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Melissa McCarthy steals the show on her 5th ‘SNL’ hosting gig

HOST and MUSICAL GUEST Bumper PhotosMelissa McCarthy joined the Five-Timers Club, having hosted Saturday Night Live for the fifth time this year. She’s only the fifth woman to reach the milestone, and it’s clear that she’ll probably have the honor of hosting a few more times. McCarthy is the kind of guest host who would’ve been a cast member – she’s a strong physical comedienne and versatile actress. In her fifth hosting gig, she once again stole the show and dominated the sketches with her on point physical comedy and her ability to create fully-formed characters in the tiny five-minute sketches. Her episode was also helped tremendously by some above-average writing, as well (something that elevated last week’s Chris Pine episode, too).

As per usual, the cold open was a political sketch, with Alec Baldwin popping by to do his increasingly diminishing Donald Trump. At this point the writers have gotten lazy with the Trump sketches and are relying on simply lambasting the guy’s physicality and verbal tics. This week, Trump’s in the news because he fired James Comey, head of the FBI. This development provided SNL with some much-needed oomph, and as a result, though not a great sketch, it still shone brighter than the other Trump sketches because it actually had something to say.

McCarthy’s monologues are always delightful. Often the writers have her do a musical number or perform some kind of slapstick, but this time, it was a sweet bit in which she grabs a mom, Joan, from the audience, and takes her on a breakneck speed tour of the studio. On her way, the pair gets to meet Baldwin, Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively, musical guests HAIM, and some of the cast members. Joan’s a good sport and McCarthy gets to use her improv chops (she’s a Groundling alumna), and it makes for a sweet bit. I’m liking the “taking a tour of the studio” gimmick that is becoming more popular among the hosts (Jimmy Fallon did a sparking version of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” with a dance troupe around the studio).

The best of this episode combined great jokes and quality storytelling. Add to that McCarthy’s acting chops (Oscar nominated, no less), and you get what could be conceived as an ideal episode. The cold open was pretty toothless, but McCarthy’s return as Sean Spicer was great. Aidy Bryant cameoed as Sarah Huckabee Sanders as a supposedly even-keeled, thoughtful alternative to the blustery Spicer (though I think Huckabee Sanders is simply a slick oil saleswoman, as well). The sketch takes an unexpected turn when Spicer hears that he may be the latest in Trump’s administration to be given a pink slip. He plunges into self doubt as he jets away on his lectern-mobile to Trump’s golf course in New Jersey to confront the guy. The sketches loses some steam at the end (and yeah, the open-mouth kiss was predictable), but it was great to see McCarthy’s Spicer do his crazy, violent antics (and his demonstration of Comey’s firing by using Russian nesting dolls was great), but it was smart to fold in some more actor-y moments in which Spicer begins to doubt his importance within the Trump administration.

McCarthy also does wonder with her Gaye Fontaine, the wizened Hollywood vet who is on a film panel with her pal Debette Goldry (Kate McKinnon). Joining the two “legends” are Lupita Nyong’o (Sasheer Zamata, finally given something to do) and Cecily Strong’s Marion Cotillard. Often when a host joins a cast member in a recurring sketch, the writers create some weird twin of the recurring character, and the results are often kinda sad because a) the host is not as funny as the cast member and b) the “other” character is rarely as interesting. It’s smart then that in this sketch Gaye Fontaine is a character on her own, that relates to Debette because they both had to suffer through the same sexist indignities in Hollywood yesteryear. The implications behind these sketches is that actresses now don’t know how good they have it. And yeah, there is some of that, but there’s also a pointed critique in how long sexism has endured in the film industry. McCarthy does some great character work as Gaye, and whoever told her to play the lady as a stroke survivor was pretty aces.

But as great as McCarthy is at creating characters, she’s also a wonderful physical comic, so the game show sketch was predictably a highlight. The premise is so simply and hacky, it’s almost embarrassing – essentially it’s “how to get Melissa McCarthy to be repeatedly pied in the face.” And the actress takes it like a trouper, being pelted with pies repeatedly. It’s low brow, broad, and ridiculous, but McCarthy goes all in, recalling Lucille Ball at her best. The bravest comics are the ones who abandon all sense of vanity.

Even low key sketches in which McCarthy is merely featured – I’m thinking of the production logo sketch and the birthday sketch – benefit from the star’s presence. In the logo sketch, especially, she is given room to play, creating yet another one of her unlikable social misfits.

The Weekend Update sketch was okay, but it was Pete Davidson and Strong who made the sketch truly remarkable. Davidson appeared, essentially doing his stand-up act. He was candid and honest, talking about his sobriety – his delivery is idiosyncratic – some may be put off by his lazy manner, but I find it appealing. I also like how unsparing he was in talking about getting sober (and his story about going to horse therapy is hilarious, especially when shares how as a child he didn’t know he was allergic to horses because his family was too poor to ever be around them). Strong appeared as Cathy Anne, a politically-astute grotesque whose life is filled with drugs and tragedy, but she manages to soldier on, despite her demons. Cathy Anne initially was a recurring character that was about just how ugly and ridiculous Cecily Strong can be. As time went on though, she became a great voice for someone who is fed up with how ugly and ridiculous politics can be.

Though Saturday Night Live is ostensibly live, some of its highest moments are the pre-taped bits. In a beautifully filmed and acted piece, Kyle Mooney and Leslie Jones are in a committed relationship – with an adorable moppet named Lorne – that is in trouble. Her rising star and career demands means that he’s feeling left out and neglected. What I love about this film is that the writers and the performers don’t fall into the racist and sexist trap of making it about how tiny, nebbish Mooney is in love with the tall and athletic Jones; instead, it’s treated pretty straight forward. The absurdity comes in Mooney’s besotted misery and Jones’ busy indifference. Jones has gotten a lot of flack for her live performances, because she often will fumble a line or miss a cue. These pre-taped sketches show audiences just what an asset she is to the show.

