One of SNL's current booking strategies seems to be to grab random celebrities who've only hosted the show once many years before. Tonight's host, Bruce Willis, last appeared on the show's season premiere in 1989. Willis' musical guest this time around was Katy Perry, whose performance of "Roar" with an animal-suited band was one of the oddest things on this week's show.
Willis' performances were off all night and sloppy compared to his first show; while Perry markedly improved over her 2010 songs, despite a iffy audio mix. Even iffier was the writing, which was weaker than the previous two shows, with too many of the sketches going nowhere beyond the reveal of the main joke.
The Lady Gaga Show was the latest dressing on one of SNL's favorite crutches: the talk show sketch. Besides not being particularly funny, the sketch was a performance misfire for Vanessa Bayer, whose delivery as Gaga seemed too similar to her bar mitzvah boy character Jacob.
More frustrating was the attempt to recur two one-off sketches from last year; the resurrection of Bobby Moynihan's kittycat-fixated astronaut Kirby was a beat-for-beat remake of a sketch that aired almost exactly a year ago, while Taran Killam's Eddie character predictably hectored a character played by the host over a mispronounced word. Perhaps the laziest piece of writing was Penelope Cruz (Kate McKinnon) mispronouncing hair product chemicals in Gaga Show, a routine cribbed from a sketch in McKinnon's debut show in April 2012.
There were handful of bright spots: Boy Dance Party got a great reaction from the audience and is likely to be SNL's latest meme-generator, while the Good Neighbor guys' "Sigma" short was well constructed, with several good jokes. Centauri Vodka had the most interesting and classically funny premise of the night, as well as giving two of the season's least-used castmembers (John Milheiser and Nasim Pedrad) some much-needed airtime. Brooks Wheelan also managed to show some promise in a Weekend Update desk segment, though Cecily Strong's awkward WU performance felt like a backward step from last week's signs of improvement.
I don't know how the hierarchy at SNL currently works regarding who gets their material on air, or how big a part in the sketch writing process the cast have, but over the last few seasons, I've noticed it's the veteran writers that stick around while the newer hires come and go. I get the feeling that the writers with the most influence are the ones who are also holding the show back. It's a shame, really, because the cast has been quite good in the last couple of seasons; Bobby Moynihan is particularly reliable for saving sketches. However, the show is only as good as its writing, and I have a feeling that even the celebrated original cast or '86-90 ensemble would have trouble salvaging some of tonight's material.
Next week is a dark week for the show, which will return live on October 26 with Edward Norton and Janelle Monae. I will continue my Classic SNL reviews that week with the next show from 1982-83 (Robert Blake / Kenny Loggins).