Gwyneth Paltrow and bad habits detract from an otherwise fun Saturday Night Live

This week’s Saturday Night Live spanned the (occasional) good, (mostly) bad and (sometimes even) ugly of poking fun at all forms of entertainment. The show began with a throwaway Cold Open led by Greta Van Sustern (Kristen Wiig) introducing a panel of Fox News regulars attempting civility, only to be tripped up by James Carville (Bill Hader).

Next came a paltry monologue by host Gwyneth Paltrow teasing her recent box office bomb Country Strong. In it, Kenny Rogers (Jason Sudeikis) asked to sing “Islands in the Stream” while “Big Boob Lady” (as Paltrow referred to Kristen Wiig’s weak Dolly Parton) and musical guest Cee Lo Green made cameos.

After a commercial for a lame faux NBC line-up based on the real/really over-promoted show The Cape, Paltrow played a ‘60s socialite to Wiig’s Mindy Grayson on the always predictable game show Secret Word.

In other words, SNL had teased the television, movie and music mediums as well as name brand icons, political punditry and the show’s own network. And yet, it was still literally 20 minutes into the episode before any semblance of genuine humor really hit the screen.

The funny finally came in the form of a digital short. In it, Andy Samberg found himself in a bar sitting next to Paul Reubens in full Pee Wee Herman character. Many, many, many shots led to a couple of ill-advised pranks, and at last the laughs ensued.

The countdown is now on until Pee Wee hosts a show.

Though you have to watch the whole episode to see it, there’s something to be said for the funny but not-quite-fully-baked bit that followed. Set at a rockin’ bar mitzvah, artists revamped songs to include over-the-top Jewish references. The string of stars included Paltrow as Taylor Swift, Jay Pharoah as Jay-Z with Nasim Pedrad as Alicia Keys and Abbie Elliott as Katy Perry. Finally, Cee Lo came on as himself singing the final punch line.

Cee Lo was the subject of the next sketch, too… or at least his controversially titled song was. Paltrow played a record exec, spitting some tricky dialogue in which “forget” became the new F-word. At the very least, it was a really smart and unique way of introducing the first song of the night.

The show admirably went off the beaten path again with a Weekend Update spot that went “on location.” Anticipating the 2011 Golden Globes (which aired last night), Weekend Update threw to Vanessa Bayer, reporting from the red carpet where she interviewed “Burlesque” stars Christina Aguilera (Pedrad) and Cher (Bill Hader) along with “son/daughter” Chaz (Bobby Moynahan).

Okay, time out. Please allow me to apologize. I need to take a critic’s moment here to reiterate that when I write these recaps, they’re filled with my opinions. I don’t expect everyone’s taste to match my own. I try to dial back and I really do try to stick to clips that demonstrate the must-see good stuff from each episode.

But, honestly, I’m simply exasperated with certain elements of the show. For instance, the Cold Open is way too often, as I described it this week, “a throwaway,” but at least it’s not the same throwaway over and over again. So, I’m going to write this one last time and then, unless by some miracle I am pleasantly surprised in the future, I’m not going to mention this bit again. I find Garth and Kat intrinsically unfunny. If you are not a member of the cast and crew and you do find it funny, I sincerely beg you to explain why. I want to understand, because personally, I find it insultingly repetitive and annoying. And adding Gwyneth Paltrow this week only made me dislike it more.

Okay, diatribe over. Back to GOOD thoughts. Because …talk about a quick comeback! Absolutely the most clever and most funny sketch of the night, and a great display of ensemble effort is another one you’ll have to (and want to) watch the whole episode to see. In it, Shakespearean theater was spun to include modern aspects such as silencing communication devices, sales pitches for snacks and, of course, previews!

Another blast from the more recent past was almost as funny. A 20th Anniversary box set of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” ad gave Jay Pharoah an opportunity to put on his best Will Smith, with Kenan Thompson adding to the retrospective commentary as Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton).

SNL takes next week off and returns Jan. 29 with host Jesse Eisenberg and musical guest Nicki Minaj.

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