Hello old friends! It’s been a long time since the last episode. While the Jimmy Fallon episode had some highlights (Twin Bed is may be the best thing I’ve seen so far this year – you heard me right, ‘Lil Baby Aidy!) it was at the end of a semester with some very high highs and some very low lows. Since the last episode, Saturday Night Live also hired a new cast member, Sasheer Zamata, and two new writers. I don’t want to go into detail here about why they were hired (The Kerry Washington episode and recap will give you a clue), but suffices to say the new hires were hired for…questionable reasons. That’s not to say Zamata isn’t talented or that she won’t fit in with the cast, nor is it her fault she’s in the center of a race scandal, but it’ll be interesting to see how she’s used on the show.
Like always, I’ll be writing the recaps “live,” meaning I’ll watch the sketch and immediately write a short blurb reviewing and recapping it. For each segment, I’ll rate it on a scale of 0-5 stars. At the end of the piece, I’ll share some quick overall thoughts and the best/worst sketch of the night.
Piers Morgan Live: * * ½
I usually dislike the Piers Morgan sketches, both because Killam’s impression is overdone and annoying and because it seems like a lazy way for the writers to cover whatever big story is in the news without having to come up with a fully functioning sketch. This week it’s Chris Christie, Alex Rodriguez and Justin Bieber who appear to talk about their respective scandals. Moynihan’s Christie is ho-hum, which is sad ‘cause it should be a comic highlight in Moynihan’s gifted hands. Then there’s A-Rod, played in an unusual pre-monologue spot by Drake, who blames his steroid use on autocorrect. The best part of the cold open for sure was Justin Bieber, played hilariously by McKinnon (the literal personification of the Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber joke), who physicality stole the show. But still, not a stellar way start 2014.
Opening Monologue: * * * * ½
Appearing confident and excited in a letterman jacket, Drake jokes about his hometown of Toronto (“Where the rappers are polite and the mayor smokes crack”), his Degrassi past and coining the phrase “Yolo.” But the monologue really got going when we cut to a “flashback” of Drake’s Bar Mitzvah, complicated by his Jewish mother and black father. From then on, everything was pretty darn hilarious from Bayer as his mother (essentially doing her Jacob character dressed as a middle-aged woman) to a well-written, truly funny rap about his joint heritages. Oh and we get to meet Zamata, who makes an unassuming cameo as his aunt. Who’d have thunk “Mazel Tov” would be her first phrase uttered on SNL? It was a pretty unusual monologue, but the risk played off. It was, by far, the best monologue all season.
BET Hip Hop Classics: * * ½
Playing off of Drake’s background as Jimmy Brooks, this sketch imagines that other hip-hop stars starred in ‘90s TV shows. So yeah, it’s basically another impression-o-rama sketch, hip-hop style. Killam’s Eminem always kills and the bit with 2Chainz was funny, but on the whole this sketch just ran too long, felt awkwardly paced and underwhelming when it comes to laughs. That being said, I was also too young to watch shows like Blossom and Mr. Wizard, so perhaps that’s clouding my judgment here.
Nancy Grace: * *
It’s nice to see Wells take the lead in a sketch and her Nancy Grace shows promise. Too bad it was stuffed inside a boring and lazy sketch about Colorado’s marijuana laws. McKinnon appears as a bakery owner, as does Drake as Katt Williams (doing a very serviceable impression, I might add) but nothing about the sketch feels original or really entertaining. Seriously, if you can’t come up with a handful of good pot jokes, what kind of comedy writer are you?
Resolution Revolution: * * * * ½
Right on the heels of Twin Bed we get another great SNL music video. This time, Killam and Pharaoh are joined by Drake and Zamata in a hip-hop ditty about new years resolutions. I guess the joke gets old fast (we make resolutions and then break them!) but this song manipulated its theme well, had great energy and combined the strong writing of Twin Bed with a loopy, Lonely Island-esque aesthetic. By the time they got to LARPing and blow-up-doll-ing, I was hooked.
