'Saturday Night Live': Was Maya Rudolph the Best Host of the Season?

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Was Maya Rudolph the best "SNL" host yet?
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Was Maya Rudolph the best "SNL" host yet?

Melissa McCarthy and Jimmy Fallon have hosted two of the best "Saturday Night Live" episodes this season, but Maya Rudolph's return to the late night show may top even those hits. As Fallon proved, having a former cast member definitely livens up both the writers and the cast. With her post-"SNL" work, Rudolph has also continued to hone her mad comedy skills, and she was funnier than ever this week.

Best of the Night

It's not often I get moved to hysterical tears by "Saturday Night Live," but this was a special night. Like the old days of Fallon cracking up over Will Ferrell's antics, tonight both Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader (the Harvey Korman of "SNL") lost it during the Super Showcase sketch. The two ladies of "Bridesmaids" starred as game show assistants in too-tight cocktail dresses showing off the prizes that contestant Vanessa Bayer could have won, had she not chosen "beef" as the answer instead of "nine."

Wiig had her hands full trying to mimic that semi-garbled, overly-dramatic throaty speaking voice that Rudolph is a master at, and as the "Up All Night" actress started getting even more incomprehensible, her co-presenter lost it. A giggling Wiig then showed up in a golf cart and nearly ran Rudolph down, leaving everyone but the impressively stoic Bayer in fits of laughter. Sometimes the cast losing it can throw a sketch off the rails, but here it just added to the hilarious chaos of the sketch. Watch the insanity here on the "Saturday Night Live" site.

It has been way too long since we got an episode of Bronx Beat, and Amy Poehler paid "Saturday Night Live" a visit to help Rudolph with the show again. These two have such fantastic chemistry, their overlapping chatting, kvetching, and whoo-hooing getting more sublimely funny the longer it goes on. Justin Timberlake showed up as a bearded boom guy along with Andy Samberg's camera man, to trade some blue banter with the ladies. Who knew a boom could be so suggestive?

Hader, Kenan Thompson, Jay Pharoah and Taran Killam turned up for New York Sports Now, where they discussed "Linsanity" with even more puns than the over-exuberant real media has managed. The cold open tackled the recent racial overtones of Lin's press coverage, and managed to make jabs at both the tasteless media and the lopsided sensitivity to it. Great satire and far better than the snooze-worthy political opens we've been getting.

Second Best of the Night

The "Saturday Night Live" monologues have been mostly forgettable this season, but the guest host this week had so much fun with it that we did too. Rudolph sang and grooved with sexy back-up singers, celebrating her former liaisons with cast and crew members with a little number called "Do You Wanna Funk?" She didn't "mention any names," but she did have a sound-effect enhanced wink that let us know who the lucky guys were--namely, everyone. As the former "Saturday Night Live" star sprinted through the hallways, she sized up new boy pages, had a moment with Wiig and got a return wink from a visiting Paul Simon--who was chatting with Lorne Michaels and Stefon, of course. Good stuff.

The writers and cast over at "Saturday Night Live" must have been reading everyone's recent recaps and reviews, lamenting the loss of "What Up with That?" to Thompson's new Cee Lo Green show. Lo and behold, our favorite singing host returned with Bill O'Reilly, "Sports Illustrated" swimsuit edition cover model Kate Upton, and on his 100th visit, Lindsay Buckingham. Rudolph even shook a tail feather, literally, in a full-on Vegas showgirl-crossed-with-Carmen-Miranda get-up. O'Reilly got drowned out, Upton did her best Marilyn impression, and Buckingham (Hader) sulked over not getting to recite all of the U.S. Presidents and their birthdays. But really, you know you're just there to see Jason Sudeikis busting a move in a track suit and gold chains, leaping into frame and doing hip hop dance steps with a terrifyingly cheerful expression during every musical interlude. It never gets old.

The "Saturday Night Live" Weekend Update actually had funny news jokes tonight, and Poehler once again rolled her chair up to the desk for a "Really?" segment, tackling the issue of the congressional discussion of birth control that didn't include any women. The Meyers/Poehler chemistry is always entertaining, and you can get all their thoughts on "Transvaginal Airlines" over on the "SNL" site here.

The Worst of the Night

While some of the "Saturday Night Live" host's sketches were more successful than others, there were no real stinkers tonight, making this one of the most consistent episodes ever. Therefore, I'm forced to give the "Worst of the Night" label to the musical guest, Sleigh Bells. They performed "Comeback Kid" and "End of the Line." I'm guessing there are fans of this music, and if there are, please inform me in the comments what you like about this duo. To me, it sounded like two different songs played simultaneously alongside an orchestra tuning their instruments into a mic with really bad feedback. As my niece is fond of saying: "That song is not on my iPod."

The Rest

Rudolph and Pharoah had fun in a Beyonce and Jay-Z sketch, with the "Saturday Night Live" cast turning up as various celebrities to serenade the new baby Blue Ivy. Prince got frightened by Nasim Pedrad's hilariously scary Nicki Minaj, and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie showed up to try and sneak off with the delightfully "multicultural-looking" baby. Timberlake showed up once again as Bon Iver, who confused everyone with his falsetto lullaby and then put himself to sleep.

If you loved watching "The Cosby Show," and remember the episodes, there were plenty of laughs watching Fred Armisen and the "Saturday Night Live" host play out a new version of the show with the Obama family. It's the best impression we've seen from Armisen in awhile, channeling Cosby through Obama, and who didn't love seeing Poehler as Hillary Clinton again, joining the musical number at the end?

Rudolph also played Maya Angelou, punking her esteemed celebrity colleagues ala Betty White's new prank show. Rudolph did a fine job with Angelou's draggy, dramatic speaking style, but we can't say we wouldn't have loved to see her over-the-top batty rendition of Donatella Versace instead.

The Obama theme turned up again in the last sketch of "Saturday Night Live," with African-American talk show guests discussing what it would take for them to not vote for Obama. According to host Thompson and pundits Rudolph and Pharoah, the great man can withstand both bad policy decisions and a live-in arrangement with Ke$ha. Considering the closing sketch is often filled with a groaner of a cast-off, it was a refreshing change to see an amusing news satire instead.

What did you think, "Saturday Night Live" fans? Best of the season, or do you have another favorite guest host?

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