In a shocking move, Saturday Night Live began its Anne Hathaway-hosted show this week with an opening political sketch that was actually pretty funny. Abby Elliott did a Rachel Maddow impersonation that captured many of the MSNBC host’s verbal refrains and gestures, and kept the tired jokes about her haircut to a minimum. Kristen Wiig pared her Nancy Pelosi down to suitably sharp edges and death-ray eye gazes, while Kenan Thompson’s Charlie Rangel was an caricature of assiduous avarice.
Since Hathaway’s opening monologue involved a Love and Other Drugs nudity joke that featured the cover of the current Entertainment Weekly, I’ll recuse myself from judgment. Fortunately, Hathaway was extremely amusing in the first sketch of the night, dismantling Katie Holmes’ mannerisms opposite Vanessa Bayer’s Miley Cyrus impersonation. Bayer has proven her Miley bona fides before, but this was her best yet, with her Miley introducing Hathaway’s Holmes as having starred in Dawson’s Creek “back in the 1900s” and showing her audition tape for the new Batman movie.
You know how airline passengers are chafing about the new TSA pat-down policy? Boy, SNL certainly does: The show did a fake sex ad about the excessive fondling, and then Seth Meyers made no fewer than four jokes about the TSA at the start of “Weekend Update.” Total result: maybe a snicker-and-a-half. “Update” nearly capsized under the weight of Bobby Moynihan’s heavy-handed Guy Fieri impersonation, but was rescued at the end, as Jay Pharoah powered through a fine series of Thanksgiving songs as they might have been delivered by Jay-Z, Drake, and Biggie Smalls.
SNL fared particularly well with music this week. In addition to Pharoah’s work, there was a series of mostly-terrific vocal impressions for the soundtrack to a Disney-esque kiddie film called Horse Play. Wiig’s Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries, Andy Samberg’s Robert Smith of the Cure, and Hathaway’s Alanis Morissette were especially good.
Speaking of music, I was a pushover for the florid excessiveness of Florence and the Machine — this was melodic melodrama operating at a highly enjoyable level.
Hathaway proved to be a wonderfully essential supporting player numerous times. Her Judy Garland in a “lost scenes” from The Wizard of Oz sketch captured Garland’s tremulous voice impeccably. (Bonus points for her handling of that sweet dog playing Toto so well.) (Extra bonus points for the precision of Bill Hader’s Bert Lahr/Cowardly Lion.)
The host heroically threw herself into a Thanksgiving soup-kitchen sketch dominated by Kristen Wiig’s Penelope character; Hathaway’s parody of Penelope’s mannerisms were funnier than Wiig’s.
Hathaway even eked out the only laughs in a fake ad for “Mega-Mart” in just a few seconds on-screen as an excessively caffeinated customer. And Hathaway’s New Yawk accent was a solid complement to Bill Hader’s highlight this night: His embodiment of the sort of well-past-his-prime newsman that pops up on local news shows. Too bad Hader’s horn-rimmed Herb Welch supposedly died at the end of the sketch; I hope he’ll be resurrected.
Hathaway wasn’t the kind of first-rate SNL host who dominates the proceedings the way, say, Alec Baldwin or Steve Martin do. Instead of brawny power, she brought a brightly-lit wit, an avid enthusiasm tempered by sure skill. She was charming, sure — we expect Anne Hathaway to be charming. But she was also bold and adventurous.
What did you think of Anne Hathaway and this week’s SNL?