The other pre-taped sketch was also a winner – the Amazon Echo, which helps old people out. As with the pie sketch, it’s a threadbare conceit: old people are old! They like it to be hot in a room! They’re cranky! What makes this sketch work is the pure performances of the cast members. Again, Jones is an appealing presence as an old woman who eyes some neighborhood kids warily, while Kenan Thompson is a marvel as a befuddled grandpa who relies on his Amazon Echo to decipher just what he needs from it. Both the pie sketch and the Amazon Echo sketch prove that one doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel to be funny – if we have to go back to cliches – which is sometimes unavoidable – doing a committed job with engaging actors can sometimes be enough.

Next week, the host will be fellow Five-Timer Dwayne Johnson (who will be hosting for the sixth time). Johnson, out promoting Baywatch, is a genial and funny presence himself. If the writing is as good next week, then we’re looking at a pretty strong streak for SNL.

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John Cena has fun in a so-so episode of ‘SNL’

John Cena and Maren Morris Bumper PhotosWhen John Cena exposed his arms during his monologue, I gasped. But not in lust like Leslie Jones, but in shock (and curiosity). They weren’t arms so much as lumpy pillars of marble. It was a scary sight. In fact, John Cena is a sight. The wrestler-turned-actor follows in the tradition of Hulk Hogan, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as the muscle man-turned comedic film actor. Cena has proven that he has solid comic chops (see his great turn in the Amy Poehler/Tina Fey starrer Sisters). He gets a lot of comic mileage from his mountainous physique, go-for-broke attitude, and smirky good looks.

As host of Saturday Night Live, he proves to be a genial presence who seems to have a lot of fun playing off his macho man image. The writing on this episode wasn’t on par with the last three excellent episodes, so it’s a testament to Cena’s considerable likability that this episode wasn’t a total dud.

The cold open wasn’t a Donald Trump bit, which is good because as great as Alec Baldwin in, the show is running out of ideas on what to do with the character. There’s only so much you can do with the two-dimensional Trump that the writers boxed Baldwin in, and maybe a couple weeks off will let the writers come up with stronger stuff (and there will probably be more Trump-related news stories, ripe for satire). Instead, we get a great cameo from Bryan Cranston as Walter White, who is the new head of DEA. It’s a great joke, as all of Trump’s cabinet appointments feel like they’re out to destroy the very agencies they’re in charge of. Having Walter White be the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration is a great gag that unfortunately doesn’t get taken to its potential, because before we get settled into the joke of Trump’s asinine choices, Cranston-as-White shouts out, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!”

As a monologist, Cena did well, supported by an incredible Bobby Moynihan, who challenges the real-life Adonis to a wrestling match (he’s easily vanquished). Of course when Leslie Jones enters the stage, she’s a worthy opponent, but is quickly undone by her attraction to Cena (she slips him her room key card). Kenan Thompson also slips by, with a sly move, slamming a folding chair across Cena’s back (which turns the chair into toothpicks). Cena coasts on his charm and easy sense of humor, and the heavy lifting (no pun intended) is left to Thompson, Jones, and Moynihan, and it’s a nice monologue.

In fact, that’s how the show worked for the most part. Cena is thrown into a sketch – primarily as a sight gag or straight man – and the other performers graciously do the hard work. I’m not writing this to imply that Cena is a lazy performer, just a limited one, but one that knows how to work within his limits. And though the writers hewed too close to the “big lug” theme, Cena seemed to transcend any hackiness of the material with his good attitude.

The best sketch of the mixed big is “Hook a Hunk” a fake MTV dating show that has Cecily Strong’s babe choosing from three hunks: Beck Bennett, Kyle Mooney, and Mikey Day. Cena pops up as the hunky host, and before we know what’s happening Strong and Cena find themselves attracted to each other, much to the consternation of the other guys. Cena’s smiley goofiness works well with Strong’s increasingly besotted and committed character. And as a neat and sweet twist, Bennett and Mooney find themselves in each others arms. It’s a surprisingly nice ending (that shows how far SNL progressed from the bro queer-baiting humor of the early 1990s).

The other great sketch – which wasn’t funny out loud, but well written was the Through Donald’s Eyes sketch that allows for us the viewers to see the world the way Donald Trump does – and it’s as messed as you’d imagine. Trump’s world is filled with syncophantic loved ones, his triumphs, and most importantly, gigantic hands and the chiseled looks of He-Man Cena.

The other great moments happened during the Weekend Update with Kate McKinnon as Angela Merkel and Strong as her recurring  Cathy Anne character, and the recurring Dyke & Fats sketch with McKinnon and Aidy Bryant. I’m not a huge fan of recurring sketches – often they lean hard on catch phrases, but what’s great about the aforementioned sketches is the strong writing and the committed performances. McKinnon as Merkel is great because it has shades of her Clinton – a frustrated, brilliant woman in a man’s world (though Merkel’s vulnerable while Clinton’s a shark – at least according to McKinnon’s performances). McKinnon’s Merkel is still pining for President Obama and is lamenting the lost opportunities of working with Clinton (she imagines the two having slumber parties – can you imagine?) As Kathy Anne, Strong slides up to the Update desk to decry the decline of American civility since the election, grousing about the rise of the Alt-Right. The joke, of course, is Kathy Anne’s sour look at the world, coupled with her malapropism. Strong’s physicality often has her playing beauties, so it’s great to have her play a grotesque.

The Dyke & Fats sketch is great because again, like with the gay twist in the Hook a Hunk sketch, it wouldn’t happen before. It’s great for the fictitious Chicago cops to embrace labels that would’ve normally been slurs – and Cena’s chief avoids insulting them, before condescending to them by offering the backhanded compliment that they’re great cops “for women” which sends both Dyke and Fats on a righteous tirade. It looks like a lot went into these sketches, production wise, so it’s a bit strange, that they’re so brief – I’d like to see these sketches extended.

