Even after 38 and a half seasons, SNL still has the capacity to surprise. Yesterday, I assumed that 2014’s first episode would make some noise about new featured player Sasheer Zamata; given the show’s unusually public search for black female talent, fanfare or at least a formal introduction seemed likely.
But in the end, SNL decided to go a more matter-of-fact route: Zamata wasn’t set apart from the rest of the cast. Instead, she was simply and easily integrated into the show, appearing in no fewer than five sketches throughout the episode. And though Sasheer certainly got more screen time than the average featured player — blink and you’ll miss Brooks Wheelan and John Milhiser each week — she was never given the responsibility of carrying an entire sketch, which may have been too much for her very first show. All in all, I’m glad SNL defied my expectations and took a subtler approach; this seems like the best way to gradually end the conversation about Sasheer Zamata, Black Lady Comedian, and move toward a world where she’s just another part of the group.
Another reason SNL was smart not to make the night all about Sasheer (or its other new additions, SNL writers LaKendra Tookes and Leslie Jones): We got more time to spend with Drake. And Drake was really, really great. Especially in the night’s…
Generally, SNL‘s “excuse to let everyone do impressions” sketches tend to feel a little gratuitous. But when there’s more to the premise than “a bunch of celebrities gather together for some reason” and the impressions are all on point, they can be a joy to watch — as in last night’s “Hip Hop Classics: Before They Were Stars,” which took a look at other rappers who, like Drake, got their start on family TV shows. If ever you doubted that a Canadian teen soap star-turned-sensitive rapper could convincingly impersonate Lil Wayne playing Steve Urkel, now’s the time to see how very wrong you were.
Hey, did you know that Drake is Canadian… and half black… and Jewish? If you’ve heard of him, you did; if not, you may have appreciated the exposition in last night’s monologue. But either way, it’s hard to resist the charms of a well-done bar mitzvah sketch, even if this is well-trod material for the rapper. Bonus: It also featured Sasheer delivering a very appropriate first on-air line — “Mazel tov!”
Be careful what you wish for: Yearn to see Nasim Pedrad get more screen time, and you might just get Rahat in return. Go ahead and go, Rahat. Far, far away from here.
Most Pleasant Surprise
Hosts aren’t usually featured in the show’s cold opens — so when one does appear in the night’s first sketch, you can take it as a huge vote of confidence in his or her abilities. So it was with yesterday’s opening installment of “Piers Morgan Tonight,” which was amusing enough when Bobby Moynihan’s Chris Christie stopped by but really came alive thanks to Drake’s pouty A-Rod. “I’m also suing steroids for being inside of me.” Gold. Also, I’m officially starting a petition to get Kate McKinnon to play Justin Bieber every week.
Best Musical Moment
Drake made the most of his time on the SNL musical stage, performing shortened versions of four songs total, all while under an eerie spotlight that sort of made him look like one of Rainbow Brite’s Color Kids. The highlight of these performances had to be Drake’s obvious joy when welcoming his pal Jhene Aiko to the stage for “From Time” — that, or the way he changed the song’s lyrics for this special occasion: “You need you some of this Drake love/Tell Lorne cut to commercial break love/So that we can make love.”
The WTF Award
We might as well just start calling this section the “Huh, Okay Then, Good Neighbor” award. This week’s installment: “I Know,” in which Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney… do… comedy? I don’t know, guys; it might be time to admit that I just don’t get these two.
I’m tempted to give this prize to Drake himself — he played a main role in every single sketch tonight, minus Bennett and Mooney’s Weird Comedy Minute, and was so charming that I’m already counting down the days until he comes back for a second round. But since he’s not really eligible, instead I’ll split the award evenly between Zamata — for grace under crazy pressure as well as “Resolution Revolution,” which is still stuck in my head — and Aidy Bryant, whose expert delivery and commitment elevated that slumber party sketch into something worth remembering. “Kyle is a whisper of a boy — Mr. Gorman is a shout of a man.”
– Who thought it was a good idea to rehash two of the Miley Cyrus episode’s weaker sketches — “Mornin’ Miami” and that godawful poetry teacher thing — for tonight’s episode?
– Why did Bieber egg his neighbor’s house? “I thought my neighbor was a chicken, right? So I was just… returning his kids.”
– A thousand gold Magen Davids, Drake, for rhyming “Hanukkah” with “Rihannukah.”
– Hey, Noël Wells got to star in a sketch too! Were you impressed by her Nancy Grace?
– Best throwaway line, from the end of Drake/Jay Pharoah/Taran Killam’s brief cos-play adventure: “You were resilient!”
– Last night’s show, in a nutshell: