SNL with Elton John: Best and Worst Skits?

For a self-proclaimed (bleep) who hadn’t been “back” to SNL since 1982, host Elton John invigorated Studio 8H with great sentimentality and sincerity last night. Sure, Horatio Sanz didn’t reappear to dress as Elton for a reunion makeout with Eminem, but it’s fair to say that special guests Carmelo Anthony (!), Jake Gyllenhaal (!!), Tom Hanks (!!!), and duet partner Leon Russell (whose snow-white beard is a waterfall of exclamation points) made up the difference. Yes, Saturday night was all right for funny — and the easiest pun in western civilization. Let’s recap the best and worst skits:

Best: Monologue
John left his glitter and grandiosity backstage for a straightforward monologue, choosing to muse about his marriage to David Furnish, having a baby, and naming Lady Gaga as his son’s godmother. Strange to see the shameless John adopting Henny Youngman‘s hand gestures like a hack comedian, but that’s what made it endearing and surprising: John’s old-fashioned delivery was an act of modesty, not contrivance. Best line: “The doctors told us we had a healthy boy with ten fingers, ten toes, and $400 million dollars.”

Best: Knights of the Realm
When British celebrity knights gather to address a dragon attack on the UK, what’s accomplished? Fine caricature performances that re-instill my faith in the cast’s commitment to enjoying itself. Elton John is a riot as Elton John, Bill Hader scintillates as the unhinged Richard Branson, and game guest-star Tom Hanks steals the scene as a time-consuming Michael Caine. Andy Samberg’s Bono impression is bizarre, but it also earns a tepid thumbs-up.

Worst: Laser Cats, the Musical
Super Bowl commercials, Katy Perry singles, and SNL digital shorts that bank on cliched goofiness are always unfortunate. In this clip, Tom Hanks pitches a musical idea to Lorne Michaels about “laser cats,” futuristic beings who shoot lasers from their eyes. The chintz is the gag, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling disappointed in the underwritten proceedings. I suppose I admire Elton John for retaining composure through the painful senselessness.

Worst: Weekend Update
Some intern must’ve forgotten to cue up Seth Meyers’ teleprompter with the proper rewrites, because “Weekend Update” was the grimmest it’s been in weeks (though I adored Kellogg’s new dye-free cereal “Beige Loops”). Andy Samberg’s Nic Cage impersonation was not as explosive as the appearance of guest-star Jake Gyllenhaal, who was likably puzzled here, but it certainly topped Kenan Thompson’s catastrophic zookeeper bit. The cobra fight was a KENAN AND KEL-level disgrace. I half-expected Kel to run onstage in GOOD BURGER regalia and bludgeon Kenan and the snake with a bottle of orange soda. Sad.

What did you think? Did you find Elton’s hosting gig sweet and blithe, if not hilarious? Did you adore or despise Laser Cats? What about the marathon shot-putter sketch? And did Leon Russell’s beard remind you of, say, this? Leave it in the comments, follow me on Twitter at @louisvirtel, and read me regularly at Movieline.com!