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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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Which Gaga will we get on 'SNL'? Let's go to the videotape

Whether she’s onstage or off, Lady Gaga clearly knows how to put on a show. But when it comes to Saturday Night Live, her experience is surprisingly limited. The artist formerly known as Stefani Germanotta has appeared on just two episodes of SNL, in 2009 and 2011 — both times as the show’s musical guest rather than its host.

Still, looking at those old episodes may give a few hints about what to expect when Gaga finally headlines an entire installment of SNL tomorrow night. In each one, Gaga ventured beyond her band to appear in a handful of sketches — showing off different skills (and, er, areas with room for improvement) every time. Which of these sub-Gagas will rule Studio 8H on Saturday’s show? Let’s look at the evidence and start speculating:

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Lady Gaga plays it fairly straight in 'Saturday Night Live' promos -- VIDEO

Let’s have a round of applause for Understated Gaga!

Sure, “understated” in this case still involves a glittery halter gown, over-the-elbow black gloves, and a Vegas-style headpiece that looks straight out of Showgirls. That said, if this weekend’s Lady Gaga-led episode of SNL is anything like these new promos, it’ll be less “Arcade Fire-style fever dream” than “quirky Drama Club president puts on a show.” Which should be a good thing! After all, we always have fun when Anne Hathaway hosts, don’t we?

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Bobby Moynihan addresses 'SNL' host Kerry Washington's opening sketch

What did you think of Kerry Washington’s opening sketch on Saturday Night Live? We saw the Scandal star breathlessly changing character from one prominent black woman to another, from the First Lady Michelle Obama to Oprah Winfrey. While Washington was changing wardrobe, text scrolled on the screen addressing the fact that there is no current SNL female black cast member. Though the sketch’s execution could be described as too on-the-nose, one current cast member believes it was appropriate:

“I just think it was important for us to acknowledge it, pretty much,” Bobby Moynihan told E! News on Sunday. READ FULL STORY

'Saturday Night Live' best host poll: Kerry Washington or Tina Fey? Let the vote begin!

Saturday Night Live has been around for 39 years. Think about that for another sec. Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show for only 30 years. Both shows became late-night institutions, NBC breadwinners, and comedy king-makers. To be on Johnny Carson at the height of his reign was the ultimate for a young comedian, just as SNL‘s Lorne Michaels has plucked comedians from obscurity and turned them into stars who can eventually carry their own movies, sitcoms, and late-night talk shows.

Saturday Night Live is still the ultimate testing ground for comedy, and that challenge can be especially intimidating to a green guest host. Always has been. In less than a week, an actor, rock star, athlete, or — dear god — a politician has to metaphorically jump onto a speeding bus — a three-wheel bus, mind you, according to Alec Baldwin, “careening towards a blown-out bridge.”

Many are called, but few are called back. Those guest-hosts who ace the test join a certain club; not necessarily the Five-Timers, but a small fraternity of performers who did it right. Baldwin, SNL‘s current Joe DiMaggio of sorts, went on to tell Edward Norton that the guest needs to be “facile, nimble, ready for curveballs,” but it’s more than that. You’ve got to have the goods in the first place, because the SNL experience can be the cruelest example of the Emperor’s New Clothes in entertainment. No one wants to end up there buck naked.

For the last two years, Entertainment Weekly’s readers have selected the best Saturday Night Live host of the season in a series of weekly polls. That they chose Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake, two savvy, versatile entertainers, sets the bar for our third season. At the very least, we know what it means to be great at this. Now that we’re five episodes in to this new season, it’s time we begin our contest anew to see who’s got the goods and who’s just standing naked in the spotlight to a chorus of crickets.

Thus far, we’ve enjoyed Tina Fey, Miley Cyrus, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, and Kerry Washington. They all had their moments, but someone is doomed to go home. Our rules are simple: Who was the best host? More specifically, who looked like they belonged? Who surprised you with a side of them you never thought existed? Whose hilarious sketch did you post on Facebook? Whose show were your boss, your mom, and your roommate all giggling about on Monday morning?

Below, I’ve embedded one clip for each of the five hosts, just to remind you of their recent performances. Vote, and the host with the least support will be eliminated, and the other four will advance to compete against Lady Gaga on Nov. 16. Ultimately, we’ll eliminate the less memorable hosts and crown a new Mr. or Mrs. Saturday Night next May. Watch and vote below. READ FULL STORY

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