The rest of the show was a solid C+ effort. Cena was the brightest spot in all of the sketches that exploited his looks and physical presence. The Science Fair sketch was alright – we get it, colleges reward athletes at the expense of academic integrity, with Cena’s college athlete putting together a dismal science project (tacking bananas onto a board), while the other students offer real projects, only to be shot down by the panel.

Another judging sketch – an America’s Got Talent-like sketch – has Cena and Day as a pair of falconers, except they’re using an owl, instead, who just keeps vomiting in their faces. Thompson has some nice moments as the befuddled judge, but otherwise, this sketch is a bit of a did.

There was also a couple ho-hum sketches in which Cena was merely a prop – an office Christmas party sketch and a romance bookstore sketch. Both benefited immensely from Aidy Bryant’s committed character work – in the former, she’s hanging on the ledge of her building by the tips of her fingers, while gripping the office Christmas tree. Instead of being concerned for her safety, her office mates are more worried about the Christmas tree. In the romance bookstore sketch, Bryant’s bookstore clerk scurries to a bookstack, where she meets up with her Fabio-like bodice-ripper romance hero, Cena, done up with a long, flowing wig and a puffy white dress shirt. Both sketches are nothing sketches – not bad, exactly, but very funny, though they prove that even in mediocre muck, Bryant is a find.

As far as pre-taped segments go, the aforementioned Dyke & Fats ruled, but there was a solid, if unspectacular, Karate Kid parody that went on for too long, and hammered the joke (Cena’s bully blasted Day’s Karate Kid through a succession of walls so hard, that Day flew out of his pants) relentlessly which diluted the impact of the joke. Still, Thompson was on hand to provide some nice, underplayed comic relief.

Random thoughts:

  • It’s funny that the show parodied America’s Got Talent – cast member Melissa Villaseñor was a contestant on the show. BTW, she was chosen because of her mimicking skills, and she’s not being used very well.
  • Even though McKinnon slayed as usual, Strong and Thompson were right up there, proving their mettle,too.
  • In the game show sketch, Thompson as Charles Barkley, showed that he is filling in nicely for Bill Hader’s former job of hosting fake game shows.
  • Next week, Casey Affleck, out doing the awards circuit right now for his new film Manchester by the Sea will be hosting. Brother Ben is an SNL vet, so we’ll see if humor runs in the family.

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Emma Stone makes a triumphant return to ‘SNL’

Emma Stone and Shawn Mendes Bumper Photos

Along with Justin Timberlake, Melissa McCarthy, Tom Hanks, and John Goodman, Emma Stone is a cast member that is so good at sketch comedy and hosting Saturday Night Live, that it’s curious that she didn’t pay her dues as a sketch comedienne before becoming an Oscar-nominated superstar.

Stone is funny, beautiful, and smart – a killer combination, and she got to show off all sides of her hilarious persona on last week’s show. Unlike a lot of gorgeous hosts, she doesn’t get marginalized by being shunted off into straight man roles (i.e. the exasperated mom, the exasperated girlfriend, the exasperated wife).

During her cute monologue, Stone informed her audience that it’s her third time hosting, and she called herself a vet of the show – I found it interesting that it was only her third time. Her monologue looked like it was going to be a musical – so I braced myself, but instead it was a funny riff on how SNL is like a high school. As she wandered the halls of the studio, she ran into cast mates who played the roles of high school archetypes (Vanessa Bayer was a mean girl, Kenan Thompson was a stoner, Bobby Moynihan was the brooding hunk).

Before, the monologue, we were treated to an Alec Baldwin as Trump sketch. I like his impression, and the sketch’s joke – that Trump will retweet anything – is salient and funny, but there needs to be more to the joke than what the writers are doing so far. Baldwin’s performance is brilliant and savage, but the writing is still weirdly soft. McKinnon’s wonderful Kellyanne Conway is great – and just like her Hillary Clinton, McKinnon is able to create a real, three-dimensional character instead of an accurate imitation (truth be told, McKinnon’s a virtuoso at characters, but not really all that great a mimic). The opener was funny, and I laughed (the Stephen Bannon as Grim Reaper sight gag was good), but it’s pointing to a future of softball lobs at the President-Elect.

The show’s first sketch was the recurring high school theater show. Lots of people are down on this sketch,and when it first came out, I didn’t like it much, either, but have since warmed up to it. The strident, myopic views of these supposedly progressive high school kids is a great parody of the dangers of forming one’s opinion in an echo chamber. Armed only with memes, Facebook posts, and buzz words, these kids are putting together a serious show, but undo any of their good intentions by being woefully misinformed (the kids think protesters at Standing Rock want the pipeline) or grossly inept at proving their point (shaming the audience into not being bilingual, the kids spoke Mandarin, but of course, it wasn’t really Mandarin). Aidy Bryant’s student then gets a monologue about HIV/AIDS in which her character starts off with an empowering message about the importance of destigmatizing AIDS (so far, so good), before her message gets away with her, and she urges everyone in the world to have AIDS before she announces  that “AIDS rocks!” (with triumphant fist in the air). As always, Kenan Thompson and Vanessa Bryant as two disgusted parents do some great, understated work.

Another great recurring tradition is to fit the hosts into funny music videos. Cameron Diaz, Anna Kendrick, and Elizabeth Banks starred in some memorable music video parodies during their stints, and Stone this time stars in a 90’s Christian Contemporary music video with Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon. As per usual, the visuals are spot-on: the big hair, the oversized dress shirts, the vests – the faux snow scene (check out Vanessa Williams’ “Save the Best for Last”). The song is about regifting a lame-ass candle from one coworker to another. McKinnon, Bryant, and Strong are great and sell the song despite the inanity of the lyrics.

Another Stone-heavy sketch has Pete Davidson as a high school kid having trouble with his math homework, and being inspired by the people in his posters, including McKinnon’s video game heroine, Mikey Day’s snowboarder, Thompson’s stand-up comic, and Stone’s bikini babe, all who lecture him about the importance of school and math. She dominates the sketch with a comically-porn squeal of a voice, as her character undermines the efforts of the other posters, who are sincerely trying to help Davidson.

