Credit: NBC

Ah, the perils of high expectations! Anyone who’s ever giggled at a gif of Jennifer Lawrence joking around predicted that the two-time Oscar nominee would tear up SNL last night. Unfortunately, the show itself didn’t quite live up to those lofty hopes. Lawrence herself got better and better as the episode progressed, shedding the nervousness that seemed to plague her during her opening monologue. But the material she was given didn’t follow the same arc — especially the weak sketches that followed a curiously shortened Weekend Update.

The show got off to a strong start with a Piers Morgan Tonight-themed cold open that tackled a trio of topical issues: Lance Armstrong’s “I doped” Oprah interview, the strange saga of Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend, and Jodie Foster’s quasi-coming out at the Golden Globes. Most of the impressions here were strong, especially Kate McKinnon’s wide-eyed Foster; Bobby Moynihan’s slack-jawed Te’o wasn’t quite as accurate, but his unchanging look of astonishment was a strong visual gag. The best part of the sketch, though, had to be McKinnon quoting Jodie Foster quoting Molly Shannon’s Sally O’Malley character, who was once an SNL staple. INCEPTION!

Jennifer Lawrence’s monologue was ballsy, if inconsistently executed. Its centerpiece, inspired by her “I beat Meryl!” quip at the Globes, saw the actress lobbing cheesy insults at each of her opponents for Best Actress at the Oscars. (“I beat Meryl” was a quote from The First Wives Club; this trash talk, though, was “another story.”) Lawrence seemed a little uncomfortable with the premise, but some of her jokes landed well — like this dig at Quvenzhané Wallis: “The alphabet called. They want their letters back.” And even Bill Hader’s stony-faced Tommy Lee Jones had to laugh at her corny Emmanuelle Riva line. Plus, hey — at least she didn’t sing!

A fake Starbucks commercial that was sort of funny and also sort of racist — who voiced “Verquonica”? There hasn’t been a black female comedian in SNL‘s cast since Maya Rudolph left in 2007 — was followed by the second installment of “Girlfriends Talk Show,” a sketch first seen when Anne Hathaway hosted earlier this season. This time, Lawrence played the new girl stealing Cecily Strong’s Keira away from her longtime BFF, Aidy Bryant’s Morgan. Though the sketch didn’t deviate from its established formula, Lawrence was great as edgy wannabe punk Jessie, who wears black lipstick and has been to New York “two or three times.” How can Morgan — who has a passion for guinea pigs and outerwear from Turlington Coat Barn — compete with that?

Two movie parodies came next — one sharp, one muddled. The Hunger Games press conference sketch may have been the night’s biggest disappointment; considering everything that’s mockable about the franchise, SNL‘s writers couldn’t come up with anything better than “ha ha, Josh Hutcherson is short”? A pre-taped dig at The Hobbit was much more successful. Making fun of the first film’s tedium or how silly it is to split The Hobbit into multiple movies isn’t exactly the height of originality — but even so, the sketch’s specific, relatable jokes (“The Hobbit 11: Trying to Split a Complicated Dinner Bill”) were enough to make the clip work.

The live audience didn’t know what to make of this sketch set at a ’50s-themed restaurant — but I thought it was by far the night’s strongest. The elevator pitch: Bobby Moynihan and Vanessa Bayer take a trip to Johnny Two Tones, a roadside diner staffed by sassy waiters who playfully insult their customers. But surly Brenda (Jennifer Lawrence) lobs putdowns that are truly vicious — and she sounds like she actually means the horrible things she’s saying. (Example: “You’re trash. You’re both trash. And the saddest part is you know that all you are is garbage.”)

It’s possible that being such a good actress actually worked to the host’s disadvantage here; maybe the audience didn’t laugh at Lawrence’s lines because she delivered them a little too convincingly. Still, it was refreshing to see an original sketch that a) wasn’t a parody, a fake talk show, or a fake game show and b) had a simple, well-executed premise. Whipped cream for everyone!

Musical guests The Lumineers did their folksy thing on a stage filled with old-timey lamps, playing polished versions of their singalong hits “Ho Hey” and “Stubborn Love.” And if you just can’t get enough of the former, you were in luck last night — the performance was immediately followed by a Blue Moon commercial that features an instrumental version of the song the Lumineers had just played. How’s that for corporate synergy?

The episode’s truncated Weekend Update featured just one guest — Bobby Moynihan’s “secondhand news correspondent” Anthony Crispino, who’s maybe reaching retirement age — as well as a few decent one-liners about last night’s favorite targets, Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o. (The best joke touched on gun control and revealed that Mississippi’s state legislature is “just 30 possums hissing in a barn.”) After that, though, things went south pretty quickly.

I’m sure the bulk of people’s complaints will focus on “Top Dog Chef,” an inherently dumb sketch that answered a question literally nobody has ever asked (“what if everyone on Top Chef was a dog, for some reason?!”). Intellectually, I understand that it played more like a fake sketch on TGS with Tracy Jordan than a real bit that actually appeared on SNL… but darn it if I didn’t laugh anyway when Jason Sudeikis’s “Tom Collie-Cio” flipped out at the sound of a ringing doorbell, or Bill Hader’s sheepdog cheftestant presented the judges with a dish of “vomit two ways.” The performers were committed enough to make lemonade out of a bunch of stupid lemons — and purely as a Top Chef parody, the sketch wasn’t half bad.

The night’s last three sketches, though, weren’t even good enough to be funny in a dumb way. A repeat of Taran Killam and Bobby Moynihan’s super-early morning radio show — last seen in season 37’s Lindsay Lohan episode — mostly fell flat, though Lawrence did her best as supporting character/awful rapper Busty Rhymes. (Side note: Man, Moynihan was everywhere last night.) A pretaped bit that cast Lawrence as effortless ’70s seductress Danielle seemed straight out of the Fred Armisen School of Weirdness for Weirdness’s Sake. And then there was that concluding Civil War sketch, which proved that Tim Robinson’s Andy Samberg impression still needs some work. Of the trio, “Danielle” was probably the most successful; while it wasn’t funny, it was at least sort of interesting.

Were you impressed by Jennifer Lawrence’s SNL debut, or did the episode fall short in your eyes? And is there anyone else who actually sort of likedTop Dog Chef,” despite their better judgment?

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Episode Recaps

Bowen Yang
Saturday Night Live

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

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