For 37 years, Saturday Night Live has been considered a New York City institution. Calling the famous Rockefeller Center home, the show has given us some of comedy’s most iconic figures. SNL often takes pride in their Big Apple status by making in jokes that won’t quite have the same effect on someone outside of the New York metropolitan area. In fact, they did so a few times during last night’s episode: There was a nod at Mayor Bloomberg, a reference to Carmel’s 777 car service, and a jab at Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. But SNL didn’t do New York, nor its host Anna Faris, much justice at all last night. Heck, a Canuck by the name of Drake pretty much took over the whole thing.

Opening the show with a New York-centric skit with Fred Armisen as Mayor Bloomberg (who doesn’t so much look like him, but simply exaggerated his monotone drawl), discussing the ongoing battle to keep Occupy Wall Street at Zuccotti Park. And while the bit got some pandering woos (Armisen’s Bloomberg declared “New York sets the trends and the rest of the world follows” regarding the other OWS protest that have cropped up in other cities), there were some out-of-place jokes about the cigarette ban and the city’s grime. Live from New York it’s… 2005?

So maybe it was going to have to be up to Faris, who was returning to host SNL for the second time in her career, to bring it all back to present day. Unfortunately, like in the opening sketch, Faris relied on the old and expected. Instantly, they had Faris play up her sweet airhead bit à la The House Bunny. After announcing that she was thrilled to be hosting the (alleged) Halloween episode, Faris fielded questions from the “audience” about topics ranging from the economic crisis in Greece to religion. The What’s Your Number? star couldn’t handle any of it until a woman who looked just like her named Hanna Garris (played by Abby Elliott) quite literally spoke her language. (Sorry Jay Pharoah, guess they won’t let you do every impersonation!) Watch:

Seeing as this was the Halloween episode, I expected the show to kick off with Bill Hader’s dependably funny and wonderfully weird “Vincent Price’s Halloween Special.” Alas, viewers were treated (or tricked, depending on how you feel about the sketch) to SNL‘s lone recurring skit of the night, the dance-happy, albeit one-note “Manuel Ortiz Show.” Hader may not have gotten the chance to play Vincent Price, but he did steal the otherwise-predictable (they even dance their fire drills!) bit with his cheating husband character, who looked like a deranged Jim Carrey. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Hader is SNL‘s MVP. (Though Taran Killam is quickly climbing the ranks.)

Faris was all but forgotten in the “Ortiz” skit, but they let her get some real screen time in the Lifetime game show “What’s Wrong With Tanya?” The show takes moms from those so-bad-they’re-great Lifetime movies — in which soft lighting, cheesy dialogue, and pastel vests reign supreme — and gets them to try to figure out what’s wrong with their troubled youth. Their prize if they win? “A Volvo filled with groceries.” While the sketch had its moments (Faris’ competitors pretending to rake leaves while she competed in the lightning round), for a bit in which the ladies should have ruled, that pesky Hader went and stole their thunder as a host/scary Lifetime movie husband. (“You’re hurting my arm!” “Who’s going to believe you?!”) Check it out:

I admit I was filled with a small sense of dread when the logo for the SNL Digital Short popped up. Andy Samberg’s once-fresh and instantly-viral sensations have fallen flat so far this season. (Remember the Blue Man Group short from the otherwise-great Melissa McCarthy episode? Yeesh.) But, much to my relief, Samberg and his shorts redeemed themselves with a series of interviews with musical guest Drake, who undoubtedly got the biggest reactions of the night. There was a brief interview with Drake, an extremely close interview with Drake, an extremely sarcastic interview with the “musician” Drake, a racist interview with Drake (though Samberg took his sage advice to skip that one), a wordless seduction with Drake (how was he not wooed by that?), a matching (Cosby!) sweater interview with Drake, an extremely dark interview with Drake, and my personal favorite, a horribly dubbed interview with Drake. (“I’m Drake… I’m a person who raps and stuff.”) Was it the best short SNL has offered? Hardly. But, it made me chuckle and Drake not only looked like he was having fun with it but proved he can still act. (Is there anything Degrassi doesn’t teach?!) Watch the night’s funniest skit below:

Hooray, I’m feeling genuinely excited for the first time tonight! Charlie Day is hosting the upcoming Nov. 5 episode! And Maroon 5 will serve as the musical guest! Which can only mean one thing: Naked Adam Levine! (This is me using my Charlie Day shouting voice, by the way!)

However, that excitement died down fast once the show returned with yet another skit about yet another GOP debate. Almost a carbon copy of the one they presented during the season opener, there were cracks about how boring Mitt Romney (played by Jason Sudeikis) is, how zany Herman Cain (Kenan Thompson) is, and how much everyone would like to lock Michele Bachmann (Kristen Wiig) and Newt Gingrich (Bobby Moynihan) in a supply closet and let them just kill each other. When the debate’s moderator (Vanessa Bayer) told them “You’re starting to waste our time,” the feeling felt a little bit mutual. When SNL gets political humor right, they get it so right (Tina Fey, you are desperately needed), but this was all wrong.

While Faris was being underutilized as a host, Drake was making sure to make the most of his time. The singer used the second of his four appearances last night to perform “Headlines.” Even if you weren’t familiar with the track, there were some handy-dandy screens that flashed the lyrics behind the Canadian rapper. Drake popped up once more for a painfully bad Weekend Update (playing a teenager dressed as a werewolf rapping about “bag jackin'” candy from trick-or-treaters), but saved the day (or night, rather) when pants-less Nicki Minaj joined him for their fun and flirty duet “Made Me Proud.”

Faris and the women of SNL didn’t exactly one-up Drake and Minaj for their skit about modern-day women singing about the perils of dating, set to the tune of the Exciters’ doo-wop classic “Tell Him.” Sure, some of the lines about “maintaining the mystery” probably hit pretty close for single girls. But the idea that women have to lie to get a man interested or fake a pregnancy to get him to stay felt about as dated as the ice cream shop they were singing in. (Some of us actually do like watching hockey and playing Call of Duty, thank you very much!)

Of course, nothing was more purposefully offensive (well, besides perhaps “The Manuel Ortiz Show”) than the following skit about a cable access show called “J-Pop America Fun Time Now,” in which two college-aged Japanese culture enthusiasts (Killam, Bayer) pay homage in the worst way possible, by looking and sounding like every possible Japanese stereotype. The un-PC skit definitely had its moments, including Sudeikis playing a horrified Sensei teacher named Mark watching it all unfold and Killam’s commitment to the bit as Jonathan-son. The latter was the best/worst example of being culturally clueless since Dave went all Navajo on this week’s Happy Endings. See for yourself:

Still, offensive or not, that sketch was infinitely better than the two remaining one. In the first, Faris brings home a strange boyfriend named Wyndemere (played by Paul Brittain), who is more or less the bizarre “Berries and Cream” guy. Then there’s the utterly dumbfounding finale, in which Faris (who could be seen looking at the cue cards throughout) and Wiig played (presumably) Jersey girls who swoon over the 2012 Ferrari calendar. All in all, not the best night for the tri-state region, thanks to SNL.

Am I being too tough on this week’s Anna Faris-hosted episode of Saturday Night Live, PopWatchers, or do you agree that it was a dud? Did you expect more from the Halloween episode? Like, perhaps, some actual Halloween skits? Do you think Faris gave it her all? Or did Drake steal the show from everyone? Share in the comments section below!

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Bowen Yang
Saturday Night Live

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

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