As far as political sketches go, aside from the cold opener, we have a nothing sketch about a reality show that is looking to catch Hillary Clinton, as if she were Big Foot. Social media after the election has been peppered with stories of hikers and passersby spotting Clinton in the woods. It’s a pretty old joke that Twitter users already made, and the sketch – probably the bummer of the evening – didn’t do anything new with the joke (still, it was nice to see McKinnon as Clinton, even if all she did was stalk the forest).

I don’t like Weekend Update anymore – I just watch it for the correspondents. Leslie Jones didn’t disappoint, using her time to encourage men to be okay with the size of their endowments. She’s an ebullient, smart, and joyful presence and she’s a fantastic storyteller. The other correspondent was Bayer pulling out her great Jennifer-Aniston-as-Rachel-from-Friends impression, which was interrupted by the real Jennifer Aniston, who’s promoting a movie (in which Bayer is a costar). It’s a silly thing when the real person pops up next to the impressionist, but it was funny to see both Aniston and Bayer to a Rachel-off in which both descend into that high-pitched squawk of disbelief (at one point, Bayer seems to have some sort of Rachel meltdown as she sputters).

The rest of the show breezed through on the strength of the solid material and Stone’s great hosting skills. As a singing office cleaner with Jones and Cecily Strong (absent for most of the evening), Stone shone as the three cleaners guilted the office drones in their building to listen to their Christmas tunes, only to unveil a repertoire of holiday ditties that cast Santa as a big ole lech. The songs get dirtier and dirtier as the office workers get more confused and appalled as our trio belt out songs about how their chimneys only gone one way or that a line of elves are waiting for their turn after Old Saint Nick is done with them. A great bonus as Bayer’s clueless worker call the cleaners “Miss Thing” in a transparent attempt to hide that she doesn’t know their names.

From that winner comes one of the strongest of the evening – McKinnon’s return as Debette Goldry, an old Hollywood vet who recounts horror tales of Hollywood of yesteryear when women were treated as little more than objects (in fact, according to Debette, women were part of the prop budget and she sat on a table, labeled “woman). Stone, Jones, and Aniston appear as themselves and Zamata is the moderator of a panel of women in Hollywood, and while the three actresses talk about the challenges of being women in Hollywood, Debette trumps them with wretched tales of abuse at the hands of old time Hollywood studio execs, such as taking arsenic to keep her skin beautiful, or having pancake batter injected into her skin instead of Botox. Because she’s such a relic, Debette’s amazed when Aniston talks about sitting in the director’s chair – I loved Debette’s awed shock at this bit of news, which means a lot to her because she comes from a time when women were “just lying on a track waiting to get run over.” It would be nice if the stakes were heightened in the case of Stones, Aniston, and especially Jones, who actually did suffer from sexism and misogyny (her true experiences would give the scripted stuff thrown at Debette a run for its money). For many, the sketch feels like a way to say “Hey, actresses of today – you don’t have it so bad. Just look at how bad it was long ago.” And in a sense, that sentiment is correct: we rarely hear stories like that of Marilyn Monroe or Judy Garland, thank god, and these sketches are a nice way to bring some much-needed perspective, especially when we hear Patricia Arquette talk about the wage gap in Hollywood (though, again, to counter any of that, the writers should’ve just let Jones talk about her summer, and Debette would’ve probably been like, “Yeah, you’re right…you win, I fold”).

The other pre-taped segment was a funny fake toy commercial. SNL has a long history of great fake ads – it’s one of the show’s highlights (back in the day, there was even a compilation show of the program’s greatest fake commercial hits). In this one, Fisher-Price has a new toy out for the holidays, a plastic well for sensitive little boys. While girls are playing with Barbies and other boys are playing with toy guns, what are the sensitive, melancholy boys supposed to do? Play with their plastic well, which gives them hours of fun, leaning against its side, running their fingers through the water, and being thoughtful. The kid who plays the pensive little tyke in the sketch is funny, as is his fiercely protective – and let’s just say it, awesome – mother, Stone is a hoot (“Everything is for you!” she rages at a little bully. “This one thing is for him!”)

And it’s fitting that a December episode would have a nativity sketch, with Stone playing Mary, who’s understandably irritated, tired, and undone by all of the guests marching into her manger to visit the baby. It’s not a funny ha-ha sketch – it makes total sense that’s shoved way at the end – but it’s very well-played by Stone and the message is pretty cool. For all eternity, we get the story of Mary being perfect, luminescent, meek, and compliant, and it’s great that in this sketch, Mary’s kind of a badass and totally relatable and sympathetic. It’s also funny that Kyle Mooney gets to be Joseph, but a total bro-ey Joseph, who doesn’t get why Mary may not want kings and wise men to traipse around her just after she gave birth (he even asks her to get them some drinks). Even if we’re meant to see Mary as “difficult” and a touch bratty, it’s a surprisingly feminist sketch, with Stone aces, conveying both the frustration of having to hold her shit together as well as the exhaustion of just giving birth and being a new mom. And the ending is fantastic with the Angel Gabriel’s condescending insensitivity when he asks, “Are you okay?  You look tired,” to which Mary fumes perfectly.

Following Dave Chappelle’s near-perfect episode and Kristen Wiig’s excellent outing, this is the third great show in a row. The next episode features John Cena, the wrestler-turned action star who has proven that he has decent comic chops (Sisters), and SNL has a history of doing right by these kinds of performers (The Rock has had a solid turn at hosting).

