We had a new "Saturday Night Live" this past Saturday (appropriately enough), the first one since November 3, 2007, before the writer's sabbatical. But was it any good? Let's look at it scene by scene.
Democratic Debate on CNN: For the cold open, we get an obligatory debate sketch. The normally reliable Kristen Wiig garbles her lines. Maybe that was intentional because the satirical targets here aren't the candidates or their positions. Instead, the shots are directed at the media. The media is certainly idiotic, but it's also an easy, safe tackling dummy. I would like to see a little more bite to these things. That said, Amy Poehler's Hillary is solid and Fred Armisen's Barack Obama is bordering on excellent. A mixed bag to open the show, let's give it 2 1/2 stars.
The Credits Roll: Hey, no Maya Rudolph. I heard she was leaving at the end of the season. Did she already jump ship? And there's a new girl listed as a "Featured Player," Casey Wilson. Never heard of her, but then, she's probably never heard of me. We are on even ground. Otherwise the credits are the same as back on November 3.
Monologue: It's always a little odd when a former cast member hosts the show. It feels like it did when those guys who starred on your high school football team eight years ago kept hanging around. "How's the team look this year, coach?" Tina Fey is the returnee, and she's joined by Steve Martin. What's he plugging? Fey's monologue is okay. Her list of gains from the writer's strike is a hoot. 3 stars.
Annuale: Ah, menstrual cycle comedy. Now I KNOW the writer's are back. The premise is tired, but the side-effects warning is pretty hilarious. "Fire Monster," indeed. 2 stars.
Rock of Love 2: Wow. I thought CNN was an easy target. Jason Sudeikis plays the role every actor dreams of: Brett Michaels. Oh and look. It's Amy as Amber, the Girl with One Leg. She may be my least favorite SNL recurring character. Tina, Kristen and the new girl do what they can but it's an Amber showcase, right up to the very last fart. Between this and the menstrual commercial, I'm starting to think we're witnessing some kind of writer's in-joke: "Now that we're back, wouldn't it be funny if all we did was write about bodily functions?" Based on this sketch, the answer is, "No." 1 star.
A Message to Old People: It's a digital short. Now we're talking. Andy Samberg and Bill Hader pop up in videos to reassure old people that no matter what's happening in the movie, everything will be all right. It's a funny premise, but only a couple of the gags work. I liked when they explained to Grandpa that he didn't have to answer the phone ringing in Michael Clayton. 3 stars.
What's That B*tch Talking About?: I'm sorry, but I don't use naughty words. That's what I have Dave for. Have you noticed that whenever SNL does a game show parody, the game show is structured like one from 35 years ago? Here, host Kenan Thompson stands behind a podium and uses a two-foot long microphone. Allen Ludden would have felt right at home. Why not use the format of a modern game show, like "Deal or No Deal," or "Duel," or "Duel or No Duel?" They're ripe for parody with their stalling tactics and commercial teases and guessing game dopiness. Not much here. 2 stars.
Carrie Underwood performs "All-American Girl": "American Idol" mannequin Underwood sings something bland. I'm offended by the intentionally inoffensive. Makes you wish Simon Cowell would show up and smack her down. 1 star.
Weekend Update: Seth Myers and Amy Poehler deliver the fake news. As usual a mixed bag with clunkers outweighing decent jokes. Mike Huckabee's appearance is cute. I think it's interesting that he took tougher shots at himself than the gang did at the Democrats at the top of the show. Then Tina Fey comes out and openly stumps for Hillary. "B*tch is the new Bl*ck." I hate vowels. 2 stars.
Celebrity Apprentice: Hey, someone woke Darrell Hammond up! You've gotta give Darrell credit: he clearly understands that this is the apex of his career and he'll never do any better. They are going to have to pry him off this show with a crowbar. His Trump always scores and the "Celebrity Apprentice" format opens the door for a whole slew of other impressions. I particularly enjoy Fred's Gene Simmons. 3 1/2 stars.
Ed's Wedding Toast: Jason reprises his Ed Mahoney character, a clueless blowhard making inappropriate comments in a drunken wedding toast. This is the first (and only) sketch of the night that's not media based. They should do more of them. 4 stars.
Virgania Horsen's Hot-Air Balloon Rides: Kristen plays manic would-be experts very well (see her Penelope character for more). Virgania Horsen (funny name) offers to spare you the hassle of airport security by taking you up, up and away in a balloon. Funny-strange more than funny-ha-ha, but funny's funny. 3 stars.
I Drink Your Milkshake: Another impression jam. Bill does a very good Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood. Fred throws in some Anton Chigurh (No Country for Old Men) and Tina gives us a smart-mouthed, pregnant, barely comprehensible Juno (and Ellen Page is hosting next week). Cute, but goes on too long. 3 stars.
Carrie Underwood performs "Flat on the Floor": "American Idol" animatron Carrie Underwood sings another tune about Jesus or something. I'm sure there's a segment of the population that eats this stuff up. I am not a segment of that segment. 1 star.
Lady Business: In the tradition of "Cashmere Mafia" and "Lipstick Jungle" comes another show about powerful women who dress real good and talk real tough. A topic ripe for parody gets a nice skewering. Tina is especially good here. 4 stars.
Good Night: Tina says good night and Steve Martin stands around. It's Don Pardo's 90th birthday! Happy Birthday, Don! 90 stars.
All in all, not a stellar effort. Oh well. I'll be back next week. Now maybe Tina can get back to business and start delivering some "30 Rock." Now that's Lady Business.