Saturday Night Live Season 42, Episode 16: Scarlett Johansson soars through a night of big hits and numerous misses

As much as these articles tend to be fairly positive celebrations of the show, I want to start by pointing you towards a far more adept writer and his musing on the recent exhaustion setting with Jesse David Fox’s article “SNL Has Never Been More Popular and Less Fun.” I bring that up because…

How’s the Cold Open?

I couldn’t help but think about that article while I was watching this sketch. Once incisive and cutting, it feels like SNL and Baldwin have grown exhausted doing this impression (a notion that Baldwin himself confirmed on EXTRA) and that the pressure and schedule is really starting to show through in Baldwin’s work and in the writing of the sketches around him.

A few solid jokes (“Does Trump have businesses on Zorblatt 9?”) and a decent sketch idea (I can’t lie that I think about this concept all the time) doesn’t get around how deflated this whole thing feels. Baldwin goes through the motions he’s expected to, the jokes go through the same stuff they’ve played to a hundred times without anything necessarily new or interesting, and it feels like this is another case of a sketch they kind of pulled together last minute.

And here’s the thing. It’s okay for SNL to not be the most politically incisive thing on TV. It never really has been, always more interested in the soft and easy target because it’s funny. Incisive and cutting satire is difficult and hard, and maybe SNL was never designed to be the vanguard of #TheResistance. Yes, SNL uniquely gets to Trump but of course it does. It’s a popular media and New York institution, a representative of all the things that the uncouth and unpopular-until-he-espoused-white-nationalism Donald Trump was always kept out of. He has the power to be pissed off at it now and have people pissed off with him, why wouldn’t he go after it?

All this is to say that yeah, this is a pretty lame sketch, and maybe realizing that they’re getting to this point could be the best sign for SNL to back off and get back to incubating its talent, get back to having fun. The first half of this season was its best in a long time because there was an energy, an urgency. This half, the pressure creates smashed coal, not diamonds.

Who’s Hosting?

Scarlett Johansson officially joins the Five-Timers Club tonight, so let’s all welcome her to that illustrious club. She is the fourth female member of the Five-Timers Club and absolutely a welcome addition.

Johansson is interesting as an SNL host because she’s perhaps one of the least vain of any host. She’s willing to every time blend in with the cast, playing as part of the ensemble without ever demanding attention to herself. She’s funny and she absolutely can carry a sketch, but she’s just as good in the background. Plus, her and Kate McKinnon are about as funny as it gets together.

What Sketches Are Worth Watching?

“A Sketch for the Women”

The most underutilized weapon of SNL is Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney together. They’re an energy the show has never really had, outside of maybe some of the weirdest moments of The Lonely Island, in being that absolutely weird and overly sincere and almost off-putting sort of awkward, more anti-comedy than traditional sketch work. This is a particularly brilliant application, using that total awkward sincerity to lead into a smart joke about allyship, and speaking for women by speaking over them. Kudos to the ladies of SNL for selling this all through wordless reaction and for that brilliant step of having them speak in unison. This is just extremely well put-together and further evidence for more weird Good Neighbor anti-humor.

“Zoo Pornographer”

Okay, so yeah, this sketch is one joke, I can’t lie about that. But that one joke made me laugh basically the whole time and the button on this one works so well (www.dannybangsanimals.com) that I gotta hand this one a crown for being a halfway decent rake joke that came around to being funny instead of repetitive.

“Translator”

There’s an analysis of this sketch that speaks to the liberal tendency to look at the (still horrible) beliefs of fervent Trump voters and give no attempt to understand and to also let it override any other qualities about a person. Then we have an attempt to bridge communication gaps and they’re shut down. I don’t know if that’s what’s going on, but that’s what’s here.

However, I just think it’s funny when dogs say people things and I’m impressed at Bennett’s improv to keep the sketch moving. So, this one works for me.

“Complicit”

This sketch works almost entirely on the fact that Complicit really does sound like a perfume name. Also that it makes a pretty good point. Ivanka’s rise was almost entirely facilitated by her father and her willingness to ignore the uglier parts of her father’s persona and plant stories that her and Kushner are steering him away from them. Short and blunt, where SNL‘s political commentary really actually works.

“Olive Garden”

Okay, this sketch probably goes on 3 minutes too long and is possibly a product placement sketch, but the line

“I wouldn’t laugh at a little person.”

“But an Olive Garden customer would.”

is pretty much all I need to say this sketch works.

What Didn’t Work?

