Matthew McConaughey headlines a consistent and solid episode of ‘SNL’

Matthew McConaughey and Adele Bumper PhotosI have to be honest, I’m not a big Matthew McConaughey fan. I understand he’s our Paul Newman and all, but I always found his charm rather slick and oily. Still, having said that, I recognize the guy’s a talented performer, and he’s got a solid sense of humor. After the high of Elizabeth Banks’ episode, I was prepared for some disappointment with McConaughey’s turn at bat, but was surprised that I enjoyed the episode thoroughly, and thought the actor handled the material – most of it good – very well.

His monologue was interesting because it eschewed the usual “movie star sings a song” route, and instead, McConaughey talked about his much-imitated “Alright, alright” catchphrase, by telling an anecdote about his filming Dazed and Confused (which, if you haven’t seen – go  Netflix it now!) The monologue worked because it was funny and it harked back to a great movie, and McConaughey’s inflated sense of self, actually worked for him and not against him. Kudos to him and the writers who put it together for him.

Best sketches of the night

In a night filled with some strong sketches, it’s hard to choose, but one clearly stood out – and that’s the Thanksgiving gathering that goes awry when family members start to argue over politics. It’s a relatable sketch (which is why I don’t go to family gatherings for Thanksgiving), but it’s also funny because the family’s dinner is repeatedly saved by playing Adele’s new hit “Hello,” which causes the family to stop fighting and to immediately start lip syncing to the instant-classic. Again, even though it’s called Saturday Night Live, the show has some of its best moments during the pre-taped segments. The cast does some great work – especially Aidy Bryant who plays a tight right-winger (who swears she’s seen “ISIS at the A&P”) and Vanessa Bayer, who rivals Kate McKinnon for best suburban mom performer. The peace-making capabilities of Adele’s music is great, especially when it interrupts Bryant’s endorsement of Dr. Ben Carson – and once the characters all slowly morph into various drag/nondrag versions of Adele, Bryant gets to collapse the world by doing a borderline Adele impression when her character transforms into Adele, and conveniently looks just like the British chanteuse. It’s a very funny video and one of the strongest things done on SNL.

The cold open – another Fox & Friends sketch, was also good – mainly for Moynihan’s gleefully clueless Brian Kilmeade. McKinnon pops up as an indignant and increasingly rageful Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and though not as strong as her Hillary Clinton (who makes a brief cameo – but more on that later), is still very funny. It’s always great to see McKinnon channel the rage of self-righteous liberals who have to watch nutso conservatives capture the imagination and heart of the public (because they know they’ll have to do the cleanup once the bubble bursts). A nice deviation from the usual scrawl of mistakes is Leslie Jones, who is inundated with facts she must correct and snaps, “Ya’ll will have me up all night!” Jay Pharoah also brightens the proceedings with his on-point impression of Dr. Ben Carson – the comic captures Dr. Carson’s sleepy cadence and soporific demeanor perfectly, and unlike his sharp impression of President Obama, with his needling of Carson has some bite to it.

Another strong entry is the Should You Chime in On This? sketch, where Kenan Thompson does another excellent job playing an exasperated game show host (he took over for Bill Hader masterfully). The conceit of the game is that three dummies are invited to answer whether they should weigh on on a particular topic – the refugee crisis, Charlie Sheen’s HIV status, women’s reproductive rights, breast feeding, etc. Bryant, McConaughey and Kyle Mooney play three variations on the kinds of doofs who feel that they have the answer to solve the world’s problems – Bryant’s character is similar to the Thanksgiving/Adele video, a prim and entitled right winger, while McConaughey plays a spacey truther. And so that SNL doesn’t get slammed for its political bias, Mooney gets to play an insufferable NYU college student. And the end of the game, McKinnon strolls out as Hillary Clinton as a test to see if the contestants could stand silently by and not make a comment, and of course they all fail within seconds.

Slightly less funny, but still effective is the recurring Right Side of the Bed sketch that has Killan play another variation on his prissy gay guy character. He’s not doing the gay community any favors by leaning so heavily on this characterization, though I have to admit, in this sketch, it is funny. As his wife, Cecily Strong is also very funny. As a DL hubby, Killan’s character, Corey, overcompensates, and is uncontrollable in his “desire” for his wife, Gracelynn. McConaughey is a Ducky Dynasty-inspired chef, who is slowly breathing toxic fumes from oven cleaner, and becomes increasingly bizarre and spacey (so, basically, increasingly more McConaughey-esque). And McKinnon does her usual pop star impression, this time a befuddled Ed Sheehan. Yeah, the sketch was a tiny bit meandering, but Killan and Strong were aces.

Worst sketches of the night

There were no dogs this evening – though, some sketches didn’t work, in spite of the great work of the cast.

The Amtrak in Benson sketch was a nonstarter – McConaughey’s turn as a paranoid and off-putting opponent of Amtrak’s expansion into his town was strong, but the writing just had him find imaginary slights and self-conscious digs at his supposed working class background. It wasn’t bad and the actor nailed his performance, but the sketch as a whole went no where.

Slightly better was the Star Wars screen tests, though this was merely another one of the show’s excuses to get cast members to parade their impressions, while also throwing in some famous pals. All of it was okay, though Jon Hamm’s nervy, Hamm Solo spot was pretty awesome.

Weekend Update was Weekend Update – the less said the better, though Bayer livened things up with her patented showbiz kid – this time, her showbiz kid was auditioning for a spot as a newscaster and was delivering such devastating news like Charlie Sheen’s HIV status with the over-rehearsed and over-enthusiastic cadence of a child ignorant of the weight of what she’s saying. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before from Bayer, but she is able to cut through the slightly-unpleasant chemistry between Colin Jost and Michael Che and brighten the sketch up immeasurably.

The blues bar was decent. Again, Thompson slayed as a blues singer whose blighted life informs his music. Mooney, Jones, and Pharoah supply strong support as backup musicians, each with his/her own tale of woe. McConaughey’s guest performer (who looks like a weird blend of Matthew McConaughey and Pee-wee Herman) gets in on the act, but his life is pocked with mere nuisances like sporting a bad haircut.  It’s great that the show is trying to highlight white privilege (it did so in the Elizabeth Banks episode with the excellent “So Ghetto” sketch), but it’s not enough to just have white characters have privilege – there needs to be more elaboration and development. This sketch stopped short, when it could really explore what it means for a white cis man to place himself in one of the few settings in which black folks dominate – and what’s more, perform an art form that is a result of years of oppression and discrimination. None of that was shown, which is a shame, because there was the germ of that in the sketch.

