We’ve grown to expect certain things when Sarah Silverman takes the stage: Raunch, edge, a concentrated campaign of shock and awww. Most of all, though, we anticipate sharply honed comedy with a clear point of view. Unfortunately, it’s safe to say that this isn’t exactly what Silverman and Saturday Night Live delivered last night.
Maybe the constraints of network TV and Silverman’s relatively limited acting experience conspired to make Silverman and, by extension, the show seem sort of neutered. (If that’s the case, we should perhaps be thankful that Silverman’s NBC pilot Susan 313 didn’t get picked up in 2013.) Maybe everyone was just having an off week.
But given last week’s disappointing season premiere (and season 39’s general inconsistency), I worry that this might be SNL‘s new normal: Not good, not terrible, just a solid all-around meh. Everyone involved in the show is certainly talented—but for whatever reason, those parts can’t seem to coalesce into a reliable whole. The perfect analogy: Silverman’s scattered monologue, which seemed like three separate ideas awkwardly mashed together. Its sheer length (a full eight minutes) also messed up the show’s momentum, creating a sense of sluggishness from which the episode never really recovered. (It’d certainly help, also, if the cast and hosts could try harder to keep the flubbed lines to a minimum. There have been a lot of little slip-ups on the show lately, which doesn’t really inspire confidence in SNL‘s current team.)
Of course, even in a sea of shrugs, there are bound to be a few bright spots. (Let’s just pretend that metaphor made sense, shall we? It’s early.) Which brings me to the night’s…
All right, so Weekend Update bits aren’t technically sketches. However: Nothing made me laugh more last night than Lilith Fair rejects Garage and Her, a goofy feminist music duo brought to life by Sarah Silverman and (who else) Kate McKinnon. Their catchy pro-womyn ballad (“A girl is a woman/a dog can be a woman/a baby is a lady/and a plant—a plant can have a boob”) was the sort of inspired absurdity that’s in short supply on SNL‘s current incarnation. I could listen to these two determine what is and is not a woman for hours.
True, the car-based sketch in which a tearful Silverman admitted to cheating on her boyfriend while she was away—only to learn that said boyfriend was actually in the car as well, with an engagement ring—eventually petered out into a weird show of product placement. (Did Pizza Hut grease some palms last night or what?) Before that, though, it was pretty great, thanks mostly to Bobby Moynihan’s amazing “you betrayed me” face and this immortal radio tune: “You cheated on me, and then you gave me fudge!” Unfortunately, the sketch hasn’t been posted on Yahoo or Hulu, probably because the car’s radio also played Rihanna’s “Unfaithful” and Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” (Online music rights issues: SNL‘s ultimate albatross?)
Going to come right out and say it: Since the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, SNL‘s political sketches have been weak, weak, weak. Maybe it’s not entirely SNL’s fault; how can a weekly show hope to skewer things with the same force as Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, whose shows air nightly? (John Oliver, however, may object to this premise.)
But you can’t really blame that handicap for how toothless most of SNL‘s recent commentary has been. And while Jay Pharoah’s Obama is technically impressive, he’s never managed to make the president into a fully fleshed-out character, like Will Ferrell’s delightfully idiotic George W. Bush or Phil Hartman’s slick horndog of a Bill Clinton. (And don’t try to say that Obama doesn’t give comedy writers any viable hooks; Key and Peele manage just fine when it comes to Obama material.) Saturday’s cold open was a dreary slog of lazy jokes and punchlines that landed with a thud. Hopefully Daily Show alum Michael Che can help to make things a little sharper going forward.
Hey, Sarah Silverman does a pretty good Joan Rivers impression! (When she’s not stumbling over her one-liners, at least.) And while the “Joan in Heaven” sketch wasn’t very laugh-out-loud funny, it was touching to watch Rivers’ most direct descendent pay homage to her mentor.
Best One-Act Play
Much like “Joan in Heaven,” the fake Vitamix commercial (again with the product placement!) wasn’t exactly funny-ha-ha. It was, however, surprisingly clever and fully contained (for once, a sketch with a clear beginning, middle, and end!)—and in it, Silverman seemed more comfortable than she did for much of the night. The sketch also made me realize that the first two episodes of season 40 have suffered from a crucial Vanessa Bayer deficiency.
Best Musical Moment
I’m tempted to cite Cecily Strong, Sasheer Zamata, and Silverman’s rendition of “Proud Mary,” which also felt like something that was funnier in concept than execution. But, fine, since I’ve got to talk about them somewhere: Adam Levine and the Maroon 4 did their Maroon 5-y thing, performing tracks from
Songs Destined for Car Commercials V about the way you’d expect them to. Would you turn your chair around for this?
Signs of Life Alert
Hey, Colin Jost and Michael Che actually interacted at the Update desk this week—and their banter wasn’t half bad! More of this, please, SNL—giving Jost someone to bounce off of goes a long way toward making him seem less like a Seth Meyers-bot.
The episode was pretty Kenan-heavy—Thompson had featured roles in three sketches, appeared on Update as Al Sharpton, and briefly lent his voice to the “cheated on me and gave me fudge” sketch. And each time he came onscreen, Kenan proved why the show’s writers tend to lean on him—he’s got an uncanny ability to do a lot with a little. See, for example, his unabashed joy in announcing this character’s name: Reese De’What.
– Weirdest throughline: “Hey, did you know that women are competitive shrews?” Even in the “Supportive Women” sketch, the joke is that the show failed because real women are awful to each other.
– “It is so crazy to be here hosting Saturday Night Live! I mean, is it really crazy? …I’m a pretty big comedian. It kind of makes all the sense in the world.”
– The episode featured three pretapes: A preview for a Fault in Our Stars sequel about Ebola (eh), a celebration of white people (funny, but a throwaway), and the latest from Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett. The upside: That last sketch was a lot more coherent than most of the stuff we’ve seen from the Good Neighbor guys, and the shots of the dummy in a trashcan were pretty funny.
– How long do you think it’ll take to get used to Darrell Hammond’s anemic announcing? A year? Five?
– Those clips of Baby Sarah Silverman asking questions in SNL‘s audience came from season 19’s Rosie O’Donnell, Jeff Goldblum, and Nancy Kerrigan episodes, respectively. (Yikes, remember when Nancy Kerrigan hosted? See—things could always be worse.)
– “If doctors know so much, then why is my doctor dead of Ebola?”
– I will say that while Kenan’s Sharpton is pretty funny, watching the impression mostly just makes me miss Bill Hader’s James Carville.
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