Saturday Night Live

Season 36 Episode 22

Justin Timberlake/Lady Gaga

Aired Saturday 11:30 PM May 21, 2011 on NBC

Episode Fan Reviews (3)

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  • Sexyback and the Go-Go Gaga Gospel

    A Review by "HelloStuart," Amateur Critic and Little Monster

    Scroll down for my annual season recap!

    This week's host is the incomparable Justin Timberlake, which marks his fourth go-around as master of ceremonies, and including his one appearance with N*SYNC his official entry into the Five Timers' Club. Though his track record in the movies has been inconsistent -he has "The Social Network" and what else?- JT is a natural for the Studio 8H stage, and his dynamic presence guarantees that regardless of what happens, tonight's show will not be a rousing failure.

    The musical guest is also no stranger to SNL, though she's not anywhere near as prolific. Lady Gaga was a force to be reckoned with in her first appearance in October 2009, and she's arguably the only musician on the planet with the chutzpah and name-brand recognition to go toe-to-toe with Justin. Put together, this is a matchup that SNL fans have been clamoring for since it was leaked in late February.

    And now, the sketch-by-sketch analysis:

    COLD OPENING: In lieu of more Obama/Oval Office tedium, the nightly topical sketch shifts to Rikers Island, where disgraced EMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn (TK) runs afoul of two incarcerated hoods (JP, KT). The joke's on him, as the encounter leads into an intense, pithy debate about the various European economic powers, with DSK silently nodding and smiling in the middle. This felt like your typical Jim Downey sketch more than anything else that's aired this season, though I'm assuming the 60-year-old Jewish Ivy Leaguer probably needed help from a younger scribe on that Nas/"Illmatic" reference.

    MONOLOGUE: For the record, this is the first time Justin has appeared on SNL strictly to host. After an alleged argument with Lorne, JT claims he won't sing… so sings an elaborate number about why he won't sing, complete with every cliché from every hit single he's ever had.

    "Liquorville": The overeager small-business hustler (JT) makes a snooty tea shop employee (KW) his latest target of derision and one-upmanship. The conceit of repurposing songs is still here, with Justin borrowing from the oeuvres of Rihanna, Justin Bieber, and J-Kwon to build his point. I initially thought Kristen was miscast as the high-strung straight man, but her obliviousness and natural discomfort was a good match for Justin's energy and positivity.

    "WXPD News": A bland morning news team (JS, NP) and several unassuming passerby are again the unwilling patsies for nonagenarian news reporter Herb Welch (BH), who grumbles and wheezes through a live report from a local middle school. Bill-as-Herb is fun to watch, and the more cantankerous and inappropriate he is, the funnier the old fart becomes.

    DIGITAL SHORT: This is where I have to give mad props to the comedic "duo" of Timberlake and Andy Samberg. Nobody on this planet could find this mileage out of two blatantly one-note characters. "Three-Way," their collaboration with Lady Gaga, is the weakest of the three but by no means terrible nor ill-equipped for frequent YouTube downloading. A little '90s kitsch goes a long way.

    MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: An earnest, solo piano rendition of Gaga's current single "The Edge of Glory" is a sharp contrast to the second half of this five-minute medley, the hard-charging, borderline-sacriligious "Judas."

    WEEKEND UPDATE: Seth has been just as strong anchoring solo this season as he was last year, and his sharp wit and vaguely liberal, populist inclinations have put his best nights alongside the likes of Dennis Miller, Norm Macdonald, and Tina Fey. Tonight, we were treated to a particularly cutting "Really?!?" that breaks down the Governator love-child scandal, another so-so "Get in the Cage" segment with Andy as Nic Cage and Bradley Cooper as his latest reluctant guest, and a weird summer sendoff from Seth's vacation buddy, Stefon (BH).

    "What's That Name?": Justin and Gaga go head-to-head in a special celebrity edition of a game show sketch that appeared earlier this year. The conceit is that two self-involved individuals must correctly name random people they've encountered. Remember N*SYNC? Yeah, neither does Justin. Abby Elliott, the most seldom-used repertory player in recent memory, is somewhat endearing as a recent one-night stand of JT's. Oddly enough, Gaga is the breakout star here, cleaning up in the actual game and playing up to her diva reputation.

    "Merry-Go-Love Tunnel": In a blatant rewrite of a sketch that first appeared in the Jim Carrey/Black Keys show-oddly enough, the last episode I wrote a full review for-three creepy animatronic robots (JT, BH, TK) mess around with a seemingly happy couple (NP, JS) on a Tunnel of Love-type ride. In all fairness, I neither loved nor hated this sketch, but it felt plodding at times and ending wasn't particularly clever or inspiring.

