Cold Open: Fantastic start. Armisen's Obama was better than I had expected, and the media fawning was a cute touch, not to mention kinda true. And a good turn from Kristen here as well.
Monologue: I guess Tina didn't submit to the pressures of a showstopping song-and-dance number. But her little conversation with Mr. Steve Martin was well done, and that "Hispanic" voice of hers came from out of nowhere. Nice to see the microphone bonk as the crew's way of getting noticed.
Annuale: Sure, it's a bonafide Tina Fey ad, but what a great premise. They even went arty with the color changes at the end. Good evening, Casey (Rose) Wilson.
Rock of Love 2: Great turn from Jason as an earnest (ha!) Bret Michaels, and the show pretty much avoided straight parody by turning the ladies into complete monsters. Interesting choices for recurring characters tonight... we haven't seen Amber in nearly three years, but she had a decent appearance.
Digital Short: A cute idea, and I've certainly had to endure watching movies with old relatives, so of course that's how you handle it. Only qualm I had was with the length of this. It didn't need to feature a scene from EVERY Oscar movie.
What's That **** Talking About?: Another winner. Kenan actually had a decent role for a change, and Tina's genius contestant wasn't too far a reach. Amy sounded like Betty Caruso the whole time. I'd put this on par with Dry Eyes from last season, better than the Crazy Street Person sketch and MUCH better than that New Jersey game show from the Bon Jovi episode.
"All-American Girl": Though Carrie Underwood is undoubtedly the worst musical guest of the season so far, she's really not all that bad. She'd be more appreciated if she wasn't labeled "country." Maybe something like "southern pop."
Update: Seth and Amy hit it out of the park, thanks to two dynamite appearances from Tina and Mike Huckabee, who were both completely in their element. Loved both of those segments, and I am a bit surprised at how Tina was so willing to stump for Hillary. The other jokes were at least above average.
NBC Thursday: Once again, the writers do us all a favor by avoiding a straight parody, and the sketch is a million times better because of it. LOVED the surprise impressions, especially Amy's Mr. Six and Bill's John Mark Karr--of all the places for him to return, I did not expect this sketch.
Ed Mahoney: What? This guy again? Well, like his first sketch, Jason doesn't really do enough to carve out a character for him. Ed just seems like a fellow who doesn't know when to stop talking. The sketch sort of begged for the Forte/Tina couple to intervene, but sadly nothing happened. Weakest sketch of the night.
Virgania Harsen's Hot Air Balloons: Oh, this was cute. Nothing too much from Kristen, but the Maya-esque character was awkward enough to make the fake ad charming.
I Drink Your Milkshake: YES! This stuff I always get a kick out of. Hader/Amy visit the nation's maltshops in search of milkshakes to drink, and get into tiny conflicts with patrons like Will and Fred's equally-evil antagonist. Another spot-on impression from Hader, but if this show is any indication, we won't see it again for another 2-3 years. Tina's Juno was OK.
"Flat on the Floor": This cements Carrie's night as better than her two songs from last year. She actually had a little fun.
Lady Business: Wins the Most-Likely-to-Get-Replaced-by-the-Dress-Rehearsal-Version-in-Reruns award. This final sketch to have Tina's stamp of approval finds four more ladies blatantly flirting their way to the top. The showcase of SNL's female cast has been done all night, but the writing was there. Casey's lines WERE cut, right?
Grade: A big fat A. Far and away the best episode of the season, with Brian Williams' show coming in a distant second. The way that Tina completely dove into her characters made it seem like there really wasn't any host, and for a show getting back into its groove, this is what it needed. Add in some very good writing, no big-name recurring sketches, off-nights for both Kenan and Andy, the Don Pardo cake and the Gilda photo, and you have a winner.