The only “bad” sketch – and even then, it wasn’t terrible, was the 3-D printer man sketch that had McConaughey outclass some mediocre material, as the first man created from a 3-D printer – essentially, he played a robot. But he did a decent job, and managed to wring laughs out of a so-so sketch.

So overall, a surprisingly strong showing by McConaughey in his second time hosting (his first time was 14 years ago).

Random notes:

  • Alan DeGeneres got the job hosting Should You Chime in On This? by accident.
  • I love the #AllLivesMatter siren
  • Fox & Friends can’t tell the difference between refugees and crazed shoppers on Black Friday
  • By the way, #AllFridaysMatter
  • Dr. Carson’s solution to sussing out Muslims from the crowd of refugees: have them “eat bacon while singing a Christmas carol”
  • Though an eh sketch, I loved that Salt N Pepa’s “Whatta Man” was playing during the runway walk portion of the 3-D Printer Man sketch
  • Can we just agree now that any Maggie Smith impression is just an old English lady impression?
  • Leslie Jones got Star Wars and Star Trek confused – I hear you, sister, I do that all the time.

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Why the “T” in LGBT is very important

Caitlyn Jenner makes the news yet again, and yet again, whenever trans rights or issues are discussed, she is at the center of that discussion. Earlier, Jenner was the subject of two public feuds, so to speak – one with James Smith of New York City, whose late wife Moira is a 9/11 hero, and the other is actress Rose McGowan. I’ll get to McGowan in a minute. First, Mr. Smith.

Moira Smith was a cop with the NYPD, who died on 9/11. In honor of her bravery, Glamour magazine named her “Woman of the Year” in 2001. In the ensuing years since, other women have been honored by the title, some real heroes like Smith, and others celebrities like Helen Mirren or Britney Spears. Last year, Laverne Cox was honored as Woman of the Year. So, this year, Caitlyn Jenner was bestowed the title, which did not sit well with Mr. Smith, who decided to send back the award and wrote on Facebook:

“On October 29th, 2001 I was honored to accept the Glamour Magazine “Woman of the Year Award” posthumously given to my wife, Police Officer Moira Smith. Moira was killed on September 11th, 2001 while rescuing thousands from the World Trade Center. EMT Yamel Merino was also posthumously honored that evening for her heroism.

I was shocked and saddened to learn that Glamour has just named Bruce Jenner “Woman of the Year”. I find it insulting to Moira Smith’s memory, and the memory of other heroic women who have earned this award. Was there no woman in America, or the rest of the world, more deserving than this man? At a time when we have women in the armed forces fighting and dying for our country, heroic doctors fighting deadly diseases, women police officers and firefighters putting their lives on the line for total strangers, brave women overcoming life threatening diseases…the list of possibilities goes on…is this the best you could do?

I can only guess that this was a publicity stunt meant to resuscitate a dying medium.

After discussing this slap in the face to the memory of our Hero with my family, I have decided to return Moira’s award to Glamour Magazine.”

So, obviously, if the magazine is giving out these honors to brave women like Moira Smith, then Caitlyn Jenner pales in comparison. After all, her contribution to social justice is minimal at best. But what is disturbing about Smith’s missive is his misuse of Jenner’s name (“I was shocked and saddened to learn that Glamour just named Bruce Jenner ‘Woman of the Year'”) and misgendering her as male (“… more deserving than this man?”) He goes on to argue that there are other, more deserving women who should’ve been crowned Woman of the Year by Glamour magazine.

That argument that Jenner doesn’t deserve the honor is a solid one. After all, what did she do? Aside from coming out? But folks on social media – including the TERFs who claim to fight for women’s rights as long as it’s the right kind of women (hmmm, exclusionary feminism, it didn’t work in the 70s and it won’t work now) and the lizard-brained fundies who still hold on to the claim that Jenner isn’t a woman but a product of an elaborate and very expensive makeover. I hear arguments that to be a woman means one must understand sexism, the threat of violence and sexual assault, childbirth (yup, some of these so-called feminists went there), menstruation (yeah, there too), the income wage gap, and job discrimination, among other anti-woman ills. These evils are horrible, and women have to face many of them – all women. Because trans women – particularly trans women of color – also worry about violence and sexual assault. They may not worry about childbirth or menstruation, but many worry about access to hormone treatments. Trans women of color face murder rates that are epidemic. Many trans women have to turn to sex work (a reality for cis women, as well). And trans women are some of the most vulnerable in our society when it comes to job discrimination. And in some states, where they pee is up for debate. But in the magical fairylands of some of these TERFs, trans women are living these lives of privilege, because they, like everyone else in America has gotten Caitlyn Jenner confused with the rest of the trans community.

Caitlyn Jenner is not the face of the transgender experience because there is no one face – there are many men and women, all of their voices vital and important. While Jenner’s role in the movement is much-needed visibility, her privilege shields her from most of the horrible problems that many trans women (and cis women) face. But let’s face it, Jenner’s daughters all have the kind of independence and privilege bought by their income, that they too won’t have to struggle in the same way that women do in this country. They don’t worry about issues of access to healthcare, paid leave, job discrimination, or the income wage gap. Jenner’s issue with womanhood isn’t about being trans, it’s about being a rich, privileged 1%er who is at best, a tourist in the world of anti-tran discrimination.

So, at the Glamour event, Jenner was interviewed for a quick fluff piece that was meant to be fun, informative, and inspirational. In the quick interview, Jenner was asked what is the most difficult part of being a woman, and Jenner – who is at a Glamour event, mind you – Glamour, the magazine whose site has a headline that reads “14 Times that Ariana Grande Didn’t Wear a Ponytail” (we’re not talking about the Economist), that the hardest part about being a woman is “figuring out what to wear.” A doofy statement sure. But let’s step back and think for a moment about the context in which Jenner said this – we’re talking about a woman who is faced with being authentic for the first time in her 65 year-old life. For many of us who are pretty okay with our identities, the simple act of choosing an outfit is something we take for granted. For Jenner, it’s a new thing – she’s almost like a teen-aged girl, getting permission from her mom to wear what she wants for the first time. It can be an overwhelming thing – especially, since clothing is often such an important marker of gender identity.

