Saturday Night Live Review: Brie Larson Hosts
Tonight’s host is Brie Larson: indie film actress, recent Oscar winner, and former singer of pop punk album Finally Out of P.E, whose single She Said featured pretty heavily on the rotation of my first ever square iPod nano. Larson brought a solid enthusiasm to an episode that featured a heavier amount of good sketches than bad, proving that maybe long hiatuses are good for this show, since their cast and crew, if legend is to be believed, subsist on very little sleep and very much junk food. Glad those guys got some rest, and brought some laughs to this enjoyable Mother’s Day episode.
Cold Open: Church Chat: Dana Carvey’s Church Chat Lady returns to interview Ted Cruz and Donald Trump with her signature judgy passive aggression. The Church Chat Lady isn’t a person I would typically consider a voice of reason, but election season has the world topsy turvy, and tonight I agreed with a surprising amount of what she said. This sketch was at times a bit uneven, and overstayed its welcome by about a minute, but it was a blessing to get a break from all the debate and Fox News parody cold opens we’ve been flooded with this season. Plus, it’s always nice to see an old favorite SNL character return, and though bringing back Dana Carvey’s Church Chat Lady wasn’t the most obvious choice, it was a fun one. And boy did it feel cathartic to watch her call out the two Republican front runners with that trademark blend of judgmentalism and a sour-lemon smile. A-
Monologue: Brie Larson and several of the SNL cast members give messages to their moms in honor of Mother’s Day, both to those moms who were able to visit the studio and those who are watching from home. This monologue was just exceptionally pleasant. Brie Larson got off to a peppy start, aided by cast members sending direct-to-camera messages to their moms (Beck Bennett’s: “Hey mom, so this is the girl I’ve been telling you about. She’s real, and a girl”), and then a few who brought their moms along (Pete Davidson’s is there every week as his ride; Kate McKinnon’s brought her own joke-- “Who doesn’t like a good Brie?”-- because of course Kate McKinnon’s mom is fully adorable). Larson wrapped it up with an appearance from her mom, who she thanked for all of her support. (So now I guess it’s my turn? Hi, Mom! Love you! Thanks for always reading stuff I write on the Internet!) B+
President Barbie: In a fake commercial for a President Barbie clearly based on Hillary Clinton, the doll fails to impress the young girls to whom it is targeted, largely because they grew up in a post-second-wave feminism world that granted them more opportunities than the women of Hillary’s generation. A wickedly clever response to the accusations that older feminists are trying to convince millennial women they have to “vote with their vaginas,” this was another great politically-charged sketch that left behind the more typical news interview/debate format for something a little more interesting. Additionally, it skewered both sides of the debate fairly well. While it did point out that Hillary has a tendency to try too hard to appeal to the young female demographic (“President Barbie even comes with accessories like sunglasses and a smartphone with Snapchat! Do you like her now? Huh, do you?”), it still also left room for sympathy with Cecily Strong’s increasingly frustrated narrator who just wanted the girls to get excited about the potential of a female president (“There was a time when Barbie couldn’t even be President!” “I wasn’t alive then!” “Well, good for you!”). A
Near-Death Experience: After being legally dead for nearly an hour following a traumatic car crash, three women recount their stories. Two of them remember a beautiful time involving kind guardian angels and beams of light, while the third recalls a similar but much more unpleasant experience. I sincerely hope that what I’m about to say doesn’t convince Lorne Michaels that any sketch characters outside of the Blues Brothers deserve a feature-length film, but: I’m pretty sure I could watch this Kate McKinnon character for hours at a time and never stop laughing. When I first started writing these reviews, I planned on doing a “cast member of the week” bit, but eventually I stopped because it would get old for me to just name it Kate McKinnon every time. That woman is delightful, and so is this sketch, from “I was being frickin’ airlifted by the crotch of my sweatpants” straight through to “I’m pretty sure the soul of a Scottish Terrier has set up shop in my right knocker.” I hope we get to see more of this wonderfully crazy character. A
The Cut: At a baby shower, a group of friends aggressively inquire when their pregnant friend will become a “real mom”-- by getting the certified mom haircut (or, “The Cut”). When their friend seems convinced this fate won’t befall her, they detail for her the moments that their hair transitioned into The Cut after they achieved some kind of peak momness. SNL celebrated Mother’s Day by destroying mothers across America, and the mothers can’t even be mad because it was so accurate and so funny. From the purchase of a “rustic sign that just said the single word, ‘Home’” to keeping a huge urn on the kitchen counter with a single candle inside that is never lit, to the sudden desire to own flip flop-shaped soap, the indicators that it was time for The Cut all came from an appreciatively deep knowledge of suburban motherhood. But the sketch never felt particularly cruel either; Kate Gosselin herself would have to admit it was more about accuracy than insult. Finally, all of the female cast members really brought it here, and Brie Larson did great work with that growing sense of terror in her eyes, eventually lulled into complacency by her hair’s sudden change into the cut, and the recognition that she could really use a bowl of fake fruit for her living room. A
Weekend Update: In addition to the typical election coverage with clever one-liners to help us forget that this show gave Donald Trump a ratings boost back in the falll, Update featured three guests this week: first, Vanessa Bayer as inappropriate child newscaster Laura Parsons, then Sasheer Zamata and Pete Davidson as themselves. The Laura Parsons character was typically funny; though Vanessa Bayer’s interpretation of a child star remains over-the-top, it totally works in context, and her enthusiastically clueless portrayal is offset well by Michael Che’s constant shock at what she has to say.
