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

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). READ FULL STORY

Paul Rudd and One Direction take on 'Saturday Night Live': Talk about it here!

In this corner: Charming, charismatic, boyishly handsome Paul Rudd, a potential vampire who successfully made the transition from rom-coms to quirkier comedies long before tonight’s musical guests had anything approaching fame. In this corner: The charming, charismatic, boyishly handsome members of One Direction, a lad band with an army of tweenage fans and the power to make even curmudgeons admit that its songs sure are catchy.

Which of these two will rule the roost at Saturday Night Live tonight? The obvious answer is Rudd. He’s a veteran SNL host with two other stints under his belt already, a talented improviser who’s won membership into a number of exclusive comedic fraternities, and, oh yeah, a lead in one of winter’s biggest movies: Anchorman 2, of which you may be ignorant only if you’ve somehow stayed away from the Internet and television and movie theaters and well-traveled roads for the past few months. Given the film’s nonstop promotional campaign and the backgrounds of Rudd’s co-stars — one starred on an NBC sitcom for seven season, another was a cast member on SNL for just as long, and the third both played the first one’s best buddy on said sitcom and had a brief stint on SNL as well — it’s also almost inevitable that Rudd’s hosting gig will come complete with cameos from Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, and Dave Koechner. (In my dream world, Christina Applegate is there too.) A lineup like that would certainly push the night in Rudd’s favor.

But don’t discount Simon Cowell’s most successful pet project. The boys were the stealth stars of Rudd’s promos earlier this week, and they too have SNL experience. Last time they were on the show, they even threw on history’s worst wigs and fake mustaches to play a quintet of visitors to the Manuel Ortiz Show:

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Paul Rudd gets ready to host 'SNL' with ONE DIRECTION OMG OMG -- VIDEO

Paul-Rudd-SNL.jpg

The sixth lead of 200 Cigarettes is hosting Saturday Night Live this weekend? Who cares — because the show’s musical guest is ONE DIRECTION! EEEEEE!

That’s the general gist of Paul Rudd and Vanessa Bayer’s delightful new SNL promos, which also feature Rudd polishing off his old, petulant Wet Hot American Summer schtick (always nice to see) and a surprising paucity of Anchorman 2 talk — which is kind of a breath of fresh air, considering that movie’s utterly relentless marketing campaign. (Kind of a big deal glass case of emotion 60 percent of the time stay classy etc.) Fade into American flag:

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'Saturday Night Live' best host poll: Did Josh Hutcherson hit the bullseye? -- VOTE

Josh Hutcherson helped celebrate Catching Fire‘s triumphant opening weekend by hosting Saturday Night Live, and the 21-year-old actor most definitely didn’t coast. He was eager and playful, willing to poke fun at his slightly obscure character, Peeta, as well as his own slight physical bearing. EW’s Hillary Busis compared his performance to “one of those poor [Hunger Games] kids who dies in the melee outside the Cornucopia — just minutes after the Games begin,” but as Jennifer Lawrence demonstrated last January, hosting Saturday Night Live for the first time isn’t easy. There’s a steep learning curve, and if a first-timer can escape without any obvious oofs, while maintaining a sense of humor and enthusiasm… well, job well done.

Hutcherson has his work cut out for him, though, in our season-long contest to crown Saturday Night Live‘s best host. Lady Gaga debuted in first place after her appearance, pushing Kerry Washington and Tina Fey into second and third. Edward Norton edged out Miley Cyrus to stay alive for another week, meaning he’s basically pitted against Hutcherson — à la the Hunger Games — in a secondary clash between men while a woman takes the lead.

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'SNL' recap: The odds aren't really in Josh Hutcherson's favor

If last night’s episode of Saturday Night Live were an edition of The Hunger Games, then host Josh Hutcherson would have been one of those poor kids who dies in the melee outside the Cornucopia — just minutes after the Games begin.

I’m not trying to imply that Hutcherson bombed. Quite the opposite is true: he had the sort of on-camera ease that any first-time host would envy, never visibly suffering from nerves or being too obvious about reading cue cards. The problem is that after Hutcherson’s monologue, he largely faded into the background, playing a succession of un-showy characters in a series of less than memorable sketches. (Beyond the cold open, the monologue, and a tacked-on 12:55 sketch about Thanksgiving, there was nothing topical in Hutcherson’s episode. While it’s nice to see SNL try new things, all that evergreen material made the show feel like a collection of leftovers from previous weeks, rather than a set of sketches written this week and designed to show off the host’s skill set.)

A viewer who missed the monologue and interstitial photos of Hutcherson easily could have confused the Catching Fire star for one of the show’s five new white male cast members. On one level, that’s a compliment — Hutcherson totally blended in. On another, it’s not — Hutcherson didn’t stand out.

Well, with one exception — which I’ll get to right after naming last night’s…

Best Sketch

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Josh Hutcherson hosts 'Saturday Night Live' this weekend: Talk about it here!

