skewered on the show, be ready, because you might be next. (Though Bon Iver got a bit of a break, as JT later professed his love for the Best New Artist winner.) Check out their superior number, their performance of “Comeback Kid,” here:

It was back-to-back SNL nostalgia when Amy rejoined Seth Meyers yet again at the “Weekend Update” desk for a delicious take-down of the birth control panel during a much-needed “Really?!” segment followed by the latest installment of Kenan Thompson’s (who had a very productive evening) ridiculata “What Up With That?” While it’s always fun to watch Hader’s Lindsey Buckingham (who is essentially the Matt Damon of “What Up With That?”) get edged out and befuddled guests Bill O’Reilly (hey, how do you like getting cut off mid-sentence?) and Kate Upton (who had a jab at her and her teeny bikini‘s expense during “Update”) were good sports, this sketch will always belong to Jason Sudeikis and his giddy background breakdancer.

When it comes to consummate professionals like Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, and Bill Hader, sometimes all you need is their commitment to a bit to help elevate an otherwise so-so sketch. Then again, sometimes all you need are those very same consummate pros to break at the very absurdity of what they’re doing. That’s exactly what happened with the “Super Showcase” game show (Hader could be a game show host at this point) that centered around two weird showcase models running amok on the set. Conceptually it wasn’t the episode’s best, but watching the Bridesmaids co-stars crack each other up was enough for me. Laugh along here:

The episode’s last two sketches were the weakest of the night, but that doesn’t mean they were weak by any means. “The Obama Show” featured what was unquestionably Maya’s least impressive impression (she’s a stellar Maya Angelou, but not so much a Michelle Obama), but it also featured some Cosby Show-inspired gags (I’m guessing writer John Mulaney was behind this one) like Joe Jamal-Biden and Amy Poehler once again getting to play Hillary Clinton. The finale, a talk show asking black voters if they’ll vote for Barack Obama (according to the sketch, even if the President moves in with Ke$ha, they still will) was a far cry from laugh-out-loud, but had sharp political humor that would have made The Daily Show proud.

But “How’s He Doing?” wasn’t the looming question about last night’s episode. Rather, one might have asked, “Have the glory days of SNL, particularly the Maya/Amy/Tina/Rachel female power era, long since passed? Or have they simply passed the torch of comedy greatness on to the likes of future superstars like Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader and Taran Killam?” Turns out, as Maya Rudolph and the talented current cast proved last night: Sometimes you can enjoy both the glory days and the new class. (And Maya, you looked just right next to those SNL legends in that last bumper photo.)

What did you think of Maya Rudolph’s first turn as SNL host? Were you just as impressed by how old and new came together so effortlessly? Or did it just serve as a reminder that the good old days are long gone? Which sketch was your favorite last night? Which one was your least favorite? Were you more psyched/surprised to see Amy Poehler or Justin Timberlake? Or did you fast forward through all that to simply watch Sleigh Bells? Share in the comments below.

Read more:
Maya Rudolph hosts ‘Saturday Night Live': Talk about it here!
Maya Rudolph’s ‘SNL’ promo: Watch!
Maya Rudolph on her ‘SNL’ greatest hits

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