Pete Davidson gave a sweet and silly tribute to his mom who always looks out for him, from buying him condoms when he turned fifteen (“and then five years later when those expired she bought me more!”) to creating a fake Twitter account to defend him online (“No, YOU suck! Don’t ever talk about Pete Davidson like that again!”). It was typical Davidson fair-- a little raunchy in parts (though he toned it down for dear old mom), sometimes silly (When Jost asks about Davidson’s mom letting him skip childhood hearing tests, he loudly replies, ‘No, I got this from wardrobe!’), and, with that goofy smile, consistently charming.
Then there was Zamata, the cast member who tends to get possibly the least screen time, or at least the least recurring characters (except for poor old NEW GUY! who, let’s be honest, is now only truly a cast member in name). Zamata took to the Update stage with no character to hide behind and not only defended Larry Wilmore’s use of the n word at the recent White House Correspondent’s Dinner, but used the word herself to prove the point. I didn’t see nearly as much online reaction to her bit as I expected, though perhaps the internet hivemind wore out its think pieces post-Larry Wilmore-gate. Still, the bit was insightful and enjoyable, despite visible nerves from Zamata, who sweetly ended her bit pleading, “Please don’t be mad at me! It’s my birthday!” Happy birthday Sasheer, and thanks for sharing your thoughts!
Game of Thrones: Two women who appear to be very small characters in Game of Thrones beg the characters around them to move more rapidly through the storyline of bringing Jon Snow back to life, as they definitely already predicted it would happen and are ready to just move on from the whole thing. This sketch was all about how letting television storylines drag on makes audiences restless and frustrated, and thankfully it took its own advice by keeping this perfectly enjoyable bit short and sweet. It was a funny concept that could have overstayed its welcome as sadly many SNL sketches do, but it kept a solid pace and avoided over-repetition by sprinkling in new characters as it went on, from Melisandre (“Remember me? With the thousand-year-old puss?”) to Kenan’s angry member of the night’s watch, who feels very strongly that Jon Snow’s resurrection needs to happen a little more quickly (The “Whaaaaat?” with which he replies to Melisandre’s news that Jon is still dead is gold). B+
Quiz Whiz 2018: In the year 2018, two contestants on a quiz show are asked to name Donald Trump’s runner-up for the 2016 Republican nomination, and both draw total blanks trying to come up with Ted Cruz’s name-- despite one contestant being Ted’s wife, Heidi Cruz. Painting Ted Cruz as forgettable is an interesting choice here, and a departure from most of pop culture’s (including SNL’s) portrayal of him as evil incarnated into the body of a river monster squished inside the body of a human, much like a Men in Black alien. I wonder if the gag would have worked better if the quiz contestants been asked about the hundreds of other candidates that threw their name into the Republican race instead of just Cruz. But ultimately the joke worked well, what with the constant references to Cruz’s forgettable face (“I’m trying to picture him, but my brain’s showing me nothing!” “Yes, that’s him!”) and, in a final perfect moment, the revelation that contestant Heidi was actually Ted’s wife Heidi Cruz, who had already completely forgotten about her husband’s ill-fated run for President (“Oh God, that was so sad! He, like, elbowed me in the face and stuff!”). B+
Discreet Annihilation Three members of a teenage anti-establishment garage band create a video asking for money to raise funds for their upcoming album and feature film. Where The Cut took a sense of accuracy and used it for very obvious comic effect, Kyle Mooney’s latest interpretation of non-conformist bro Chris Fitzpatrick, like much of Mooney’s work, mostly left the sense of accuracy out there and allowed the viewer to decide its comic value for themsleves. This sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t in Mooney’s sketches, and tonight was a bit of a mixed bag. While the concept was funny enough, there wasn’t too significant an amount of laugh lines, and it lasted about a minute too long. Credit, though, to Beck Bennett and Brie Larson for their deep commitment to character, from Bennett’s weirdly scratchy voice to Larson’s insistently defiant eyes and constant slouching. C+
