'Saturday Night Live' Recap - Lena Dunham & The National

By Noah Golden,

The last few episodes of Girls have been fantastic – perfectly formed televised short stories that perfectly capture a segment of my generation. But we’re not here to talk about Girls, although its star and creator Lena Dunham is this week’s Saturday Night Live host. Since most of Dunham’s work (from Girls to Tiny Furniture) tells a similar narrative with similar characters, I’m excited to see if SNL uses her mostly in that vein or if they let Dunham play a variety of characters.

Unlike always, due to extenuating circumstances (and by “extenuating circumstances” I mean an Avett Brothers concert in Boston), I was unable to recap SNL in my usual way. So excuse my tardiness in this recap. I also watched a bit of this SNL episode before I went to bed, so some of the earlier sketches I’ve seen twice before this writing. But like always, 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.

President Obama Cold Open: * * * ½
Let’s just call this early. Liam Neeson (who “hates it when things are taken”) saves this sketch from being another genial Obama cold open. It’s not a great opening sketch or anywhere near insightful political comedy but, purely on Neeson’s back, it’ll be a rare cold open that people will actually want to talk about. How can one man make everything he says sound so badass?

Opening Monologue: * * *
Lena Dunham is excited (and a bit nervous) to be in 8H but decides to go with the old trick of imagining the audience naked…or “at least [imagining] they haven’t seen you naked.” I guess because of all the nudity on Girls, people want to talk to Dunham about their sex lives. So Bayer, Bryant (my personal favorite), Moynihan and her “Grandma Dot” (Strong) are all on deck to do the same. It’s an OK premise for a monologue, even if I’m not sure the connection between frequent nudity and woman-on-the-street sex advice is as solid as the writers think it is (I wonder if Daenerys Targaryen/Emilia Clarke gets asked sex/dragon questions all day too). Fine but forgettable.

Ooh Child: * * * * ½
Although the past year has been so-so for SNL, their short films (can we call them digital shorts in the post-Lonely Island era?) have been on fire. Ooh Child is another comedic gem of a short, a perfectly realized three-minute-long narrative. It’s a simple premise – four friends sing along to a Five Stairsteps tune in the car, but the GPS always cuts in when Dunham’s character starts to sing – but builds fantastically with each new verse. And in the last few seconds, Ooh Child takes a 180 turn into weirdly dark and hilarious territory that put the perfect cap on the short.

Scandal: * * * *
I don’t watch Scandal so I can’t say I fully “get” this sketch. But, despite that, I still found it quite entertaining and a really lovingly produced parody of a huge cultural phenomenon. I’ve heard Dunham is a big Scandal fan and you can really tell she had a hand in this sketch from the random asides about her last boyfriend’s upper lip band-aid to the genuine glee and bewilderment at being in Olivia Pope’s blistering fast entourage. If you are a Scandal fan, comment below with if you think this sketch hit the nail on the head or not.

What’s Poppin’: * * * ½
I grew up as a homeschooler in the ‘90s and actually knew people that dressed like the members of That’s A Rap, a very white and very bad rap group appearing on the MTV2 show What’s Poppin’. I wanted to like this sketch, and a lot of the specifics worked from the aforementioned costumes to Bryant’s character’s displeasure of her flute amp being unplugged to Mike O’Brien’s rap name being Tim, but the whole thing never really came together. With another re-write, this could have been something special but it never got there.

Biblical Movie: * * * * ½
SNL had to address Girls in Dunham’s episode and this was a pretty great way of going about it. In the wake of Noah and other recent biblical epic, Dunham is starring in a fake movie trailer for Girl, an Adam and Eve story. Although I think they could have pushed it further, Girl let the SNL writers take aim at some familiar Girls territory (the nudity! The quasi-feminism! The apple shaming!) in a fun, original way. Besides, how can you not love Killam’s Adam impression?

What Are You Even Doing?: * * ½
If you mix Girlfriends Talk Show and Jimmy Fallon’s Eww sketches you’d get What Are You Even Doing?, a talk show hosted by two middle schoolers who are just hours into puberty. This week’s guests were a hot soccer player and John Hamm, yes that John Hamm, who looks just as bewildered at his cameo as I was. Hamm is great on SNL and should really be tapped to host again soon, but his cameo did really nothing to bump up this bland, underwhelming sketch.

Weekend Update: * * * ½
The best part of Weekend Update? Killam’s pitch-perfect, rambling Matthew McConaughey. The worst part of Weekend Update? The return of Bayer/Armison’s Best Friends From Growing Up characters. Bayer/Armison are very talented and funny people but these characters have fallen flat every single time they’ve done them. This was no exception. Besides, why bring back Armison with so many newer cast members? Oh, and the Update jokes were quite solid, despite the fact that Jost still feels like Meyers’ understudy.

Jewelry Party: * *
There was at least one solid sketch idea buried deep inside Jewelry Party…maybe two. Strong’s Marisol has comic potential, as does a sketch skewering men’s right activists. But beyond the concept, it seemed the writers didn’t know what to do with this material and instead settled on a funny accent for Strong and a weird tangent regarding her break-up with the nebbishy men’s rights activist. Perhaps in different hands (and with a different person playing the activist) it could have worked, but the way it aired on SNL was a five idea pile-up of a sketch.

Pimpin’, Pimpin’, Pimpin’ with Katt Williams: * *
Like the last sketch, there was funny material hiding inside this Oscar-themed skit. But the whole thing was too long and too overcrowded to work. Bits with Jared Leto, Liza Minelli and Harrison Ford just didn’t work, as they weren’t given enough time to form their own comedic persona, unlike the McConaughey bit earlier. It was fun to see Dunham play someone totally different than her normal persona (even if her Liza impression was less than great), but very little actually works here or is funnier than the thousands of Oscar tweets I’ve seen.

Will Smith Concert: * ½
Three office bros make plans to see Will Smith in concert. That’s about it. I generally like the freeform shorts this group has produced (Blockbuster and Beer Pong were highlights) but this one was pretty dull and pointless.

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Best Sketch: Ooh Child.

Worst Sketch: Probably the Will Smith short.

Musical Guest: The National
I had never heard of The National before this episode and I was pleasantly surprised. Their first, “Graceless,” had a fun distorted, driving guitar riff and totally unintelligible lyrics. Their second, “I Need My Girl,” had a spacy sound, a sparse drumbeat and slightly less unintelligible lyrics. But The National has a unique, funky sound that was both cool and intriguing. Besides, how can you not like a band fronted by a guy who looks like that jaded creative writing professor we all had in college who was bitter his book of poetry never hit the big time.

Overall Thoughts:
While last week’s episode with Jim Parsons was mostly a dud, this one had many more hits than misses. I doubt it’ll make any lists for the best episodes of the season, but Dunham did an admirable job as host and the writers delivered some solid material.

Next Week: Louis CK will make his second SNL appearance as host on March 29.

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