By Darren Franich
Updated March 04, 2012 at 07:05 PM EST

Why was Lindsay Lohan on Saturday Night Live? She doesn't have a new project to promote. Her last film released in theaters was 2010's Machete, although IMDB claims she's starring in a movie called InAPPropriate Comedy alongside Rob Schneider, Michelle Rodriguez, and Adam Brody, which is coincidentally also a malaria nightmare I had one time. Hosts that don't come on SNL to shill for something typically fall into three specific types: the beloved SNL guest-star, like Timberlake, Hamm, or Baldwin; the headline-baiting non-performer, like Michael Phelps or Al Gore; and the youth demographic-baiting tween star, like Miley Cyrus.

Lohan's a long way from her Disney days, and although last night marked her fourth time hosting SNL, it became clear early on that her range was limited — for most of the show, she was relegated to making faces in the background (while scanning her next cue card) while the SNL cast overdelivered like mad. So despite the general post-show sentiment that she flopped, it might be more fair at this point to admit that Lohan was brought to SNL as a non-performer — someone who would get Twitter talking, fire up the all-important rubbernecker demographic, and allow the writers to finally empty out the "Rejected Sketch" bin. Psychic Awards, here we come!

The show started with a Fox News sketch, with Bill Hader's eerily kinky Shepard Smith interviewing Jason Sudeikis' Mitt Romney. The bit mostly focused on the exceptionally well-behaved Romney boys, and although the humor was a bit paint-by-numbers — Mormons are weird! — it was rescued by Hader. "I like creepy things, so I lo-ove you boys," he said. "I'd like to book you a three-night stay in my nightmares."

Lohan's monologue riffed on Lohan's recent history of legal troubles. Kenan Thompson checked to see if her eyes were bloodshot (though he did take the opportunity to confirm the long-running rumors: "I've been stoned since Good Burger.") And Kristen Wiig patted Lohan down. There was a nice grace note when Jimmy Fallon showed up onstage to cheer LiLo on — a follow-up to her appearance on his show. But the biggest laugh-applause (laughplause?) of the monologue came when Jon Hamm appeared in the audience as the "back-up host." It was funny, but by bringing in the current patron saint of SNL hosts, the show also put considerable extra pressure on Lohan.

Recently, the show's been on a winning streak with its fake-TV promos — remember SpikeTV's Downton Abbey? — and the Real Housewives of Disney parody kept the streak going, imagining a universe where beloved Princesses Belle, Snow White, Jasmine, Rapunzel, and Cinderella drink and fight constantly. Not sure what made me laugh more: "Be Our Guest" in the style of "Chic, C'est La Vie," or Taran Killam as an outlandishly closeted Prince Charming.

I thought the "2012 Psychic Awards" sketch was utterly laugh-free, like most sketches based entirely on funny wigs. But the first half of the episode reached a painful low point with "Scared Straight." Now, I've never been a huge fan of the "Scared Straight" sketches, but this go-round was a failure in every conceivable way. Lohan gamely played "Lindsay Lohan," but as written in the sketch, her character was basically another mini-Kenan Thompson screaming rape humor into Andy Samberg's face. Lohan's dependency on cue cards was painfully obvious, especially during a long soliloquy she seemed to be learning on the spot. And oh boy, did I mention rape humor? "Scared Straight" climaxed with Thompson rejiggering the Kay Jeweler's song into "Every kiss begins with RAPE!" He said it twice, and it only got less funny. The sketch ended with Jason Sudeikis successfully cracking up Bill Hader, Samberg, and Bobby Moynihan. It was vaguely reminiscent of the Lohan-costarring "Debbie Downer" sketch, although notably Lohan had already left the stage when the laughing started.

Jack White's first performance featured an all-female band. It could've used more tambourine, but it was undeniably fun trying to figure out whether Jack White looks more like Johnny Depp or Tim Burton.