Dead Bopz Bing Crosby advertises a new CD featuring holograms of long-dead singers performing the pop hits of today. In an episode full of noticeably strong sketches, this felt like a weaker link, but not bad enough to write it off entirely. The concept was there, and Bennett did a great job narrating the commercial with his deadpan delivery of lines like, “Somebody get that hologram a holo-grammy! Not my joke, guys. I’m just laser beams.” Special shoutout to Kenan and Brie, whose Paul Robeson singing Trap Queen and Lesley Gore singing a frequently bleeped Nicki Minaj song really showed a high level of a commitment to a pretty silly sketch. Not my favorite, but not a terrible way to end the night. C
Quotes, Extras, and Final Thoughts:
The Church Chat Lady understands Trump’s reasoning behind running for President: “I remember an episode of The Apprentice where Gary Busey didn’t sell enough pancakes, and I thought right then and there: give this man the nuclear codes”
The Church Chat Lady appearance seemed significantly random until a late-in-the-episode commercial revealed that Dana Carvey is promoting a new show he’s hosting on USA. Still, no complaints about getting to hear a surprise “Isn’t that special?”
Brie Larson informs her mom that for Mother’s Day, she got her front row tickets to the hottest show in town. “Hamilton?!” her mom asks excitedly.
Speaking of moms, shoutout to all the moms who had cameos across this episode, and really held their own. And shoutout to the tears that welled up in my eyes a little when I saw all the cast members with moms in the studio giving them hugs during the closing credits. What can I say? I’m a softie!
After the girls reject President Barbie for the cooler legos, the narrator of their commercial sneers in a mocking voice, “‘I like legos!,’” then, angrily, “That’s what you sound like.”
When Kate McKinnon’s guardian angel got her to heaven, she found herself being attacked by a pack of dogs. “Do dogs have any special significance in your life?” her researchers inquire. McKinnon replies, “No, I think Keith botched it and sent me to dog heaven. At this point it was pretty clear that he was learning on the job.”
Descriptions of “The Cut”: “A soft waterfall in the front but knives in the back,” “The one that looks like you’re going to a formal event but on the way got struck by lightning,” “The scared dinosaur from Jurassic Park”
Decorating tip from the moms of The Cut: “Bathrooms are oceans, but a kitchen is the farm.”
THOUGHTS ON THE MUSICAL GUEST: Quick reminder that Alicia Keys is literally so beautiful. She did great tonight, and that second song especially made me feel some real feelings. Good job, Alicia! THIS HAS BEEN THOUGHTS ON THE MUSICAL GUEST
Colin Jost thinks the statement “Donald Trump has secured the Republican nomination” sounds “less like a headline, and more like the ominous beginning of a Star Wars movie.
Jost again, on a man who thinks he’s Jesus who was arrested for trespassing: “The man pled not guilty to trespassing, and also forgave those who trespassed against him.”
When Zamata begins to describe her thoughts on the n-word, she decides to use “McGriddle” as a code word. “Don’t take that word away from me,” Jost wines, “Can I still say McGridda?” “NO!” Zamata cries enthusiastically.
It’s interesting, also, to look at Zamata’s bit in comparison to the only (as far as I know) other use of the word on SNL in a now-famous Chevy Chase-Richard Pryor scene from the show’s first season.
Quiz Whiz 2018 ends with the host and two contestants gathering in a salute in front of a picture of Trump in a cape and a crown, singing what appears to be our new national anthem: “Trump our fearless leader, his penis big and true!” Church Chat Lady, hear our prayers.
Next week: Drake! With musical guest, Drake! He’s a true renaissance man, that precious Canadian soul.