Is Justin Bieber SNL's New Timberlake?

The Atlantic Wire

NBC has released the first major promo for Justin Bieber's first major attempt at taking over Saturday Night Live this weekend, and it's not so bad! At least it sure is just as promising than the hosting debut of that other Justin who made it from teen-pop insanity to late-night sketch comedy to the movies to multi-level stardom.

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Listen: Our first inclination is to assume this episode of SNL will be an absolute disaster — it easily could be. But watch: Biebs's hair reaches implausible heights, and he jokes around with Kenan Thompson, and it's kinda funny?

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It's at the very least not bad. Early observers have noted that Bieber is trying, if faltering a little. Mid-week SNL promos can be deceiving, of course: Most recently, we were all geared-up for Jennifer Lawrence's appearance, which turned out to be kind of a dud.

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But there's another reason to be cautiously optimistic that Bieber could turn his patented brand of jerkiness into Saturday Night Live funny. Remember, if you will, the sketch he did back when he was a musical guest in 2010, the one with Tina Fey as a teacher inappropriately pining after her oh-so-adorable student. Sure, he kind of shifted around when delivering his lines — something you can chalk up to his being so young, or at least being not an actor. And, sure, his main tasks were singing and winking — things he is, obviously, good at — but Bieber is clearly game to be the butt of a joke, which goes a long way during a hosting gig:

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Bieber also showed similar willingness to participate (and even get a little scandalously silly) on Jimmy Fallon's show last night:

All of this could just imply that he's a teenager who thinks he's awesome, who might be terrible when he's actually working hard at be funny. But let's not forget that bro-y, douche-y male musicians have turned into Saturday Night Live heroes. When Justin Timberlake had his first hosting gig in 2003 he had just come off being "punk'd" by Ashton Kutcher on the similarly-titled Punk'd. And Timberlake was far from his multi-talented, mostly respected Suit & Tie days. Writing in 2006 at the New York Times Virginia Heffernan remembered how she thought of him pre-SNL. He was a "twerp" and a "neat punch line." When Timberlake hosted SNL that year suddenly "it turned out the kid had a sense of both humor and revenge." His success on the show was a surprise: in bashing an Al Sharpton hosting stint later that year, Steve Johnson of the Chicago Tribune wrote: "The host will make nobody forget Justin Timberlake, who was -- no joke -- loose, even inspired during his hosting stint earlier this year." During that first hosting gig, Timberlake not only parodied Kutcher but did an impression of Jessica Simpson (this was in Newlyweds days, remember?) and introduced "The Barry Gibb Talk Show" with Fallon: 

And then came some of the most memorable sketches in the late, only occasionally great history of SNL — including "Dick in a Box," of course. Timberlake now pops into the show regularly, to the extent that he's actually now becoming annoying again. So with that precedent, we're holding out a faint bit of hope for Bieber, with the caveat that this could very likely be a huge train wreck. Bieber, for his part, at least sounds excited on Twitter: 

rehearsals today. #BIEBERonSNL

— Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) February 6, 2013

And so do his people — click that hashtag at your own risk.

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