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'Saturday Night Live' recap: Zooey Deschanel hosted, Jean Dujardin and Nicolas Cage made cameos. Plus: Whitney Houston tribute.

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It feels odd and almost wrong to write about anything other than Whitney Houston right now.

The legendary singer’s sudden death hung heavy on my mind while I watched last night’s Saturday Night Live. Would they pay tribute to her? (They did, quickly and subtly, by flashing a picture of her memorable appearance in a classic Mary Katherine Gallagher sketch.) Would it feel strange to laugh considering the sad news we’d all learned just a few hours earlier before the broadcast? (The episode, despite being an overall very enjoyable one, still felt strangely disconnected from the rest of the world as it was mourning the loss of a great performer.) But, as they say, the show must go on. And so SNL did.

The episode kicked off, as it so often does, with an unnecessary political cold open. Once more Jason Sudeikis did his take on vanilla GOP candidate Mitt Romney for an otherwise unmemorable start to the episode. But hey, at least there was a cute dog! And speaking of cutesy, the queen of quirk herself, host Zooey Deschanel made her grand entrance to the stage of Studio 8H wearing a heart-printed dress with a ukelele in hand to sing a song about forgetful boyfriends on Valentine’s Day. Of course she did. Watch Deschanel’s opening monologue here:

The always-great Bill Hader had the evening’s longest-running gag, a take on Clint Eastwood‘s growling, motivational, and yes, controversial, Chrysler Super Bowl commercial. The mock ads had some great lines that I wish had been in the actual commercial (“Get a Chrysler, and get off my damn lawn,” “I know it won’t be Newt Gingrich, because his fat head won’t fit in the f—ing car,” “I should know, I’m Batman”) as well as the increasingly hilarious visual of Hader’s Eastwood’s increasingly rising pants. Watch as Hader/Eastwood give America a stern talking-to:

Hader’s over-the-top Eastwood kept in line with the overall theme of last night’s episode: Impressions galore! (None of which, for the record, were done by Jay Pharoah.) A Piers Morgan Tonight sketch about the halftime show middle finger flap featured no less than seven imitations, including last night’s MVP Taran Killam as Morgan, Nasim Pedrad (who also brought back her spot-on Arianna Huffington later in the hour) as middle finger culprit M.I.A., Kristen Wiig as a Madonna,  Andy Samberg as that tightrope guy, Sudeikis and Fred Armisen as LMFAO’s Redfoo and Sky Blu (yep, those are their names) and Deschanel as an outraged mom (but let’s face it, it was Sarah Palin.) All of them were pretty great here, but I have to give the slight edge to Wiig for nailing Madonna’s “British” accent.

Still, that sketch was no match for the two best moments from last night’s episode: Nicolas Cage facing/off against himself and  Deschanel seeing her own gigantic cartoon eyes staring back at her. The former came when the ubiquitous actor appeared in Samberg’s brilliantly deranged “Get in the Cage with Nicolas Cage” segment on “Weekend Update.”

[Quick “Weekend Update” sidebar: Do you think Gisele Bundchen got just as much a kick out of Seth Meyers’ joke that President Obama “tried to call the Patriots, but the call was dropped” just as much as I did? Probably not. End sidebar.] You know what’s funnier than one Nicolas Cage? A billion Nicolas Cages. Okay, this only had two, but it was still insanely funny.

Kudos to Cage for having such a good sense of humor about himself and the cloned “exaggerated, screaming psychopath” version of himself  that “just doesn’t exist.” Watch one of the absolute best moments from this season so far. That’s high praise!

Not to be outdone, Deschanel was willing to poke fun at herself and her overly sweet persona for the episode’s best sketch, an instant season highlight, “Bein’ Quirky with Zooey Deschanel.” While it was a blast to watch Deschanel play Mary Kate Olsen (“I happened to catch a slight breeze that brought me all the way here”) all while interacting with herself (okay, Abby Elliot) I legitimately could have watched an entire sketch of Killam’s flawless impersonation of Michael Cera and Wiig’s dead-on Björk. Celebrities meeting “themselves” is certainly nothing new to SNL (Jimmy Fallon and Robert De Niro, anyone?) but when its executed as perfectly as this, it feels just as fresh and funny as ever. I would hug this sketch if I could:

Deschanel likely felt right at home stepping into the meek shoes of Mary Kate Olsen as the New Girl star was visibly nervous throughout most of her first SNL hosting effort. While she wasn’t a bad host by any means, it all felt awfully reminiscent of fellow quirkster Jesse Eisenberg’s visit. (In other thoughts, why aren’t we, as a people, actively rooting for Zooey Deschanel and Jesse Eisenberg to be a couple? Think of how awkwardly adorable they’d awkwardly be.)

Her nerves were most apparent in the otherwise-funny 1940s newsroom sketch and the downright terrible 1860s dating prospects sketch. She was also shaky during the seemingly never ending crab party sketch, but she couldn’t entirely be blamed for that one. That was a clunker on SNL if there ever was one, y’all.

The actress had good reason to be nervous though, as SNL seemed to try to get her to follow in the footsteps of one of this season’s best hosts, Emma Stone. Not only did they have Deschanel appear in the previously-seen and very silly “Make Technology Hump,” but they also had her take over for Stone in the inspired fan favorite “Les Jeunes de Paris.” I can’t say Deschanel had quite the same moves as Stone here, but she did get a little help from charming Oscar nominee Jean Dujardin who stopped by grin and dance. (Voilà! You’ve seen The Artist!) I must say, that guy is on a comedic tear this week. Clooney, look out. Watch Dujardin’s SNL moment here:

Don’t worry Karmin fans, I didn’t forget about them, it’s just that between all those cameos and impressions, there was a lot going on. Actually, the same could be said for Karmin’s bouncy, energetic SNL debut. While the duo isn’t exactly my cup of tea, I will give credit where credit its due and say that they gave it their all with their peppy, fast-paced performances of “Broken Hearted” and “I Told You So.”

While most talk will inevitably turn to what will happen during next week’s Saturday Night Live when Maya Rudolph returns to her stomping grounds to host (will she play Whitney Houston once more? I’m guessing, out of respect, probably not) there’s still plenty to chat about from last night.

A vast improvement over last week’s weak turn from Channing Tatum, Zooey Deschanel’s episode featured season highlights thanks to funny commercials (the Verizon is “an old person’s nightmare” ad was a winner) and even funnier impressions and cameos. It all brought some much-needed levity during one of the saddest nights to hit the entertainment world.

What did you think of last night’s Zooey Deschanel-hosted episode of Saturday Night Live? Should the show have paid more of a tribute to Whitney Houston, or are they saving that for next week? What did you think of Deschanel’s debut? How about Karmin’s? Or was it all about those Nicolas Cage and Jean Dujardin cameos? Share in the comments section below.

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