'Saturday Night Live' recap: Edward Norton is here to scare -- VIDEO

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Image Credit: Dana Edelson/NBC

Edward Norton may seem like a host out of left field, considering his lack of anything to promote at the moment, but the Fight Club actor gave a solid performance with his first-time SNL hosting gig. His aw-shucks manner carried several sketches without seeming too awkward or over-the-top. And no, Norton isn’t known for his comedic chops, so the decision to amp up his boyish mannerisms helped spotlight his strong suits, from his physical comedy to his impressions, including a take on Woody Allen in the opening monologue that was top-notch.

And speaking of the opening monologue, Alec Baldwin and Miley Cyrus stopped by (came in like a wrecking ball, if you will?) to give the first-time host some tips. While Baldwin’s more understandable — the guy’s hosted 15 times, has a talk show to promote, can play off Norton — Cyrus’ appearance is just a head-scratcher. Sure, she’s there to announce her 2014 tour, but her interjection and tongue joke fell flat in an otherwise well-done lead-in to the show.

Overall, this latest SNL had more hits (e.g., actual screen time for Nasim Pedrad) than misses (e.g., the “Drug Deal” sketch). That said, it felt like the show had more sketches than usual — following a two-week break, and a Halloween/autumnal theme to play off of, the writers clearly ended up with a lot of material. It even led to a shortened Weekend Update. And with a dependable actor like Norton, the show seemed to have an easier time integrating him into sketches without worrying about the characters he’ll have to tackle or the implications of his appearance on the show. His range certainly came in handy for two wildly different sketches of the night:

Best Sketch
SNL‘s been doing on-the-nose parodies so far this season (see: Girls), and this one — a riff on Wes Anderson films — is not only hilarious, but effectively captures those signature Anderson ticks that make his films mesmerizing. As an Anderson alum, Norton does a solid impression of Owen Wilson, and his deadpanning, twanged delivery of the dialogue coupled with Alec Baldwin’s narration make this a hit. All that, along with the symmetrically shot references to films like The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom made for a great sketch.

Best… er, Something
Maybe it’s because it aired at 12:50 a.m., maybe because it’s just one-liner after one-liner, or maybe because Edward Norton is the only actor who could have pulled this off-the-rocker but sassy “Dad” character off — everything in this sketch was crazy enough to work at the end of the show. Plus, the relish Norton uses with the line, “Psych, it’s a boogie” after asking the camera to zoom in on a “single Nerd” is too delicious to miss. Have a Spooktacular Halloween!

Worst Sketch
A drug deal goes down, 1 million dollars is handed over, and the recipient brings in his “numbers savant” to count it, except his “savant” is no savant at all. That’s it; that’s the joke. Yet this sketch drags on and on after its premise, giving Norton and the cast little to do but continue to gawk at Norton’s character struggling to count the money (though Norton’s skittish delivery is a bright spot in an otherwise dull sketch).

Best Use of Underused Aidy Bryant Award
The “12 Days Not a Slave” sketch follows a questionable premise, and it nearly hurtles itself off the cliff and into “Worst Sketch” territory, until Aidy Bryant comes in with the line “These have been the best 12 days of my life!” The look she then gives the camera is comedic gold, and not even Miley’s cameo in the sketch — as a girl twerking on the staircase — could top that. As for the rest? Jay Pharaoh is just fine as the overly optimistic freed slave Cecil, and Norton does his best as the straight man, but the joke — that racism isn’t over, even though the slaves are freed — doesn’t really feel like a joke at all.

Best Musical Moment
Janelle Monae performed “Dance Apocalyptic” on a black-and-white set and, at least on screen, looked like she was having the time of her life singing and strutting across stage. The performance (as well as her later varsity jacket-donning set for “Electric Lady”) was energetic, fun, and arguably the best so far this season.

Throwback Saturday Sketch
Kate McKinnon carried the cold open as Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who addresses the technical glitches of healthcare.gov by suggesting some alternatives, ranging from restarting your computer to visiting kayak.com to buy airline tickets to Canada. The highlight, though, came with her announcing that all letters of complaint will receive a response in six to eight weeks complete with pamphlets titled “So you want to do computer?” along with Encarta ’95 and 1,000 free hours of AOL. Top it all off with Bobby Moynihan as an IT guy with a baseball bat, the spinning Mac beach ball of buffering-slash-death, and you’ve got a topical and political cold open that doesn’t bring the show to an early halt.