Anyways, lots of memes popped up on the Internet, grabbing Jenner’s statement and superimposing it on pictures of women with their faces mutilated by acid or disfigured by bruises and cuts. The implication is that Jenner, who’s so swaddled in privilege and wealth, has no idea what it means to be a woman. Except she does. She knows what it means to be a rich and pampered woman. Her obliviousness is no different to Sarah Palin, Ann Romney, Kris Jenner (see what I did there?), Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush, Gwyneth Paltrow, or any other famous, rich (usually white) woman who has forgotten that not every one is a gazillionaire. But when Palin, Romney, Jenner, et al say something stupid, these women are judged solely for their words, and not for their identities as women. But for Jenner, we always have to remind her that not only is she privileged, but she was also presented as male at one point.

So, Rose McGowan. On a particularly yucky Facebook post, McGowan blasted Jenner writing “Caitlyn Jenner you do not understand what being a woman is about at all. You want to be a woman and stand with us- well learn us. We are more than deciding what to wear. We are more than the stereotypes foisted upon us by people like you. You’re a woman now? Well fucking learn that we have had a VERY different experience than your life of male privilege…” She later added an amendment that read, “Let me amend this by saying I’m happy for what she’s doing visibility wise for the trans community, and I’m happy she’s living her truth, but comments like hers have consequences for other women. How we are perceived, what our values are, and leads to more stereotyping. If you know you are going to be speaking to media About being a woman, maybe come to understand our struggles.”

Aaand, because some trans-friendly folks (as well as trans folks) gave her some crap, she posted, “Let me take this moment to point out that I am not, nor will I ever be, transphobic. The idea is laughable. Disliking something a trans person has said is no different than disliking something a man has said or that a woman has said. Being trans doesn’t make one immune from criticism. I know that being a public figure is not easy. Being Caitlyn Jenner is most assuredly not easy, but that doesn’t absolve her of her of responsibility. Living as a woman in this backwards society is hard. We need all hands on deck. Those who have the microphone speak to many. Especially that family. I’d be thrilled to fight alongside Caitlyn Jenner. I just want her to know there is a monumental fight to be had. Let’s start retraining thought patterns. Let’s go forwards, not backwards. And maybe next time I’ll curse less. Maybe. Fight on.”

But the problem is McGowan was being transphobic, but because her target was a particularly low-hanging one, she gets some sort of pass. In her post, she writes that Jenner not “understand what being a woman is all about.” The problem with that is that no one, and everyone who identifies as a woman knows what being a woman is all about because Rose McGowan’s identity and concept of womanhood is obviously very different from Caitlyn Jenner’s. And while I find Rose McGowan’s political and social consciousnesses and identity (which I assume is intersected with her gender identity) much more interesting and vital than Jenner’s, it doesn’t mean that Jenner’s is somehow wrong. She then asks rhetorically “You’re a woman now?” No, Jenner was always a woman. Trans people are born that way – just because Jenner’s transition was open and public for the last year or so, she has spoken about her struggles with gender identity for her whole life. Jenner was never a man, she was always a woman, but she was misgendered at birth, and forced by rigid gender roles to conform to traditional masculinity for more than 60 years of her life. Yes, those years brought her great wealth and acclaim, both of which causes Jenner to misspeak. A lot. But again, Jenner isn’t new at being a woman – she’s new at being one openly and publicly, too different things.

McGowan writes that living in our backwards society is hard. And she’s right – it’s very hard. Especially hard for women. Particularly women of color. But trans women don’t have it easier. Folks like to imagine that trans women benefited from years of privilege, and examples like Jenner’s don’t help. The truth is most trans women won’t have the easy-ish road that Jenner did. Most trans women won’t be able to transition into glamazonious goddesses and come out looking like WWII pinups if they wanted to. McGowan’s followup to her initial post essentially reiterates what I said: that Jenner shouldn’t get a free pass because she’s trans – if she says something stupid, it’s the same as if it were a cis man or a cis woman (though again, in McGowan’s world, there are three categories: “trans person, man, and woman”). Except that she did question Jenner’s credentials as a woman – something, theoretically, she couldn’t do, if she were railing against a cis woman.

The reason I bring this all up is because in Houston, scaremongering efforts to demonize the trans community resulted in the failure of anti-discrimination law. The opposition to the law won on the fear of having trans women use women restrooms. There’s also a project that seeks to remove the “T” from the LGBT movement and it’s got a petition on And there is support for this largely-symbolic move by members of the gay community and the feminist community (and the folks who straddle both communities).

And I’m sad.

I’m sad for all my trans friends. And I’m sad for all the trans kids out there. And I’m sad for the trans activists, whose work has been made harder by the backlash engendered by Caitlyn Jenner. And I’m sad for Caitlyn Jenner, who doesn’t even have the luxury of being a celebrity without having to be reminded constantly of how she’s failing as a woman and failing as a trans icon.

As I write this, I realize, I think about Caitlyn Jenner a lot. Too much, in fact. I never was a fan of her or her family, nor did I follow their various, unsavory exploits on television or the tabloids. I was proud for the hot minute that a lot of the communities on the Internet was supportive of Jenner (though a lot of it was due to her being gorgeous). I just wish that every time Caitlyn Jenner popped up in a comment thread, the discussion did not have to turn into a Trans Issues 101 class. I wish that trans folks didn’t get put on blast because a vacuous member of their tiny community is its de facto mouthpiece. I wish that cis women did not feel that trans women were somehow encroaching on their right to be called a woman – I wish that no woman would feel the need to make a laundry list of all the micro and macro aggressions she went through, so that she can prove that she is somehow more deserving of the title of “woman” than a trans woman – and more than that, I wish these women never had to go through any of these micro to macro aggressions.

