'SNL' recap: Paul Rudd brings a parade of surprise guest stars -- VIDEO

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Image Credit: Dana Edelson/NBC

SHRIEEEEK! OH. MY. GOD. You guys, it’s… One Direction! No, Paul Rudd! Wait, no, Kristen Wiig! Fred Armisen?! Will Ferrell! David Koechner! Steve Carell! … Bill Brasky?!?!?!

Deep breaths, dear SNL-watching, squee-happy readers, because even though last night’s show paraded out surprise guests like Captain von Trapp did his children in The Sound of Music Live & Condensed, the strong sketches that opened the evening quickly led to lackluster ones with diminishing returns that didn’t effectively showcase host Paul Rudd nor had any particularly inspired ideas (there are exceptions, of course — more on those below).

None of this is Paul Rudd’s fault. The host, taking the reins for third time, lathered on his signature charm and gamely tackled every character the writers tossed at him: an unpaid Huffington Post contributor, the rabid Directioner dad Dan Charles, one half of the divorcing couple who just can’t help dancing to Fleetwood Mac, the humiliated male model for Michelangelo’s David, the star of White Christmas, the newly skinny Santa Claus, the unwelcome ghost of hook-up past from a pizza joint, and finally, one of the Bill Brasky Buddies.

The front-loaded evening did well with its special guest stars (I’d argue it had the best cold open of this season so far) and produced some memorable characters, but any One Direction super fan watching for their favorite boy band probably ended the night sorely disappointed from the minimal use of the boys. Still, it was Paul Rudd’s evening, and therefore Anchorman 2‘s evening, and the show was wise to end with the film’s cast together for its…

Best Sketch
As soon as the sketch opened to Taran Killam, Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, and David Koechner sitting side by side with red noses and cheeks and obnoxiously large white teeth, you either instantly got what was happening — it’s a Bill Brasky sketch! — or you thought, “Well, it’s 12:55 a.m., so…” But the return of the Bill Brasky Buddies, who haven’t appeared since 1998, was a welcome surprise thanks to Ferrell, one of the sketch’s original writers. I’m naming this one the Best Sketch simply because it was a well-crafted throwback with hilarious riffs on the larger-than-life Brasky character. I was even half-expecting Steve Carell to voice Brasky at the end, but alas…

Best Sketch (for non-Bill Brasky fans)
Sure, The Sound of Music Live is an easy and timely target, but having Kristen Wiig appear as the gawky, inappropriate, and just-plain-weird Doonese helped the cast play off her non-von-Trapp-ness. Wiig’s belting of the Doonese version of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” rounded out a packed sketch that produced countless punchlines, and adding Fred Armisen delivered the right energy to open a promising show.

Honorable Mention
We knew this one had to happen, and having Paul Rudd play the crazed One Direction fan who braids little girls’ hair and sings along to “Best Song Ever” while putting down other fans’ knowledge of the boys was not only hilarious, but also pushed the right buttons to make any Directioners watching feel slightly self-aware about their extensive knowledge of Simon Cowell’s most successful X Factor product. (Or maybe not.)

Worst Sketch
I’m going to call this one a tie between “Michelangelo Unveils David” and “Diner Divorce” (the latter sketch, because of copyright issues with the song, isn’t available online). The former was uninspired — who hasn’t cracked a joke about Michelangelo’s David’s, er, shortcomings before? — and the latter used a gag that started out fine (a couple whose heated arguments end whenever Fleetwood Mac’s “I Don’t Wanna Know” played) but grew tiresome as the same punchline ended every segment. Both Rudd and Bayer did their best, but it’s a tedious sketch, not to mention a wasted appearance for Nasim Pedrad.

The “Yup, They Went There” Award
In the second pre-taped sketch of the night, Rudd and the cast played actors in a trailer for White Christmas, “the first black holiday movie for a white audience.” It’s topical, it’s funny, and it’s just uncomfortable enough as commentary on pop culture that even Jay Pharaoh (played by Paul Rudd, of course) asks at the end, “Are we gonna get in trouble for this?”

Biggest Headscratcher
Look, “Santa Meeting” shouldn’t be a headscratcher at all, considering its holiday-based focus, its physical gags, and its use of most of the cast as Santa’s tittering, judgmental elves. But as soon as the punchline about Santa losing 150 pounds was delivered, everything that came after felt repetitive, with punchlines that didn’t make total sense and a cast that looked a tad lost. And even though Kate McKinnon stepped up to the plate as “Santa’s ho-ho-ho” Candace, most of the jokes didn’t land. (Oh, and wouldn’t this have been the perfect opportunity to have the One Direction boys show up as elves?)

Best Musical Performance
The best musical performance should go to Nine Direction — One Direction plus the cast of Anchorman — and their rendition of “Afternoon Delight” during the opening monologue, but that’d be a little mean for the boy band, who knew the show belonged to Paul Rudd & Friends and did a respectable job during their sets instead. The performance of “Story of My Life” didn’t bring anything new to the table, mostly showcasing Harry Styles’ vocal strengths over at some members of the group. Still, the song’s catchy, and the boys sure can smolder and work the cameras.

Cast MVP
Even though she wasn’t around in the later sketches, I think I’ll have to give this one to Vanessa Bayer for her Weekend Update performance and for rounding out the other half of the Diner Divorce couple. Her squirmy Bar Mitzvah boy Jacob was just gawky and adorable enough to make the Weekend Update segment soar, especially with her jerky flick of her hand to wipe away a tear after the rehearsed speech. If we’re going by most appearances, however, Taran Killam and Cecily Strong take the cake for showing up in nearly every sketch. (Speaking of which, how does Strong do it? Appear in so many sketches and do Weekend Update? There’s the real headscratcher.)

Extras:

- “Both times I was overshadowed by a musical guest,” Rudd declared in his opening monologue about his past SNL gigs. “Tonight, finally it’s the Paul Rudd show.” He then turns around only to see that One Direction has been standing behind him the whole time. Aw, Paul.

- Speaking of the opening monologue, how delightful was Nine Direction’s “Afternoon Delight”? And how spectacular was Steve Carell’s takedown of One Direction? “Why don’t you kids go sit on Santa’s lap and ask Santa for a pair of balls.” Oof, Steve, that’s just harsh.

- Please send all tweets for Al Sharpton to his office in New York, NY loo-11.

- “Is this for your daughter?” “Yeah.” “What’s her name?” “Her name is, uhh, Dan Charles.”

- Even if “Diner Divorce” exhausted the gag early, there were some great one-liners: “He’s not a toy, he makes toys.” “She’s not a gold digger, she works at a silver mine.” “It’s not Duncan, it’s Dunkin’, like ‘Dunkin’ Donuts.’”

- I think One Direction MVP goes to Liam Payne for that mic spin at the end of “Story of My Life.” And for being the only member apparently awake during their second performance, “Through the Dark.”

- Taran Killam’s Scrooge of a critic from the 1860s Jebidiah Atkinson returned and went meta with his bit in Weekend Update. “I don’t think I should do this one after the audience when full b-tch over the Snoopy joke.”

- “Essence calls it the Macklemore of movies.”

- There were few appearances by the newer cast members this week, but I gotta say, Aidy Bryant and Noel Wells nailed their parts as Santa’s elves.

- Nasim Pedrad had many non-speaking appearances this episode, as Mona Lisa and as Jennifer, Cecily Strong’s “sweet guilty pleasure.” More Nasim Pedrad, please!

- Tell the truth: Anyone want an excerpt from Cecily Strong’s The Lady Who Just Squeezed It a Bunch?

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