'Saturday Night Live' recap: Host Jonah Hill gets a little help from his friends (Tom Hanks and Stefon)

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Maybe Jonah Hill just got lucky. If his most recent turn as Saturday Night Live host had been during any other week than the post-Lindsay Lohan debacle he might be catching far more heat for last night’s rocky episode. Then again, even in comparison to Lohan’s episode, which had unfairly high expectations to begin with, Hill likely still wouldn’t rank as one of the season’s worst. (Anna Faris and Charles Barkley still have, er, bragging rights to that.)

That’s not to say it will even come close to a season best. The episode, through no fault of Hill’s, got off to a rough start when they squandered Taran Killam’s talents by having him loudly play Rush Limbaugh for a baffling opener. Wasting the opportunity to really lay into Limbaugh regarding his controversial statements about Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, SNL instead opted to make rape jokes (didn’t they learn from last week’s disastrous ‘Scared Straight’ bit?) and repeatedly list absurd fictitious sponsors. SNL probably should have taken a cue from The Daily Show and not go so easy on the guy.

Things got significantly better during the opening monologue which featured an amusing pre-taped routine about the Moneyball actor having a snooty new attitude post-Oscar nomination. (Turns out, the smaller the glasses, the bigger the ego. And the bigger the scarf.) Of course, nothing helps an opening monologue quite like a surprise visit from everyone’s all-time favorite person Tom Hanks. The two-time Oscar winner (or, proud owner of  “the kick-ass twins”, if you will) dropped in to rub his glorious Academy Awards victories in Hill’s face. All together now: Can’t Hanks host again….now? Watch it here:

While I give a lot of credit to Hill for his willingness to commit to sketches, his turn as a stereotypical, loud Jewish youngster, more or less doing a Catskills routine at a Benihana, was excessive to say the least. Even Cyrus would have to agree this kid is too much. The 21 Jump Street star went through an even more excruciating exercise in comedy when he got hit in the groin again…and again…and again…and again for the digital short. Hill played a subject who has to find out if getting hit in the groin repeatedly will raise his heart rate and if repeated groin shots will make audiences laugh. (It works on so many levels!) Maybe I’m just becoming a square, but the John McEnroe cameo and Darius Rucker jab were what did it for me. See for yourself:

Speaking of taking a hit, Hill couldn’t quite make to the end of the wildly — albeit, intentionally –  racially insensitive “J-Pop America Fun Time Now” sketch when he broke at the sheer ridiculous nature of Taran Killam and Vanessa Bayer’s utterly clueless Japanese culture enthusiasts. Watch:

Then again, the host was hardly the only team player to not stay in character last night. Weekly MVP Bill Hader lost it as Stefon (as he always, understandably does when he plays Stefon) while describing Hoombas (human Roombas!) and later Kristen Wiig couldn’t keep it together while playing an over-the-top Liza Minnelli who couldn’t figure out the mechanics of a lamp. Watch the welcome return of Hader’s already-iconic Stefon, the highlight of this week’s ‘Weekend Update’ (which also featured Wiig’s twangy impression of Paula Deen and Andy Samberg’s not-quite-Tina-Fey-caliber take on Sarah Palin) thanks to his continually insane references and planting a long-overdue smooch on Seth Meyers  — here:

I’ll argue that Hill’s episode isn’t one of this season’s worst, but the creepy, grossly unfunny Brutus the Ape sketch makes it more difficult to defend. Never mind that talking apes should be left to Andy Serkis and Andy Serkis alone, but any sketch the relies on the implication that a person is forcing an animal to have sex with them as the punchline puts it in the running as a new low.

Even if the episode’s humor did hit some very low notes, the same certainly couldn’t be said for musical guests the Shins, who impressed with their tunes “Simple Song” and “Its Only Life.” The indie rockers were energetic and sounded great live at the often-times unforgiving Studio 8H stage. Unlike a lot of guests this seasons, it was easy to hear The Shins’ lyrics and even easier to see why they were invited back. It wasn’t life changing by any means, but certainly enjoyable. Rock out to “Simple Song” below:

As good as the Shins were, there’s no way anyone was singing anything other than Coolio’s “C U When U Get There” for the rest of the night after the episode’s bizarre finale, which paid homage to the hip-hop classic. While the sketch itself (about a couple, played by Hill and Wiig, celebrating an anniversary) was a bit of a dud, the strange and unexpected Coolio tribute (RIP, in 1150 years) took a fun turn when Hill and the SNL cast danced their way into the audience. If only that infectious joy had been felt throughout the entire episode.

As any Superbad or Forgetting Sarah Marshall fan (what frequent FX watcher isn’t?) can attest, Jonah Hill is a gifted comic actor but unfortunately his talents couldn’t transcend the mixed bag of material during this week’s SNL. Even with the episode’s highs (the monologue, “J-Pop,” Stefon) the lows (Limbaugh cold open, Benihana, the dreadful Brutus) seemed to outweigh them. But what did you think, PopWatchers? Am I going too easy on the episode or do you agree that it still had its moments? How do you think Hill fared during his second SNL hosting gig? Which sketch did you love? Hate? Or was it all about the Shins for you? Share in the comments section below.

Read more:
Jonah Hill hosted ‘Saturday Night Live’: Talk about it here!
Jonah Hill’s ‘SNL’ promos prove ’21 Jump Street’ is on a great block
The Shins reveal secret to superior song-clapping: Watch the ‘Funny or Die’ video here

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