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.

Good-to-Great

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.

Solid

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.

Music

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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Filed under Celeb, celebrity, Comedy, Television, TV, Writing

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