Given the large number of recurring sketches, I have decided to identify them with [R] after the title.
Cold Open - America's debt to China is milked for a few laughs. Unfortunately, there is too much truth here to be considered satire. The "getting screwed" joke was funny but wore thin quickly. Grade: B- Monologue - Amazing physical performance from Levitt. I thought this would be a typical singing monologue, but was wonderfully surprised by Gordon's acrobatics and dance moves. Bobby's part was supposed to add conflict, but just slowed the momentum. Nicely done! Grade: A
2012 Trailer - Not very clever editing results in a ho-hum trailer parody. I personally think Palin would be a disaster as President too, but this message can be delivered with more creativity like Ferrell's great "A Message from a Possible Future" showing W completely clueless as the world crumbles around him. Sometimes life does imitate art. Grade: C
Secret Word - Wiig is unable to say anything other than the secret word and Levitt's character is unwilling to even try. Not a bad sketch, but the jokes never go anywhere beyond the initial setup. Grade: C+
SNL Digital Short - Andy is in love with a transvestite. And he raps about too. Lucky us. Grade: C-
The Mellow Show [R] - This sketch has always been very weak with the Hader providing a few laughs as Matthews. It was only appropriate to do this sketch and bring out the real Matthews who ended up stealing the sketch with his spot-on Sabbath-era Ozzy impression. Who knew? Other than that... Grade: B-
What's Up With That? [R] - Ooh, wee T-shane, what up with dat? Different sketch, same crap. This sketch was bad enough the first time around, but has become unbearable now that it has been thrown into rotation. Somebody spent all of 10 minutes re-writing the previous version. Grade: F
Weekend Update - A few good jokes and only one guest. I actually like fewer guests on WU and a shorter running time. The problem this time is that Gore used WU to sermonize rather than make us laugh. His delivery of the "jokes" couldn't have been any worse. Grade: C
Thanksgiving Dinner [R] - This was done in last year's Hugh Laurie sketch and is reminiscent and vastly inferior to all of the great Ferrell dinner sketches. Here is an example of a sketch that didn't play well the first time and is brought back virtually identical to the first time. It's like handing in the same term paper every year. Changing a few elements won't make it great. Tedious. Grade: D
Say Anything - I thought this was going to be great as soon as I saw that they were going to spoof the classic boombox scene from Say Anything. It turned out to be nothing more than a chance for Suds to heckle the Cusack character. And it never went beyond that. Too bad. Grade: C
Overall - Wow, this show was a letdown! After the terrific monologue, this episode settled comfortably into the toilet known as the 2009-10 season. And the misery continues. Sigh... Grade: C
Some random thoughts here.
Tone down the TV show parodies. The show has become far too reliant lately on TV show parodies. There comes a point where the humor becomes completely self-referential and ultimately pointless. Try checking out something else in this world other than TV or the Internet. There's a lot of funny stuff out there. Really, I promise.
Bring physical humor back. Judging from the spectacular opening, Levitt would have been the perfect host to have in some sketches using physical humor. I remember when Jim Carrey hosted about 13 years ago and the writers made the most of his incredible physical gifts. There was a LOT of physical humor in that episode and in general back then. The Cheerleaders, Roxbury guys, the DeMarco Brothers are just a few examples of recurring physical sketches from the past 15 years. And of course, there was Farley. Whew! These days we get way too many talk show sketches. They were always there, but at least there was a mix of different types of humor.
Recurring sketches. There is nothing inherently wrong with recurring sketches, but why bring back sketches with virtually no changes from the previous times? Even worse, many of these are complete duds (What Up With That, Gilly, Deep House Dish, Target Lady, etc.). Play to the host's strengths. All too often the same boilerplate sketches that could be used for any host are rolled out. As previously mentioned, there was a missed opportunity in this episode to bring in some physical humor courtesy of Levitt. Disappointing.
Be more topical. I have to laugh whenever I hear people refer to SNL as a topical show and the difficulty they would have with stockpiling sketches. Give me a break! Outside of the cold open and Weekend Update, there is rarely anything that could be remotely called topical. This is unfortunate as it steals away the "Live" feel that has always been so important to the show. When the majority of the sketches could air at any time with any host, the show has failed to be topical.
Don't do a digital short just because you can. The quality of the digital shorts has dropped considerably over the past few years to the point where I now dread the words "An SNL Digital Short". Keep us surprised rather than woefully expectant.