A random thought:

I love Cecily Strong’s Planned Parenthood t-shirt at the goodbyes – speaking of Strong, usually a heavy hitter, was quite absent

 

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Dave Chappelle and Kate McKinnon work out their post-Election blues on ‘Saturday Night Live’

Dave Chappelle and A Tribe Called Quest Bumper Photos

Whew. What a week. Saturday Night Live had a pretty rough assignment: follow up the awful of Donald Trump’s victory and remind shell-shocked Americans that shit can still be funny. Host Dave Chappelle was in a strange position because he’s a performer that is too electric for the mainstream trappings of SNL, and when booking the comic, one runs the risk of either pushing SNL to an area it’s just not prepared for, or shoving him into an anodyne TV-friendly personality (just review Chris Rock’s disappointing hosting turn a couple years ago as evidence).

But last week’s episode managed to overcome these difficulties with grace, style, and compassion. As a host, Chappelle unsurprisingly dominated. His sketch show is legendary and he is a dynamic presence in the different sketches. And thankfully, as with most stand-up hosts, Chappelle devotes his monologue to a bit of stand-up work. A couple weeks ago, Chappelle seemingly defended Trump in a concert, drawing ire and anger from fans. In his monologue, Chappelle took the opportunity to highlight the absurdity of the election as well as pinpointing how white liberals’ shock over the election is just a repercussion of their privilege. Black voters, female voters, queer voters all know just how tenuous progress can be – and how vulnerable it can be to backlash. Chappelle points out that white people aren’t as surprising as we think – an important point because disenfranchised groups are used to being royally screwed over on a grand scale. Chappelle – not the most sympathetic voice in comedy, isn’t cruel in his assessment, just brutally honest. Towards the end of his monologue, he talks about approaching Trump’s impending presidency with hope – and uses a poignant anecdote of a White House party he attended, in which all of the guests were Black (with the exception of Bradley Cooper). He mentions seeing the portraits of the presidents, and notes that when Frederick Douglass was invited to the White House, he had to be escorted by Abraham Lincoln; he also shared how Franklin Roosevelt kowtowed to public pressure and never invited a black guest to the White House again after feeling a backlash.

From the Set: Dave Chappelle and A Tribe Called Quest

And as potent as Chappelle’s monologue is, it’s Kate McKinnon’s cold open that not only outshines this episode, but possibly anything SNL did since having 9/11 first responders stand on the stage with Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Lorne Michaels. McKinnon – dressed as Hillary Clinton, maybe for the last time – sits at the piano and performs a stirring – and truly heartbreaking – rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Two things are happening here: McKinnon is paying tribute to the late Cohen who died earlier this week, and she’s paying tribute to Hillary Clinton who lost a very bruising and important presidential election. The song is an apt choice because it’s a melancholic tribute to regret. When McKinnon-as-Clinton sings “I tried my best/it wasn’t much” it takes on even more poignancy as one remembers just how hard Clinton worked throughout the primaries and the general election, and it’s a sad follow-up to Clinton’s apology to her supporters during her beautiful concession speech. It’s a heartbreaking moment – McKinnon, an openly queer woman and feminist embodying a woman who for many represented progress for queer folks and women – and it’s a rare moment when the show knocks it out of the park.

The Election Night sketch – with guest star Chris Rock – was a fantastic sketch, too. And scarily accurate of the tiny dinner party that I was at on election night. White liberals played by Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant, Vanessa Bayer, and Beck Bennett, spoon fed with  happy talk about Clinton’s chances of winning the election – are slowly realizing throughout the evening something that Chappelle and Rock  have known since forever: America is often very racist. As the evening begins, the party is jubilant and the white guests settle in comfortably for what they think is going to be a great evening (Bennett’s character even predicts that we’ll never have a Republican president again – we can dream, can’t we). As the evening progresses, though, and Trump starts to pile on one victory after another, the party goers start to get desperate (Bryant is great as she concocts an impossibly convoluted path to victory for Clinton – again, I did the same thing). Meanwhile, Rock and Chappelle – playing a Greek chorus of sorts – remind their friends that this isn’t a huge shocker. When Strong gasps in disbelief that she thinks “America is  racist”  Chappelle responds with a sarcastic, “Oh my god, I remember my great-grandfather telling me something about that…but he was a slave or something.”

The sketch is exactly the kind of thing that SNL needs more of: it can get very smug, particularly when it comes to liberal vs. conservative politics. Though the show is often very toothless, it does hit slightly harder against conservative politicians (at least in the last 10 years or so – the awful early 1990s SNL was a different animal all together). Rock and Chappelle aren’t mean when they school their friends – but again, they’re doling out some much-needed medicine about privilege and awareness – something that the sheltered white liberals in the sketch (and throughout the country) need a lesson in. And there’s a great shot of intersectionality in the ignorant rant of Strong’s character who asks her Black friends, “Do you even know what it’s like to be a woman in this country where you can’t get ahead no matter what you do?”

The Kids Talk Trump continues to worry expectations – this time Vanessa Bayer is talking to a group of small children and asks about Donald Trump.  Among the usual garbled six-year-old answers that refer to his “funny hair” or that he’s a “bully,” a little girl starts to share her perspective, in the same, innocuous cutesy way that her friends are, except she’s relaying her father’s hard truths about a Trump presidency, including legitimizing racism and xenophobia and that her black cat, Pussy, will be stopped and frisked. It’s a queasy sketch – but for all the right reasons – as a lot of the commentators were asking after the election “What about the children? What do we say to our children?” When Chappelle pops by as the little girl’s woke father, he joyfully announces, “Hey sweetie – sounds like somebody’s dropping some truth!”

Kate McKinnon makes another strong impression as Ruth Bader Ginsberg during Weekend Update. Like her other impersonations, Justice Ginsberg is more of a character than a detailed impression (she’s not an  astute mimic like Jay Pharoah is). Like her Clinton, McKinnon’s Ginsberg is an amalgam of public perceptions, namely the woman’s stamina and no-nonsense demeanor. Now that Clinton’s lost, McKinnon’s Ginsberg is raring up to stay fit and healthy for the next four years so that Trump can’t replace her with a conservative justice. It’s a great – and silly – stab at partisan politics with Ginsberg burning Trump’s possible cabinet (calling Guiliani a vampire), and downing a giant packet of Emergen-C. It’s not a terribly smart joke – it’s very easy, but McKinnon’s energy carries it (and her implication that Mike Pence might be a little light in the loafers is funny – if again, a touch easy).

