Saturday Night Live Season 42, Episode 11: Felicity Jones tries to ease us back in from the holiday

Hello 2017!

Well, we made it. The world didn’t end before the year turned over and SNL is back. So let’s just take a big sip of coffee and see what they had to address coming back from the break.

How’s the Cold Open?

Yeah, so there’s pretty much nothing else this could have been.

This Cold Open is stuck between a rock and a hard place, in a way. From a satire perspective, you have a wide range of stuff that needs to be ripped into. Trump’s blatant disregard of the press and his bizarre pageantry to make it seems like he’s not running headlong into an unpopular presidency in a web of ethical nightmares. From a comedy perspective, you have a President-elect who just got accused of paying women to pee on each other. So, you know, where do you go?

The solution ends up basically just letting the comedy spray everywhere and letting Baldwin’s Trump try to keep it under control. Baldwin has turned his Trump into an anchor of political comedy on SNL, a fairly committed performance that sells everything to the best of its ability. It largely works here, even if it delves pretty quickly into the piss jokes and never really leaves. But hey, mocking as the satirical approach has proven to be more effective so far, so why do not do all you can with it? I get a few good chuckles out of it and any excuse for Beck Bennett’s Putin to show up is basically all you need to justify a Cold Open.

Who’s Hosting?

Well, she gave it good ol’ fashioned try, and that’s what matters.

Felicity Jones is a talented actress, but talent doesn’t necessarily always translate to live comedy skill, especially in something as highwire and with as little prep as SNL. She seemed to spend most of the show racked with nerves, eyes locked dead-on with the cue cards. She wasn’t a trainwreck by any means, but definitely much shakier and much less capable than expected. She stumbled over a lot of the material, it was on the cast to save it.

What Sketches Are Worth Watching?

“Fandango Interview”

I’m always gonna have a soft spot for the sketches that hit close to home, and this is definitely one that does. Since Election Day, it seems like every piece of art is created as “resistance” and is laden with deep political messaging. This is a great sketch taking that to task, that there are people whose ambitions as a political thinker definitely overreach the work they make (Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney excel at overambitious morons, which is why this is their sketch). Taking the idea to the extreme is just wonderful, and the deadly serious gravity they all give it is just icing. Sometimes entertainment is just entertainment, don’t kid yourself that you’re always important.

As I throw stones from this glass house.

“Shondra and Malik”

Just a fun character texture piece, the kind SNL has really found itself indulging a lot lately, I just liked this one. Really strong performances out of Jones and Thompson, and the rhythms of this sketch go pretty nicely. It may build to an anticlimax, but that feels weirdly appropriate. Just a nice sketch.

“Hotel Retreat”

This one, three women at a hotel retreat asked to tell their favorite jokes, reminds me a lot of an old Will Forte sketch, aggressively weird and off-putting and so deeply committed to doing it. This was probably one of the better showcases for Melissa Villasenor so far, she seems to really nail this sort of character and I’d love to see them do more for her along this line.

What Didn’t Work?

“Beard Hunk”

My reason for this one being here is honestly more intellectual than comedic. I laughed, this one has that weird gross line directly to my funny bone. But they’ve done something in the area of three incarnations of this sketch with almost no deviation. Even less deviation than the normal recurring sketch. Weird thing to chastise SNL for, I know, but barring cast, this is a sketch that seems more Mad Lib than comedy writing.

“Play Donation”

Physical comedy is one of those things where your mileage hugely varies and for some reason this one just didn’t get anything out of me. It telegraphs its main joke pretty quickly and Mikey Day’s commitment under the old man makeup never really makes up for that lack of variation. It’s a big sketch with a lot going on, but it ramps up there too fast and never really finds anything interesting. Which fine, a dumb sketch can be dumb, but we’ve seen enough of these dumb sketches before that you gotta stand out.

“The Princess and The Curse”

Boy, this is a lot of money to invest in a fat joke. While the recurring theme of the night is that Beck Bennett is putting a lot into some very dumb characters, there’s just nothing once you get your first laugh. It hammers on the same joke again and again, and it’s almost distracting how much is going on to hide how underwritten this sketch is.

“Susan B. Anthony House Tour”

Probably starting to sound like a broken record, but this one telegraphs its joke pretty quickly, doesn’t find anything interesting or any variations on it, and hammers that one joke into the ground without any performances to really save it. Just a lot of blah here, where I laugh to kick things off and then it just keeps going.

“Felicity Jones Monologue”

Oof. This is probably where Jones’ hosting weaknesses shone through the most. Just a blah monologue that could have spiced up with a host that didn’t seem struck with stage fright the whole time.

Weekend Update!

Like the rest of the show, Weekend Update was shaking off the vacation this week. Jost and Che are a well-oiled machine. The effectiveness and quality of that machine is all up to you, but it’s pretty much functioning the same way every week, they have the way they’re gonna do things down. Which means it’s all up to the material, which didn’t feel quite up to snuff. There was some enjoyable enough snark at the expense of all that Donald Trump has done over the past few weeks but there seems to be some holes in how they’re covering it.

Weirdly, when they stick to the policy, they do much better. Jost and Che’s jokes about Steve Harvey meeting with Trump about HUD were great (I love Che’s comment that all of Trump’s decisions seem to start with “Yo, you know what would be hilarious?”) and the attack that a man in the real estate business should know more qualified people was insightful. But his behavior eludes them, sticking to the surface-level hilarity rather than really digging underneath.

The Update Correspondents this week didn’t much help matters. Davidson came through and did a pretty perfunctory bit about his first impressions of the Trump Cabinet and Bennett did an amusing little bit about his new songwriting career. Both getting a few mild laughs, but nothing more.

Did You Actually Watch The Musical Guest?

I did!

I gotta admit, dude actually felt like he was tearing up that 30 Rock stage. It’s rare for a performer to feel on fire on SNL, but Sturgill Simpson’s got a whole lot of energy. Should be a good announcement for him.

MVPs!

This was a Beck Bennett show, and that’s surprising me less and less. He’s more versatile than we expected and he’s showing up everywhere. He’s funny even if the sketch isn’t, and it’s starting to be a McKinnon/Strong level treat just to see him show up. He’s the best part of at least 3 sketches tonight, and that can’t be overlooked.

Season so far:

Beck Bennett – 3
Kate McKinnon – 2
Cecily Strong – 2
Jost and Che – 1
Leslie Jones – 1
Kenan Thompson – 1
Ensemble – 1

Final Thoughts!

Where Casey Affleck showed the SNL cast and crew tired, this one seemed to show them rusty. Jones’ wasn’t the most able host, but she definitely got left out to dry with a lot of weak sketches that seemed underwritten. A few bright spots keep this from being the worst (as well as the fact that nothing here is actively terrible), but this is just a very “Blah” show to get the year going.

Season Rankings (Shamelessly stolen from SNL Scorecard)

  1. Dave Chappelle
  2. Tom Hanks
  3. Lin-Manuel Miranda
  4. Emma Stone
  5. Kristen Wiig
  6. Margot Robbie
  7. Casey Affleck
  8. Benedict Cumberbatch
  9. John Cena
  10. Felicity Jones
  11. Emily Blunt

Next Week: Aziz Ansari hopefully gives the show his signature jolt of energy

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