Bruno Mars told us he was no comedian, but he was game for a surprisingly entertaining episode of Saturday Night Live. Was he of Justin Timberlake caliber? No, but who is? Mars was initially restricted to a lot of song numbers, which had me concerned. Still, the musical sketches were pretty funny, particularly one featuring Pandora, as you’ll see below. Thankfully, after the Pandora one, Mars mostly kept the singing to his duties as musical guest and turned up the charm as a sad mouse, a one-eyed hotel employee and a fake ID maker. I had my doubts about you as a host, Mars, but you showed me wrong. I’d like to see you back someday!
The night kicked off with — what else? — a cold open debate: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, round two. Held at Hofstra University in Long Island, the debate was moderated by Aidy Bryant as Candy Crowley. I don’t know about you guys, but her comedic timing felt slightly off to me. She talked over the laughter a couple times. And yet, her back and forth with Jason Sudeikis’s Mitt Romney was pretty good, so I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. (“Candy please. Oh Candy come on.”) The debate itself held few laughs for me, the basic joke being that Obama and Romney were about to come to fisticuffs. It wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t as good as last week’s VP debate. Sorry Romney, you’re just not as funny as Joe Biden. The 82 undecided voters on hand to ask questions were mostly underwhelming (though Bobby Moynihan’s appearance in the puffy New York Giants jacket was spot on). That is, they were underwhelming until… One of them turned out to be Tom Hanks! Yes, Hanks made a few cameo appearances last night, starting off by asking about “Libya.” (Literally, that’s all he said.) Kudos to Pharaoh’s Obama — he’s getting better (and grayer) every time he shows up.
A hatless Bruno Mars took the stage next for his monologue. Seriously he had no hat! I wondered what he’d been hiding beneath those fedoras, but it turned out to be a surprisingly full head of hair. (Perfect for a “shampoo commercial.” Get him one, somebody!) As for the actual monologue, I went back and forth over my feelings about it. On one hand, it was so predictable. Of course a combo host/musical guest would sing his way through the monologue. But then Mars is such a great singer and the song itself — which was a straightforward tune about the singer’s fears of hosting SNL — was pretty amusing. (“Can I put aside my fears? Can I be like Timberlake?”) The best part came when he brought out his backup for a breakdown bit, praising them on their step skills. “They’re so good at it,” Mars gestured. “It’s cause they’re black.” He closed the song with “Please be gentle,” then gave us Puss in Boots eyes. Alright Mars, you got me.
After the monologue, we cut to a fake commercial for Brad Pitt’s Chanel No. 5. This is the parody that writes itself. I mean, have you seen the real one? Taran Killam didn’t even need to change the script. If there’d been one to begin with that is. “You want me to sound less coherent?” Killam’s Pitt asked. “I can just start making up words… Bittalicious.” The bit kept cropping up throughout the night, advertising a different thing each time. (“The new Doritos Taco Loco. It’s a great way to make a quick meal when you have between 8 and 20 children.” “Franklin’s Dog Condoms. He’s your best friend. Why not be his and let him keep his balls?”) I loved it and Killam’s Pitt was dead-on. (“Is it just me or do I look super homeless?”)
Next up was an awful skit called “Haters with Sunny Taylor Tomkins.” Cecily Strong played a female Maury Povich, hosting a booty-shaking mother-daughter duo made up of Bobby Moynihan and Bruno Mars — both in drag. (Mars makes a great girl, doesn’t he?) Mars’s character was stealing all of Moynihan’s boyfriends, and they’d come on the show for counseling or something. (Didn’t they remind you of this classic Maury episode?) In any case, the real kicker here wasn’t Moynihan or Mars, but the audience that could not stop booing. Seriously, that was the joke. Newbie Tim Robinson made an appearance at the end as a doctor who tried to analyze the crowd’s psychological need to rebel, but that was even more painful. The only saving grace for this sketch was that it ended quickly — though I did like it when poor Jay Pharaoh got hit with a chair. (“I am one of you!”)
The “Haters” skit was quickly redeemed in my book with the “Pandora Internet Radio Systems Headquarters” one that followed. When Pandora loses power and the Green Day radio station is about to go out, who you gonna call? Bruno Mars! Mars starred as Devon the intern, a trainee with a powerful set of pipes. And boy, wasn’t he good at those impressions? Sure, it was an easy way to get Mars into a skit — by singing — but he had Billie Joe Armstrong’s incomprehensible lyrics down. His Steven Tyler? Amazing. (Did you see the way he was moving his mouth?) Tyler was followed by Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Louis Armstrong and Michael Jackson. (“I can only do Michael if I have the glove.”) Mars didn’t have to physically impersonate these people — all he needed to do was the voices — but he brought a little character to each one anyways. (His Bieber was my favorite — if only the hoodie he was wearing had been purple!) I wondered how Mars could keep up with all the singing and the conclusion to this sketch did not disappoint. (RIP Devon the intern.) Alas, the song rights keep me from being able to post this clip here.