“Fire Island”

Fun performances from all involved, but maybe too nonspecific a parody without any real direction to make any of its jokes land. It just feels like it comes out around fine, a mood piece that doesn’t find the mood.

“Shud the Mermaid”

This is more of a Kristen Wiig sketch than a McKinnon (in fact, it kinda seems like her version of Dooneese), so maybe that’s why the return of Shud doesn’t quite work for me. It’s a lot of makeup and attempts at details that never really go anywhere. Shud maybe shouldn’t be a recurring character dream to pin things on.

“Shanice Goodwin Ninja-Rivals”

Another returning sketch that doesn’t quite find its place. I get the parody, but it feels too weird and sluggish for what it needs to work. Perhaps it’s a victim of the fact that Jones seriously injured herself the last time she did this sketch? Whatever it is, it ends up a lot of meandering and weirdly blown line readings in search of something more.

“Funeral Service”

The “Funeral crashing” sketch is a weirdly common one for SNL and this will not join the pantheon of all-time greats (which, if you’re curious, includes Ben Affleck’s wherein he played a horrible human being who faked his own death and tried to give his own eulogy). This one just seems like they never actually found what the joke was. The old guy made sexually explicit EDM and his friends came along and they? I don’t think they ever necessarily got shocking or weird enough to work.

“Scarlett Johansson 5th Monologue”

I feel bad for the Five-Timers who don’t get a lot of fanfare. How are you to compare to Timberlake or Hanks taking us behind the scenes to the FiveTimers Club?

Weekend Update!

Jost and Che bring another mid-level performance tonight, a smooth and confident delivery with a few barbs that work and a few that are funny but don’t stick. Jost’s jab at defunding Planned Parenthood (“You won’t be able to keep your insurance, but you’ll be able to keep something else”) is solid, and Che actually makes a good point about Trump refusing to associate his name with the Republicare Health Plan (Che jokes that he once put his name on a Ponzi scheme, showing the Trump University logo on the chyron). But yeah, nothing necessarily special this week.

Two correspondents this week. The first was a joint appearance by Moffatt as Al Franken and McKinnon as Jeff Sessions. I still don’t really like McKinnon’s Sessions, it feels like the wrong target, it turns his evil into this weird hick thing. He’s racist because he’s evil, not because he’s a bumpkin, It’s scary to look at no doubt, but it just feels wrong (as an Alabamian). The Franken is fine (though isn’t about time for Franken to appear?) and it’s a half-decent two man duo. But if Sessions is wrong, it’s all wrong.

Davidson’s return is much appreciated, and I like First Impressions as a political Hollywood Minute. This makes me realize how much Davidson reminds me of a far more likable David Spade. Yeah, good to have him back.

Did You Actually Watch The Musical Guest?

I did!

I’m a big fan of “Green Light” (also, Lorde in general, if I’m not gonna lie to you all) and seeing Lorde do it live here gives the song a very different energy. It seems like Lorde is a darker performer live, hits a very different emotional place than the studio versions. The other song is great too, let’s bring on the new album shall we? And she’s suitably dramatic, a great watch for a live show.  Welcome back Lorde.

MVPs!

So, Mikey Day is absolutely getting set up as the next anchor cast member right? He has a lot of lead parts tonight, he’s fairly versatile, and he can write. Day proves that he’s earned that responsibility tonight, playing a number of great parts and particularly underplaying to sell the Animal Pornographer sketch.

Season so far:

Beck Bennett – 3
Kate McKinnon – 2
Cecily Strong – 2
Mikey Day – 2
Vanessa Bayer – 1
Jost and Che – 1
Leslie Jones – 1
Bobby Moynihan – 1
Kenan Thompson – 1
Melissa Villaseñor – 1
Ensemble – 1

Final Thoughts!

Overall, the hits were big and the misses were numerous, but small enough to not bring the whole thing down. I liked the vibe of the episode and I like Johansson being back. SNL is dying to take the burden of #TheResistance off of itself, and it’s starting to show more than ever, but still reasonably amusing.

Season Rankings (Shamelessly stolen from SNL Scorecard)

  1. Dave Chappelle
  2. Tom Hanks
  3. Kristen Stewart
  4. Lin-Manuel Miranda
  5. Emma Stone
  6. Aziz Ansari
  7. Scarlett Johansson
  8. Alec Baldwin
  9. Kristen Wiig
  10. Margot Robbie
  11. Casey Affleck
  12. Benedict Cumberbatch
  13. John Cena
  14. Felicity Jones
  15. Octavia Spencer
  16. Emily Blunt

Next Time: Join us again on April 8th for Louis C.K.!

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