It’s too bad that entire generations of people had to die without ever hearing James Bond compare a woman to “a big bowl of butt soup with extra nipples” in a Triborough Bridge accent. Thankfully, Saturday Night Live took care of that for the rest of us, and now we — or our children — might live to see a day when Nipples Galore shows up to Bond’s suite all covered with clam chowder and cozied up in a crusty butt bowl. I hope. Unfortunately, the Daniel Craig–hosted show was peppered with less successful sketches, including a cold open that was a lot less funny than the cover of The New Yorker. As Kenan might once have asked, what’s up with that? This season’s political satire sketches are off to a rocky start, and even a guest appearance by Chris Parnell as Jim Lehrer couldn’t liven up the debate parody, during which Jay Pharoah’s Obama VO’d his dismay at feeling woozy from the altitude and worried over the fact that he’d forgotten to get Michelle an anniversary gift between cutaways to footage of the real First Lady looking glum. It seemed bizarre that a debate that caused such a stir would be dealt with so gently by SNL in the opener; most of the goods (read: Big Bird) were saved for "Weekend Update." Wasn’t there enough to go around?
Daniel Craig’s monologue was an “In Memoriam” tribute reel (“Or All the People I Done Killed”) to characters slain by Craig in movies, from the Guy at Desk in Casino Royale to Cory Alvarez, Tintin’s sound engineer who was made an example of after he tried to squeeze an extra take out of Craig. This monologue went easy on the host, I think: no singing, no dancing, sort of the SNL equivalent of a wedding toast — but a successful wedding toast. I particularly enjoyed watching Craig get swallowed up by a giant pillar of fog. The next sketch was butt soup: a construction crew (Thompson, Robinson, Moynihan, and Craig) are cat-calling to female passersby, but poor Craig, the new guy, can’t get it right: “I bet she makes sex all over the place, all the time, like it’s outstanding” or using the term “two big breasty squish rags.” (By the way, Moynihan’s “Somebody dial 3-1-1, cause I saw something and I need to say something” is coming with me. Yoink!) Though eyeball police might have issued a cue-card reading citation on this one, Craig’s butt-soup line warranted some cribbing (because it continued: “And can I get that with a side of hoo-woo-woo? You can, sir. Your total comes to five kisses and 47 smooches. You can drive up to the next window and collect that sweet, sweet heiney”) and earned him some applause. And he was pardoned for being a lousy cat-caller because (explained in a black-and-white flashback) his father was murdered by a woman after he complimented her on her keister. That’s where it should have ended, too, but unfortunately somebody really wanted to hear Craig say the line, “Oh boy, I’m so happy I could pooperize you!”
The “Lesser Known Bond Girls” skit that followed was terrific: Bayers’s Diane Keaton is perfect, and I will be forever haunted by Kate McKinnon’s Jodie Foster death stare being slowly eclipsed by Bond’s shoulder in front of a fireplace. McKinnon stole the night, by the way; she appeared in a Wiig-level number of sketches and she killed it in every single one (I would totally watch Ellen DeGeneres as a Bond girl, especially in her peach bikini layered over a navy blouse and billowy slacks). Craig appeared here as a Bond plagued by Pedrad’s Lea Michele, who marched back and forth while singing in a beret, and then by Armisen’s Penny Marshall, crusted in gold (down to her Converse sneakers) and droopily suggesting that he unzip her fly “and go to town.” This is the first — but not the last — time during this episode that we would see Craig and Armisen canoodling for prolonged periods, but this one worked and the next one (“My New Girlfriend Regine”) was a giver of brain-hives.
