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Rating this season's 'Saturday Night Live' episodes: Has this been a good or bad season for the show?

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Tonight’s Saturday Night Live is a rerun (from January, Jesse Eisenberg host), so I thought it would be a good time to pause and take stock of season 36 of SNL.

In general, the show has followed its usual pattern, booking more movie stars with films to plug as hosts than TV stars. There’s been a heavy reliance upon recurring characters, but unlike season 35, the current SNL has made a greater effort to find face-time its new cast members: Vanessa Bayer, Jay Pharoah, Taran Killam, and Paul Brittain. (One wonders whether a similar effort might have saved the talented but neglected Michaela Watkins in season 34.)

Let’s look very briefly at each show, and average out a season grade:

• Amy Poehler/Katy Perry (9/25/10) Strong performance by Poehler, including some of her fan-fave characters such as Amber, the woman with one leg; Perry was also excellent both as musical guest and in making fun of her then-recent skirmish with Sesame Street. B+

• Bryan Cranston/Kanye West (10/2/10) Failed to make good use of Cranston, who is of course a superb comic actor. He was probably on-screen less than any host all season thus far. C

• Jane Lynch/Bruno Mars (10/9/10) Lynch was a solid team player, ceding the spotlight even when she was the star of a sketch; Mars was silky-smooth and one of the season’s musical high points. B+

• Emma Stone/Kings of Leon (10/23/10) Stone displayed a lot of versatility, was a good Lindsay Lohan in a View parody, and loved her in the I-broke-my-arm Digital Short. B+

• Jon Hamm/Rihanna (10/30/10) Hamm is proving one of the best recurring hosts, and reliable sketches such as a “Vincent Price’s Halloween Special,” pushed this one near the top. A-

• Scarlett Johansson/Arcade Fire (11/13/10) The opening line of my review: “Scarlett Johansson presided over a convocation of crickets during this week’s Saturday Night Live.” Weak, weak, weak. D+

• Anne Hathaway/Florence and the Machine (11/20/10) Remember before the Oscars, when everyone loved Anne Hathaway? She was strong throughout here, as in a fine Bayer/”Miley Cyrus Show” sketch that featured Hathaway as Katie Holmes, an impersonation that was rumored to have miffed the object of her satire. B+

• Robert De Niro/Didd-Dirty Money (12/4/10) De Niro was plugging his Little Fockers movie; Diddy was promoting Dirty Money; both were flops. D+

• Paul Rudd/Paul McCartney (12/11/10) Rudd wasn’t given sketches as strong as he’s had in the past, and this will be remembered, if at all, as the night McCartney dominated, with a slew of musical performances instead of the standard two. C+

• Jeff Bridges/Eminem (12/18/10) Beginning the holiday season early, SNL seemed to have one foot out the door for a vacation. Bridges wasn’t even called upon to parody True Grit, but the show found room for a spoof of Sundance Channel programming. File this under: Who cares? C-

• Jim Carrey/The Black Keys (1/8/11) Who can forget Carrey’s Black Swan parody? It made the night. B+

• Gwyneth Paltrow/Cee-Lo Green (1/15/11) Awkward joking about Green’s hit being retitled “Forget You.” But this edition deserves points for trying new things, such as interesting, sometimes quite clever sketches about Shakespeare, The Rent Is Too Damn High Party, and NBC’s doomed The Cape. B

• Jesse Eisenberg/Nicki Minaj (1/29/11) Two excellent sketches you may want to watch again tonight: The “Do The Creep” Digital Short, and “The Bride of Blackenstein,” a supposed lost 1972 blaxploitation classic that featured Jay Pharoah playing Dr. Frankenstein with the voice of Bootsy Collins. B+

• Dana Carvey/Linkin Park (2/5/11) I was in the minority here: I recall that you readers were much more fond of Carvey re-doing many of his trademark characters than I was; in fact, I thought Jon Lovitz’s cameo was funnier than anything Carvey did. Upgraded slightly to reflect popular opinion: B

• Russell Brand/Chris Brown (2/12/11) Pretty grim. Brand couldn’t break out of his usual persona with any range. The high point? An excellent Stefon “Weekend Update” moment courtesy of Bill Hader. C

• Miley Cyrus/The Strokes (3/5/11) A pleasant surprise, with Cyrus willing to spoof her own kiddie fame with a “Disney Acting School Sketch, and one of SNL‘s best crazy-non-sequitur sketches, featuring French characters dancing. B

• Zach Galifianakis/Jesse J (3/12/11) Another instance where you and I may have differed. I thought Galifianakis was terrific; many of you thought he and the show were either unfunny, too crude, or both. I’d still give the show a: B+

Toting them up (mind you, I’m no school teacher, but I think this average of roughly accurate), we get a season-to-date grade of… B. Better than expected, yes?

Agree? Disagree?

What do you think of the SNL season thus far? Looking forward to Elton John as the show’s next combo host/musical guest?

Twitter: @kentucker

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