The rest of of Update was as always – okay…Though when Jost announced the record number of female minorities in the Senate and suggested we see all their names, I laughed heartily when just four names quickly zoomed by and we barely got through two seconds of Rachel Platton’s “Fight Song” (it cuts off at “This is my f…” The other jokes about the election were softballs – Trump’s old and unqualified, that kind of thing – though Michael Che handled a goof well, when he tried to land a Trump vs. Mexican immigrants joke.

Though the other sketches – the non-political sketches – were solid, they feel like above-average afterthoughts to the meat of the episode which was the country post-Election. Chappelle showed off some strong versatile acting chops and his subversive quality had an effect on the show as a whole, elevating it to something higher. As usual, when a strong comedic voice takes on the hosting duties, he/she is usually the dominant force in the sketches, and Chappelle’s turn at bat is no different. He proved himself to be an estimable live performer and his monologue was masterful.

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Fred Armisen brings some pals to close a spotty season of ‘SNL’

Fred Armisen and Courtney Barnett Bumper PhotosFred Armisen is the sixth former SNL cast member to return to Studio 8H as a host and he did not disappoint. Armisen’s style of comedy is super old school – and owes a lot to Martin Short (who is starring in an upcoming variety show with fellow SNL alumni Maya Rudolph), and no where is Short’s influence more apparent than in Armisen’s excellent monologue that had the comedian share a bit of his fake one-man show with the audience. Armisen expertly pivoted from hackey voices to smarmy schmaltz, all while peddling a cliched tale of leaving Long Island for Manhattan, and becoming a star. It’s exactly the kind of thing Martin Short excelled at, and it’s exactly the kind of thing that Armisen’s so fantastic at: smarmy showbizzyness that has a simmering layer of devastating irony – five minutes of Armisen is more potent at Hollywood-deflating than an hour of Ricky Gervais’ increasingly-toxic material. The straighter Armisen played the scene, imbuing it with calculated/crass pathos, the funnier it became. To drive the point home, Armisen has to micromanage everything, from an audience member’s reaction to the dimming of the lights at the close of his monologue. A terrific start to a mostly-terrific show.

The cold open was as usual, a political sketch, with Larry David returning as Bernie Sanders, and Kate McKinnon back as Hillary Clinton. David and McKinnon are pros are great – it’s interesting to see how McKinnon has had to develop her character, as Clinton’s road to the nomination seems harder and harder to get. No longer is she gliding towards the White House with entitled confidence, but she’s dragging a bloated and lumbering campaign, while Sanders keeps adding more weight to it. It’s also nice to see the writers ding Clinton – pointing out that despite her lead in the delegate count, she’s losing states to Sanders. Sanders’ position as a populist also gets tweaked and there’s something so endearingly silly about the Vermont Senator’s dream of having a tuna fish sandwich…on a croissant, like the fancy people do. SNL will never be known as a devastating source of trenchant political comedy – the Sarah Palin stuff notwithstanding, most of what passes for political humor on the show is decent impressions, catch phrases, and mining tabloids for supposedly topical material. That in this season David and McKinnon are called upon to create real characters is impressive.

Anyways, on with the rest of the show.

It felt like a good episode from Armisen’s tenure. The best sketches used Armisen to the best of his abilities, and despite his singular talent, he’s also a great team player, rarely ever showboating or showing up his teammates.

The sketch that’s getting the most attention is the pretaped Dead Poets Society spoof, “Farewell Mr. Bunting” that has Armisen playing a beloved teacher who is leaving his classroom – but instead of the “Oh Captain, my Captain” recital that took place in the Robin Williams weepie, we get an orgy of decapitations, as Pete Davidson’s student climbs on his chair to join in on the goodbye Mr. Chips moment, he stands too close to a ceiling fan slicing his head off, which leads to a gruesome game of hot potato as the head is tossed from one screaming student to another. While I’m not as enamored with it as everyone else in America, it’s a funny sketch.

Another pretaped sketch that scored was the return of Andy Samberg and Lonely Island. It’s obviously a plug for Samberg’s new movie Popstar, but the short – “Finest Girl” – is just the sort of thing that Lonely Island is great at: a Justin Timberlake/Justin Bieber amalgam of top 40 pop with some seriously f’d up lyrics, this time about a young lady who has a “killing Osama bin Laden fetish.” Samberg’s pop star alter ego (again a weird mashup of Timberlake and Bieber and every other whimpering wannabe soul man) is great fun and even he – as self-involved and deluded as he is – takes pause at his paramours obsession with Bin Laden.

Popping in for a well-received cameo was Jason Sudeikis in a Regine sketch. I never found drag terribly  funny, but I do like the perennially-put upon Regine who is reduced to a pile of quivering flesh whenever Sudeikis shows her any physical affection. Sudeikis is totally committed to his character, plowing through, despite Armisen’s Regine writhing and turning all over the place.

Another recurring sketch, the Student Theater Showcase, scored points. Some find this sketch one note, but I like it. The kids are always doing their best to be politically correct and they strenuously try to expand the minds of their audiences. As funny as the kids are, it’s the parents – particularly Vanessa Bayer – who are the best, reacting to their kids’ nonsense with annoyance and shame.

The Weekend Update was okay – but notable for the fantastic return of Maya Rudolph as recently-impeached Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff. Brazilian readers can school me if Rudolph’s accent was credible (I suspect not), but yet again, she brings the funny by portraying the embattled politico as someone who couldn’t give any fucks about losing her job, and sees her impeachment as an excuse to party. Just as Samberg was appearing to promote Popstar, I suspect that Rudolph’s appearance was killing two birds with one stone: honoring her friend Fred Armisen’s return as well as reminding folks of her upcoming show with Martin Short. Either way, we don’t need an excuse to see Maya Rudolph, and she needs to come back to host.