Despite my disagreement with McGowan, she did say something in her second post about Jenner that I found very true – and devastatingly heartbreaking. She wrote “I just want [Jenner] to know there is a monumental fight to be had.” McGowan’s right. The fight is monumental. In Texas, it’s reported that over 100,000 women have resorted to performing their own abortions. In other states, clinics are shutting their doors and lawmakers are adding more obstacles to make choice impossible. These attempts at restricting women’s rights should have all of us up in arms, mad as hell, and standing up against the forces that work against progress. Women’s rights should be on all our minds. All women’s rights.


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Elizabeth Banks should join the cast of SNL

Elizabeth Banks and Disclosure Bumper PhotosElizabeth Banks is the perfect host for Saturday Night Live – she’s the kind of host that the show should book. The week before her show, SNL found itself trying to prop up the tragedy that is Donald Trump. As if to apologize, the show booked Banks, a talented and wonderful comedienne, who predictably shown bright and was a bright, consistent, and reliable member of the cast. Though, it’s become a bit of a cliche to complain about just how safe and boring SNL got, Elizabeth Banks’ episode was a surprisingly strong entry with no real clunkers.

The Cold Open wasn’t the usual ho-hum political sketch, but a stirring message of love and support to Paris after the terrorist attacks that killed 136 people. An emotional Cecily Strong, invoking 9/11 delivered a beautiful message that read,

“Paris is the city of light. And here in New York City, we know that light will never go out. Our love and support is with everyone there tonight. We stand with you.” She recited the lovely message in both English and French.”

In times when the outside world intrudes on the insular comedy landscape of SNL, it’s interesting to see how the show responds. After 9/11, Lorne Michaels, then-Mayor Rudy Guilliani, and a fleet of first responders opened the show; and in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting (which took place around Christmas), musical guest Paul McCartney invited a children’s choir to pay tribute to the 26 victims of the shooting. Strong’s message was simple, direct, and affecting.

Elizabeth Banks’ monologue was sprightly, and well-paced. After gliding onto the stage in a ball gown, Banks name checked the Hunger Games films, and then references her successful directing gig, Pitch Perfect 2, before launching into a rendition of “Flashdance…What a Feeling.” Before audiences could get too bummed at yet another musical monologue, we see that Banks’ directing has gone to her head, as she takes over the direction of the monologue (she loves star wipes and a green screen). Banks isn’t a great singer, but she sold the number and her increasingly weird requests made the monologue a great start.

The first sketch was a take on Angie’s List, Aron’s List – like Angie’s List, except the folks on it are nonviolent sex offenders (is there such a thing?). Despite the potential hairiness of the sketch, it yet again proves that Saturday Night Live does amazing fake commercials. Vanessa Bayer, whose grown into an important player, plays the oblivious customer wonderfully – and the guys – Kenan Thompson, Beck Bennett, Kyle Mooney, and Pete Davidson – are funny and appropriately creepy. While I love these fake ads, it’s a little disconcerting that a show with the word “live” in the title continues to excel in pre-taped segments.

Black Jeopardy! returns with winning results (see what I did there?) It’s a one-joke sketch, but does give Thompson, Jay Pharoah, and Sasheer Zamata some much-deserved screen time. With categories like What Had Happened Was, It Ain’t Like That, Who’s Try’na, Banks stars as the resident clueless white person, so infused with privilege, that she cannot keep up with the show. Obviously, the sketch mines stereotypes, but I give the show props for allowing for some more (mildly) comedy in the mix – though, for a sketch that purports to skewer white privilege, in the two times it’s ran, it worked as a vehicle for the white hosts (like Banks, Louis C.K. shone in his turn at BJ!). Having Banks win the show by exclaiming in frustration, “No matter what I do, I can’t win!” is devastating only because Thompson’s Alex Treblack exclaims that it’s the blackest thing that could be said.

The following sketch – another pre-taped one – is another chance for the female cast members to shine in a music video. This time, the ladies along with Banks, perform a slow jam “First Got Horny 2 U” in honor of all the mid 90s hotties (Carson Daly, Taylor Hanson, Charles Shaughnessy, and Bayer admitted to loving Eric Menendez while Aidy Bryant fell in love with the teen-aged son from Dinosaurs)  that first introduced the ladies to masturbation. It’s one of SNL‘s braver sketches – exploring and discussing female sexuality – that would never have been done before, showing that despite its age and its milquetoast qualities, its moved away from its boys club mentality.

The Woodbridge High School Theater Show Case sketch was stronger than usual, possibly because of Banks’ presence, but also because the as they go along, these Woodbridge High sketches are starting to find a voice, teasing the over-earnest teens and their well-meaning if slightly ridiculous performance art pieces about social justice (Bryant warns her audience that the show may “bring extreme bouts of progress“) It’s funny to see these zealous PC warriors put together a terrible show that does nothing.

The Weekend Update was okay – I barely watch them at this point. The highlights were the guests – Kate McKinnon’s Russian Olya Petrovsky, who continues to report from the cartoonishly grim Russia; (I always felt that the Olya character was kinda Xenophobic). Kyle Mooney’s interesting hackey stand-up comic, Bruce Chandling. I always felt Mooney’s character – though not a real knee-slapper – is the kind of strange, well-acted character that would’ve thrived in the 70s, when the show was at its height. The comic is a dark pit of self-loathing and lack of talent – and it’s fascinating to watch the sketch collapse into a disturbing tale of sadness and loneliness (it appears as if Chandler’s girl is cheating on him. And she’s a senior in high school); Pete Davidson, a fantastic stand-up comic, also shows up to decry the failure of the anti-discrimination laws in Houston which were supposed to protect the rights of trans folks. It’s a particularly yucky week for trans folks, given the asshat who petitioned to remove the “T” from the LGBT movement, or the tool who decided to return his late wife’s (a 9/11 hero) Glamour Woman of the Year Award because the magazine decided to honor Caitlyn Jenner this year. I’m so glad that the show decided to take some kind of stand – it usually stays just above the fray -and Davidson’s highly appealing schtick is a great way to deliver an important message without sounding strident.

The Adventures of Young Ben Carson was another winning sketch. Jay Pharoah proves to be an incredible mimic, as he portrayed the leading Republican candidate – especially, Carson’s clipped, soporific speech – in a sketch that lampooned Carson’s bizarre and untrue tales of violence. Kenan Thompson appears as Black Jesus, who sets Carson on the right path. Carson’s stupid assertions about evolution, politics, and homosexuality are used to make the guy seem doofy. Carson’s latest public persona as a grade-A dummy would be funny except he and human septic tank Donald Trump are leading among the Republican candidates. Leading. So while the joke is funny, the subtext is pretty scary.

