A new "Saturday Night Live" means a new scene-by-scene breakdown of the night's comedy. Shall we?
"Saturday Night Live" -- Host: Ashton Kutcher, Musical Guest: Gnarls Barkley.
Cold Open -- General David Petraeus (Will Forte) reports to Congress on progress in Iraq. Of which there is little. If any. A political impression jam scene for the whole cast. Darrell Hammond checks in as an overly optimistic John McCain. It's the last we'll see of him this episode. Amy Poehler's Hillary Clinton proudly proclaims that she always has been against the war, and that snipers can be very quiet. Andy Samberg is surprisingly effective as the set-up man, Senator Carl Levin. Bill Hader draws the biggest laughs of the sketch with his pork-promoting Senator Robert Byrd, who has served in the Senate for 119 years. Kristen Wiig and Casey Wilson get six seconds to disrupt the hearing as representatives of Code Pink. Jason Sudeikis plays Petraeus's wingman. The sketch overplays its hand when it shoehorns Barack Obama (Fred Armisen) in. But this is a solid political scene and one of the better openers of the season. 3 stars.
Monologue -- Ashton Kutcher hosts for the third time and shows us all just what it means to be a big-time TV producer. I thought for sure the dark-haired woman in the red dress in the front row was going to turn out to be Demi Moore. I was wrong. I should have guessed she'd be backstage with the underwear. Really misses an opportunity to bring out producer Lorne Michaels. Some good jokes but more than a little self-serving on Ashton's part. What a shock! 2 stars.
The Cougar Den -- Wilson, Wiig and Poehler are older women on the prowl for younger men. Gee, what an interesting premise for an Ashton Kutcher-hosted installment. If only there was a real-life scenario somehow analagous to that presented in the sketch. Of the ladies, only Wiig seems to be doing more than just lowering her voice. The scene picks up tremendously when Cameron Diaz enters and does a Charo impression. Actually, a real good Charo impression. Interesting that the Diaz cameo comes just seconds after the ad for What Happens in Vegas ... due in theaters on May 9! An okay scene with some variable acting and a nothing part for the host. Give it a star for Wiig and a star for Diaz and subtract a half for shameless promotion and that leaves ... 1 1/2 stars.
Clubbing -- Kutcher goes to a hot nightclub but can't seem to get past the bouncer (Kenan Thompson). I'm not sure I understand the set-up here. Is Ashton no longer famous? I know "That 70s Show" hasn't been on for awhile, but we all still know the guy, don't we? Whatever, this one turns into another character jam scene as a parade of cheerful losers make it past Ashton and into the club. I especially like Andy as an obvious kid on another kid's shoulders ("Thank you, fellow adult!"). And it's nice to see Will Forte's Lyle back, even if it's only for a second. Kenan's last line is a gem, too. But still too uneven to merit more than ... 2 stars.
Daiquiri Girl -- The "SNL" Digital Short guys apologize for a lackluster effort. And they should. Not for the homemade video of the doofus (Samberg) performing a YouTube video with his Casio, but for the cheap, weak apology graphic they ran over it. Either present something like this and let it sink or swim on its own, or if you genuinely think it's crummy, take it back to the drawing board and revamp it. Or scrap it altogether. Something. The apology itself isn't funny either. 1/2 stars.
Jaime Lee Curtis for Activia Yogurt -- Jaime Lee Curtis (Wiig) shoots a commercial and has an accident. Which member of the "SNL" staff did Jaime Lee tick off to deserve this? A bafflingly unfunny sketch made almost kinda sorta watchable because Kristen is in a performing zone right now. But just awful and mean. And not in the funny way. Once again, Ashton gets a nothing role. 1/2 stars.
Gnarls Barkley performs "Run (I'm a Natural Disaster)" -- Well, it looks like it's up to the Gnarly Ones to save this show. And ... They do! Cee-Lo, Danger Mouse and company rip the joint apart with a killer version of their new single. Cee-Lo's hair is a masterpiece: equal parts James Brown and Wayne Cochran. It's a wig, right? Last time I saw him, he was bald. The bassist looks like Cub Koda circa 1973. Yes, I am as old as Senator Robert Byrd. 4 stars.
Weekend Update -- Curses! Curse my miserable, lousy local NBC affiliate! They cut off the beginning of Update to sell yet more horrid side-effect-laced drugs! Just for that, I will not be starting my morning with Scott and Syan on WESH 2 News Sunrise! So there! If there was anything before the Rumsfeld joke, I didn't see it. What I did see of this one didn't impress me much. Maybe the folks at WESH did me a favor. As prominent travel writer Judy Grimes, Kristen unleashes a remarkable feat of verbal dexterity -- and I'm not kidding! -- but I'm not sure how funny any of it is. I like Fred Armisen a lot, but someone needs to take him aside and threaten him if he doesn't stop doing lame-o political comic Nicholas Fehn. As with the apology on the Digital Short, if your only joke is that you're not being funny, you're not being funny. 1 1/2 stars.
Jukebox: "Amie" -- Previous Jukebox scenes appeared on the Rainn Wilson and Zach Braff episodes from last year, and each time, they were highlights of their respective shows. This one is a highlight too, but mostly by default. Forte gets the night's biggest laugh with a great line ("Pedophile? That's a pretty big word for a ten-year-old"). Hader's riff on Connie Chung is okay. Love the song. Pure Prairie League rocks! 2 1/2 stars.
Death by Chocolate I -- A chocolate bar kills a bum. A nice quickie bit of absurdist literalism. 3 stars.
The Mellow Show -- Laid-back rocker Jack Johnson welcomes laid-back rockers Dave Matthews and John Mayer to his thatch-hut-based program for some laid-back talk. Lame but amiable. Hader does a funny Dave Matthews-esque dance. Kenan comes on as Matthews's weird violinist. An inoffensive trifle. 2 stars.
Death by Chocolate II -- A chocolate bar commits more murder. The frame-job beat at the end keeps it from just being repetition. Good. 3 stars.
Gnarls Barkley performs "Who's Gonna Save My Soul?" -- Not quite the raucous explosion of joy that their first performance was, but stellar nonetheless. A marvelous soul ballad delivered with conviction and ... well, soul. That rattlesnake sounding thing that guy in back is playing is called a "vibraslap." I had to look that up. 3 1/2 stars.
Dusty Velvet -- Dusty is an exotic dancer and nothing's going to stop her from doing what she does best; not even the fact that she's paralyzed from the neck down. A great creepy premise executed pretty well by Casey Wilson and Ashton (love his mutton chops). Probably not as funny as it should be, but then, it's such an extreme and unpleasant idea, it's hard to tell. Andy's shriek is priceless. I still don't have a good handle on Casey as a performer but judging by this, we can be pretty sure she's not afraid to take risks. Factoring in the degree of difficulty ... 3 stars.
Death by Chocolate III -- Yep. Still pretty funny. And quick. Quick is a virtue. 3 stars.
Then Ashton wishes his Mom a Happy Birthday (same as Dougie, Age 8!) and WESH cuts off the credits early. Curse them!
A pretty weak effort tonight. At least Gnarls Barkley did well. This isn't a good one to go out on for a month, but at least Shia LaBoeuf won't have to worry about living up to a great previous show on May 10. Till then, enjoy the much better Amy Adams repeat next week (with recent PCA review subjects Vampire Weekend as Musical Guest). We'll do this again with the next new show.