There was an escape pod sketch that worked solely because of Arimsen’s needling comic persona – and for its attention to strange details (i.e. Armisen’s  character picks City Slickers 2 as his movie of choice when escaping a doomed space ship). The writing wasn’t anything special, but the scribes must’ve realized that having Armisen play one of his nudniks would be enough.

The only bad sketch – and it was pretty bad, with a noxious premise – was the Lewis & Clark sketch. Kyle Mooney and Cecily Strong join Armisen as an acting troupe that is hired by Aidy Bryant’s middle school teacher to perform the Lewis & Clark story. The performance devolves into some ugliness about Mooney’s character being raped by Armisen – I don’t know how many times comics will blunder to try and make rape funny. It was a dark and unnecessary moment in an otherwise bright show.

So, the 41st season of SNL was so-so. I’m thinking that it will be the final season for Sasheer Zamata, which is a shame because she is a bright and funny comic, but was woefully underused. New guy Jon Rudnitsky should also look around for a new job as his inaugural season seemed rather in auspicious. Leslie Jones, Pete Davidson, and Michael Che should all be bumped up to the main cast – each proved to be invaluable. I’m also thinking that Kate McKinnon’s star is on the rise, and it won’t be long before she follows Kirsten Wiig’s trajectory.

 

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Brie Larson disappears in a solid episode of ‘SNL’ (and Sasheer Zamata steals the show)

Brie Larson and Alicia Keys Bumper PhotosBrie Larson is an Oscar-winning actress, so it’s no surprise that she was tapped to host Saturday Night Live. What is surprising is how indifferent the writers seemed to be to the lady, whose presence was barely felt in her inaugural hosting gig. Unlike the last new episode’s host, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who came to play, Brie Larson more or less, sort of slinked in, coasting on her charms, and dutifully blended into the background. The good news is that the Mother’s Day episode of Saturday Night Live, normally a heavily female-centric episode, was solid and had more hits than misses. The hits weren’t legendary, but over all, it was quite enjoyable, highlighting the fact that the balance is tipped heavily in favor of the show’s female cast.

The cold open was another little surprise because we have the return of the Church Lady. Dana Carvey’s holier-than-thou character made a return to judge and condemn Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. The choice of resurrecting a character from yesteryear is a bit of a headscratcher, but Dana Carvey has a new show coming out, so it makes sense that the SNL alumnus is out there growing his profile. Carvey’s tenure on SNL is considered the show’s second golden age, so the Church Lady is remembered fondly, even though it’s essentially a one-joke premise: a prim, repressed biddy wags her finger sanctimoniously at her guests and then spouts off her catch phrase, “Well, isn’t that special?” I have to say, I hate catch phrases, and I’m glad that SNL moved away from that kind of comedy. Because of that growth, the Church Lady doesn’t fit well into the current tone of the show, and the cold open wasn’t the glorious return that the writers were hoping for. Instead it was a tepid, toothless attack on Cruz (Taran Killam) and Trump (an always-welcome Darrel Hammond). That Cruz actually becomes Satan is a cute bit, and even cuter is the idea that Trump is too mean, even for Satan. But none of that needed Carvey’s Church Lady, who felt superfluous.

Brie Larson’s monologue highlighted just how uncomfortable the actress is doing live television. As per usual for a Mother’s Day episode, some of the show’s cast members brought out their moms, and Larson’s mom also made an appearance – and by the way, the lady looked about the same age as her daughter. Pete Davidson’s mom is adorable (that’s where he gets it from!) and Kate McKinnon’s mom was funny. It was all fun, if a bit safe.

Best Sketches:

The first sketch of the evening was pre-taped and it was a fake ad – two of the show’s strongest suits. Not surprisingly, it was also arguably, the strongest sketch of the evening. In the fake President Barbie ad, Cecily Strong narrates this great new Barbie that is president to the disaffected boredom of the little girls who much prefer Lego. The joke is that these little girls will live in a world where women can be presidents, so the idea isn’t as inspirational or aspirational. This joke hits at the generational divide among feminists who are facing the choice of voting for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. Older feminists like Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright have questioned the feminism of younger female Sanders supporters, and the younger female Sanders supporters don’t get why women like Steinem and Albright are so invested in a potentially-off putting candidate like Clinton. At one point Strong’s narrator talks about a time when the idea of a woman president was unbelievable, to which one of the little girls chirp, “I wasn’t alive, then,” to which Strong sarcastically retorts, “good for you.” The joke works because it takes on identity politics and examines it in a funny (unlike the unfunny How’s He Doing sketch that simply implies black people vote blindly for a black candidate, regardless of his performance).

Another strong, female-centric sketch had the women of the cast play suburban moms who are welcoming Larson, the newcomer, to their klatch. What begins as an innocuous baby shower, quickly becomes something darker, as the group slowly reveals itself to be a Stepford Wives-like coven. What marks these ladies is their sassy mom haircut: “a soft waterfall in the front, knives in the back.” The details in the sketch are hilarious as each character enthuses about mundane “mom stuff” like flip-flop shaped soap, Marshalls Home Goods, and funny kitchen magnets. Larson, as the outsider, doesn’t understand why or when this de-sexing, de-womaning of these women happen, but even she isn’t immune, and ends up with the ‘do herself, and wanting to fix a plate for a teenager who’s more than capable of doing it himself (and saying things like “fixing a plate”). This sketch is the only one that allows Larson to really shine, and she’s matched by the scarily-intense performances by the other cast members.