Bobby Moynihan, along with Thompson, has always been an under sung hero of the cast. Though his Drunk Uncle has slowly become an annoying recurring character, it’s still imbued with some real character work. So it’s nice that the guy gets a sketch for himself, in which he plays an affable high school principal who wins a walk-on on a Law & Order style show. Unbeknownst to him, though, he’s the episode’s weekly pedophile, and t his increasing horror, the promotional push for the episode is clearly gonna make him look like a child rapist.  The sketch’s writing is good – very SNL goofy – but Moynihan’s a wonder, playing expertly as his character goes from ebullient enthusiasm, to confusion, and finally horror, when it’s clear that he’s going to look like a child molester on national TV.

The show’s final pre-taped segment, is probably one of the strongest of the episode. In Uber for Jen, Banks plays Jen, who gets into Mike O’Brien’s Uber car, and she’s dragged into his day of adventures, including getting a mortgage for his house, taking his pregnant wife to the hospital, even hiding the body of a man he runs over. I liked O’Brien, and thought his weird, off-kilter style was good for the show, and his sketches have always been a little more interesting and nuanced than the usual catchphrase salad that passes for usual on the show. Banks is every bit O’Brien’s equal, as the confused Jen quickly joins in on the fun, and becomes as enthusiastic about the daily errands as her driver is. Again, what makes the sketch work is that O’Brien and Banks do some great character work.

Speaking of great character work, Banks is teamed with Sasheer Zamata, Cecily Strong, and Vanessa Bayer in an insightful sketch that looks at how in “post-racial” America, our language has taken the word ghetto and completely corrupted its meaning and context. In the sketch, the ladies play young urbanites who are completely vapid and ridiculous and throw around the word ghetto like confetti every time they want to describe something cracked or down heel. It’s an offensive word tic that lots of people employ – whenever something seems broken down or budget-priced, it’s called ghetto. I like that the writers also want to show just how absurd the misuse of the word ghetto is, by having the young women continuously trumped by Banks, whose harrowing tales of urban blight are delivered in equally vapid voice as her colleagues, who complain about inane, first world problems. Again, such a pointed sketch on race and class is a breath of fresh air on a show that can get a little safe – examinations of privilege and class often makes for great and smart comedy. It’s not surprising that this sketch was buried at the end, as this is probably the least buzzy sketch – but again, like the other sketches, it benefited from some wonderful acting as well as some great social commentary (in fact, this sketch felt a bit more like Inside Amy Schumer than SNL).

So, thank god for Elizabeth Banks who cleared out the stench of Donald Trump. It was recently announced that the Christmas episode will be hosted by both Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (which is almost guaranteed to mean that pals like Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph will probably stop by, too). I can’t wait for that episode. In the mean time, Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Gosling, and Chris Hemsworth (who did Okay last season) will appear. Hopefully, the memory of how bad Trump did, will keep the producers from booking another stunt guest star.


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Donald Trump and ‘SNL’ make for a terrible, terrible night

It’s always a hairy situation when Saturday Night Live invites a politician over. Often politicians aren’t natural performers, riding on good will rather than talent. In last week’s episode, improbable Republican front runner Donald Trump returns for a second time to host. Trump of 2004 was a different than Trump 2015. The latter Trump is one that found political legitimacy by exploiting the ugliest parts of reactionary right wing fundamentalism – particularly pandering to xenophobia, racism, and anti-immigration sentiment (with a generous dollop of misogyny).

So, inviting Trump to SNL while not an endorsement of his repugnant views, does give him a platform and an opportunity to present himself as a likable guy – a particularly distasteful tactic, given how ugly Trump’s campaign has been. For most of his public career, Donald Trump has been a harmless, absurd goof – the hair, the tans, the parade of beautiful young wives – no one took the guy seriously, but he wasn’t destructive, either.

But this is a new Trump, and a much uglier one. One that attacks anyone he doesn’t like – and SNL was used as a vehicle for Trump to get his digs against his opponents, namely Dr. Ben Carson, whose been having a wacky few weeks.

Because Trump’s running for president and hosting during the primaries, SNL gets to pretend it’s politically relevant. The last time the show has done anything with any political bite, it was back in 2008, when a gal named Sarah Palin ran on the Republican ticket for vice president, and a gal named Tina Fey played her to devastating results.

But overall, SNL, doesn’t know how to do political humor. The show is often toothless when it comes to political humor, batting itself on the back when it gets minor digs in. President Obama has been a difficult target for the writers because presumably a lot of them are liberals, and the president isn’t an easy target.

So even though the show opened with a cold open depicting the Democratic forum, the funniest and most pointed thing the writers took aim at was the strange nature of a forum. Taran Killam did his solid Mike O’Malley, though the jokes just weren’t there – we get it, he’s an also-ran. Kate McKinnon came back for another stellar performance of Hillary Clinton,  though again the writers failed to give her good material and insist on beating that dead horse of Clinton being tense and unable to let loose. Larry David – a former SNL writer – came back and easily stole the show as Bernie Sanders – it’s not a spot-on impression, and it veers dangerously close to stereotype, but David is a funny guy.

Trump’s monologue was a nonstarter that got worse when David undid any of his good will by pretending to be be a liberal plant to heckle Trump by accusing the guy of being a racist. When confronted, David admitted that he was being paid $5,000 to dog Trump. It was an unfunny moment that took a cheap shot at all the folks that stood outside 30 Rock with legit grievances against a man who insisted that illegal immigrants were bringing crime, drugs, and rape to this country. Killam and Darrel Hammond came on stage to do their impressions of Trump, and the whole thing was really ridiculous.

It all went downhill from there. This episode was a mess. An awkward, stilted mess. I’d love to blame Trump for the whole thing – and believe me, he was awful, but he wasn’t present in enough sketches to be blamed for everything. The writers and the performers all were off their game.