Mars starred in the next video segment as well, a short film entitled “Sad Mouse.” The singer played a lonely guy who lands a job wearing a mouse suit in Times Square. His girlfriend had just broken up with him and his dad had just left him for his other family, so he was worried what he’d do if people ignored him. “What if they don’t wave back?” he tearfully asked Sudeikis’ shady employer. (They won’t, Bruno Mars! No one waves back in Times Square!) Mars wandered around in the mouse suit, desperately looking for love and finding only negligence. All in all, I found this clip more sad than funny (I’m waving to the next be-suited person I see in Times Square, I can tell you that), but the scene when Mars pulled out the letter from his dad (Dear son, this is our other family) had me laughing, while I was happy to see the mouse find love with a hula-skirted frog at the end. Still, it felt more like Oscar bait than something humorous.
After Mars’ first performance, which was introduced by Hanks, we returned from the commercial break for the Weekend Update. Seth Meyers was underwhelming, though his do’s and don’t’s segment for the final presidential debate did have some good lines. (“Do speak loud and clearly. You’re in Boca Raton, Florida.”) But then… Stefon appeared! I can’t tell you how much I love Bill Hader’s midget-obsessed city correspondent. I know some people are tired of him, but I don’t think I ever will be. I wish he had his own TV show. Anyways, Stefon was on to share his advice about what to do in NYC for Halloween. His recommendation? Hit up Jellybowls (or maybe it was Jellyballs?), a club guarded by Hobocops (homeless Robocops). Oh! And the champagne might be piss. However, like all Stefon segments, the best part came when Hader broke character. (I won’t spoil when it happens.) The obligatory midget reference was there as well — the human piñata. (“It’s when a Mexican midget eats a lot of candy and dances til he throws up.” Oh, ew.) Meyers tried to correct Stefon on his un-PC use of “midget,” to which Hader gamely replied “not midget, fun size.” He ended on a reference to how many hot dogs Slimer (the ectoplasmic ghost from Ghostbusters) could hold in his mouth. “I fully understand, I want you to stop,” Meyers told Stefon before he go any further.
Next up was a bizarre “Amusement Park” bit where Vanessa Bayer and Jay Pharaoh played a couple going through a haunted house. The ride stopped, leaving them face-to-face with a motorized… barbershop quartet (made up of Bill Hader, Taran Killam, Bruno Mars and a surprising fourth member). Really, what was that doing on a haunted ride? If you can get over that fact, however, then the sketch itself did have its moments. After Pharaoh offends the initial three, they exchange their instruments for knives and chainsaws, all while maintaining their jerky robotic movements. (Mars was so good at that, wasn’t he?) Hader, Killam and Mars led Pharaoh off, leaving Bayer to the mercies of Tom Hanks, the fourth member who put in an appearance towards the end of the sketch. “I know I should be scared, but you have a very likable face,” Bayer said. “I get that a lot,” Hanks answered mechanically. I don’t think I would’ve liked this skit at all, but for Hanks.
After the break, we came back to one of those really strange late-night sketches (all the weirdest stuff is saved for the end on SNL). Sudeikis and Bayer played a couple staying at The Wilderness Lodge, which was manned by a one-eyed Mars. They wanted to visit Yeti Point (insert Mars’s wide-eye stare at the camera), but Mars kept warning them against it because there were real Yetis up there and “they point at you.” The couple would not be dissuaded by Mars’ words, though, so he called in Hader (looking like Boris Karloff), who revealed he was sexually violated by a Yeti. (At this point, I went huh?) Of course, this led to a (disturbing? sickening? tender?) scene where Hader reunites with his Yeti love (complete with, erm, intercourse) and heads off into the sunset. To be honest, I’m still not quite sure what happened there (or if I will need counseling).
Mars took the stage for the final time, performing the new ballad “Young Girls” from his upcoming album Unorthodox Jukebox. (I actually quite liked this song.) This was followed by a quick Underground Festival promo for “Donkey Punch the Ballot.” I’ve never been a huge fan of these, but it did have some good one-liners. (Irritated at the Printer as a cover band for Rage Against the Machine comes to mind.) Kate McKinnon whipped out a stellar (if random) Ruth Ginsberg impression and Bruno Mars had a great moment as Trey, a fake ID maker who can forge “one mean Hawaiian birth certificate.”
All in all, I thought it was a pretty solid episode of SNL, my second favorite of the season so far (the first being Seth MacFarlane). Like I said at the beginning, I’d welcome Mars back with open arms. But what are your feelings? Did you like Mars? Did you wish Tom Hanks had hosted? Do you too need post-traumatic Yeti sketch counseling? Maybe we can go to Dr. Zizmor together.