When one looks back at the thirty-nine and a half seasons of SNL, there is certainly more bad than good. SNL’s success rate tends to keep pace with MLB sluggers—where three hits out of ten pitches is considered elite. This is why many of us keep coming back each week. We are panning for comedy gold. Perfect hilarity is not even a possibility. But a dozen true laughs? That’s not out of the question.
While many aging Hollywood ingénues struggle to sustain a viable career in their 40’s, Cameron Diaz’s star keeps rising. This year alone has seen the release of three major comedies: The Other Woman, Sex Tape, and next month’s Annie. So it’s fitting she cap off her big year by hosting Saturday Night Live. And it’s not surprising that she turns in a solid, workman-like performance—Diaz is consistently funny, and committed to the task at hand.
“Cold Open: Capitol Hill” gives us SNL’s first truly biting political satire of an otherwise benign season. Whereas the starting point of the sketch is certainly dated (“I’m Just a Bill” first aired on ABC in 1975, the same year Saturday Night Live debuted on NBC.), the subject of the satire is fresh: President Obama’s recent executive order on immigration, which many believe to be an overreach of executive power. SNL gives us a fed-up Obama literally and repeatedly kicking a would-be Republican immigration bill down the capitol steps. This is on-point work: brash, juvenile, politically savvy, and actually funny. It’s good to see the political wing of the Saturday Night Live writing staff sharpen and focus. It bodes well for Season 41 when a national election is upon us again.
Two successful, pre-taped segments (remember when these were craftily dubbed “digital shorts”?) “Back Home Ballers” and “The Fight” remind us that SNL’s field production work has never been better. Kyle and Beck’s listless high school hallway scuffle, presented as a kind of quasi-produced YouTube recap by dim-witted auteur Chris Fitzpatrick, was one of the episode’s most hilarious moments. “Ballers,” the episode’s only Thanksgiving-themed sketch, takes aim at self-absorbed millennials headed home for the holidays. Like “The Fight,” “Ballers” feels fresh—a new direction for the show that appears to be working.
“High School Theater Show,” a spoof of pretentious student-made “message plays,” was strong, primarily because the cast seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely as they performed the sketch. There have been a few distracting moments of performance drudgery this season… like maybe the cast wasn’t fully in sync with the writers’ intent. Here, everyone seems to be on the same page.
Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars give us what has to be the best musical performance of the season; a full-on 80’s funk show with choreography, horns, and some sweet funk guitar strumming. “Uptown Funk” may be the song of the year, and Ronson and company deliver the goods. Their second effort, “Feels Right,” brings the JB with vocals by Mystikal. (And yeah. It’s just as awesome as it sounds.)
The episode was a good one for Kate McKinnon, the show’s most-likely-to-break-out talent. McKinnon brought the bizarro-austerity of her Angela Merkel impression? to enliven another barely breathing Weekend Update. And she was a standout in an ill-conceived, late-show, phone sex commercial parody, “Night Murmurs.” It was good to see Vanessa Bayer’s “Poetry Class” back, as well as the return of Beck Bennett’s “Office Boss”—the big man boss with a baby body. Both Bayer and Bennett are solid cast members that fit the long-standing SNL tradition of dependably funny, attractive white utility players. But unlike some of their pretty white forebears, Bayer and Bennett bring strong physical comedy chops, and a flair for the whimsical.
“Dr. Dave and Buggles” features Kenan Thompson as a friendly TV animal show host who returns to air after having been castrated by his adorable monkey sidekick the week before. This has to be the episode’s most polarizing sketch, in that fans will either love it or hate it. This is the sketch that will come to represent all that is good about SNL40, or serve as proof of its imminent decline. A sketch that rises and falls on how funny the thought is (thankfully, not sight) of a monkey spitefully tossing Kenan’s “nutsack” across the room, smashing a studio exit sign with it… it really does come down to whether it hits for you, or strikes out.
I, for one, will go down swinging for monkeys throwing scrotum. And so, I hope.
SNL NEXT: “The SNL Thanksgiving Special” Wednesday 11/26 at 9 PM
Chris White writes and directs independent feature films. His latest, a showbiz comedy about looking for Bill Murray, is called
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