Saturday Night Live – Elizabeth Banks Review

©2015/Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC
©2015/Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC /

Elizabeth Banks is a wonderful example of a Saturday Night Live host who really goes for it; someone who dives into the role and wins the audience by sheer energy. Even if the material isn’t the funniest, the audience can’t help but get caught up in the effort that’s being put forth.

And what a contrast this week’s SNL is compared to last week’s “Donald Trump Hour.” It was clear from the monologue that Donald Trump wasn’t going to put forth much effort. He appeared in a total of five sketched, two of which were previously recorded, and played himself in three of them. What did Lorne Michaels & Company expect to get out of Trump? By the time 1:00 a.m. rolled around, it was very clear that the stunt was a cheap ratings ploy and the comedy of the episode suffered because of it.

But this post isn’t about Donald Trump. Elizabeth Banks served as the anti-Trump during her tenure. From the opening monologue to a digital short in which she plays an Uber passenger, Banks brought it. Unfortunately, the writing in many of the sketches wasn’t stellar, but that’s been par for the course during this season.

Banks’ monologue put a nice spin on the completely overdone musical number that has become completely predictable for any Hollywood host. Banks built off of the idea that she had been bitten by the directing bug since directing Pitch Perfect 2. During her song and dance, which featured a green screen behind a treadmill, professional dancers and SNL cast members eventually taking the stage, Banks barked out director’s cues at the show’s booth. It was a bit that worked thanks to Banks belting out musical notes in between yelling out orders.

SNL has been getting back into the groove for fake commercials. Previously, their pre-recorded satire on gun supports was pretty terrific. Saturday’s, “Aaron’s List” was as comical as it was edgy. The commercial for Aaron’s List was a play on the popular website Angie’s List, but Aaron’s List allows users to hire odd job helpers for 30% lower rates than competitors. The catch: they are all low-level sex offenders. The entire male cast was able to nail friendly personas with a dash of creepiness.

The first live sketch worked in a premise that has been almost completely run into the ground. The sketch was “Black Jeopardy.” It involved contestants played by Sasheer Zamata, Jay Pharoah and Elizabeth Banks who played an aloof white woman named Alison. The sketch went in the obvious direction of Zamata and Pharoah’s characters knowing the lingo from city life and Banks’ character being oblivious. Banks played the confident-yet-ill-equipped role to a T, but the premise was so familiar that the sketch wasn’t able to provide many laughs. Although the punchline at the end which had Allison stealing the win by exclaiming, “It’s like no matter what I do, I can’t win” was a great landing spot.

The females of SNL got another opportunity to use a song and dance number for comedy purposes. This time it was a spot-on spoof on ‘90s and ‘00s boy bands. The women wore all white ‘90s outfits while crooning about the first men in entertainment that got them sexually aroused. Cecily Strong sang about Carson Daly, Elizabeth Banks claimed Mr. Sheffield from The Nanny and Vanessa Bayer shocked the rest of the group with the reveal that she was sexually attracted to the Menendez brothers. The Menendez brothers were convicted of killing their parents in 1990. It was a nice touch that Kate McKinnon was able to play herself in the bit. According to the song, Taylor Hanson’s feminine appearance helped her realize that she was, as she puts it, “gay as hell.” The direction and outfits helped sell the premise, similarly to Samberg and Timberlake as the “Dick in a Box” guys. From the heavy eye makeup to the butterfly clips, the sketch was totally ‘90s.

©2015/Dana Edelson/NBC
©2015/Dana Edelson/NBC /

The high school play that is written and directed by the students has been a recurring sketch as of late, and it was back in this week’s episode. The part-slam-poetry-part-pseudo-philosophical play was also ridiculous as ever, but the sketch has evolved thanks to more audience participation from Kenan, Leslie Jones and Vanessa Bayer. Playing off of the idea that high school kids think they know everything added with the diva-ish nature of high school productions is always a slam dunk in my book. This sketch always brings the laughs.

Weekend Update continues to progress for the better. The two are starting to play off of each other well, and are working in some edginess to their material. Their material is starting to be the highlight of the segment, but their guest characters are still inconsistent. Pete Davidson came back to play himself and try out some standup. Davidson is always strong when he appears on Update, and Saturday was no different. Kyle Mooney playing a hackish New York comic still needs some work. The payoff was that he didn’t realize his girlfriend was in highschool; a premise that didn’t seem to jibe with the audience. Much of his screentime was met with silence. Fortunately, McKinon’s Olya Povlatsky was able to come in and steal the show as usual.

Jay Pharoah was able to flex a new impression in the Young Ben Carson sketch: a look at the crazy past that Carson claims he went through. Pharoah’s Carson is spot on. Here’s hoping Ben Carson makes it far in the election just so we can see Pharoah do more with the character who is ripe for parody.

Former cast member and current writer Mike O’Brien was able to get one of his pre-recorded digital sketches make the show. I’m not sure I understood the basic premise behind “Uber for Jen.” O’Brien plays a driver, but basically ignores the passenger’s directions and destinations. Jen, played by Banks, is along for the ride while O’Brien goes about his day. Eventually she just goes along with it and enjoys the ride. Is the idea that Uber drivers don’t really care about their passengers? Is it silly for the sake of being silly? The performances were solid, but the writing wasn’t there. That’s basically the current generation of SNL in a nutshell.

The final sketch of the night consisted of the women of SNL playing valley girl roles on a day date. The slang word of choice was to call typically cheap behavior “ghetto” until Banks’ character told the group about things in her life that could absolutely be seen in a ghetto. Perfectly acceptable for a 10-to-one sketch.

It’s good to see SNL get back on track after a putrid showing from the host and writing staff during the Trump episode. This puts them in a great position to kill it with Matthew McConaughey next week.  
Last Night On Grade: B

©2015/Dana Edelson/NBC
©2015/Dana Edelson/NBC /

©2015/Dana Edelson/NBC

Best Moments of the night:

Cecily Strong doing a tribute to France in the cold open was a pitch-perfect moment of respect and support. Kudos to the SNL crew for that.

Bayer’s portion of “I First Got Horny to You”

The high school play sketch: “But why would they do that scene when they’re all white? It just sounded like bragging.”

“This week Jeb Bush said he would go back in time and kill Adolf Hitler as a baby. A move that would’ve left Germany in the weak bumbling hands of Adolf’s brother Jeb Hitler.”