I used to love watching Saturday Night Live during the Will Ferrell years. I would stay up until 1 am every Saturday night, despite the fact that I almost always had to go to Hebrew school the next morning. It didn’t matter. It was worth it. But casts change. Will Ferrells slowly give way to Jimmy Fallons, who in turn give way to Bill Haders. Saturday Night Live’s current season – its 39th – saw a large cast shift. Gone are the Haders and Sambergs and Sudeikises, only to be replaced by newer, whiter guys (we’ll get to that in a moment). With that last chunk of cast members I felt a real allegiance to, so went my near-constant viewing habits. I’ve only seen two episodes this season (“Tina Fey/Arcade Fire” and “Jimmy Fallon/Justin Timberlake”), but it turns out that I am not above getting sucked in by a good sketch or two.
The episode opened with a Piers Morgan sketch. Taran Killam did his now-bland Morgan impression alongside Bobby Moynihan’s Chris Christie (’cause who else would do it?), Drake’s Alex Rodriguez, and Kate McKinnon’s Justin Bieber (the theme is scandals). Drake’s A-Rod was pretty lackluster, but Mckinnon’s Bieber was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen on the show in a while. She has his mannerisms and facial expressions down perfectly. She managed to rope me in.
Drake’s monologue played on his dual Black/Jewish heritage, showing us his bar mitzvah experience. The sketch devolved to racist stereotypes pretty quickly (which doesn’t seem to surprise me, but really should), and was seemingly an excuse to have Drake do a silly rap. But this was also the introduction of new featured player Sasheer Zamata to the cast. Sasheer is seemingly a response to the blacklash at SNL’s addition of six new white actors (only one of whom was female) at the beginning of the season. Now the heat is on to see if Zamata will spend the remainder of the season filling a quota. I have no doubt she is a gifted comedian, but she didn’t get a good chance to show off in this episode, although it was quite amusing to see Kenan Thompson help introduce her after he implied that none of the black women auditioning for the show were quite ready for the big time.
Drake’s charisma really drove this episode. He saved a couple of lackluster sketches (as Katt WIlliams in the Nancy Grace sketch, and as the presenter in an Indian Jones stunt show) just by his commitment to the sketch.
Not surprisingly, the pre-taped stuff tended to be what worked the most. In Hip-Hop Classics, Kenan as Sway presented various versions of well-known television shows starring hip hop artists. The crew did a great job recreating the look of all the shows, inlcuding Felicity, Family Matters, Blossom, and more. Resolution Revolution was a music video wherein the artists broke their New Year’s resolutions almost immediately (another chance to get a rap from Drake). It is a simple premise, but it works. The final sketch was a short showcasing Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney, two of the new cast members. It is a goofy sketch with a goofy moral, but the two men are clearly having fun.
Weekend Update was the usual – about 60% good jokes and 50% amusing guests; they had a good bit riffing on Jacqueline Bisset at the Golden Globes, sold by Vanessa Bayer’s performance. As we approach Seth Meyers’ final show I keep expecting Cecily Strong to take on more of a persona in her joke delivery, but it seems she plans to continue with Meyers’ supremely dry style. I do wonder what’s going to happen when Meyers leaves: will Strong go solo, or will they bring someone else to the desk to join her? We can only speculate for now. Rest assured you’ll hear the latest from me as soon as I found out (probably the Sunday after it happens).
This is a particular successful episode from my perspective, mostly thanks to how darn excited Drake seemed to be. Of course there are complaints, and they are the same as they’ve always been. The sketch-ending buttons are weak, the veteran females aren’t getting the best material to work with, Bobby Moynihan was only in two sketches. Et cetera. We’ve all heard people bemoan these aspects of the show. It gets old, but hey! We got a black woman on the show. Maybe if the wheel squeeks loudly enough, Lorne will give it the grease (in this case the grease would be putting Bobby Moynihan in every sketch).