    "Secret Word": If you've seen this '60s game show parody before, you know the drill: a smarmy host (BH) is forced to deal with aloof diva Mindy Grayson (KW) and a caricature of some old-time D-list celebrity, this time an incompetent hybrid (JT) of the intuitive Kreskin and the magician Blackstone. Never mind that Bill essentially played the same role in two out of the last three sketches; is there really anything left to explore in this recurring sketch?

    MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Just for the fans, Gaga crawls out of her egg and storms through "Born This Way," her #1 hit from two months ago. Initially just an excuse to prance around in leather, Ms. Germonatta straps on a maternity suit and sings on the world's most glam birthing station.

    "Barry Gibb Talk Show": Love it or hate it, no appearance by Justin is complete without this somewhat surreal roundtable talk show. Tonight, Barry (Jimmy Fallon, as usual) and his surviving brother Robin (JT) fail to build a dialogue between Ben Bernanke (FA), Rachel Maddow (AE), and Roland S. Martin (KT), opting instead to give each other primal scream therapy and admire Barry's chest hair. I entered tonight's show half-expecting a zillion rapture jokes, so saving exactly one reference for the tail end of the show was an alleviating moment of restraint.

    As a longtime SNL fan, I could argue that the season finale is one of the most overrated aspects of the show. The last show of the year typically finds the cast and writers at the brink of creative exhaustion, going through the motions and often relying upon past successes. Tonight was a textbook example: outside of the cold open the monologue, every sketch had been done before, and in some cases executed far better. Justin ran a clinic in comic timing, though Lady Gaga's stage presence and natural self-deprecation was much more unexpected and revealing.

    Segments That Will Probably Be Removed from the 60-Minute Edit: "Get in the Cage," "Merry-Go-Love Tunnel," "Secret Word," and "Born This Way."


    And now, a retrospective of Season 36:

    Everyone knew this was going to be a transitional year. Seasoned veterans would slowly pass the baton to a group of fresh-faced youngsters, and there would be great inconsistency as to whom would be in how many sketches in any given week (unless you're Army or Wiigy). The end result was a like a more consistent version of Year 31; youth was served for the most part, but a core of six proven cast members dominated the proceedings. Alas, the show's core isn't getting any younger and the familiar faces are far closer to leaving than signing long-term contracts. One must wonder if Year 37 will be the year the current crop of youngsters (the four freshmen, plus Bobby and Nasim) finally take the reins.

    Best Digital Short: "Three-Way"
    Honorable Mention: "Stumblin'"
    Worst Digital Short: "Boogerman"

    Best Musical Guest: Kanye West
    Runner-Up: Paul Simon

    Worst Musical Guest: Diddy Dirty Money
    Runner-Up: Linkin Park

    Best Host: Zach Galifianakis
    Runner-Up: Anne Hathaway

    Worst Host: Elton John
    Runner-Up: Bryan Cranston

    Best Episodes:
    3. Zach Galifianakis/Jessie J.
    2. Jesse Eisenberg/Nicki Minaj
    1. Anne Hathaway/Florence & The Machine

    Worst Episodes:
    3. Robert DeNiro/Diddy Dirty Money
    2. Jane Lynch/Bruno Mars
    1. Elton John/Leon Russell

    Most Valuable Player: Bill Hader. I don't know if there's anything I can add to what I stated about Billy in my midseason recap. A well-earned honor, though.
    Rookie of the Year: Vanessa Bayer. At this juncture, she may seem like a one-trick pony ("The Miley Cyrus Show") but regardless of whether she had a large or small part in a sketch, "V-Bay" did something that Casey Wilson and Jenny Slate never did: she distinguished herself. If SNL's female cast is built around Vanessa and Nasim Pedrad in the coming years, I think we'll be in good hands.
    The White, Female Finesse Mitchell: Abby Elliott
    Most Likely to Become a Five-Timer: Jon Hamm

    The Ten Most Indelible Moments of the Season:

    10. Cookie Monster gets his due (Bridges/Lil' Wayne)
    9. "I brought a bottle of sparkling apple juice to your door… did you get it?" (Cranston/West)
    8. Amy Poehler's monologue
    7. Paul McCartney makes the audience eat of his hand (Rudd/McCartney)
    6. Bill's dead-on impressions of Alan Alda and Julian Assange (various episodes)
    5. The return of "The Ambiguously Gay Duo" (Helms/Simon)
    4. Miley Cyrus confronts her imitator (Cyrus/Strokes)
    3. "Wayne's World" and "Church Chat" are resurrected (Carvey/Linkin Park)
    2. Zach Galifianakis' monologue
    1. The rise of Stefon (various episodes)

    "HelloStuart" has spent 8 1/2 combined years at TV Tome and compensating for his fledging social life. When's not standing in line for an unemployment check with Dick Ebersol, Stu can be contacted at