SNL with Helen Mirren: Best and Worst Skits

SNL often lures lovable hosts that it doesn’t know how to work with. Take Jane Lynch or Bryan Cranston, who led lackluster episodes earlier this season, or Helen Mirren, who spent last night’s show vacillating between exactly two types of characters: haughty Brits and vulgar battle-axes. In fact, the episode felt so procedural that it may as well have been a lost episode of Prime Suspect. I’m drawing a chalk outline around the whole thing. Let’s rack up the (very relatively) best and (very obviously) worst sketches:

BEST: Crunk-Ass Easter Festival
DJ Supersoak (Jason Sudeikis) and Lil Blaster (Nasim Pedrad) return as the whooping emcees of Under-Underground Records, and this time they’re celebrating Christ’s resurrection with special guests, unactivated Starbucks gift cards, and “an Easter egg hunt for all you dumb-ass kids.” Sure, it’s not much different from “Crunkmas,” but Easter is an intrinsically funnier holiday than the yuletide. It’s got a devastating story and devastating bonnets. Plus, Under-Underground’s “Ass Dan” (Bobby Moynihan) will eventually come back to life, and that’s holiday-appropriate. Compared to the rest of the episode’s bland offerings, this was a rollicking Denny’s breakfast item named the Scrumptious Pilate!

BEST: The Best of Both Worlds With Hugh Jackman
I’m intrigued by the concept: Hugh Jackman (Andy Samberg) hosts a talk show about people “who play both sides of the professional boomerang.” For instance, Hugh’s both “the most masculine and feminine” actor in the world because he plays Wolverine and hosts the Tonys. Gerard Butler starred in 300 and Phantom of the Opera. See? Provocative. You’ll want either to change the channel or perish entirely when Helen Mirren shows up as Julie Andrews, but the gusto of Samberg’s performance makes this memorable — and tuneful!

WORST: Obama Cold Open
How long can you play the President of the United States and still not capture his cadences and rhythms? Or redevelop him as a broad caricature? Or something? IFC’s Portlandia proves that Fred Armisen is a dynamite comic presence, but his portrayal of Barack Obama remains a somnambulatory timesuck. Oh, and that bungled joke about how people can’t believe SNL‘s still on the air? Grim.

WORST: Frankenstein
In the obligatory parlor room sketch, Helen Mirren plays Mary Shelley and divulges that Frankenstein’s monster was inspired by the author’s landlord Frank Stein (Fred Armisen). We’ve all seen brilliant Frankenstein takeoffs before, but even Gene Wilder and Madeline Kahn couldn’t save this vague and puzzling skit with a bag of Mel Brooks’s punchlines. It’s (so not) alive!

What did you think of last night’s show? Was it among the worst of the season? Did you feel for Helen Mirren, who had little to do? And did you want more of Bill Hader, whose James Carville sendup saved Weekend Update? Leave it in the comments, follow me on Twitter at @louisvirtel, and read me regularly at Movieline.com.