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‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: Adam Levine

SNL Adam Levine
NBC

This week Maroon 5 lead singer and host of NBC’s ‘The Voice’ Adam Levine stops by to try his hand at hosting ‘SNL‘ — but can he hack it?

‘Inauguration Night’

The ghost of Martin Luther King Jr. (Kenan Thompson) pays a visit to Barack Obama (Jay Pharaoh) on the night of his inauguration, but rather than talk about whether or not Obama has made him proud, MLK wants to talk about more superficial issues — like how sexy Beyonce is and Michelle Obama’s new bangs. It sort of reminds me of that episode of ‘The Boondocks,’ where MLK was never assassinated and becomes disillusioned with his country as the years go by. That episode, titled “Return of the King,” was obviously more thoughtful than this cold open on ‘SNL,’ which offers little in the way of humor aside from some light irony. Oh, MLK uses Twitter! Hilarious! …Not so much.

Monologue

Adam Levine has some big shoes to fill in the way of singer/actors who have hosted ‘SNL’ in the past — in particular, I’m thinking of Justin Timberlake, and there’s just no way Levine can measure up. The appearance of Andy Samberg in a nod to ‘The Voice’ is clearly a move to help assure viewers that Levine can hack this hosting gig because he has the support of a former MVP. The appearance of Cameron Diaz is a little confusing, and the connections to Justin Timberlake continue to grow. Samberg and Timberlake worked on Lonely Island digital shorts together and Diaz used to date Timberlake. ‘SNL’ really wants you to believe that Levine is like Timberlake, huh?

And if you aren’t buying that, Jerry Seinfeld shows up, which just makes me wish Seinfeld was hosting. The monologue is problematic because it’s not even a monologue — these opening bits are meant to give the audience of taste of what they’re in for, and for first-timers, it allows them to prove their worth to a skeptical crowd. Instead, this “monologue” is just people being funny for Levine, and it’s people we’d probably rather see host instead.

Rosetta Stone

A riff on the Rosetta Stone language program commercials, in which a bunch of creepy dudes are learning Thai “for a thing,” and by “a thing,” they mean going to Thailand for hookers. It’s breezy and funny and a great palate-cleanser after that unfortunate opening bit. That’s why these faux commercials always work right after the monologues — if the monologues aren’t very successful, the faux commercial is a great way for the show to get back in your good graces. This week, that’s more noticeable than usual.

Circle Work

A show on The Gay Network hosted by Tracy All-Star (Kenan Thompson) and Todd Anthony (Adam Levine), which is just the gay version of “Deep House Dish,” that old ‘SNL’ sketch that Thompson and Andy Samberg used to do where they played eccentric club kids. Levine is basically filling in the shoes of Samberg in the countrified version of T’Shane, but he’s kind of on-point — at the very least, he’s like at least half of the contestants on ‘Project Runway.’ The show brings on guests who have straight-person problems, but the answer to every one of the guests’ questions is that they or their significant other is gay. The sketch is fine enough, and Levine is fun to watch.

The Sopranos Diaries

Just like The CW’s prequel to ‘Sex and the City,’ this pre-recorded bit posits a similar take on ‘The Sopranos,’ set in their 80s high school years, with Bobby Moynihan as Tony, Bill Hader as Sylvio, and Fred Armisen as Paulie, white wings and all. Instead of talking to a psychiatrist, Tony talks to a Dr. Melfie-esque guidance counselor. Adam Levine is Big Pussy, Kate McKinnon is a spot-on Carmela, and Aidy Bryant is Tony’s sister Janice. The highlight is a conversation in the cafeteria where Paulie explains Ewoks (“But on this planet, the bears are the humans!”), while a stripper dances on top of the table and Tony yells at a Rubik’s cube. Absolutely delightful stuff.