So the best sketch? Whew, that’s like picking the best piece of crap from an abandoned Port-a-Potty. Tellingly the sketches that I did enjoy had little to do with Trump or politics. The spoof of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” with a collection of dorky middle-aged white guys gettin’ down with their bad selves was solid – and Trump’s participation wasn’t bad – and there was a great itty-bitty cameo by Martin Short’s Ed Grimley.

The worst sketch? Well, there was a lot of them, but the absolute stinker – besides the consistently boring Weekend Update sketch – was the White House 2018 sketch, which had Trump tout how great he’d be as president, with the goofiest cabinet ever (Omarosa as secretary of state?). Ivanka Trump wanders in with a terrible cameo, that shows that lack of charisma can be hereditary. As Trump crows confidently about lowering folks’ expectations, I couldn’t help but feel that the writers took the same attitude when putting together the week’s show.

Interestingly enough, the pre-taped segments were also misses. The Bad Girls sketches should’ve worked, and the Beck Bennett vehicle of a frustrated family man who has designs on being a big time pop star has the bones of a solid sketch, but is derailed by Trump’s leaden presence.

The Porn Stars sketches have always been my favorite – Cecily Strong and Vanessa Bayer are wonderful performers who do often shine and stand out in their sketches. But it feels like both have been adversely-affected by the suckiness of the episode as a whole, because even they couldn’t pump up a usually-reliable recurring sketch. And making the sketch spoof campaign ad doesn’t pay off like the writers thought it would – and it feels really anti-American and anti-patriotic to have a potential presidential candidate allow himself and the electoral process debased like this.

Some random notes:

  • I’m not sure if Trump uses reading glasses, but he had some issues with reading the cue cards.
  • Leslie Jones and Sasheer Zamata are still woefully underused – these are two very talented ladies and need to be given some challenging material.
  • Kate McKinnon was the cast MVP this week, but in an episode so bad, that’s not saying much.
  • Sia’s two new singles were solid.
  • Ugh, what a mess.
  • Next week, screen comedienne Elizabeth Banks is hosting – hopefully she’ll act as a palate cleanser.



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Leah Remini is blunt and candid in ‘Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology’

Scientology is always going to be a fascinating topic, especially when it comes to talking about celebrity. The mystery surrounding the religion, reports from some of its ex-members, as well as mean-spirited jabs by light night comics ensure that Scientology will always be viewed by the mainstream public a wary eye. It doesn’t help that three of its most famous members: Kirstie Alley, John Travolta, and Tom Cruise are almost as famous for their unsettling and strange persona as they are for their acting careers. One of the faith’s celebrity members, Leah Remini, was a public advocate for Scientology, appearing in promo videos and speaking out in support of the religion. That all has changed in the last couple years when Remini famously left Scientology to the ire of the church and its celebrity followers. In her memoir, Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, the popular TV comedienne goes into length on how she became involved in the faith, and what made her leave.

Though Scientology is a major part of the book, Troublemaker acts as a standard showbiz memoir, as well. It follows the pattern pretty closely: star reminisces about troubled childhood in humble beginnings, mentions supportive friends and family, discloses estrangement from other family members, details struggles to get to the top, and shares anecdotes about her time in Hollywood with other stars. There is some name dropping in the book, but it’s not obnoxious, and every celebrity that makes an appearance in the book is either a friend of Remini’s or a colleague (except for her passages that deal with her strange friendship with Tom Cruise). Her rise to the top of sitcomhood is gratifying, because she does a great job in detailing her struggles to get to her 9-year stint on King of Queens. Before that plum job, it looked like Remini would become the Queen of Failed Sitcoms, as she amassed an impressive record of canceled shows (though she did pay her dues in a recurring role on the teen comedy Saved by the Bell). As Remini points out in her book, talent agents and casting directors had a hard time figuring out what to do with her because of her strong personality – though model-gorgeous, Remini also has a prominent New York drawl, and an inability to play bullshit, which makes it difficult to be a player in an industry that is largely based on artifice and illusion. These factors initially worked against her, and boxed her into being typecast as the mouthy beauty from Brooklyn.

But after landing the role of Kevin James’ wife on King of Queens, Remini’s stock in her church skyrocketed, and soon church officials began to construct friendships between Remini and the church’s most famous member: Tom Cruise. The friendship would come to a strange crash during his glammy wedding to actress Katie Holmes. It was during this time that Remini began to see Cruise’s strange public behavior (the couch jumping, his public beef with Matt Lauer, his slamming of Brook Shields) as detrimental to Scientology’s public image. What Remini goes on to describe is a bizarre and convoluted world of reports, and admonishments, where friends and family members are urged to write up reports on others if they witness any transgressions. For those who insist that Scientology isn’t a cult, Remini’s experience may change their minds.

What’s more disturbing is Remini’s experience with the church as a teen. When she, her sister, and her mother left Brooklyn for Clearwater, Florida, otherwise known as the spiritual headquarters of Scientology, the young Remini faced a life marked by menial and manual labor, a culture of distrust, and an atmosphere that thrived on intimidation and fear. I was struck at how similar these early passages were to those of survivors of Peoples Temple. Remini’s innate rebellious nature often kept her at odds with church higher ups and in one awful instance, after an infraction, a teen-aged Remni was thrown from a boat into the water.

After the harrowing experiences in Florida, Remini’s mother took her kids to Los Angeles. It’s here that Remini began to pound the pavement to become an actress. Despite their awful time with the faith, Remini’s mom still kept the family in the church. And for outsiders looking in, this decision is head-scractchingly strange. But Remini’s sage advice is to not judge folks who stay because often Scientology is wrapped up in a person’s whole life, and her whole social network is involved with the church. If one is seen as truly subversive and destructive to the church, then the church encourages followers to shun and disown that friend or family member – Remini herself admits that after her public exit, she lost many friends (including Kirstie Alley, who publicly denounced Remini as a “bigot” and an “enemy”).

Though Remini’s known for being a funny lady, she’s also known for being frank. She admits that her rebellious  nature (hence the title of the book) may have cost her friendships, relationships, even work – she goes into some detail about her very-public firing from her talk show, The Talk (which she concedes was a bad fit for her). At the opening of the book, Remini lays out all of her sins, including public and private indiscretions, infidelity, even violence. She does so because she knows that the church will try to discredit her by bringing up unsavory details of her life. She knows how the church operates, and she wants to scoop it. This fact should make readers aware of how destructive churches can be.

