Our host for tonight is Elizabeth Banks, aka not Donald Trump THANK GOD. In addition to not being a racist overgrown oompa loompa, Banks”s other credits include being the director, producer, and co-star of last summer”s Pitch Perfect 2, a key supporting actress in The Hunger Games franchise, a beloved guest star on shows from Scrubs to 30 Rock, and a generally very funny actress/director/producer. And now she can add first-time SNL host to the list!
Cold Open: Cecily Strong delivers a heartfelt message on behalf of New York City to the people of Paris. This was a really classy move on SNL”s part, reminiscent of the warm way they handled their first episodes post-9/11. All in all a well-handled and somber start to the night.
Monologue: Elizabeth Banks uses the skills she picked up from Pitch Perfect 2 to direct her own musical monologue performance of What a Feeling. I have a bit of an aversion to musical monologues due to SNL“s overreliance on them the last few years. We made it a full four episodes without any, but tonight we got our first– and admittedly, even though I wish the writers would realize they have a lot of other options for monologues not everyone has to sing you guys, it worked pretty well. Elizabeth Banks she was super game and kept the energy and humor up throughout, from her stylish treadmill walk with green screen images of downtown New York and an octopus behind her, to her unceremonious cutting of Bobby Moynihan from the big dance finale (“Not Bobby, lose Bobby”). All in all, a charming open. B+
Aron”s List: An advertisement for an Angie”s List-esque service that allows people to hire nonviolent sex offenders for household jobs. This one was just fine, but nothing to write home about. Bayer”s slow, horrified reaction to realizing who she”d actually be hiring with Aron”s List was great, and the actors all seemed to be having fun with it, particularly Pete Davidson with his smiley declaration that he exposed himself on a Jumbotron, and Jay Pharaoh”s creepy “I”ll do it” in response to Bayer”s request for a dog walker. All in all, though, this one didn”t really stand out, and particularly for a pre-taped segment which was likely scripted far in advance, it felt like there could have been more to it. B-
Black Jeopardy: On an episode of Black Jeopardy, one of the three contestants is a white woman who claims not to see color. The return of Black Jeopardy felt like a sketch that was inches away from being one of the best of the night, but didn”t do quite as much with its premise as it could have. The last time we saw this format, the resident white person was Louis C.K. as a BYU African American studies professor; replacing him with Banks as a woman who “dated a black guy once so I don”t see color; it”s all jeopardy to me” felt like an edgy step in the right direction, but they didn”t run with the character quite as much as they could have (You don”t make it through liberal arts college without meeting a few white girls who claim not to see color, and I think I got more laugh lines out of hearing those girls talk in undergrad classes than I did from Elizabeth Banks in this sketch). Still, Thompson, Pharaoh, and Zamata were dependably funny throughout, Banks was on top of her game with every line she was given, and the ultimate punch line that Banks won by saying no matter what she did she couldn”t win (“the blackest thing you”ve said all day”) made for a great closing note. B+
First Got Horny 2 U: A boy band-inspired pop song in which Banks and four of the female cast members serenade the famous men who first made them feel horny. As I mentioned with last week”s Bad Girls sketch, I”m pretty much never disappointed by a female cast member music video, even ones where Kate McKinnon makes me question my sexuality based on my childhood crush on Taylor Hanson (his hair wasn”t that long, okay?!). This was one of the strongest outings of the night, from the perfect boy band costuming (Aidy Bryant with that bedazzled bandana headband!) to the escalating weirdness of their chosen men; Vanessa Bayer switches from the Menendez brothers to Jonathan Taylor Thomas after remembering her answer will be on television, then Bryant reveals her undying love for the preteen (and prehistoric!) (my sincere apologies for that joke) son from Dinosaurs. Ending with preteen Aidy straight screaming as she sees her crush remove his lizard mask was a beautiful closing note. A
Woodbridge High School Student Theatre Showcase: A high school theatre troupe presents an “edgy” piece of avant garde theatre, to the annoyance of their parents in the audience. This is another sketch we saw once before last season, and while it wasn”t one that stuck with me much, it”s a funny enough concept to warrant a second showing. Kyle Mooney”s dead man being revealed to be *cue Taran Killam”s solemn voice* EARTH was just the start to bits highlighting racial discrimination (“Who run the world?” WHITES) and SeaWorld (“They call it SeaWorld. But they don”t see the world”) in the most obvious possible ways. The showcase itself is funny enough, but Bayer and Thompson”s resigned reactions are a nice addition (after Bryant”s discussion of her dead mother”s inability to help her through life, Bayer says “What? I”m her mom. I”m not dead! Also, she is such a bitch to me, like, every day”). B+
