The Best and Worst of Last Night’s ‘SNL’ with Lady Gaga

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We already knew that Gaga wasn’t afraid to poke fun at herself after her appearances on SNL in 2009 and 2011, but we’ve been discussing the performer’s progressive grip (strangulation) on her public image and her desire to be taken seriously as an artist, so there was some uncertainty as to how much Gaga was willing to let go during last night’s show. In the previous SNL episode, Kerry Washington showed us what a gifted dramatic actress is capable of doing with comedy — even during the show’s more sluggish moments. Gaga followed suit — for the most part. She’s a true performer who has carefully crafted her image, but last night proved that self-aware, goofy side is still there — at least until the strangest sketch of the evening introduced us to a Norma Desmond-ized version of the singer. We feature it all past the break, along with both musical performances. R. Kelly joined Gaga for “Do What U Want” (doing his best pervy calisthenics routine), and “Gypsy” featured a ridiculously excited tambourine player in purple pants. What more could we ask for?

The Best

“Lady Gaga Monologue”

Gaga doesn’t make the people wait for what they want. Channeling her inner flapper with a fringy costume, she goes right into a reworking of “Applause” (complete with backup dancers) that reminds us of her theater background. It’s a fun introduction with brief audience interaction. I didn’t anticipate a traditional monologue, and thankfully Gaga doesn’t rely solely on her singing to charm us.

“Anti-Depressant for Obama”

Depression meds to help you feel like “you’re giving a speech at a college campus in 2008!” I think we’re all thankful for the ObamaCare website mess since SNL’s take on our current president’s administration hasn’t been the strongest. This one isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s better than most of the Obama cold opens.

“Waking Up with Kimye”

SNL seems to be relying far too much on letting its guest hosts break the fourth wall with a wink (like Miley) or a fluttering of the eyelashes (like Gaga this week) in order for the audience to get the gag. A little of that goes a long way, and I’d rather see the funny in the writing and acting — but Gaga gets a chance to address criticism about her outrageous wardrobe. I’m always happy to see Nasim Pedrad and Jay Pharoah early in the evening, and their impression of the celebrity couple is spot-on.

“Worst Cover Songs of All Time”

The cast trots out their best impressions for this worst cover songs of all time sketch, hosted by Taran Killam’s Adam Duritz from Counting Crows. We get Britney singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” Rick Ross doing Anna Kendrick’s “Cups” from Pitch Perfect, and Lana Del Rey and Nathan Lane covering Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me.” Gaga addresses the criticism about “Born This Way” sounding like Madonna’s “Express Yourself” two years too late, but I’ll take it.

“Weekend Update: Mr. Senior and Jebidiah Atkinson”

More stuff like this, “Weekend Update.” Kenan Thompson’s Mr. Senior is cranky about society’s obsession with Christmas celebrations starting immediately after Halloween. (We feel you.) The sketch heads to the streets outside, which is a nice change of pace. Taran Killam’s bitchy speech critic, who poo-pooed the Gettysburg Address in his latest write-up, wins the evening. He recovers from a hiccup line delivery beautifully, and I hope this isn’t the last we’ll see of this character.

“Spotlightz Acting Camp”

We get cheerful kids reenacting famous scenes from Hollywood films to the best of their ability. Gaga’s Disney-fied version of the foul-mouthed Training Day speech is nail-biting. I was almost positive she was going to accidentally slip and drop an “F” bomb, but she’s as composed as ever like a true professional.

“Blockbuster”

The pre-recorded segments have been interesting if nothing else. SNL seems to be taking these as opportunities to insert a little quiet and weird into the mix. This goodbye to video store titan Blockbuster shows off what the series can do production-wise when allowed the mystique of the editing room.

“4th Grade Talent Show”

John Milhiser? who’s that guy? Oh right, one of the six new cast members who has faded into the background. Thankfully he shines as the proud stage father of a fourth-grader named Ashley. Gaga stars as her overzealous mom. The premise is simple, but fantastic, as the couple gets way too into their daughter’s performance. Clothes come off, flexible limbs are stretched to the limit, and Gaga reminds us that she doesn’t need a dress made of meat to shine. Like her stripped-down piano performances, she can do a lot with very little.

“Upper West Side 2063”

This late-in-the-episode scene took a dark turn. I’m not sure it was entirely successful as an SNL sketch, but it was compelling in that context. The audience wasn’t sure whether to clap or feel bad for this Norma Desmond version of Gaga, who sits alone in her Upper West Side apartment in the year 2063. She masks her desperation to connect with someone by calling the landlord (Kenan Thompson) to change a light bulb (that doesn’t actually need to be replaced). Thompson’s character can’t recall any of the work the older Gaga has done, despite her best attempts to remind him. It ends with a mobile sculpture (or a futuristic metronome?) on her piano slowly clapping, and the unexpected pathos of this sketch leaves everyone wondering what the hell just happened. I expect to see a lot more written about this one in the coming week.

The Worst

“Rob Ford Cold Open”

Bobby Moynihan does just fine as drug-addled Toronto mayor Rob Ford, but his Chris Farley-esque fall through the podium was the best thing this sketch had going on.

“Co-op Board”

Sex jokes that are dead in the water, and inside jokes about New York City-living that most of America won’t be able to appreciate. Gaga’s Marisa Tomei impression isn’t too shabby, though.

“Rosé Zone”

Maybe it was the placement of the sketch after such a somber imagining of Gaga’s future, but “Rosé Zone” felt like a bit we’ve seen a thousand times — one that would have been funnier when reality television was just starting to be a thing.

Musical Performances