Dakota Johnson is known for two things: Starring in Fifty Shades of Grey and being the daughter of actors Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson. And her monologue made this all very clear.
We went into the night expecting Fifty Shades jokes, and Fifty Shades jokes we got from the very beginning when Johnson made some weak quips about the book’s content. Example: Fifty Shades is the book “that made you never want to touch your mother’s Kindle again.” Instead of getting the Fifty Shades references out of the way early though, the whole monologue focused on the film—which has been in theaters for three weeks now—and hammered the topic into the ground. Even Griffith and Johnson’s presence in the audience (a sweet surprise) was pegged to the film: “We were just afraid you were going to be naked,” her dad said, hand obscuring his face. Griffith’s refusal to see her daughter nude onscreen was funny (and awkward) the first time around; here, the joke didn’t pay off.
The opening material wasn’t the best, but at least Johnson showed she was game—something she hasn’t exactly proven on the 50 Shades press tour, which has birthed multiple articles analyzing how unhappy she and co-star Jamie Dornan look together during interviews. This is about the theme of the entire episode: weak writing, fine performances. But there were some all-around stand-outs, including the night’s…
Anytime the women of SNL get together in a pre-recorded short is a good time, and Saturday’s “Say What You Wanna Say” is no exception. Inspired by Sara Bareilles’ “Brave,” the ladies begin—as the lyrics instruct—saying what they want to say. This means saying no to that offer for drinks, to brunch, and, in Kate McKinnon’s case, saying what every woman has thought at least one time in a public restroom: “Excuse me, I can’t poop while you’re in here and I can tell you’re just doing your hair so I’m going to need you to get the f—k out.” The confessions are funny enough, but the celebrations are even better. McKinnon responds to her win by wrapping herself in toilet paper and frolicking around the bathroom; Aidy Bryant smiles wide and lifts her arms to the sky. It’s all highly relatable and highly amusing.
What could have been a run-of-the-mill press junket sketch turned into a silly, uncomfortable one thanks to Kyle Mooney’s role as an overeager reporter asking Johnson the tough questions about her movie—you know, like, “Was the kissing gross?” This half-endearing, half-annoying character’s commitment to getting the answers he wants comes off as just a young reporter not knowing how to do his job until his story’s headline (accompanied by side-by-side photos of Johnson and Buzz Lightyear) is revealed at the end: “I had sex with Buzz.” Turns out the cub reporter had a plan all along.
Cecily Strong: great. Cecily Strong’s Kathy Ann character: painfully not great. Kathy Ann, smoking a cigarette and saying whatever the hell she wants, interrupts Prince Charming and Cinderella’s interaction to do what, I’m not sure. Make everything uncomfortable to a not-funny degree, maybe? Most of the four-minute sketch felt incredibly forced, and even allusions to the Cinderella story came off as strained—like when Prince Charming thinks he finds Cinderella’s shoe, but it turns out to be Kathy Ann’s sneaker.
The cold open started off like a regular talk show segment featuring Rudy Giuliani, who just got in trouble for saying he doesn’t believe “the president loves America,” and then turned into a Birdman spoof during the fake show’s commercial break. But besides Taran Killam’s spot-on Michael Keaton impression, the spoof itself wasn’t all that memorable—especially because both the Indie Spirit Awards and the Oscars already parodied the film in similar ways last weekend. Points for making an ordinary-looking cold open much weirder than expected though.
Sketch Most Likely to Spark Twitter Debates
The pre-recorded short starts off innocent: Johnson’s in the passenger seat of a car, saying bye to her dad before presumably going off to college. Their interactions are sweet—until it’s revealed that she’s not going to college. No, she’s joining ISIS. Or, as she says, “Dad, it’s just ISIS” before getting in a pick-up truck full of men with guns. Although there’s not much to the short, the reveal itself—along with the parody of Toyota ads—is all it needs to succeed as a bit highlighting the terror of ISIS through humor.
Most (Purposely) Annoying Sketch
Insert “I can’t even with this sketch” joke here. Really though: Repeating millennial catchphrases like “I can’t even” and “literally” (used incorrectly, of course) over and over again is tiring enough in reality that we don’t need to see it happen on TV—especially because these phrases have been in the vernacular for years already and the use of them isn’t anything groundbreaking. Bryant’s role as co-worker who literally can’t do anything because of her two broken arms was the only ray of sunlight in an otherwise redundant sketch, one that came off like it was left on the cutting room floor months ago only to get picked up last minute for this episode.
Best Musical Moment
Alabama Shakes’ kicked off their performance of “Don’t Wanna Fight” with Brittany Howard letting out a subdued screech into the microphone—and it only got more soulful from there. This is their second time on the show—they were also the musical guests almost exactly two years ago in February 2013—but Howard’s powerful, passionate performance made it seem like it was their first time and they couldn’t be more excited to be there.
Leslie Jones doesn’t always get the most screen time, but when she does, it’s a gift to viewers: Between her shameless Breaking Bad spoiler reveal in “Say What You Wanna Say” and her performance as an outspoken YouTube commenter in “Net Neutrality,” Jones brought the hilarious bluntness she’s become known for. Plus, her commentary on the dress debacle was the show’s best (and yes, there were multiple references to the dress): “Trust me, no one has ever mistaken black for gold,” she said. “No one has ever come up to me on the street, and been like, ‘Are you gold?’”
- Jay Pharoah played an apologizing Kanye West on Weekend Update, but it was Sasheer Zamata who stood out during the bit: While Pharoah performed an apology, Zamata played the rapper’s back-up dancer—and used her body language and facial expressions to effectively draw attention away from Pharoah the entire time.
- It’s about time to retire Riblet, who returned to Weekend Update once again to give Michael Che grief about his job. Seriously: Give Moynihan things to do other than play this tired character (and Kim Jong-un).
- Mooney and Beck Bennett’s “Mr. Riot Films” wasn’t quite Honorable Mention-worthy, but it did have its highlights–like when Mooney dressed up as a dog and used a cardboard sign to encourage passersby to feed him. This part exemplified the kind of quirky antics expected from Mooney, and was made all the better by the Candid Camera aspect of the bit (it appears all the encounters were unstaged).
- Kenan Thompson and Bobby Moynihan sweetly honored Leonard Nimoy, who died this week, during the goodnights by aiming Vulcan salutes at the camera. Although the episode also featured a Star Trek-centric sketch, this probably spontaneous moment is the one that stood out.