Leah Remini’s story is a troubling, though ultimately satisfying one. As a writer, she and her collaborator, Rebecca Paley, capture the actresses’ voice well – for the most part. There are moments – especially when Remini goes into detail about the various rules and regulations of Scientology, that her voice seems to be replaced by a blanker, journalistic voice. When she talks about her friends and family as well as her work, then Remini’s impish humor shines through. And even more important, what Troublemaker ultimately does, is expose the author as a brave and talented woman.

Click here to buy Leah Remini’s Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology on


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Amy Schumer makes an appealing debut in a solidly entertaining ‘SNL’

Miley Cyrus Bumper PhotosIt’s not enough to say that Amy Schumer is having a banner year. The past few years have been good for the comic, who recently won an Emmy and a Peabody for her Comedy Central sketch show Inside Amy Schumer, and had a big fat movie hit with Trainwreck. On top of all this is a reported multi-million dollar book deal. She’s got it made. So her decision to host Saturday Night Live is interesting because, if we’re being honest, Schumer has surpassed the venerable show as a major and influential comic force. It feels a bit backward that a singular and distinct voice like Schumer gets shoehorned into a tightly-controlled environment that is run by Lorne Michaels. SNL has a complicated history when having stand-ups hosting its show – usually, the comic will kill it during the monologue, but then be inserted into blandly amusing skits that fail to tax her comedic muscles. While there was some of that with last Saturday’s episode of SNL, for the most part, it felt as if the show did its best to adapt itself to Schumer’s brand of comedy.

The show opened with a political skit – a goof on Fox & Friends. The topic being the GOP’s crisis of leadership after Kevin McCarthy suddenly dropped out of consideration for speaker. The sketch was okay – Taran Killam, Bobby Moynihan, and Vanessa Bayer are all pros and were able to enliven the toothless material – Moynihan was especially funny as the gleefully clueless Brian Kilmeade. The only time there was any real bite in the sketch was when cast MVP Kate McKinnon popped up as Debbie Wasserman Schultz. As usual, McKinnon outclassed her material, but there was little critique and social commentary – all it amounted to was Wasserman Schultz being pissed about the efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.

Once that sketch was over, we had Schumer’s monologue, which was predictably excellent. She ran over a few topics, including a ridiculous take on how it’s an exciting time for women in Hollywood, as well as, describing in detail, her attempts at washing her infant niece. The monologue featured some of Schumer’s patented brand of self-deprecating humor, and she easily nailed it. Unfortunately, the monologue was also the highlight of the show – a shame because after the cold open it’s the first part of the show.

That doesn’t mean the rest of the show wasn’t good. Far from it – it was a solid, enjoyable entry, that was enlivened by the presence of its host. Schumer’s stamp is felt throughout the night, most notably in the amount of raunch on the show, as well as, the pointed jabs at gun rights. For Schumer, gun control is personal because of tragic shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana, during a screening of her film Trainwreck. For a show so reluctant to take on anything controversial or trenchant, it was heartening to see the writers willing to take on such a thorny and topical subject.

Best Sketches of the Evening

Technically not a sketch, but the monologue killed, and it showed why Schumer crushed when it comes to stand-up. The best sketch of the evening, wasn’t live – it was the faux commercial extolling the virtue of guns. As with most of its fake commercials, SNL spares no expense in producing these beautifully-made videos.

And it was substantial, which is always nice. Poking fun at our nation’s obsession with guns as well as our absurdly lax gun laws is a great way for Schumer to make her mark during the show. It’s a funny sketch that has the various cast members and Schumer play adults who cannot approach the hardships of life without their guns, but there’s a poignancy to the comedy, in light of the recent mass shootings.


The Porn Teacher sketch was another home run, with Schumer and Kyle Mooney playing wonderfully off each other as a couple of porn stars doing a hot for teacher skin flick. Their “work” keeps being interrupted by the thoughtful questions of a excessively conscientious student (Aidy Byrant) and her equally clueless mom (Bayer), both of whom don’t understand that they are on a porn set. There’s something wonderfully simple about the premise and Mooney has perfected bad acting.

The Ford’s Theatre sketch divided viewers but I really liked it. In it, Schumer played a boorish actress playing Mary Todd Lincoln. Not content to just stick with the script, Schumer’s character improvises, interrupting the fatal evening at Ford’s Theatre, repeatedly socking John Wilkes Booth in the face and accusing him of wanting to have sex with her. It’s a repetitive sketch, to be sure, but Schumer’s all in, and it’s a joy to see her so expansive and broad in her performance.

Weekend Update still kinda sucks, though Che is holding on to his dignity (Colin Jost, on the other hand…well, never mind). The Weekend Update has merely become a showcase for the performers to trot out their characters as correspondence (or to feature bits from various stand-up acts). Jay Pharaoh, a master mimic and little else, comes up with an excruciating character, Solomon, an alleged travel expert, who never completed his assignment. I didn’t understand the point of it. But, McKinnon returned as Mrs. Santini, the most passive aggressive neighbor lady. McKinnon manages to make even the most meager offerings hilarious with her total commitment to performance. Mrs. Santini is a one-note character – a lady who writes mean notes to her noisy neighbors, but it’s McKinnons simmering portrayal of a cussed woman whose whole life is devoted to harsh on others, that makes it worth watching.


The City Council Meeting sketch ran like a weird outtake from Parks and Recreation (that would’ve been a great way to insert an Amy Poehler cameo – plus, I’m jonesing for a Leslie Knope fix). Schumer brought in her Amy Merryweather Sherman character from Inside Amy Schumer. The character is a hyperactive 6-year-old baby beauty queen, who espouses rabid right wing political points of view. While Leslie Jones, Kyle Mooney, and Kenan Thompson all did okay playing variations on kooky townsfolks, Schumer’s weird and disturbing Amy Merryweather stole the show.

