What is left to say about James Franco?
The answer: Not much. We know he’s a veteran of tentpole franchises and weird indies and somber Oscar bait, as well as sitcoms and soaps and the Broadway stage; we know he’s a modern Renaissance man who, in addition to acting, also dabbles in screenwriting and directing and short story-writing and modeling and drawing and sculpting and, like, shoe commercials or whatever; we know he’s done graduate coursework at multiple learning institutions; we know that time he hosted the Oscars, it didn’t go so well; we know he got into some hot water this spring for propositioning a teenager on Instagram; we know, perhaps due to all of the above, that it’s surprisingly satisfying to watch him get punched in the face. Especially on an endless loop.
Given all this, I’d understand responding to news of his latest SNL stint with a big, Liz Lemon-style eye roll. That’s certainly what I did when I heard he’d be returning to studio 8H to host the show for the third time.
Then I realized that there’s exactly one context in which I don’t find Franco to be totally obnoxious: when he’s making fun of his own image. I mentioned Liz Lemon before; some of Franco’s best work came when he played a heightened version of himself (“You are being such a non-pillow right now!) on 30 Rock in 2010. 2013’s This Is the End, a comedy that sounds on paper like an exercise in pure indulgence, was a lot funnier than it had any right to be—in large part thanks to Franco, who had no trouble playing “James Franco” as a pretentious d-bag. And if nothing else, you can bet on seeing Franco do more of the same during tonight’s show. That self-deprecation should go a long way toward making us want to laugh with him rather than sock him in the jaw.
Franco clearly also cares about SNL as an institution—more than he apparently cared about the Academy Awards, at any rate. The documentary he made from behind-the-scenes SNL footage shot in 2008, which hit Hulu this past fall, is absorbing, if clearly the work of an amateur (Franco shot it while attending NYU film school). That the doc exists at all speaks highly of SNL‘s (and Lorne Michaels’) opinion of Franco. Clearly, these two have worked well together in the past; annoying as Franco’s dalliances can be, there’s no reason to believe they won’t work again this time.
Tonight’s host will also be buoyed by a few sure things: star cameos (Franco stopped by for his Interview costar Seth Rogen’s hosting turn in April; chances are high that Rogen will repay the favor) and musical guest Nicki Minaj, who’s never hosted SNL but proved herself to be a capable actress in a 2011 Bride of Frankenstein sketch. It’s easy to see from her clever lyrics and music videos that the rapper has a sense of humor. Let’s hope she gets to show it off beyond the musical performance stage.
What are you hoping to see from Franco and Minaj tonight? How do you think SNL will handle the rash of horrible news gripping the nation lately—will it try to hit the Mike Brown and Eric Garner non-indictments, or stay as far away from those stories as it can? What are the chances Taran Killam straps on a black wig and some guyliner to play Christopher Walken as Captain Hook in a Peter Pan Live! sketch? And who might we expect to show up alongside Franco, beyond Rogen?
Discuss below, and check back in the morning for my full recap.