Best Single Punchline Sketch
It’s another one-joke sketch, but this one works because of its physical comedy. Norton and the cast play sex-crazed waiters who loudly explain possible scenarios for when they get a little “somethin’ somethin’.” Aidy Bryant takes the straight man role as a hostess — “None of this is sex,” she says — and with moves like Norton’s “slippery on ice” and Mike O’Brien’s inspired “turn of the century southern woman,” this sex-charades sketch plays out its punchline well.

Best Ed Norton as a Teacher sketch
Norton played a variety of characters — a mullet-haired pest control worker’s best friend, a Rain Man-like numbers guy, Owen Wilson — but he mostly played the teacher, or mentor in sketches like “School Visit,” as a police officer teaching children about the danger of meeting strangers (shout-out to Nasim Pedrad, who finally got some significant screen time). Even his “12 Days Not a Slave” character was more a mentor than a fully formed personality. The best, though, out of all of these, was his appearance as pun fan Mr. Pickler in “Halloween on the Steve Harvey Show” with Kenan Thompson. His enthusiasm for punny costumes, which turns into exasperation at Harvey’s ineptitude at understanding the basic costumes — “It’s Satan breakfast!” Thompson exclaims at a couple dressed as “deviled eggs” — helps this sketch stand out.

Cast MVP
The ladies win this round. Between the fauxmercial for “Autumn’s Eve” and the gang’s appearance in “12 Days Not a Slave,” the women of SNL shined last night, thanks to some memorable one-liners and absurd characters. Not only did Kate McKinnon do a solid job as Kathleen Sebelius, her appearances bolstered later sketches. Same goes for the underused Nasim Pedrad and Aidy Bryant, and even Vanessa Bayer, in her brief appearances, helmed many of the scenes.

Best Lines
– “My personal area can smell like Thanksgiving all season long.” Frankly, most of the lines in the fauxmercial got me, if only because everything these days is pumpkin-flavored or autumnal in some way. (Not that that’s a bad thing!)

- Fake review from the New York Times: “You had me at ‘Wes Anderson.'”

- Nasim Pedrad: “I guess you could say I’m the vans of acting.”

- Steve Harvey on “wordplay”: “What’s that, when you find little words in your soup?”

- Norton to Pharoah right before the camera pans to Cyrus twerking: “Once they see you dance, they will try and dance like you.”

- Pretty much everything from the nutty final “Crazy Halloween” sketch: “This is a little Snickers, they say it’s fun size, no arguments from me, wink.” “Now this looks like a Reese’s cup, but guess what’s inside? Kale chip! Gotcha, fatty.” “This is a peanut scotch-taped to an M&M because that’s just how my mind works.” “Now this, this is the movie Cars 2, but look what happens when you open the case. No DVD, now who’s in control?” “These are razor blades but they’re still in the pack, so this time they’ll have to arrest me for generosity!” It just gets progressively weirder.

Extras
– Anyone think of Kate Micucci in everything she’s done when Nasim Pedrad did her character in the school visit sketch?

- According to Alec Baldwin, SNL is like a “three-wheel bus careening towards a blown-out bridge.” Does he mean “has become” or “has always been”? Hmm.

- The “Critter Control” sketch felt like a miss, but Norton’s “Russell” was a highlight. “I can’t tell if he was a leader or just a charismatic citizen” is a great line about a dead possum and its possum memorial service. Then again, how many sketches are there about possum memorial services?

- Chris Kattan heard about Ed Norton’s shout-out to him in his opening monologue. Still no update on how he feels about it, though.

- Courtesy of the SNL team, here’s Edward Norton as all the people in Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.”

- Serious question: How many jelly beans do you think were really in that jar?

- That Halloween Candy sketch is just so 1 a.m.-y of the show. The razor blades reveal, the Cars 2 line — anyone want to take a gander at Norton’s character’s background? Who’s adult Ruth anyway?

So what’s your take on Norton’s first time hosting? Spooktacular or more of the same? Sound off in the comments below.

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