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Saturday Night Live Season 43, Episode 8: James Franco

How’s the Cold Open?

Oh my god…what’s this? A Cold Open that doesn’t feature Baldwin’s or even any political figure parodies? It’s political, yes, that’s what this slot pretty much is. But I want to give it points just for ACTUALLY being something different.

Plus the fact that it’s a pretty solid comedic concept. Kids saying things beyond their years is always kinda funny, and it is funny to think about how children are processing this news cycle. This is pretty much a “Kenan Reacts” sketch and definitely a rough few moments (live performances with kids are always a difficult prospect) come along with that, but I’m honestly just happy they tried something new.

Who’s Hosting?

James Franco is one of those guys who’s just so utilitarian and eager that of course he’s a returning and good SNL host. He’s absolutely committed to everything here that it kind of gets you over how amused with himself he always is. There’s an endearingness to his breaking that’s more along the lines of Gosling than Fallon.

What Sketches Are Worth Watching?

“Spelling Bee”

People working out their dark secrets through mundane shit is extremely my comedic jam. James Franco gives a great performance as a tightly, wound ball of neuroses unveiling for all the world to see at a spelling bee. Just kudos all around on this one, even if Franco could stand to keep it together a little more at the end and if the writing could have used a little more variation in structure.

“Za”

Like the last, another bit that pretty much rests on James Franco’s commitment to the bits this evening, going all in on that Za/Sa distinction. Thompson’s judge keeps it going well and Gardner is exactly the straight woman this sketch needed. But Franco’s the star here, a perfectly absurd twister.

“Christmas Charity”

A crib on an Arrested Development joke, sure. But “Christmas Charity” is just well-made enough and changes its joke at just the right time to sell exactly what it needs to. Cecily Strong is doing particularly great work here, a great Christmas sketch.

“Scrudge”

I appreciate Beck and Kyle getting their pre-filmed bits earlier and earlier in the show. A way better Christmas Carol riff than last week, Scrooge as that asshole who always happens to be around a group of friends. Bennett is doing phenomenal work here and those great and specific bits of assholery work so well.

What Didn’t Work?

“Sexual Harassment Charlie”

Woof, this is just a total whiff of a sketch. It’s hard to find what the point is here, honestly. Half the possibilities are offensive, the other half are bland and boring. Thompson and Franco are working their asses off trying to sell it, especially as Charlie gets more and more disturbing with what he does. But it’s an overlong sketch that never feels like it has the right idea about it, just confusing morass.

“Reunion”

In case you’re wondering what the plan for Heidi Gardner is, this should fill you in. This is the exact kind of sketch that Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon started out making their bones on, these weird specific character pieces. While this one doesn’t quite work, the rhythms are a little off and there’s no real jokes, Gardner’s carving her place out early.

“Gift Wrap Counter”

A gross-out sketch is always fun for SNL, but Franco is not the actor for it. He’s too goofy and too amused by what’s going on to anchor the chaos in the middle of a sketch like this. Being game is good, but you need more than that for a gory sketch to sell.

“James Franco Audience Question Monologue”

His celebrity friends dropping in had to be expected, but there’s more cameos than laughs in this one. Also, good on you, Jonah Hill.

Weekend Update!

Nothing too hard-hitting this week honestly. Che and Jost are as good as usual, but the material felt a little slacker than one might have expected. The handling of Franken didn’t quite sit right, seeming like it was playing as a “why do the Democrats have to be the good guys?” without really peeling and working with that like they needed to. No great zingers either. Just an energetic if poorly written week, like the rest of the show.

Two correspondents this week. Cathy Anne is a returning delight, the kind of character who seems to always feel just a little fresh no matter what they do with her. Great work from Strong here, the point on Doug Jones actually playing fairly salient. The other is Che’s riff on “White Like Me.” While I’m not entirely sure this sketch finds and makes its point, as a piece of comedic absurdity, it kind of works. Che’s ability to sell his gruff and excessively masculine self as a white lady is a great conceit and Che really goes hard with it. I just wish it felt more pointed or focused. Still, kudos on Weekend Update for taking the extra shot.

Did You Actually Watch The Musical Guest?

I did! It was cool! I should listen to SZA!

MVPs!

I’m gonna give this to Kenan tonight. It’s an absolute pleasure when he really goes for it and he seems to be going really big this season. Trying to end on a good note?

Cecily Strong – 2
Kenan Thompson – 2
Kate McKinnon – 1
Aidy Bryant – 1
Heidi Gardner –
1
Chris Redd – 1

Final Thoughts!

An uneven week mostly bolstered by Franco’s charisma and energy. A lot of sketches that seem to muddle their way to the point, but plenty of energy and goofiness in the stuff that does work.

Season Rankings (Shamelessly stolen from SNL Scorecard)

  1. Chance the Rapper
  2. Tiffany Haddish
  3. Saoirse Ronan
  4. Kumail Nanjiani
  5. Gal Gadot
  6. James Franco
  7. Ryan Gosling
  8. Larry David
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