SNL Power Rankings: Jesse Eisenberg Underwhelms (And We Mean That As A Compliment!)

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If I asked you to rattle off a list of actors that you think are hilarious, it would probably take you a long time to drop Jesse Eisenberg’s name. Now, that’s not because Eisenberg isn’t a really strong comedic actor (because he is!); rather, it’s that his mannerisms and delivery are often created with the intent to underwhelm. By that, I mean his wiry frame and nervous energy don’t immediate bowl you over with laughter like comedians with tremendous physical chops or extreme levels of charisma and confidence. Instead, he relies on blending awkwardness with intelligence in order to sell his material.

So, how does someone whose comedic tendencies lean towards the understated perform as host of Saturday Night Live? Quite well, in fact! Seth Meyers and Lorne Michaels made a wise decision and played to Eisenberg’s strengths; throughout the evening, he played a variety of sexually immature teens and physically slight characters, all to great effect. Unlike, say, Jim Carrey, Eisenberg was content to let the hilarious cast lead the way and support the material however necessary. He proved himself to be quite adept at selling small jokes, even if he didn’t have any truly memorable performances.

Speaking of (not so) memorable performances, why did Nicki Minaj lip-sync the choruses of both the songs she performed “live” on Saturday night? Can she not hit those notes in a live setting? We’ll let you guys hash that out in the comments but, for now, let’s get into how the cast performed this week with our SNL Power Rankings.


SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE POWER RANKINGS: 1/29/11 (Host: Jesse Eisenberg; Musical Guest: Nicki Minaj)

1. Kenan Thompson (37 points): With the lone exception of Fred Armisen, Kenan Thompson has the longest tenure of any of the SNL cast members. It took him a few years to find his groove, but he has proven himself to be an invaluable and utterly indispensable cast member over the last two years. His Tyler Perry impression during Weekend Update not only went over surprisingly well for the in-studio audience, but it also was a smart and subtle critique at the power structure of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, which nominated more white people for Oscars this year than they had in 10 years. And who would’ve thunk that Kenan’s fake movie poster for Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Internet All By Myself would be followed up by Tyler Perry releasing his very own Black Swan themed poster for Madea’s Big Happy Family just two days later? Also, his Blackenstein is a character that we hope to see much, much more of in the future.

2. Bill Hader (34 points): He may not have “won” this week’s Power Rankings, but it’s pretty clear that Hader has turned himself into the standout member of the cast these days. I mean, watch this Stefon outtake (from a recent dress rehearsal performance that NBC just put online over the weekend) and tell me it wasn’t funnier than everything else that made this (really good!) show this week?

3. Andy Samberg (33 points): While “The Creep” isn’t exactly Lonely Island’s finest hour, Samberg really delivered this week, especially in the last sketch of the evening, “El Shrinko.” Samberg is the cast’s go-to guy to play nerdy and somewhat nebbish teens, which suited him well both in Shrinko and, of course, his ongoing role as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

4. Kristin Wiig (24 points): I’ve spent a lot of time railing on Wiig this season, but even as someone who feels like it’s time for her to leave for greener pastures, I thought her new Spa Talk character was a nice addition to her canon.

5. Jason Sudeikis (20 points): First, he was dating January Jones. Now, the rumor is that he’s making time with Scarlett Johansson. I can’t and won’t begrudge the guy anything, because Wow And Good For Him, but I will say that his output has been on the disappointing side this year. I was really hoping he’d step his game up to make up for the tragic absence of Will Forte, but alas, he seems to be preoccupied with having sex with gorgeous movie stars.

6. Nasim Pedrad (18 points): When I think back on this season, the image of Nasim Pedrad humping a Van der Graaf generator during the “Mr. Wizard” sketch will be one of the things I remember most.

7. Abby Elliott (16 points): She wasn’t terrible this week, not terrible at all! (That pushes my personal limits for the amount of praise I’m willing to bestow on Abby Elliott.)

8. Fred Armisen (13 points): A slow week for Fred, but we’ll always have the image of his breasts bouncing on the treadmill to remember, now won’t we?

9 (tie). Bobby Moynihan, Vanessa Bayer, Paul Brittain (12 points): Bayer is so great! Her Staten Island-y mom in the Spa Talk sketch once again proved that she is one of the show’s most versatile performers. As for the rest of them? Well, bring back Mark Payne!

12. Jay Pharoah (7 points): LOVED his work as a Bootsy Collins-esque mad scientist in the “Bride of Blackenstein” sketch. Lorne didn’t give him many chances this week, but Jay made the most of his camera time, that’s for sure.

13. Taran Killam (0 points): Wow, the season’s first goose egg! Where were ya on Saturday night, buddy? Did you forget to set your iPhone alarm and you overslept? All jokes aside, these things happen. He’s been steady all season long, let’s not blow this situation out of proportion…

(You’ll notice that we didn’t mention the Mark Zuckerberg cameo until right now. That’s because it was simultaneously extremely cool and extremely awkward. I mean, his stage fright paralleled Cindy Brady’s! Get a grip, Zuck; you’re a billionaire, take some media training fer Chrissakes.)

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE POWER RANKINGS: SEASON 36 TOTALS
1. Bill Hader (424 points; Last Week: #1)
2. Kristin Wiig (393 points; Last Week: #2)
3. Fred Armisen (366 points; Last Week: #3)
4. Andy Samberg (349 points; Last Week: #4)
5. ⇑ Kenan Thompson (317 points; Last Week: #6)
6. ⇓ Jason Sudeikis (290 points; Last Week: #5)
7. Bobby Moynihan (258 points; Last Week: #7)
8. Nasim Pedrad (238 points; Last Week: #8)
9. Vanessa Bayer (208 points; Last Week: #9)
10. Taran Killam (175 points; Last Week: #10)
11. Abby Elliott (169 points; Last Week: #11)
12. Paul Brittain (159 points; Last Week: #12)
13. Jay Pharoah (136 points; Last Week: #13)

Reference Materials:
Need a refresher on the Scoring System?

Here’s this week’s sketch-by-sketch breakdown:

Also, did you know that we’re showing classic episodes of SNL every night on VH1? It’s true!

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