When Jennifer Lawrence hosted SNL earlier this year, she faced one major hurdle: the perils of high expectations. By January 2013, Jennifer Lawrence had been the Internet’s ultimate celebrity BFF for nearly a year. Given how winning she was in talk show appearance after talk show appearance and interview after interview, it seemed a no-brainer to assume that her turn hosting SNL would be a slam dunk. Unfortunately, that assumption led to disappointment when the show didn’t deliver the episode we all hoped for — through no real fault of Lawrence’s, for what it’s worth.

And this is why Lawrence’s Hunger Games costar Josh Hutcherson may actually fare better when he makes his SNL hosting debut this weekend. On January 20, 2013, Lawrence was at the height of her ubiquity: She had been nominated for an Academy Award 10 days earlier, won a Golden Globe three days later, and received her Oscar one month after that. Hutcherson, by contrast, is much more under the radar. While franchise fans have a deep, abiding love for Peeta Mellark and the actor who portrays him, he’s hardly a household name on Lawrence’s level — and only a die-hard Peeta stan (do those exist?) would call Catching Fire his movie. (This may change by Mockingjay: Part 1, which will give Hutcherson more showcase moments.)

The pressure, then, is off.

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Josh Hutcherson is a boy on fire in 'SNL' promos -- VIDEO

If asked which Catching Fire cast member they’d most like to see host Saturday Night Live this weekend, a majority of people would probably not answer “Josh Hutcherson.” (That’s not meant to be a dig at Hutcherson — Catching Fire just has a really stacked cast, including Jennifer Lawrence and Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci and Jeffrey Wright and…)

However! The Hutch acquits himself well in these promos for his first turn as SNL host, which feature a mugging Bobby Moynihan, hilariously bad CGI flames, and one very old hot dog. The odds definitely seem to be in his favor; let’s just hope the show’s take on The Hunger Games is less lame than it was when J. Law hosted in January.

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'Saturday Night Live' host poll: Was Lady Gaga born to host? -- VOTE

If Saturday Night Live has an unofficial theme song this season, it might be “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” The female hosts have dominated so far, and Lady Gaga added another colorful performance this weekend. Me personally, I thought there was a little too much self-deprecating winking at the camera — Miley Cyrus leaned on that crutch a bit too — but Gaga took the job seriously and will certainly make her presence felt in Week II of our Ms. Saturday Night Live contest. (Guys… until you make your mark, it’s definitely Ms. SNL this season.)

Two weeks ago, we had our first round of voting for this season’s best host. Kerry Washington, the most recent guest, made an impression and scored more than half the votes. Tina Fey, who hosted the premiere, was a strong second, and Edward Norton edged out Cyrus for third place. Bruce Willis was eliminated, leaving Norton to face a quartet of talented ladies in this week’s poll. READ FULL STORY

'Saturday Night Live' recap: Lady Gaga lives for applause, but gets laughs too

Lady Gaga knows how to make fun of herself.

If there was one takeaway from last night’s show, it was that Lady Gaga knows what you all are saying about her. And in the constant jostling for pop-culture supremacy, one of Gaga’s advantages has been that, when she allows it, she often comes across as a down-to-earth goofball. And happily, last night viewers mostly got the silly theater kid and not the art-house provocateur, which led to an overall enjoyable 90 minutes that, while not always laugh-out-loud hilarious, was consistently amusing.

From the moment she busted out of the doors in a 1920s stage costume straight out of Chicago, there seemed to be two goals for the evening. 1.) Remind people that she’s the pop star, who can, you know, really belt; and 2.) Send up her image before the bloggers can. On both of those counts, she succeeded. She didn’t have a super viral moment like her “Three Way (Golden Rule)” sketch from the last time she was a musical guest (with host Justin Timberlake), but with only one real dud, she anchored what was easily one of the better episodes of the season so far. READ FULL STORY

Lady Gaga takes over 'Saturday Night Live' tonight: Talk about it here!

Rah rah ah ah ah, roma roh mah mah, Gaga oo la la — who’s excited for SNL tonight?

By inviting Lady Gaga to serve as host and musical guest just six weeks after Miley Cyrus did the same, Saturday Night Live inadvertently invites a comparison to last season — which saw Justin Timberlake taking the show’s reigns four weeks after Justin Bieber performed double-duty. The analogy isn’t perfect, of course: Bieber had never hosted the show before, though Cyrus had. And while Timberlake is an old hosting pro, Gaga’s previous appearances were nominally as musical guest only — though she has performed in a handful of sketches over the years.

But Bieber is to Timberlake as Cyrus is to Gaga in that the first party in each equation is a younger, provocative, multitalented upstart trying to retread ground that’s already been paved by the elder party. When Timberlake hosted SNL so soon after Bieber had, JT’s triumphant outing stood in sharp contrast to the other Justin’s — which was a mixed bag at best and an exercise in smugness at worst.

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