An MSNBC special report came next, with Cecily Strong replacing Abby Elliott as Rachel Maddow (I miss Elliott, but Strong did a great turn here). I don’t care how accurate Thompson’s Reverend Al Sharpton is, I always love it. Explaining why Obama’s debate performance was lackluster, Thompson offers up an excuse: The altitude in Colorado poisoned the POTUS, because “Denver Colorado is a mile high; now there’s no way to know for sure how many feet that is, but it could be upwards of a million.” Sudeikis showed up as Chris Matthews, even more disgruntled than usual, but Craig was nowhere to be found — seriously, Putin didn’t want to guest on MSNBC? Thankfully, he popped up wearing a gray soul patch in the next sketch, “Long Island Medium,” as psychic Theresa Caputo’s husband, Larry. Again, Craig was not saddled with anything Herculean: just nibbling McKinnon’s chin like squirrels do and looking tan and playing American, but this sketch was a keeper and one I hope will recur. “Like I always say, I may be a medium, but at Chico’s, I’m a large. You may not be laughing but your grandparents were.” Keep banging, McKinnon.
As the captain of the spaceship crew in “Mission to Mars,” Craig is trapped in a strange “I miss my wittle kitty cat” black joke hole during which Bobby Moynihan becomes the mutant child of David Spade and Chris Farley and finally pulls a cat with topsy-turvy ears out of a carrying case for the grand finale (after discovering, to his relief, that the cat’s head is still attached to its body — thank god the first item pulled out of the cat carrier was just a neck pillow).
Then we had Muse performing “Madness.” They were good in their second time on SNL (they first appeared with Franco in 2009); between the black matte guitar and the iPad-like bass, it was very Matrix-y. "Weekend Update" followed, and it may have been the best of the season so far: All of the good debate material wound up here (“Well, you have to hand it to Mitt Romney, because President Obama sure did”; the winners and losers of the debate segment), as did real-deal Big Bird, staying up past his bedtime to trade PG jokes with Seth (he’s still got to show his face to a lot of 2-year-olds in the morning, can’t blame him for keeping it tame). McKinnon stopped by as Cecilia Gimenez, the woman who painted a fresco of Jesus into your reflection in the mirror after you do too many “Smiles.” I love when news items like this happen, because without them SNL would shrivel and die. McKinnon’s Gimenez explains that Jesus came to her in a dream, looked at her with his “enormous round monkey face,” and gave her permission to paint him Vanilla Sky–style with his arm “wrapped up in a little jelly roll scroll,” “a scarf made of hair,” and “dead black eyes.” I loved this one, obviously. Not so much “A Sorry Lot We Are,” which featured Craig prominently but was scant on laughs (the only giggles it drew for me were when Moynihan ordered “fish pie with jam” and Hader asked for a slice of tomato with crushed cigarettes). It didn’t seem to be driving at anything, which was too bad because it was also one of the only sketches of the night to feature Hader.
The night’s finale (not counting a repeat of “The Undecideds”) started off so promising: Craig brings his new girlfriend, Regine (Armisen), over to meet his friends. An electronic cigarette dangling from her hand and a smug, bickersome expression hanging from her face, Regine is, I think, a very recognizable character, and a funny one. She’s horrible, obviously, and wants a Hendrick’s gin straight up with ice on the side or NOTHING (then, when the Hendrick’s is found and offered, she doesn’t want it anymore); she wants to talk about Syria, hates dumb people, and intends to stay very late discussing POLITICS and BOOKS. But Regine’s punch line is none of these things. It’s the faces she makes when Craig nibbles her ear or massages her back, a face sort of like Gimenez’s Jesus. The first one is funny, the second one less so, and by the third round when Armisen is on all fours shaking like a dog, it’s just another “people getting uncomfortable in a living room” sketch. Little gems like Craig toasting her and saying “You perplex me you make me do things in bed I never thought necessary” while wearing a turtleneck are unfortunately upstaged by Armisen’s dancing, stockinged kneecaps. It should have been Craig’s moment, but it was swallowed by Regine’s gaping pleasure-trap of a mouth. I guess we’ll always have butt soup.
Next week: Christina Applegate (she last hosted in 1993!!!) and Passion Pit.