Saturday Night Live Review: "Amy Schumer/The Weeknd (41.02)"

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<i>Saturday Night Live</i> Review: "Amy Schumer/The Weeknd (41.02)"

Saturday Night Live is better in its second outing of the season due to the ebulliently competent performance of host Amy Schumer. The Inside Amy Schumer and Trainwreck star arrived at Studio 8H ready for her closeup. Three seasons of her own brand of television sketch comedy has turned Schumer into the kind of performer SNL usually needs eight or nine seasons to develop. And though guest hosts rarely write or direct their material, it is clear that the show’s writers were on their A-game with her in the building.

The episode wasn’t outstanding overall, but it was promising. SNL41 has the potential to put together a respectable season…after scaring the bejeezus out of fans last week with its worst season opener in two decades.

The episode starts slowly, with another one of those limp “Fox and Friends” parodies they’ve been hawking for a few seasons now for a Cold Open. Granted, it was a slow week in politics—Congressional Republicans wrangling over who will be their next Speaker is way too wonkish for most of us to relate to—but the flaw in this sketch is more practical than that. While Taran Killam’s Steve Doocy send-up is serviceable, Vanessa Bayer’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Bobby Moynihan’s Brian Kilmeade (especially Moynihan’s Kilmeade) aren’t even in the ballpark.

Schumer’s opening monologue was strong, but her first two sketches (“Delta Flight” and “Porn Teacher”) seemed better suited for post-Weekend Update…especially given the strength of the episode’s last sketch “Baby Shower,” in which Schumer’s strength as a character actor really shined. Even though most of us watch SNL later, in streaming bits and pieces, the show is taped live, in a deliberately chosen, sequential order. As such, the performers and their live audience are affected by that flow. “Delta Flight” was loud, and “Porn Teacher” was outrageous (it’s always good to see “happy-sweet” Aidy Bryant), neither sketch was very clever. Had it not been for pre-tape “Guns,” the entire episode may have slipped off the rails.

“Guns,” a preposterous lifestyle ad for America’s inglorious pastime, is brilliant. Satire should sting, maybe even hurt, and this piece does—no matter your opinion on the issue. Americans are just as addicted to gross sentimentality as we are our right to bear arms. “Guns” gives us a damning mash-up of both societal fetishes. Without question, the best sketch of the night.

The Weeknd is an inspired choice for musical guest, and his performances of “The Hills” (with surprise guest Nicki Minaj) and “Can’t Feel My Face” are strong. The programming of SNL musical guests has been a strength for several seasons now, thus sustaining its stage as a valid platform for rising and established (corporate) music acts…next week’s appearance of Demi Lovato notwithstanding.

The Jost-Che edition of Weekend Update is unlikely to be ensconced in the Saturday Night Live pantheon, but it does have its moments. This was a particularly good night for the pair and a good omen for the season ahead. Worthy of note: Jay Pharoah’s new character, Solomon. It’s good to see Pharoah’s talent for vocal characterization being brought to the fore in a cast crowded with stronger actors. BEST WEEKEND UPDATE JOKE OF THE NIGHT: “Chuck E. Cheese’s has announced plans to revamp its menu and sell more beer and wine. It’s all part of their plan to help loosen up pedophiles.”

For those of us who geek out on the inner workings and process of Saturday Night Live, it is fascinating to see how Executive Producer Lorne Michaels shapes and reforms each new season’s cast. If last week belonged to Leslie Jones, this week was Vanessa Bayer’s…a move that seems calculated, as Bayer seemed to fade away a bit last season. [Bayer was also in Trainwreck, so perhaps tonight’s host had something to do with it?—Ed.] Noticeably absent (until very late in the show) was last year’s ubiquitous Cecily Strong and fan favorite Beck Bennett. Kyle Mooney and Taran Killam continue to solidify their position as SNL41’s go-to leading men, while Bobby, Aidy, and Keenan Thompson stand ready to lend a hand in support.

SNL41 seems to have found its footing after a dismal season opener, and owes a huge debt of gratitude to Amy Schumer for snapping it out of a Miley Cyrus-induced haze. Next week’s return of Tracy Morgan after a devastating bus accident purports to be an important television event—both for Morgan’s fans and Saturday Night Live aficionados. Perhaps the lingering joy of a show well-played will carry through for this much-anticipated homecoming.

SNL NEXT WEEK: Tracy Morgan with Demi Lovato

Chris White writes and directs independent feature films. His latest, a showbiz comedy about looking for Bill Murray, is called Cinema Purgatorio . Follow Chris on Twitter.

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