By Ken Tucker
March 13, 2011 at 11:42 AM EDT
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I think we have a new candidate for the Saturday Night Live best-host hall of fame: Zach Galifianakis turned in a pretty flawless succession of performances this week. And the man sure knows how to make the most of the show’s final good-night-everybody sign-off segment.

Galifianakis began with a sturdy chunk of stand-up comedy, a string of jokes all the better for being so artfully disconnected (“The only good time to yell out ‘I have diarrhea!’ is when you’re playing Scrabble”), and culminating with him stripping down to reveal a Little Orphan Annie costume and lip-synching to “Tomorrow.” Galifianakis’ style — clever non sequiturs regularly interrupted by loud vocal explosions — wouldn’t necessarily seem like a good fit for SNL, but this week, he was an oasis of good comedy. A burly, bearded oasis, I tell you!

In a sketch that must have brought tears of grateful joy to Les Moonves, CBS’ The Talk was parodied for what it is: as Vanessa Bayer’s Sara Gilbert put it, “a show like a book club  where no one’s read the book — or any books.” This View rip-off, which hasn’t exactly taken the country by storm, received a big plug here, and Nasim Pedrad deserves special mention for doing an impeccable Sharon Osbourne. (SNL had the right take on Osbourne: a patent faker passing these days as “lovable.”) Galifianakis sat in the the audience wearing a View t-shirt and expressed amusing resentment. The only bad thing about it was Wiig/Chen’s announcement that Holly Robinson Peete would not be there because she was on vacation. Translation: There are no black women in the SNL cast.

The Digital Short was “Zach Looks for a New Assistant,” a wonderful, semi-improvised-looking segment featuring Galifianakis interviewing children for the position. Pairing Galifianakis with kids was inspired; this least paternal-seeming of performers was both funny and charming with them.

At the other extreme, Galifianakis’ Hannibal Lecter-ish prisoner, paired with Kenan Thompson in one of SNL‘s “Scared Straight” segments, got away with some close-to-filthy good lines about what can happen to naughty boys in prison.

Seth Meyers inserted a serious plea for donations for relief efforts in Japan. As far as the “Weekend Update” comedy went, there was a brisk, kick-her-while-she’s-down Julie Taymor embodied by Kristen Wiig, rattling on about The Lion King to try and avoid discussion of her fallllll-tering Spider-Man musical.

The weakest segment was “Celebrity Scoop,” a Canadian version of an Entertainment Tonight-style show hosted by Wiig and Fred Armisen. Canadian talk-show humor was done definitively by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas on SCTV in the 1980s, so this just seemed like a cold, pale ghost of better comedy; the few laughs could only be attributed to Galifianakis’ absurdist noises.

Musical guest Jessie J had some fun hiphop-soul to purvey with B.o.B. on “Price Tag,” and did some spirited, unselfconscious belting during her second appearance — American Idol contestants, take note.

What am I forgetting? Well, the cold-open at the top of the show was a “March Madness” bit in which Bill Hader scored both big laughs and applause for his Charlie Sheen. Hader did Sheen last week, but this time, his Sheen-gone-over-the-edge was even better: He captured the extent to which we’re all pretty sick of Sheen’s showy, endless breakdown. And I’m a sucker for almost any piece of comedy that satirizes comedy itself, such as the “Original Kings of Catchphrase Comedy” commercial.

Oh, right: The final sign-off. Galifianakis appeared onstage with the cast, swatches of hair shaved from both sides of his head, and mock-apologized for not having time for “the Mr. T sketch.” The surprise from the audience and the admiration from the cast seemed genuine verging on awe-struck.

What did you think of Galifianakis and this week’s SNL?

Twitter: @kentucker

The original late-night comedy sketch show from the one and only Lorne Michaels.
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