Maya Rudolph’s return to “Saturday Night Live” as host means old home week. Not since Betty White hosted last season and several seasons of female former cast members came to support her has there been so many stars jammed into the show.
That meant Amy Poehler in three different sketches (“Bronx Beat,” Weekend Update including a “Really?!” with Seth Meyers; and briefly as Hilary Clinton); a nearly unrecognizable Justin Timberlake in two others; and a “What’s Up with That?” with the real Bill O’Reilly and the even more real Kate Upton among the guests.
Rudolph seemed largely underused throughout her seven year stint on the show, but she was in just about every sketch Saturday. She was prevented by taste from doing her impersonation of Whitney Houston, but she did that one better by being Beyonce in a sketch in which she and Jay-Z welcomed a string of pop star impersonations to see their baby – and what a wonderful string of stars it was, from Fred Armisen’s Prince (his gift: a smirk) to Kristin Wiig’s Taylor Swift (in perpetual surprised look) to Nasin Pedrad’s passable Nicki Minaj to Kenan Thompson’s lip-licking LL Cool J. Best of all may have been Timberlake’s Bon Iver, who put himself to sleep with his own song (after Wiig’s Laura Del Mar impersonation a couple of weeks back, “SNL” is becoming expert in mocking indie stars. But are they well known enough to a wide audience to work nationally? (Among the N.Y. audience, of course, they kill).
Just about the best in that Beyonce sketch was the way underused Jay Pharoah doing Jay-Z with a perfect inflection. Having Rudolph host was a godsend for Pharoah, who has been so rarely seen on the show this season you might have thought he quit. Here he was used in a number of sketches, including a brainy Maya Angelou reality show bit, a talk show about black support for Obama, and the cold open about the racial stereotypes being heaped on Jeremy Lin. The only thing more topical would have been Whitney, but even “SNL” knows it couldn’t go there.