Sleepover: * * * *
You gotta give Bryant props. To me she’s the underappreciated dark horse of SNL, able to give any sketch a shot in the arm. Here she plays an over-sexed teen crushing on her friend’s dad (played by Drake as a mustachioed nerd). The conceit of the sketch was simple, and a bit cringe-worthy at times, but Bryant’s total commitment makes it all work.
Weekend Update: * * * ½
Not surprisingly Weekend Update decided to take a jab at recent Golden Globe winner Jacqueline Bisset. Bayer’s version of Bisset involved her slowly meandering around SNL’s mezzanine seating and fondling random audiences (who, for the record, seem just seemed thrilled to be on camera). It was funnier the first time (they cut to her three times during the segment), but, hey, it made me laugh. Other than that, this Weekend Update was fairly bland (although I just adored that Charles E. Cheese over-the-shoulder). Even Pedrad’s usually funny Arianna Huffington didn’t add much to the proceeding.
Indiana Rahat: *
Pedrad has always loved playing awkward teens/children. Usually they land and are funny. This one failed on just about every level. Drake does a good job with such poor material and tries his best to bring energy to this dead sketch but it ultimately fails. At one point Drake’s character asks, “I wonder what’s going on in Rahat’s head?” I was thinking the same thing about the folks that wrote this sketch. It’s only redeeming quality is that the set made me think about Legends Of The Hidden Temple. Man, that was a great show.
Miss Meadows: * *
When Bayer’s Miss Meadows first appeared on the Miley Cyrus episode I wrote that, “I really [didn’t] know what to make of [it]. Was Bayer’s overzealous poetry teacher funny or just loud and annoying?” I think now I can answer that question: Loud and annoying. It wasn’t quite as bad as Rahat, but Miss Meadows felt under-baked and pretty pointless. It is interesting to note that Zamata makes an appearance in this sketch too. I think she’s had more onscreen time in her debut episode than Wells has had all season.
Morning Miami: * * * * ½
Morning Miami was the highlight of that aforementioned Miley Cyrus episode and I’m glad to see it back. I was interested to see how it would play out given we already know the skit’s rhythm and pay-off (Bitch Fantastic!), but the writers somehow managed to keep it fresh despite it following the same pattern as before. It featured great energy, some wild headlines (“One fish, two fish, red fish, Jew fish. Orthodox fisherman Shmuley Majors wins us over with his kosher tilapia” being my favorite) and didn’t go on too long. I might get sick of it later, but right now I’d be happy to watch BF whenever SNL feels like trotting him out.
I Know: * * ½
I generally enjoy Mooney and Bennett’s short films. Blockbuster was a highlight of the season so far. This one didn’t quite work. The concept was too thin and the sketch seemed to end before it began. I hope it’s a misstep in their SNL cannon and not a sign that their quality is slipping.
Best Sketch: There was a lot of good ones to choose between tonight. For me it’s a tie between Morning Miami and Drake’s Bar Mitzvah rap.
Worst Sketch: That thing with Rahat.
Musical Guest: Drake
Drake “Started From The Bottom” segued into “Trophies” and then finishes up with “Hold On “We’re Going Home,” sung with guest duet partner Jhené Aiko. First he appears solo in a red spotlight. It turns to blue for the duet. Both songs were performed quite well, with the simple blocking allowing us to really engage with the performer.
Overall Thoughts: Drake was an excellent host, about as good as you can get. The material, too, was pretty strong and, except for a few weak spots, provided very, very funny. I’d be happy to see him back anytime. I was also glad to see they didn’t go the Kerry Washington meta humor way of introducing Zamata, who appeared frequently, but always as a member of the ensemble.
Next Week: Jonah Hill will be making his third outing as SNL host next week with musical guest Bastille. I just hope Hill brings back Adam Grossman. That kid cracks me up.