Weekend Update: Jost and Che”s rapport seems to be getting better every week, and this week had several laugh-out-loud jokes to choose from (“This week Jeb Bush said that he would go back in time and kill Adolph Hitler as a baby– a move that would have left Germany in the weak, bumbling hands of Adolph”s brother, Jeb Hitler”). The first guest of the night was Pete Davidson with a strongly funny segment expressing his thoughts on the rejection of a law in Houston that would have allowed transgender people to use bathrooms that match their gender identity (“The theory is that men, in their relentless quest to watch women go to the bathroom, are going through years of hormones, surgery, changing their name, their wardrobe, coming out to their family– all for that big payoff of peeing in a room without urinals”). The second guest was Bruce Chandling, a Kyle Mooney character that has always been in the mediocre-to-fine range for me; his slow realization that he”s dating a high schooler during his bit tonight felt flat, and a little offensive. Last was Kate McKinnon as Russian woman Olya Povlatsky, a character that can always bring at least a few chuckles with McKinnon”s grinning delivery, though tonight”s was more fine than great. B
The Adventures of Young Ben Carson: A superhero-esque show portrays the allegedly violent childhood exploits that Ben Carson has been accused of lying about in his presidential campaign. The true hero of this sketch was Jay Pharaoh and his nasally, sleepy-eyed impression of Carson. The sketch had fun with the way Carson”s so-claimed violent tendencies from his past have never really matched up with his weirdly calm demeanor, and it was a nice touch to have young Carson state his bizarre views (“I can”t go to prison, Mama. People go into prison straight and come out gay! I”m not ready to be gay”), only to have citation of the times he”s actually expressed those views appear on the screen (“Source: Dr. Ben Carson, 2015”). Based on this and various comments made about him on Weekend Update this season, it”s clear the SNL writers have some bones to pick with Ben Carson. At least they managed to get a funny sketch out of it. B+
The Bureau: A middle school principal who won a walk-on role in a television show about detectives finds out after the scene begins that he”ll be playing a pedophile. This sketch seemed emblematic of this episode as a whole– not particularly memorable, but funny enough that you can see why it made it on the air. Moynihan”s growing panic as he realizes just how prominent his role will be, matched with his costars” assumptions that he”s just really excited to be on screen, made for a quick, entertaining, but ultimately somewhat forgettable sketch. B
Uber for Jen: A woman”s Uber driver ignores all of her comments and directions, eventually taking her on a series of increasingly significant errands during which they bond. I”m almost always happy to see a Mike O”Brien pre-filmed spot, and Uber for Jen was just as delightfully weird as one has come to expect from him. This was one of Banks”s best performances of the night as well, with her continual vocal fry-affected “Uber for Jen?”s and the gleeful laugh with which she helps O”Brien hide the body of the man he hit with his car (Oh yeah, things get a little dark there in the middle– but then she helps deliver O”Brien”s wife”s baby! So… circle of life?) A-
“Ghetto” Brunch: A group of women at brunch continually refer to things like bathroom sinks and dates asking to split the check as “ghetto,” only to be one-upped by stories from their friend who lives in low-income government housing. This was a solid closing to the night– a good showcase for all the performers involved, and something of a spiritual twin to Black Jeopardy with the justified suggestion from both of, basically, “Hey– cool it, white people.” Banks”s escalating descriptions of life in her neighborhood (“And there”s literally a baby standing in the staircase in, like, a Pamper– nothing else. How ghetto is that?” “Um. Very”) ended with her driving off in an Uber grocery cart. In a smart ending to the sketch, Cecily Strong claimed, “That crack head”s cart is so ghetto” to which Bayer responded, “Um, let”s stop saying that forever” (Smart move, ladies). B+
Quotes, Extras, and Final Thoughts
- According to the narrator of the Aron”s list ad, “No one wants to hire the bad kind of sex offender”
- In response to the Jeopardy answer “The waiter wants to know if you have allergies,” Sasheer Zamata provides the question, “What is, ‘I don”t know you– if I”m itchy that”s my business!”?”).
- Kenan Thompson, while reading the program for the Woodbridge High School Student Theatre Showcase– “It says the proceeds from tonight”s show go to Neil Patrick Harris. He doesn”t need that!”
- Thoughts on the Musical Guest: I didn”t know whom Disclosure was before this episode, and I”m still not totally sure I do? I believe they are some sort of DJ duo, almost definitely from somewhere in Europe? They performed with Lorde and Sam Smith, both artists whose music I enjoy, but Lorde wins the competition I just decided she and Smith were having for THAT OUTFIT and THOSE DANCE MOVES. This has been thoughts on the musical guest.
- Colin Jost line of the night goes to “Bernie Sanders looks like if the post office became a person.”
- Olya Povlatsky breaks out a rousing Britney Spears parody: “Oops, I did it again/Got tricked by a goat/I gave him my clothes/Oh stupid Olya”
- Cast member of the night goes to new guy Jon Rudnitsky just because he only had one appearance tonight and I”m starting to feel kinda bad for him. Here”s hoping you get a showcase soon, buddy!
Next week, our host is Matthew McConaughey. All right. All right.