Politics are never the show’s strong point but fake game shows are, so the Quiz Whiz 2018 sketch was also a contender for best spot of the evening. The sketch had Killam and Larson play contestants in 2018 who cannot remember Ted Cruz at all – a bit strange as right now, he’s a major figure in the elections, not so much for his performance, but for his incompetence. What’s great is that it allows for the show to lambast Cruz (which he totally deserves), but gives us the necessary space that a couple years would provide, to give the audience the necessary perspective on the guy’s campaign. It’s totally believable that his run will be reduced to a nothing. The sketch takes shots at Cruz’s ridiculous campaign, including his desperate grasp at attention by picking Carly Fiorina as his running mate in April, before winning the election (and after losing some key states). The great twist at the end is that Larson’s contestant is the much-beleagured Heidi Cruz.

Worst Sketches:

It’s interesting because none of the sketches were terrible – some were funnier than others, but none of the worst sketches of the evening were that bad. We had a return of Kate McKinnon as Ms. Rafferty, the out-of-luck sadsack who appeared in the Ryan Gosling episode as one of three people who were abducted by aliens. The joke was that while the other two people had lovely, transcendent experiences, poor Ms. Rafferty had a terribly disappointing one. It’s no different here. Cecily Strong returns, and Larson joins, as well. This time we’re talking about near-death experiences, and of course, Strong and Larson report wonderful experiences of peace and love, while Ms. Rafferty gives us an account of a particularly inept angel named Kevin who bungled his assignment, inevitable depantsing Ms. Rafferty and leaving her “straight Donald Duckin’ it.” It’s a funny premise, and as always, McKinnon plays the hell out of the weary Ms. Rafferty – and Strong is a lovely straight man in the sketch, personifying New Agey silliness – but the sketch was far funnier last time (goosed by Gosling’s inability to tamp down on his giggles).

Another so-so sketch was a take on Game of Thrones, specifically the show’s love of slow, dragging scenes and plotlines. I don’t watch GOT, but I get the gist, having watch similar fare like Lord of the Rings, and wonder why everything is so plodding and slow. Larson and Strong are hecklers of sorts, who try to move things along at a quicker pace, while Killam and Strong are thoroughly invested in the more lugubrious speed. Kenan Thompson, as always, manages to quickly inject some hilarity, as a character who pops up and his appalled at how slow things are happening. It’s a one-joke idea that is stretched too long. Not terrible, but not hilarious, either.

There’s also the final sketch, an ad for a CD of dead singers performing current pop hits. This seems like an excuse to see the cast members do okay impressions, while highlighting the incongruity of legends like Roy Orbison, Eartha Kitt, or Lesley Gore singing current hits on the radio. It’s okay, again, these celebrity impression marathons are never as funny as the writers think they are.

Weekend Update

I’ll never be Team Jost/Che, but the two have established a decent reparte, though it’s clear the Che far outclasses Jost (who acts as if he has been binge-watching Seth Meyers’ tenure). The jokes landed for the most part, but Weekend Update has become a vehicle for its correspondents, and this episode did not disappoint. Vanessa Bayer was back as child star, Laura Parsons, whose inappropriately chippy Disney-fied delivery of the news belies some of the darker stories she’s reporting. Bayer can play these show-boating kids in her sleep, and does a great job with Laura Parsons, and she shares a great, tense chemistry with Che, who is shocked and appalled at Laura’s joyful Broadway-style belting of horrible news like the KKK’s desire for everyone to be dead except whites.

The other two correspondents were cast members just being themselves. Davidson shows up and does his excellent stand-up about how great his mom his, and how protective she is when he faces haters and trolls on his Twitter account. It’s all very funny and Mrs. Davidson pops up, like the ultimate proud mama, filming this on her phone. Davidson and Jost have a great back and forth with each other, as the former regals the audience with stories of his mom’s devotion in his laid back, yet loving style. It made for a very funny entry.

The third correspondent is the most controversial, not only because of her subject matter, but because of the audience reaction. It’s no secret that Sasheer Zamata is turning out to be the Julia Louis-Dreyfus of the show: a fantastically talented performer that is continuously undervalued and underused. It’s a depressing theme among most black performers on the show, especially black female performers. She in an ignoble line of talented ladies like Danitra Vance and Ellen Cleghorne (isn’t it depressing that the line is so short?). Maya Rudolph, besides being a virtuoso, was also light-skinned enough to act as a chameleon, and therefore was able to play a stable of ethnicities, thereby freeing her from being relegated to simply “black characters.”

So, I was thrilled to see Zamata roll up next to Jost, and was even more thrilled that her topic was the n-word and racism. In response to Larry Wilmore’s use of the n-word at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and the ensuing fracas, Zamata talks about the inherent hypocrisy of certain news outlets like Fox complaining about the use of the word, when in reality the same people “definitely say it off camera.” She also points out that what Wilmore differs little from the coded racist language that the media gleefully trots out, highlight words like “thug” and “athletic” (the latter got a rousing applause from a nervous audience). In order to avoid the Wilmore-like controversy, Zamata then substitutes the n-word with “McGriddle” and recounts a story when she was a victim of the racial slur – the perp was a joyfully racist creature who drove a pickup that was covered in every imaginable racist marker. She then points out that ignoring the ugly parts of our culture is “ignoring history” – a salient and profound observation. Jost asks if he’s allowed to say “McGridda” – a great tweak on the “Nigga” controversy, and Zamata says he should do what he feels is right, and then playfully calls him the n-word. All of this was obviously a bit too harsh for the audience who tittered in places, laughed in others, but stayed uncomfortably silent. Zamata, seemingly indifferent to her audience’s discomfort, commanded the stage, and was in a word: brilliant. I wish SNL did this kind of thing more: uncomfortable, but important humor that examines privilege. The president Barbie did some of that, but Zamata’s spot on Weekend Update was far more powerful. In fact, despite the excellent work of Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, and Vanessa Bayer, this one spot by Zamata makes her my MVP for the episode.

Though it’s clear that if things continue as they do, Zamata’s time at SNL is nearing the end, this spot proves that she’s a fearless and brilliant performer who can reach fantastic heights if given the opportunities.

Music

I normally don’t comment on music, but Alicia Keys did a great job – the songs were wonderful, and she’s an engaging presence.

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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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