SNL: Carly Rae Jepsen, Michael Keaton (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in April 2015.

Michael Keaton’s innate charm was on full display during this past awards season.  That was not as present in his third “SNL” hosting stint (and first in over 20 years).  Instead, he reminded viewers of his dark side.  While he never actually suited up as Batman or Beetlejuice during the episode, his roles did seem to be inspired by that portion of his career.  The result was a surplus of oddly severe sketches, some of which were praiseworthy in their boldness, but others which were cringeworthy in their difficulty to watch.

Final Four Postgame – “SNL” was operating right down to the wire here, as the Wisconsin-Kentucky game ended only about 15 minutes before the start of the show.  That was no big deal, as the actual result did not heavily factor into this sketch, though there could have been a problem if the game had gone into overtime and lasted past 11:30.  Anyway, this sketch was really about the eternal conflict between the two sides of the student-athlete identity.  The alternate reality presented here – in which a star player like Duke’s Jahlil Okafor would miss the championship because of a biology test – was appreciably silly, but also way too obvious.  This would have been much more reliable if it had just focused on the announcing crew.  It would have been inconsequential, sure, but the latest gambling misadventures of Kenan’s Charles Barkley (now he’s got to eat a basketball) have more energy than a crack about Coach K’s $10 million salary. C+

Michael Keaton’s Monologue – Taran Killam and Bobby Moynihan hijacked Keaton’s monologue before the newly minted Oscar nominee had a chance to put his wealth of good vibes to use.  This is a guy who has no trouble killing it just by speaking from the heart, so it was an odd choice to go with a routine that did not rely on him very much.  The bit was initially no more than fanboy gushing, though it did come alive somewhat with its sloppily edited, “Laser Cats”-style footage of an unsuspecting Keaton.  More of that would have been welcome, and a more thorough realization of the concept herein. C

CNN Newsroom – The completely useless and in fact counterproductive dramatizations in this CNN report were decently inventive in drawing out the absurdity of the time-filling measures of cable news.  For a while there it seemed like the focus was going to be on 80’s music videos – the airplane animation was specifically referenced as in the style of “Money for Nothing,” while the puppets were reminiscent of Genesis’ “Land of Confusion.”  The re-use of the door animation to illustrate “closed-door negotiations” was a better-than usual example of humor evolving over the course of a sketch. B

Prom Bet – The latest short film from Mike O’Brien was far from his strangest effort, though it was still stranger than most anything else on “SNL” (save for Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett’s material).  As a takeoff of Pygmalion-style high school movies, its twists were obvious (at least, obvious by O’Brien standards): same-sex romance, a teacher as the mark.  But it certainly helped that these aspects and other seemingly out-of-place moments (Kate McKinnon’s character chilling because her next class is in the same room, Vanessa Bayer as the wife going to bed at 7:30 and putting on Vapor Rub) were never really explicated as odd within the framework of the narrative. B

Call Your Grandparents – Advertising awkward grandparent phone conversations in the style of a phone sex line did not make them particular creepy, but that presentation did not really add much one way or the other.  The onus on the humor was still on the specific details of the conversations, which could have been more consistently strong.  But there were a few solid gags, like the care package consisting of 50 pears and the question about whether or not a childhood friend still likes trees.  The sequence of grandpa and grandson talking over each other was well-timed. C+

Wallace Advertising (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – This scene featuring an aggressively horny ad executive could have benefited from an explanation of why his employees were so willing to readily indulge his ideas for commercials with overly sexualized families.  True, he was their boss, but specifics would have helped to explain why nobody was willing to stand up to him.  Luckily, this sketch was so relentlessly goofy and Michael Keaton was having a blast as the boss such that the lack of explanation did not matter.  The bleeding stomach added another element that was unrelated to the premise, which is always nice, even though it did feel like a bit of an afterthought. B+

Church of Neurotology Music Video – The HBO documentary “Going Clear” has brought Scientology to the fore of the national conversation, and one of its most talked about features was an astoundingly cheesy music video produced for the Church about 25 years ago.  “SNL” essentially recreated that piece here and just added titles to illustrate Scientology’s worst excesses in an unnervingly joyful context.  It was a little weird that this parody was not just identified as a Scientology video, but presumably it had to differentiate itself from the original somehow. B-

Carly Rae Jepsen – “I Really Like You” – When the chorus kicked in, there was an occurrence that rarely ever happens anymore on the “SNL” musical stage: the sound mix sounded perfect.  Ms. Jepsen’s vocals were rich and full, with a naturally achieved amplification that buoyantly went along with the ecstatic lyrics of this earworm. B+

Weekend Update – In light of the Easter holiday, Update seemed to believe that it was perfectly acceptable to go after Jewish people.  Now, the cracks on Judaism here did not come across as anti-Semitic, but they were surprisingly harsh.  At least Colin’s description of the U.S.-Israel alliance as a “Lethal Weapon”-style setup, with Netanyahu in the Mel Gibson role, was illuminating.  Overall, Michael and Colin got through their jokes just fine.  The former had a strong dig about the smoking Indonesian boy working at a sneaker factory. Michael and Colin’s Grade: B-
Weekend Update: Pete Davidson – Davidson’s commentary about “The Walking Dead” was about how being high is a lot like being a zombie … and that was it.  That observation simply did not suffice, as it has been made plenty of times before.  Norman Reedus’ appearance only served to repeat exactly what Pete had just said. C-
Weekend Update: Jebediah Atkinson – Taran Killam’s 19th century critic cannot make quite the impact that he used to, as his shtick is already too well-defined.  But he still manages to take his insults in a few wildly unexpected directions.  In this edition, he somehow managed to bring up the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Aaron Sorkin’s cocaine habit.  The audience’s tendency to groan tonight was at its highest point here, understandably with the reference to Joe Paterno but less understandably with the crack about “The Flintstones.”  The meta joke about “SNL” recurring characters played out both too obviously and too quickly. B-

Smart House – This scene about a couple showing off the features of their “smart house” felt like a half-baked idea that got away with being undercooked because of how just disturbingly it played out.  Keaton and Cecily Strong were a perfect match with their understated strangeness, their googly eyes an ideal visual signifier.  The unacknowledged, vague Southern accents added to the whole unsettling nature.  The description of invasive tech products was a strong effort at the intersection of body horror and comedy, although this sketch could have benefited from a clearer explanation.  There was a hint that this had something to do with a cult, a twist that felt haphazardly thrown in. B

Carly Rae Jepsen – “All That” – This sultry jam perfect for slow dancing had just the right amount of funk to make sure the dancing is not too slow.  Jepsen’s voice is so sweet and pleasant in such a way that keeps her treacly tunes from being too saccharine. B+

Easter Basket – Continuing in the tradition of Steve Buscemi and Christmas and Edward Norton and Halloween, Keaton played a weirdo going through a container of holiday items.  This was a particularly nasty version of that premise, with Keaton’s devilish grin leading us through his Easter basket of Jew jokes (Jesus: 1, bread: nothing), giving up cocaine for Lent, and chocolate bunnies (hollow for ease of fitting one’s wiener in).  The quirk was fun, but the darkness was unremitting. B

Notes & Quotes:
-Jay Pharoah’s Kenny Smith in the Final Four postgame was yet another one of his technically accurate impressions that most Americans are probably unfamiliar with.
-As a catchphrase, how does “Houston, we have a boner” stack up against “Houston, we have a dog”?
-“We should probably be going.  We left our baby in a tub.”
-“He’s not an almond, but he’s a nut.”
-Remember Jawbreakers?