By Ken Tucker
April 05, 2009 at 05:06 PM EDT

You know how Saturday Night Live usually saves its odder, slightly more obscure sketches for its final half-hour? Last night, the Seth Rogen-hosted edition used those as its big guns. If you were craving a sketch about how the decline in newspaper sales is endangering the livelihoods of Dick Tracy and Garfield, this was the show for you. Well, Andy Samberg did get to do his fine, ditzy Cathy impersonation, and Fred Armisen, as the embodiment of Sudoku, was excellent, even if the punchline to the sketch — indeed, the entire sketch, was something that could have been done five years ago.

Next up? Hey, how about the return of Bill Hader’s Vinny Vedecci, the Italian Charlie Rose? He interviewed Seth Rogen. Again, fine performance by Hader, but the familiarity of the character combined with not-much-new in its execution, didn’t exactly give the show momentum. 

“Weekend Update”? Seems to get longer every week, but I admit to a fondness for Kenan Thompson’s French comedian (“Zut alors!”). Did you like the Update visit from Madonna (Kristen Wiig) and Angelina Jolie (Abby Elliott)? Here’s the consistent theme of the evening: the performances were first-rate; the writing failed the performers. I kept wanting to laugh, but where were the strong punchlines? The “Digital Short” starring Samberg and Rogen with a jokey hiphop song? It would have been a lot stronger if Samberg hadn’t worked in this style repeatedly before. And, Samberg and Rogen again, spoofing the weekend’s most popular new movie, but turning it into The Fast and The Bi-Curious? Even the phrase “bi-curious” feels old and over-used.

Last night, it was a matter of choosing which of the oddball-sketches was your favorite. You might have liked the comic-strip one mentioned above; for me, two stood out. I enjoyed the Muppets-on-a-bus piece; putting Rogen and a lot of the cast in Muppet costumes and having them embark on a psychedelic, Easy Rider/Ken Kesey/’60s-style journey: strangely funny. I also though the country-music Easter album commercial-parody, starring Rogen, Wiig, and Will Forte was so crazily out-there that I just sat back in impressed amazement. I didn’t laugh, but it was a really impressive performance piece.

Finally, what was up with letting bland-o band Phoenix do a third song to close out the show? Was this some cultural exchange having to do with the Obamas’ overseas tour? Other countries get our President, we get a French rock band?

Did you watch the show? What did you think?