Musical guests may have limited range compared to most “SNL” hosts, but they are still entertainers. On top of that, Ariana Grande is also a veteran of Nickelodeon, which tends to make professionals out of its kid stars. If Grande is given good material, she will know how to hit her marks. So it should not be considered shocking that her hosting debut was mostly a success. But who would have guessed that in the pantheon of great “SNL” hosts, she would be most similar to Kevin Spacey?
CNN America’s Choice 2016 – Once again, the cold opening is a political catchall, but this one works better than most thanks to a more streamlined focus, with only the best impressions of the season (sans Hillary, though her moment comes later). Darrell Hammond and Jay Pharoah have sufficiently creepy chemistry as Trump and Carson, but the real twist is Larry David’s latest Bern-ing cameo. He rants delightfully on and on about the latest foibles of the primary, reserving special disdain for superdelegates (“I’ve met some of these superdelegates. They’re not that super”). B
Ariana Grande’s Monologue – Kenan Thompson joins Ariana onstage, and it looks like her monologue will be a commiseration between former Nickelodeon stars (for a minute, it even looks like Kel Mitchell will actually make an appearance), but instead he is just there for a quick joke about how people still recognize him mainly for “All That,” even though he has been on “SNL” longer than just about anybody. But Ms. Grande is a singer, so of course she sings in her monologue. This number is about her desire to have a real grown-up scandal, notwithstanding her donut licking, which, while immature, was rather inconsequential. The premise is sound, and she commits fully to it, but there is a level of artifice wherein it is clear that she does not really want to be another cautionary tale that prevents a full catharsis. B
A Message From Hillary Clinton – One of the most – if not the most – prominent characteristics of Kate McKinnon’s Hillary is her naked desperation to appeal to young voters. Now, thanks to her primary opponent, she has the perfect template to follow. It may be surprising that a seventysomething white guy is appealing so heavily to millennials, and it is even more bizarre to see Hillary completely absorb both his message and his image. She simultaneously misses the point of Bernie’s appeal and understands it exactly. B+
Kids’ Choice Awards Pre-Show (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – A host like Ariana Grande, coming from a different entertainment field than most “SNL” hosts, prompts preteen-baiting sketches like this one that are useful for breaking the mold. Usually, that is all they are good for, but this particular example gets really weird, as Taran Killam, Vanessa Bayer, and Grande’s “orange carpet” hosts enter a purgatory in which it proves impossible to get the actual show started. The desperation on their faces with each close-up is palpable. The panic is frightening. The sudden happy ending prevents it from reaching the dizzying heights of the similar 90’s Will Ferrell-starring “Wake Up and Smile,” but it is intense while it lasts. Bonus points to Bobby Moynihan for one of his classic walk-on utility roles. B+