The Baby Shower sketch was a typical late-in-the-show sketch that featured all of the ladies of SNL. The idea was the women were gathering together for a baby shower and Cecily Strong brought her friend, played by Schumer. Unlike the other women, Schumer’s character is loud, obnoxious and inappropriate, quickly escalating a minor moment of Strong’s purse being mislaid, to an all-out confrontation, as she accused the other party goers of stealing the purse (Strong did well with her crying). It’s a so-so sketch, typical for its time slot, and though not particularly well-written, it was well performed.

The Worst Sketches of the Evening

The Amy Schumer episode was one without a real dud, though the Hands-Free Selfie Stick and the Delta Airlines sketch both were a little blah.

The former, another fake commercial, poked fun (pun intended), at the selfie stick fad, buy having people insert the handle of the selfie stick up their butts. It’s not the highest form of comedy – but this kind of juvenile humor is often quite popular among SNL fans.

The Delta Airlines sketch was one that felt somewhat bland and anonymous, without taking full advantage of Schumer. In the sketch she and Bayer are flight attendants, who during their entertaining the passengers schtick, keep getting sucked out of a loose door. Taran Killam shows up and does another one of his hysterical queen roles (the guy’s slowly inching toward offensive). Bayer and Schumer do good work as the women who survived near death, but the sketch ran too long, didn’t have much of a point, and felt it had no ending.


I’m a fan of The Weekend and enjoyed his Prince-Michael Jackson inspired act, and was pleasantly surprised by Nicki Minaj’s appearance during “Hills” (she did great, btw).

Some random thoughts:

  • Schumer’s performances prove that the show should lean toward comedians when looking for hosts – stand-ups or comedic actors
  • Though McKinnon is the best of the bunch, Bayer is catching up to her.
  • Leslie Jones who made a stronger impression last episode, was relegated to minor appearances this week. A shame. I like Leslie Jones a lot.
  • The Weekend Update sketch should be revamped stat. Get rid of Jost and pair Che with Strong.
  • Though she starred in Porn Teacher, I would’ve loved to see what Schumer would’ve done with Strong and Bayer in the ex-porn stars sketch.


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‘I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story’ – a review

I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney StoryI Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story is an affecting documentary that tells the story of the man responsible for two of Sesame Street‘s most popular characters: Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. The popularity of the characters rested on Spinney’s ability to create three-dimensional personalities that spoke to children’s feelings of confusion, insecurity, curiosity, and displeasure. Big Bird especially launched Spinney’s career and turned him into a folk hero among puppeteers. The documentary shows the beginnings of these characters and how Spinney was able to flesh them out into recognizable icons of children’s entertainment. The film also goes into Spinney’s life, which was marked by abuse, bullying, and contemplation of suicide. Though a generally enjoyable film, I Am Big Bird is also a very sad one.

Like many artists – particularly artists who work with children – Spinney’s childhood was wretched. Though gifted with a supportive and wonderful mother, his father was an abusive tyrant. His interest in puppets from a young age made him a target for schoolyard bullies who taunted him. His adulthood wasn’t that much better: an emotionally abusive first marriage almost drove the man to suicide. All of this context makes watching Sesame Street all the more poignant, especially when looking at Big Bird, arguably Spinney’s greatest creation.

What makes Big Bird so relatable is that he’s an everychild. Children learn about the harshness of the world and all of its confusion through Big Bird’s perspective. The show is able to impart some important life lessons using the 8-foot tall Muppet, by addressing important issues, but unpacking them as a child would. It’s important to note, that never does Big Bird talk down to children – one of the greatest things about Sesame Street is that it assumes the audience is bright and intelligent. Spinney, along with the group of gifted writers, has created an instrument for children to process the world around them.

In I Am Big Bird, the audiences see some of that building of character. We see early incarnations of Big Bird that make him almost unrecognizable. We also see the tedious and physical work Spinney has to do to be Big Bird – this includes strapping on a tiny monitor, putting on the suit, and keeping his arm raised over his head to operate Big Bird’s beak and head. A marvel of graceful aging, at over 80, Spinney is still doing a lot of the work (though some of it is supplemented by “apprentice” Matt Vogel). All of this minutia and details is interesting because it shows just how committed Spinney is to his craft.

And though the bulk of the film is focused on Spinney, the film also looks at the iconography of Big Bird and how that changed Spinney’s life. Before the rambunctious red-furred Elmo, Big Bird was Sesame Street. There is archival footage of Big Bird touring the country and performing at state fairs, opera houses, and theaters. The human cast of Sesame Street also add some valuable insight to the popularity of Big Bird, and attest to the cultural phenomenon Big Bird became. The actors – including Bob McGrath, Emilio Delgado, and Loretta Long – all offer fun and sentimental memories of going on the road with Big Bird. They also join the chorus of folks who sing the praises of Spinney, who not only is a great artist, but a very popular guy to work with.

Because of its subject matter, some may want to watch I Am Big Bird with their children. I’d caution those folks, because as lovely and as wonderful as the film is, it’s also very sad. It feels like every passage in the film somehow slips into a tear-jerking moment. Because Spinney’s life was so difficult, his vulnerability imbues the film almost as much as it did his characters. We watch as Spinney struggles with depression, or when he butts heads with directors, or when he mourns the passing of his dear friend Jim Henson. In one particularly harrowing sequence, Spinney describes an awful moment when during one of his appearances as Big Bird, he left the costume with a group of ROTC cadets during a lunch break, only to discover that the kids maimed, plucked, and destroyed his beloved alter ego (he went so far as to compare it to a rape of a child – an assertion that the filmmakers should have questioned and pushed but didn’t). The memory brought fresh tears to his eyes.

The film moves toward a conclusion that leads with Big Bird’s gradual descent in popularity. To attract younger viewers and to keep up with changing TV viewership, Sesame Street shifted its focus and tweaked its format, highlighting Elmo at the expense of Big Bird. These slights cannot be easy for a man as committed to his work as Spinney, and some of the cast members sympathize with the man – McGrath, who has also been steadily marginalized, likened his late work on the show as a hobby – and it’s clear that the film is leading its viewers to Spinney’s eventual retirement. It’s heartening to see that despite his age, Spinney seems remarkably spry, and still willing to do the physical work of being Big Bird.

Though there are some ugly moments in I Am Big Bird, the film works as a loving, respectful tribute to a man whose vision and talent has inspired, enlightened, and entertained millions of children for generations.

Click here to buy I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story on


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