Saturday Night Live Review: “James Franco/Nicki Minaj”

(Episode 40.08)

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<i>Saturday Night Live</i> Review: &#8220;James Franco/Nicki Minaj&#8221;

“Do you have any other friends besides us?” asks Beck Bennett’s glorious d-bag in the episode’s best sketch, “Grow-A-Guy.”

Fans of Saturday Night Live may ask themselves a similar question after sitting through an episode where we learn that. 1.) an NYC grand jury can’t get an indictment, and SNL can’t make it funny, 2) James Franco is the only guy in America who doesn’t have a passable Christopher Walken imitation, and 3) there is such a thing as too much Nicki Minaj.

I’m genuinely asking SNL, you didn’t even try a sketch with U2 auditioning new lead singers? An embattled Rolling Stone editorial board shamed into retracting their Sugar Ray cover in ‘99 piece? A parody of the “Stand With Hillary” country music video featuring Ted Cruz in a rap video… nothing?

Like, are these your only jokes?

Actor, poet, and renowned Instagrammer James Franco (who apparently lost a bet with Seth Rogan this week and had to shave his head?) started strong with an Opening Monologue inspired by the recent Sony hack. Franco is joined by fellow “freak” Rogan to apologize for some compromising images of the two that have been lifted from his phone. It’s a funny piece, but one of only two bits that are better for James Franco’s performance.

“Kid Mayor,” a political attack ad by a small town mayor demanding a recall vote for the toddler who just defeated him, gives us a sputtering, desperate Franco as ruined Machiavelli. Not only is the piece funny, it is the episode’s best moment of political satire. (“Cold Open: Politics Nation” featuring Keenan Thompson’s one-note Al Sharpton felt particularly shoddy.)

A send-up of NBC’s recent Peter Pan Live! was to be expected, and the show managed a serviceable spoof featuring Aidy Bryant’s hilarious Tonkerbell character. But Franco’s Christopher Walken was so bad. Had Bobby Moynihan not surprised as Fern Gully’s Batty at the end, the sketch might have fallen completely off the rails.

A standout feature of this year’s Saturday Night Live has been it’s pre-taped movie trailers. But Star Wars Teaser disappoints. The premise, that the original Star Wars Trilogy cast members are too old and fat, runs thin. Not to mention, everybody and their brother has posted a Star Wars trailer spoof over the past few days. SNL’s parody needed to be more ambitious. (I mean… they do get paid to make these kinds of things, right?)

What did any of us ever do to deserve a Weekend Update this bad? Where is the outrage? Where are the protests? Even Moynihan’s Anthony Crispino catches the stench of the worst-ever fake news comedy segment in the history of television. NICKI MINAJ AS KIM KARDASHIAN?! Call your congressman, sign a petition, plant a yard sign. Jost must go.

It should be noted that the kinda awful “Magic Bridge” sketch that finds a teenage couple in an enchanted forest where they are accosted by James Franco’s bisexual troll, was actually kind OF awesome because Cecily Strong’s life-addled chatterbox “Kathy Ann” is a revelation. Strong has steadily become this cast’s most versatile and dependable player. Even when the writing lacks, her character work is fully committed.

There is a sense that though Nicki Minaj shills a familiar brand of popette outrageousness, her offering is a little more desperate than her peers. It is unclear as to why she received so much screen time in the episode, when she has so little to offer. (To hazard a guess: strong-arm management?) But the fact that she appeared in three sketches but not the 10-1 “Porn Stars with James Franco,” is bizarre. Given that her musical performances were as lackluster as her celebrity impersonations, one gets the idea that we’ve been force-fed Ms. Minaj. And that with that revelation, there is another: SNL remains television’s great leveler. If you’re a fraud, you can be outed on Saturday Night Live.

All in all, another beautiful mess, broadcast live from Studio 8-H. Fewer hits than some weeks… but a couple of bright spots. If they would just do something drastic with the leaden Weekend Update, there might be cause to hope that SNL40 is headed in the right direction.

SNL next week (12/13/14): Martin Freeman with CharliXCX.

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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