I've got a theory that can tell exactly how much the SNL writers respect the hosts based on how much the hosts participated in "Weekend Update." If that's true, then the fact that Lohan was utterly absent from this week's "Update" probably indicates that the writers didn't have much faith in her. Instead, "Update" featured an appearance by Bill Hader's James Carville. The character has evolved from a merely spot-on impression into a lavish magical-realism interpretation of Dirty South gentility, which is a roundabout way of saying that every line Hader said killed. "We don't always get the job we look right for," he explained at one point. "If we did, I'd be the King of the Snakes!"

Jon Hamm also swung by playing Snooki's baby-daddy and once again earned more laugh-plause in two seconds than Lohan did for entire skits. Absolutely no one was laughing, or applauding, or even breathing in the next sketch, "Delinquent Teen Girl Gang," about a group of girls who want to dance in the streets. There's just one problem: One girl keeps getting hit by a car! And that girl is played by Fred Armisen! Wigs are hilarious!

Now, utter-absurdity humor can be hard to judge. "Getting it" isn't based on understanding a punchline. It's entirely based on whether your brain is set to the particular nonsense-wavelength of the sketch. So even though I didn't like "Delinquent Teen Girl Gang," I have to admit that I absolutely loved the Digital Short that followed it. It was weird. It was random. It prominently featured wig humor. But "Afros" delivered a just-right dose of after-midnight insanity. Watch and ponder:

Maybe I just dug "Afros" because it was undeniably unique and weird. Neither of those words could apply to the next sketch, which featured Moynihan and Killam as radio show hosts. The sketch was built off the notion that it's funny when white dudes act like black dudes, which was brave satire for about one moment in the '90s.

Lohan had her most prominent starring role in the next sketch, where she played a personality-vacuum house sitting for an excessively paranoid Kristen Wiig. I want to try and enjoy these "Kristen Wiig makes a funny face" sketches while I can, since the Oscar nominee and unqualified movie star probably won't be around SNL for much longer. But the skit was dire and seemed half-written — towards the end, Kristen Wiig literally had to explain the entire sketch, lest your brain implode from the sheer unlikelihood of someone butt-dialing a conference call with their cell-phone voicemail and their landline. Sure, that's how technology works! And the internet runs on steam!

Jack White reappeared with an all-male band, thus balancing out the universe. The last complete sketch of the night was "Rude Buddha," with Andy Samberg playing the serene spiritual icon as a stealth fratboy who made sex jokes in between consultations with his disciples. I like Samberg, but half the characters he plays in his non-Digital Short sketches seem to be secret fratboys, and the punchlines were mostly face-slap wordplay. ("I'll show her the Zen way. First, I take her home. Zen, I take her clothes off.) Lohan appeared once again as a naive and offended character, ending her night with a whimper.

And that was it… or it would've been, except for a couple of videos featuring Jason Sudeikis as a weird guy by a fire. I laughed harder at a random riff on '90s-style commercials for '70s albums than I did for anything Lohan did.

Jon Hamm and Jimmy Fallon were back for the end-credits group-hug, and the camera spent more time lingering on the two of them sharing a laugh than it did on Lohan. It's hard to say exactly what the show could have done with Lohan. Judging by the responses on our comment boards, it seems like people were hoping for an extended apology-through-comedy — think Dane Cook playing himself on Louie. But based on her appearances on Today and Late Night, it doesn't seem like Lohan is willing to poke too much fun at herself — you'll notice that nobody mentioned Playboy last night.

Kate Ward — my esteemed colleague and future Lohan biographer — has theorized that the former starlet could transform herself into a culturally viable professional train wreck, like Pamela Anderson or the Kardashians. But Lohan seems to lack their self-awareness. And she was once a big enough actual star to think that a Syfy movie or a reality show would be undignified for her. Hey, you can't entirely blame her. They let her host SNL again. And considering how shamelessly the show turned her appearance into a hot-topic non-event, there's a part of me that feels sorry for her.

What did you think of the show, fellow viewers? Did you love or hate the "Afros" video? Should "Scared Straight" be retired, or does the world need more extended riffs on prison rape? Can James Carville sell his life whites [Editor's note: Supposed to be "life rights," but "life whites" sounds funnier.] to Bill Hader so that Hollywood can finally produce the long-awaited Carville biopic, James Carville: King of the Snakes?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich