Emily Blunt & Bruno Mars Saturday Night Live, October 15, 2016

Emily Blunt & Bruno Mars Saturday Night Live, October 15, 2016
Saturday Night Live has been on a tear already, with two strong episodes to kick off its 42nd season. How did Emily Blunt and Bruno Mars fare last night? Let's take a look at everything that happened.

The Cold Open
There was no way this wasn't going to be an election sketch. Writers had a lot to work with after last week's second Clinton/Trump debate and its fallout, but they still drew jokes from other platforms. Playing the moderators, Alex Moffatt tried his hand at a modest Anderson Cooper impression while, in a greater effort, Cecily Strong captured the no-horseshit gruffness of Martha Raddatz.
They opened with a great couple of lines, expressing resignation about even going through this mockery of a debate; "Can we say this now?" Raddatz asks Cooper, who gives the go-ahead to introduce one of the nominees as "President Hillary Clinton." The performative interplay between Kate McKinnon as Clinton and Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump is still a dynamic chemical romance, and writers made hay of the rise and fall of Ken Bone and Trump's recent Election Day calendar deficiencies by having him suggest voters show up on an odd day.
The best bit was Trump lurking behind Clinton, coming in and out of the shot like a horror movie villain with his appearances punctuated by spooky music, like the theme from Jaws. A great, hilarious idea… that Funny or Die already executed better earlier in the week, with an assist from composer Danny Elfman.

So, yes, this was funny but not for any particular innovation by the show. On the plus side, at least one other glum schmuck watching last night thought it missed the mark.

The Monologue
Emily Blunt was a game and good host overall and, after asserting her British superiority with a quick quip, she engaged in the daring tradition of doing a musical number in her monologue. To fight the doom and gloom of the world at large, she engaged the audience in a rendition of "Get Happy," with cast members showing up to offer warm, fuzzy, wholesome gifts to the audience. It was mostly all sight gags, with recipients accepting cookies, puppies, massages, a cake and hugs from their own moms. Nothing edgy here (accept for Pete Davidson's horny massage description) but maybe a note viewers needed to hear during this wretched, gross point in time.
The Escorts sketch
This strange choice for a lead sketch, when it was clearly a 12:55 number, had some pacing issues and Leslie Jones script miscues but, to be fair, it didn't ever seem bound for glory. Moffatt and Mikey Day played young, rich guys who hired escorts played by Blunt and Jones, whose weird ground rules confuse the men. The terms are nonsensical but, other than Blunt corpsing twice, both while reciting a role playing phrase, "Oopsy Doopsy, I muffed it up again," this wasn't notable or good.

The Melaniade sketch
The most ambitious digital short was a send-up of Trump in the style of structure of Beyoncé's "Sorry."

Strong plays Melania Trump and every woman currently in the Donald's orbit (Ivanka, Tiffany, Kellyanne, Omarosa, etc.) takes part in putting him down for the way he's treated them. Even Beck Bennett, as Mike Pence, files a grievance against the man, and writers throw in a nice dig at Melania's plagiarism of gifted black women's words.

Totally cool concept and artfully rendered in the style of Queen Bae but, as exhibited by the in-studio audience's sporadic, sparse laughter, the piece was more angry and bleak than consistently funny.
The Ann Arbor Short Film Festival sketch
Easily the funniest segment of the night, this satire of independent short films was a bit inside but also totally relatable. Blunt is the star of an artsy short called "qua," which is screened at a festival. When the moderator announces a filmmaker Q&A, the entire cast and crew leave their seats, leaving a character played by Vanessa Bayer in the stands, as the only audience member present and not involved in the production of the film. She's then put-upon to come up with interesting questions about the film, which leaves her increasingly exasperated as the large ensemble treats every answer like a precious child they've raised with pride. Totally smart takedown of pretentiousness, loserdom, and delusion that worked well.

The Chonk ad
This is just a solid takedown of women's fashion and the mixed messaging that some companies employ to encourage all of us to assert ourselves. Over a cheery, positive sentiment designed to bolster women's confidence about their appearance, we occasionally hear the ambiguously unflattering name of the retailer: Chonk. The previously smiling women become increasingly troubled by the abrasive voiceover, none looking as comically taken aback as the gifted Aidy Bryant. Well done.
The Bruno Mars performances
Redefined as a supercharged funk-pop dynamo after breaking through with "Uptown Funk," Bruno Mars was undeniably cool in his two performances tonight. For "24K Magic," he started the song in his dressing room, the cameras tracking his hyper but slick, patient stroll to the stage. He and his male back-up singers, all clad in throwback sports uniforms (a Jordan Bulls "45" will likely be a sought-after item now), immersed themselves in dancing members of "the audience," before ascending to the stage, which few performers outside of Bono and Kanye ever dare to step foot from while performing on SNL. Later on, "Chunky" was more conventional but still a blazing sonic and visual statement from a young man tapped into the flavour of James Brown, Michael Jackson and Prince.
Weekend Update
Colin Jost and Michael Che have a veritable news buffet to re-fill their plates with these days and they did an admirable job this week. They trashed Trump as a serial groper, even of the air around him, and even took down Julian Assange, suggesting that Access Hollywood might have more political clout than Wikileaks. They even looked elsewhere for fodder, including a good bear sex joke and a harmless, though technologically mired riff about Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize victory (instead of the usual accompanying graphic by Jost's head, the screen was just blank).
Though Russia's increasingly in the news, McKinnon's hard-done-by Olya character, while steadfastly performed and well-written, feels more and more like a time suck on "Update." Just hitting one idea over and over again for three minutes doesn't serve the segment well. That said, Vanessa Bayer's Laura Parsons, a Disney-fied child star who obliviously sing-songs her way through gruesome news headlines, presumably for some kind of student work placement, is one of the funniest desk panelists ever. And Bayer was in top form tonight.

The whole show post-Weekend Update
Every week, SNL strikes a weird balance between 12:15 and the end of the show. It's usually a mixed bag of daring, ambitious conceptual stuff and half-baked ideas that get put on their legs just to see what happens. On this episode, everything thrown at the wall in this timeframe pretty much slid right off. The totally nonsensical Burger King drive-thru bit initially seemed like a callback to Larry David's '80s reprobate, Kevin Roberts, with a series of colourfully surreal characters messing with Pete Davidson's hapless BK window attendant. It was dumb for the sake of being dumb, but that's about as far as it went.
There was the artful short about a sink not understanding its purpose, which was actually quite strong in its randomness.
At one point, malfunctioning, food-serving robots harassed people at a presentation about Honda's A.I. capabilities; Melania Trump returned for a brief, starkly melancholy piece in which she contemplates trading places with a look-alike maid; and a British Bake-Off contest show featured Blunt and Strong playing vile, Brexit-supporting English trash. Most of these silly things stank and burned.
If anything salvaged the show's back end, it was the bizarre yet fascinating noir drama involving a boy, played by Kyle Mooney (who, along with his close collaborator Bennett, generally revels and thrives in the weirdness), and his intense hamsters, who, as a pair of couples, are not getting along. In fact, they hate each other in a most familiar way.
This thing was oddly compelling and darkly funny, with a confidence and execution that wasn't always evident on this strange, uneven episode.