Firefighter Fundraiser

Bill Hader is a shrill firefighter jealous about one of his fellow fighters (Levine) talking to his ex-girlfriend. I’m not sure I get this sketch. Hader is either supposed to be the most melodramatic, jealous man ever, or he’s a closeted but very flamboyant gay man. It’s entirely confusing and incredibly painful to watch. I won’t deny that Hader is acting his butt off, but it’s just mostly a lot of high-pitched yelling. Hopefully this is the most baffling sketch of the night. Not even Nasim Pedrad’s punchline helps make anything better — it’s one of those punchlines that’s supposed to make a lengthy joke funny in hindsight, but man, this is hardly passable.

Digital Short — YOLO

I should have known Samberg’s presence meant there’s a new Lonely Island digital short, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. That said, I still wish Timberlake was hosting and that it was him in this short and not Levine (I swear, I don’t have a huge vendetta against Adam Levine, but he doesn’t have Timberlake’s acting chops or showmanship).

The song riffs on the “You Only Live Once” saying with a rap featuring Kendrick Lamar (and a cameo from Danny McBride!) about how you should play life super safe because, well, you only live once. You should build a titanium fallout shelter, stay away from kids because of lice, and never trust banks. This is one bumpy episode of ‘SNL,’ saved only by the pre-recorded bits, which is never a good sign.

Weekend Update

Nasim Pedrad drops in as Arianna Huffington, the only acceptable version of Arianna Huffington. By far her best joke is calling Seth “Sex Myers,” but I wonder if this Huffington thing isn’t getting old, even with as infrequent as her appearances are. Or maybe this episode is just getting to me.

Kenan Thompson plays Baltimore Ravens super-emotional and crazy religious football player Ray Lewis, who pops by to talk about the upcoming Superbowl. I’m not very familiar with sports players, but I was tickled by Thompson going on and on about how every occurrence, no matter how banal, is caused by a higher power.

Maroon 5 vs. Train

Maroon 5 (as themselves) get in a turf war at a bar with that other bland white person band, Train, led by Taran Killam with amazingly douchey facial hair. The sketch gets progressively better, with jokes about how the bar is really a cafe allowed to serve alcohol after six, Jason Sudeikis showing up as Jason Mraz, Kenan Thompson as Hootie (sans Blowfish), and Bill Hader as John Mayer. It really is just a bro fight between bad white people musicians and it’s executed perfectly. The weak link is, obviously, Levine, whose cue card-reading is glaringly obvious. His energy is great, as is his willingness to make fun of himself, but it isn’t enough to make up for his poor reading and timing.

Catfish

‘Catfish: The TV Show’ is still relatively new, but ‘SNL’ damn near nails this sketch. As someone who is completely obsessed with the ‘Catfish’ show, I was so into it — the jokes about the staging (“As always I just woke up and the cameras caught me disheveled and cute”), Aidy Bryant’s unsuspecting and impossibly naive victim chasing after someone named Ace Applebees, who’s just a picture of Brian Williams’ head on top of an Abercrombie model, the way the person they’re going to meet always comes out of some weird side door at their house, and the best: the show’s advanced investigative technology — Google.

It’s just tragic that Levine is so awful. He stares at the cue cards relentlessly, which might be forgivable if he didn’t sound like he was reading them, and when he does break to give a line some flavor, it trips him up on his next line. This sketch would have been glorious if Levine were competent. Oh, and what was up with us being able to see the cue cards reflected in that set window? Yikes. Still, based on concept and writing alone, this sketch is a total hit for me.

Janet and Adam Levine

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Bobby Moynihan’s Janet, and here she is to seduce Adam Levine with amazingly crass lines like “I will sit on that face if it kills me!” Janet is such an amazing character creation, but Levine is distractingly bad. I want to laugh at the Danny Glover Murphy bed and Moynihan’s mouth noises, but Levine groping Moynihan’s fake boobs while staring straight at the cue cards is just awful. I’d almost give up all the good stuff in this week’s episode if it meant I’d never had to have seen the rest of it. I’m having some existential ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ thoughts right now.

Biden Bash

So the writers asked, “What if Joe Biden had a festival like that Juggalo Kick Spit Underground Festival spoof we do?” And this is the answer.

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