James Franco returned to host ‘SNL’ for the third time (though it seems like more) and for the first time since 2009 (which doesn’t seem quite right either). A lot has happened in the two weeks that ‘SNL’ has been gone and the show certainly didn’t ignore what has happened, but did they do enough? It’s a tough call. This is a comedy show after all and has never been an all-encompassing current events show like, say, ‘The Daily Show.’

Even though he was the host, Franco kind of felt like a non-factor. On one hand, he blended in with the cast, which is always welcome, but musical guest Nicki Minaj seemed to have more of a presence. Anyway, off we go to this week’s Scorecard…

Sketch of the Night

‘Grow a Guy’ (O'Brien, Bennett, Bayer, Zamata, Davidson, Franco) How about Mike O’Brien? He’s got his own title card now! I was disappointed when O’Brien was dropped from the cast before the season started, but not having to worry about being on the air during live sketches seems to have liberated O’Brien, who is having a strong year with his films. He’s less Lonely Island and more Albert Brooks. And here again with ‘Grow a Guy,’ we once again see O’Brien’s unique talent for combining weirdness with sincerity. (Also, O’Brien and Franco do work really well together, as we saw last season with ‘Monster Pals.’)

Score: 9.5

The Good

‘Star Wars’ (Killam, Franco, Pharoah, Jones, Moynihan) Everyone is older now. I still laughed a lot.

Score: 8.0

‘Brain’ (Davidson, Franco, Killam, Bryant, Mooney, Pharoah, Minaj, McKinnon, Bennett) What a great concept. It’s nice to see a sketch that works now and could have worked during the first season of the show (albeit with different pop culture references.) This really could be a recurring sketch that allows the cast just to do random impressions (which, granted, I don’t always love, but this particular idea is just so darn clever). I mean, we got to watch Taran Killam sing Savage Garden.

(Sadly not online due to song rights issues.)

Score: 7.5

‘Weekend Update’ (Jost, Che, Moynihan, Jones, Minaj) A few interesting things happened here. First, Jost and Che finally broke away from the “you tell a joke, then I tell a joke” format to address the Staten Island grand jury decision. It felt kind of ballsy and it seemed like ‘Update’ was going to go in a much needed different direction—but then they didn’t and it went back to the normal routine, which is really starting to feel stale.

I’m having my doubts about the team of Jost and Che. I don’t think it’s a lost cause, but I’m also not seeing a lot of improvement. I honestly think their first show together was better than what we’re seeing right now. This is exemplified every time Leslie Jones appears on ‘Update’—Jost and Jones have real chemistry together and I’m starting to think that should be the ‘Update’ team. (Also: I love Moynihan’s Anthony Crispino, even though it seems like he has brain damage now. I could have done without Minaj’s Kim Kardashian.)

Score: 7.0

‘Porn Stars’ (Strong, Bayer, Franco, Rogen) I go back and forth on these, but it feels like we haven’t seen one of these sketches in awhile and this one was particularly funny. Bayer and Strong mimicking their process for getting water out of their heads may have been the best single moment of the entire show.

Score: 7.0

‘Kid Mayor’ (Franco) Hey, it’s our host, James Franco! Franco going on a rant about a nine-year-old boy seems kind of normal, but it’s still pretty funny. Even Franco was laughing!

Score: 6.0

The Bad

‘Cold Open: Politics Nation’ (Thompson, Pharoah, Moynihan) Kenan Thompson is quietly having a pretty great year and has transformed himself into the stabilizing force of the show. If this is his last season, he’s going to be missed and will probably go down as one of the most underrated cast members in ‘SNL’ history, which is a weird thing to write about a guy who has been on the show as long as he has. Thompson’s Al Sharpton is always good, but (a) it works better later in the show because it’s not exactly a high energy sketch and (b) I wish there had been a stronger sketch about the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island.

Score: 5.5

‘Peter Pan’ (Franco, Bryant, Strong, Moynihan, Ensemble) As they did last year with ‘The Sound of Music,’ of course ‘SNL’ was going to parody ‘Peter Pan Live.’ The problem is, ‘Peter Pan Live’ was already so silly, it’s almost impossible to effectively parody.

Score: 5.3

‘Jingle Ballerz Special’ (Davidson, Zamata, Killam, Franco, Thompson, Minaj, McKinnon, Pharoah) Jay Pharoah’s Kanye West is always a treat and, my gosh, is so dead on and so funny. Unfortunately, we didn’t get that until the very end of a sketch that just seemed to drag on forever.

Score: 4.0

‘James Franco Monologue’ (Franco, Rogen) James Franco and Seth Rogen decide to display all of their racy photos in an attempt to get ahead of the Sony Pictures hack that has crippled the company. (It truly has been a nightmare for people who work there.) So, basically, the monologue turned out to be a series of pictures of Seth Rogen in his underwear.

Score: 3.5

The Ugly

‘Magic Bridge’ (Mooney, Franco, Bryant, Strong) I’m going to chalk this one up to “I bet it killed during read through.” (Also, it’s telling that the dress version is what’s being offered online right now.)

Score: 1.5

Average Score for this Show: 5.89

· Woody Harrelson 6.75
· Bill Hader 6.73
· Chris Pratt 5.99
· Jim Carrey 5.94
· Cameron Diaz 5.92
· James Franco 5.89
· Sarah Silverman 5.86
· Chris Rock 5.38

Mike Ryan is senior editor for ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

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