At what point does a Saturday Night Live fan – a fan that never misses a new episode on Saturday – stop defending the show to the many, many people who say that the sketch comedy show’s best days are behind it? How can you respond to those that say the show doesn’t pack the same punch that it once had? It becomes harder to defend with each week, and I’m admittedly reaching my limit.
The talent is there. This is an undeniably talented crew when it comes to impressions and characters, but each week they’re forced to walk out on a live stage with sub-par material. SNL has always been a hit-or-miss affair. It’s nearly impossible for the 1.5-hour show to be 100% gold, but it’s never fun to sit through the show’s entirety for one quality sketch or spoof commercial. Weekend Update is usually the show’s centerpiece, but even that has been awkward, toothless and is even recycling jokes now. Let’s hope Larry David can turn this season around when he hosts on February 6. But we’re talking about Ronda Rousey’s job on Saturday.
Rousey is more than game. She actually has comedic talent. Her timing, acting and expressions all lent themselves nicely to the style of SNL. But like so many hosts before her, she was only as good as the material she’s given.
In a nice surprise that started the episode on a hopeful note, Tina Fey returned to reprise her timeless role as Sarah Palin. With Palin being back in the news after endorsing Trump, her return made sense. Unfortunately, It didn’t have the same impact that it once did. That’s because of the writing, not because of Fey’s performance. It’s not funny to just stand there and regurgitate Sarah Palin’s lines verbatim. We saw the speech. We know it’s funny. Something new, or something exaggerated has to be written for her. Will Ferrell didn’t appear in countless cold opens and recite lines said by George W. Bush. He made his own character with his own outlandish things to say that you could imagine Dubya saying. That’s what made it great. Tonight’s cold open needed some more of that magic.
Rousey’s monologue was one of the biggest surprises of the night. After congratulating Holly Holme’s win, Rousey treated the monologue like a fight, taking breaks to sit in her corner and discuss how the show is going with her trainer played by Kenan Thompson. Thompson crushed as a stereotypical trainer from a boxing movie. Rousey went out there and threw a joke that bombed, only to be hyped by Kenan who told her to break out McKinnon impression of Bieber. McKinnon made it happen.
In the first official sketch of the night, SNL successfully skewered the Oscars’ diversity issues. The sketch was set up at an award show called the Screen Guild Awards. The nominees were announced as white actors that could only be considered as extras are juxtaposed against powerful performances by african american actors and actresses. Bobby Moynihan’s character being nominated as “White Man with Camera” was perfect.
After a strong first sketch, it was all downhill from there. And I mean way downhill. The next sketch was a pre-recorded bit called Love Struck. The payoff was as telegraphed as on of Rousey’s punches in her last fight. Set up like a high school movie, the popular girls play a prank on the new girl, played by Rousey, by having the popular guy in school fake a date only to pull the rug out from under her. The punchline: Rousey beats up the popular girls. How very unclever. Slapstick is the lowest form of comedy. You’re better than that, SNL.
SNL recycled The Bachelor spoof. It was as funny as it was the first time, but it was nothing new. Once again, the female cast members brought the A-game playing the dippy behavior of the contestants on the show. Aidy Bryant stole the sketch with the excellent line, “I’ve been wearing a damp bikini all week, so now it hurts to pee.” I could listen to the cast say “can I borrow him for a sec” for an an entire episode and I don’t think it would get old.
Just when we think Weekend Update is getting its legs underneath it, it puts on a stinker of an outing like Saturday’s. Not even the crowd could be goaded into playing along this week. Michael Che received the loudest “boo” I’ve ever heard in SNL with a rough joke about the Jets not making the playoffs. Leslie Jones came out to do a puzzling stand-up style bit about her being able to “get” Leonardo DiCaprio. It seemed like I was as puzzled as the audience who wasn’t really into it. Jost recycled a “dad” joke that he used last season. Kenan Thompson as the optimistic Willie was nothing special. Just an all around crummy showing for Update.
A Pete Davidson sketch following update tried to get things back on track. The sketch was a faux HLN courtroom broadcast where Davidson played a high school kid who was seduced by two of his female teachers played by Rousey and Cecily Strong. While questioned on the stand, Davidson’s character went on to explain how the whole experience was the best thing that ever happened to him and turned him in a legend at school. It was cleverly written and brought home by Davidson’s excellent casual excitement.
Then a questionable superhero sketch halted any momentum built by Davidson and company. The city was under siege by killer robots until the Super Crew showed up to save the day. The only problem: they all have to be introduced before they do anything about the threat, and only two of them have any powers that were worthwhile. The sketch was as bland as some of the superhero’s powers.
Beck Bennett tried to channel his inner Lonely Island with a club sketch where three guys, Bennett included, attempted to hit on a trio of ladies by rapping about the size of their manhood. When it came time for Bennett’s verse, he said he would happily go down on them, but he wouldn’t take his pants off. According to Bennett’s character. That’s not up for negotiation. The idea was fun enough, but just made me long for the days when The Lonely Island brought their one-of-a-kind mind to SNL every week.
Two sketches seemed to fill the 10-to-1 land: One with a town hall meeting where odities complained about the strangeness of their lives to city council, and another where Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett were invited to a football party, but they knew nothing about what usually goes on at parties. The sketch didn’t go anywhere after the general direction was discovered. Oh and the fake dating app Settl replayed for the third time this season.
Once again, SNL squanders a host with talent with shoddy writing. When you see Tina Fey appear in the cold open, you think, or at least hope, that she maybe lent a hand in the writers room. Judging by Saturday’s episode, there’s no way that happened. Help us, Larry David. You’re our only hope.