Usually I’m not the biggest fan of when SNL relies too heavily on recurring sketches and characters. But after last week’s show (which I’ve decided to pretend never happened), SNL needed to rebound. And if that means using some of their most successful creations over the last couple of yeas, so be it. The thing is, the infrastructure of the show isn’t set up in a way where there’s a conscious decision to “play the hits,” but the reality is it did turn out that way. (Honestly, if someone came to me and said, “What would you like to see on tonight’s show?,” I’d have listed four things that actually made this show.)
Also, Cecily Strong addressing the attacks in Paris was a touching way to begin the show. (Which isn’t really something that belongs in the rankings below.) Before the Trump show even ended, I tweeted that I predicated Elizabeth Banks’ show would be fantastic. It’s remarkable how the creative juices can flow out of writers and performers who felt embattled through no fault of their own.
Here is today’s Scorecard:
Sketch of the Night
“High School Theater Show” (Banks, Ensemble) This is now the third version of this sketch and every time they do it, I write pretty much the same thing: this is what makes SNL so great. That they can perform something like this on live television when they’ve only been rehearsing it since Thursday. (Read through is Wednesday, but that wouldn’t include all of the choreography.) So, take all that and add in the intended self-seriousness of this sketch and it’s all just a remarkable thing.
“First Got Horny 2 U” (Strong, McKinnon, Bryant, Banks, Bayer) There’s not a lot to say about this other than (A) it’s wonderful, (B) I think this is even better than “(Do it On My) Twin Bed” and (C) I still can’t believe that Dinosaurs show ever existed. That was a real thing that aired on network television.
“Black Jeopardy” (Thompson, Banks, Pharoah, Zamata) This wasn’t quite as good at the Louis C.K. version because no one can do an “I think I’m in the wrong place” face like Louis C.K. – but, having Banks play an overly PC, “I feel your pain” type character was a great change-up. Honestly, I’m surprised it took this long for us to see “Black Jeopardy” again.
“Weekend Update” (Jost, Che, Davidson, Mooney, McKinnon) This was a pretty great “Update.” Maybe, just maybe, after what they had to experience last week, this will somehow help Jost and Che in a “well, it can’t get worse than that” kind of way. Jost and Che were on NPR earlier this week and were talking about how last week there was a much longer “Update” segment where the two went after Donald Trump, but it didn’t play well at dress rehearsal, in a “I’m not sure I’m supposed to laugh because the guy is right there,” kind of way. Anyway, both seemed loose in a way I haven’t seen often. I hope that sticks around. (Also, the “Jeb Hitler” line almost made me do a spit take.)
Pete Davidson gave his most pointed monologue since he’s been doing these. Kate McKinnon’s Olya Povlatsky was her best yet (her reaction to the knock knock joke was great) … and then there’s my old friend Bruce Chandling. Bruce Chandling really has become the new Nicholas Fehn, a polarizing character that never seems to play super well with the audience. (I’ve written this before, but when I was at dress rehearsal for last season’s Kevin Hart show, a pre-recorded Bruce Chandling sketch played and you could hear only crickets and the sound of me and my friend laughing. That sketch wound up getting cut from the live show and became an online exclusive instead.)
“Uber For Jen” (O’Brien, Banks, Bennett, Bayer, Moynihan) As I reported back in September, yes, Mike O’Brien left SNL as a writer, but he’d continue to make films. And here’s our first one and it’s vintage Mike O’Brien and the show is better off for still having his unique voice around.
“Elizabeth Banks Monologue” (Banks, Mooney, Zamata, Killam, Moynihan, Strong) I feel like I’ve written this sentence a million times, but monologues are difficult. There’s only so much that can be done, so it’s great when something new and interesting and funny can happen. And I hope Elizabeth Banks sings “What a Feeling” in Pitch Perfect 3.
“Young Ben Carson” (Pharoah, Banks, Bennett, Zamata, Jones, Thompson) I’ve heard Jay Pharoah had been trying to get his Ben Carson on the air for some time. It’s probably for the best that it took until now, so that some of the things that Carson has said are more in the zeitgeist. That people are a little more certain SNL didn’t just make all of this stuff up. Also: Pharoah’s Carson impression is, not surprisingly, dead on.
“Walk-On Role” (Banks, Moynihan, Pharoah, Bennett, Bryant, Rudnitski) There wasn’t much doubt about where this sketch was going, but why it works is because Pharoah, Banks and Moynihan just sell it so well. They all seem so into it. Hey, and there’s John Rudnitski for one quick second. (It’s only been five shows, but we’ve seen very little from him so far this season. The controversy surrounding his hiring has settled down, so I am curious what he’s going to bring to the show. Also, here’s a reminder that the great Tim Robinson is not in the cast and I still don’t understand that. )
“Aron’s List” (Bayer, Mooney, Bennett, Thompson, Davidson, Moynihan, Pharoah) Maybe this should have been held back another week. After the show’s emotional opening, a sketch this dark probably didn’t play the way it was intended. Also, the line about “missing a statutory cutoff” isn’t quite the same as just making fun of people caught urinating in public.
“So Ghetto” (Banks, Zamata, Bayer, Strong, Pharoah) This needed to thread that needle just a little better. I completely get what this sketch was trying to do, but it just missed ever so slightly, throwing the whole thing a little out of whack.
Average Score for this Show: 6.98
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.