Whose hosting gig is it, anyway?
SNL vet James Franco was far from invisible when he hosted the show for the third time last night—he had showcase roles in several sketches, including one that was nothing but Franco complaining about the four-year-old who beat his character in a mayoral race (“he’s a little dickhead!”).
That said, Franco was competing for the spotlight with a formidable challenger: Practiced scene-stealer Nicki Minaj, who’s done this sort of thing on SNL before. Generally if a musical guest branches out from her own stage at all, it’s in a single sketch (and she’ll probably be playing herself). Minaj, though, had featured roles in two sketches, as well as her own slot as a talking head on Weekend Update. And while, yes, she was playing herself in one of those appearances, in the others she tried her hand at celebrity impressions. Both her Beyoncé and her Kim Kardashian were capable, if not quite spot-on enough to make me think that she needs to host herself ASAP. Still, Minaj’s contribution to the show was strong and memorable—more so than Franco’s, who faded into the background a little more than I expected.
The show overall was one of this season’s stronger entries, thanks largely to a funny and strange…
We should thank our lucky stars that Mike O’Brien chose to return to SNL‘s writers’ room after being booted from the main cast over the summer. Otherwise, there’d be nobody left to write weird, melancholy, high-concept shorts like “Sad Mouse,” “Monster Pals” (surprise-starring James Franco!), and tonight’s new addition to the canon, “Grow-a-Guy.” The scenes of O’Brien teaching Franco how to be human (by showing him Twitter and Guardians of the Galaxy)? Awesome. The big reveal that all of O’Brien’s friends are Grow-a-People? Awesomer, and also kinda heartbreaking.
It’s frustrating that what made “Inside Jeremy’s Brain” work—snippets of ’90s and early ’00s ephemera like that Savage Garden song and Chris Kirkpatrick doing the “Bye Bye Bye” dance—is the very thing preventing it from being placed online in its entirety. Too bad. Of the two “everybody does an impression” sketches in tonight’s episode, this one worked the best. At least we’ll always have Aidy Bryant’s dancing rhombus:
(P.S. Chances that Pete Davidson personally has nostalgia for these things are slim to none. Remember, Pete was born in 1993.)
Good lord, where to start with that disastrous “Magic Bridge” sketch? The premise was muddled (a troll played by Franco requires people to kiss him before they can cross his bridge, because his riddles have been ruined … by … Goggle?), the jokes were nonexistent, and the big punchline was, yet again, that Two Guys Kissing Is Inherently Gross and Hilarious. Mostly, this bit left me with one major question: Cecily Strong asked to be let off of the Weekend Update desk so that she’d have more time to do stuff like this?
The Department of Hard News Department
SNL tried to find humor in the horrible news that’s been gripping the nation this week—the non-indictment of the police officer who killed Eric Garner—but only quasi succeeded. The cold open, a “Politics Nation with Al Sharpton” sketch, focused more on Kenan Thompson’s bumbling Sharpton than the news itself. Michael Che and Colin Jost faced the issue more overtly on Update, repeating the reasons why this decision has led to outrage and giving Jost, a Staten Island native, a few minutes to explain that his home borough is the worst place in America to try to put a white cop on trial.
Did it work? Eh, sort of; the punchlines were fine, but neither Jost nor Che’s delivery was forceful enough to make them pack much of a punch. Instead, Update’s best moment came from regular commentator Leslie Jones, whose bit about doing mushrooms and hallucinating Harriet Tubman was performed animatedly (and hilariously) enough to make me wish she’d been the one giving her two cents on Eric Garner.
Best Musical Moment
Thought Nicki Minaj would use SNL as an opportunity to perform “Anaconda” yet again? You’re mostly wrong—while she busted out the first few lines in the “Jeremy’s Brain” sketch, the rapper decided to showcase a few of The Pinkprint‘s less poppy cuts in her full-length performances. She shined especially brightly in a mashup of “Only” and the deeply personal “All Things Go,” a song that discusses, among other things, the murder of her cousin and the abortion she had at 16. The medley isn’t up on Hulu or Yahoo yet, but hopefully it’ll only be a matter of time.
James Franco did a cameo when his pal Seth Rogen hosted SNL this past spring; naturally, Rogen repaid the favor, stopping by for both a monologue about leaked Instagram photos (did you know that Rogen and Franco are totally gay for each other?! LOLLL) and this week’s 10-to-1 sketch, a repeat appearance from the Saboski Crystals girls. Sure, by this point these characters are pretty tired—but what can I say, “we’re gonna need a bigger throat” made me laugh.
The Missed Opportunity Award
Wait—there was a Power Rangers sketch planned but not performed? How disappointing! Here’s hoping it ends up online this week.
I’m tempted to name Minaj again here, since nobody from SNL‘s cast had a particularly big show. So hmm, let’s go with … Taran Killam, who had no starring roles but busted out a series of ace impressions throughout the episode—including a gravelly Harrison Ford in an amusing fake trailer for Geriatric Star Wars, a spot-on Eminem in “Jingle Ballerz” (also featuring Kate McKinnon’s flawless Justin Bieber), and That Guy from Savage Garden.
—Hey, did you know Franco’s real email address is firstname.lastname@example.org?
—Tonker Bell returns! At least this time there was some context for this sketch—and I did love the revelation that she’s dating the bat from Ferngully.
—Um, all due respect to Skylar Grey … but “Do you ever think of me/When you lie?/Lie down in your bed/Your bed of lies?”? Seriously?
—Psst—did you hear that Bing Crosby is a rappist? And that Anthony Crispino is just Emily Litella with a mustache?
—Franco’s delivery as Tad Rankin, a.k.a. a full-grown man whose nemesis is a four-year-old boy, was way too shouty—but he did have a few great lines: “I didn’t crap my pants all year!”
Follow Hillary on Twitter: @hillibusterr