I will say I was pleasantly surprised with Sarah Silverman’s turn as host for Saturday Night Live this week. The season is proving to be strong, or maybe this was fueled by Sarah Silverman’s comedic energy and writing, but a lot of this episode landed nicely. The sketches were more carefully formed, ending usually in a good place. I feel like I was really watching Sarah Silverman – as certain sketches came on, I definitely thought to myself, “Oh yeah, that cast member hasn’t really done much yet in this episode.” For better or worse, I’m going to say right now Sarah Silverman as host was player of the week, because she stood out and totally commanded every scene she was in. Let’s run through some highlights.
Cold Open: 60 Minutes. I was surprised that Beck Bennett was the first face we saw for this episode of Saturday Night Live. He’s quickly filling that void Jason Sudeikis once had, I think – the straight-faced every-man, the foil for someone else’s comedic energy. I wasn’t sure how I felt about his Steve Croft until he began his interview with Jay Pharoah as Obama, and then it played out very nicely. I definitely didn’t know where this was going at first – this was a real slow start to the cold open, let alone the episode – but once the jokes started to land about all the social media sites, it really picked up and landed. I like that there is this level of experimenting with the cold opens, having it as more than just a singular scene set-up since Beck Bennett had to do the traditional 60 Minutes intro, and this week was great. Probably better than last week’s.
Monologue: Sarah Silverman was very endearing. It’s sort of unexpected how much she turned up the cute, given her brand of humor. But she made all these chaotic elements of her monologue work for her. This really was a collage of different monologue methods. I thought she was going to just roll right into a standup act – I’d say most traditional standup comedians who take a turn as host tend to do this (i.e. Louis CK, Kevin Hart) – but she added audience participation and we even cut back and forth to “pre shot” footage in the monologue of her turn as a Saturday Night Live cast member. Only someone with the energy she had could pull something like this off – where you’re kind of going different directions in one sitting. I had fun not knowing where she was going next, and she incorporated the intro of the musical guest very nicely. Well done.
Fake TV Ad of the Week: The Fault in Our Stars 2 trailer. This was definitely a perfect parody, and you knew they’d have to touch on ebola at some point in this episode. Taran Killam as the fearful boyfriend played so well against Sarah Silverman’s blissfully unaware ebola patient. Even for someone who never saw or read The Fault in Our Stars, to use this as a gateway to joke about ebola was brilliant and I didn’t feel I missed out on any reference to the movie. Maybe it’s a little too soon, but even as Sarah Silverman says playing Joan Rivers, we need comedy to process tragedy among other things in our lives.
Best Sketch of the Week: This is tough for me to choose, because there’s so much of all the sketches I really quite enjoyed. The ridiculousness of the Forgotten TV Gems was great, because you wondered how they would turn what is usually a trope for soap opera drama into some weird female-empowerment thing. Even Kenan’s commentary – though a little odd – felt right, as he questioned why anyone would react in that way in that situation, in a soap opera or in real life. Vitamix had a quiet burn, because Vanessa Bayer just plays those types of characters so well. Joan Rivers in heaven was a wonderful tribute to Joan Rivers, and Sarah Silverman does a damn convincing impression (also: major kudos to Sasheer Zamata for her Eartha Kitt). But I think I’ll go so far to say the winner is Poem. This is where Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett’s digital sketches work best – something not so obscure with great pacing. It was a nice twist on the romance trope of two people “meant to be” in a situation finishing each other’s sentences, going from possible romantic kindling to meant-to-be bully situation to this bizarre but perfect breakup.
Worst Sketch of the Week: This is probably going to stir up some outrage, buuuut I think I’m going to have to drop the Whites sketch in this category this week. I know it’s supposed to be tongue in cheek humor, but something didn’t land for me on this. I watched it, understanding what it was meant to do, getting the point they were making, but I didn’t really get the style of the joke, or what we were really parodying. It started feeling like some fake campaign ad, which I could’ve responded better to maybe, but it was just … a pre-taped video in the style of a cheesy awareness, medicine, or political ad. See? There’s no direction there of what the style of parody should be, in my mind. Maybe I just found it offensive? Offensive isn’t quite the word I can use to really describe my distaste for the sketch, but I didn’t feel like the sketch had any more purpose than to tease about white privilege. If that’s literally just the point – no particular parody or whatever else in mind to riff off of to make the joke- then maybe it’s simply something I, as a non-white viewer, don’t care or identify with, and that’s why I didn’t like it. I give the writers credit for trying to use comedy as commentary about race, and in the past I’ve usually been pretty okay with it, but this wasn’t their best example of this for me. I’ll open this up for debate.
Weekend Update bit of the week: I’m going to give every Michael Che joke and Garage and Her a tie for this one. Michael Che is growing fast on me as a Weekend Update correspondent – there’s kind of a clear difference between his style of humor and Colin Jost, or at least in the way the two present their jokes. I kind of respond more to Michael Che at this point. From joking about going from Africa to Texas, and then digging into Colin Jost about what he can say vs. what he can’t get away with saying, Michael Che got some real laughs out of me. Garage and Her was a wonderful and unexpected bit as the granola feminist musical act commenting on female Thor. That song was amazing and well written, Kate McKinnon correcting about the pronunciation of “Garage” was so wonderfully ridiculous, and Sarah Silverman describing what her “instrument” does was so hilarious. They took Weekend Update to another level with this.
Again, this episode turned out a lot of pleasant surprises, and I was happy to see (almost) all the cast members having little moments to shine alongside Sarah Silverman. I’m feeling that we’re entering a new stride, and the 40th season is reinventing the voices of Saturday Night Live. The trials and errors are turning out less errors, and Sarah Silverman definitely brought out the best in the players. I look forward to seeing Bill Hader take his turn next week, and wonder what he will bring to the new players. Most importantly, what will Stefon do without Seth Meyers? Till then!