Saturday Night Live Review: Melissa McCarthy Hosts
Our host tonight is Melissa McCarthy, who allegedly burst onto the scene in 2011’s Bridesmaids, but anyone who tells you that doesn’t know about Sookie from Gilmore Girls and thus probably shouldn’t be trusted. Since Bridesmaids, McCarthy has been a consistent force in the American comedy scene, largely due to her collaborations with director Paul Feig on The Heat, Spy, and the upcoming Ghostbusters reboot with SNL’s own Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Kristen Wiig. This is her fourth time hosting in the last five years, clearly marking her as a favorite among the cast and crew, and it isn’t hard to see why-- she tends to turn out memorable characters and her extensive background in sketch comedy lends an air of professionalism and an ability to stay on her toes.
Cold Open: As a group of restaurant diners discuss their likelihood to vote for Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton invisibly enters the room and sings Bonnie Raitt’s I Can’t Make You Love Me. After hearing his name mentioned, Jeb Bush joins in the singing, but discovers being unseen by the people in the room is yet another thing he can’t accomplish. Just as much as Hillary Clinton refused to see any obstacles in her path to the White House until recently, so, it seems, did the Saturday Night Live writers. Kate McKinnon’s impersonation has relied heavily on references not only to Hillary’s intense determination to become President, but also on the perceived inevitability of it all. So just as Hillary has had to reevaluate the way this presidential race will look, so has the crew at SNL. Tonight’s cold open did that by veering left from McKinnon’s typical depiction of Clinton as desperate to the point of near-insanity, instead making her still somewhat desperate but in a more resigned fashion (which really is fairly reflective of Hillary’s shifting attitudes throughout the actual campaign). It wasn’t the best political sketch, but it provided a fun and simple concept, and finished strongly with Jeb!’s closing appearance. This ending provided a perfect way for the SNL crew (who do seem to lean toward Hillary as a candidate) to remind us that even at a low point, Hillary’s still got a lot more going for her than many of her alleged rivals (Poor, poor Jeb. No one’s ever done less to earn a permanent exclamation mark at the end of their name). B
Monologue: Melissa McCarthy puts on a big song-and-dance number to celebrate her official entry into the five timer’s club, only to have Kenan remind her that she’s only technically hosted four and one sixteenth times, as her bit on the 40th anniversary episode didn’t really count. McCarthy consistently brings a high energy to her hosting monologues, with songs, dance numbers, and even aerial fight choreography in the mix. She continued the trend tonight, and though this concept probably would have worked just as well with McCarthy simply talking about her induction into the five-timer’s club instead of putting on an elaborate show about it, she is something of an inherently physical performer, so it made sense. Also, a banana with a face drawn on it wearing a tiny five-timer’s club jacket now officially gets filed away into my “images I didn’t need, but am awfully glad I got to see anyway” list. B
The Day Beyonce Turned Black: This film trailer depicts what happens after Beyonce releases the music video for her black woman anthem Formation, which causes white people across America to find that their beloved star is actually a black person with opinions about race. As a result, chaos ensues across the nation. If any sketch from tonight gets shared on my Facebook feed by some rando from high school this week, my money’s on this one. Out of a fine but not particularly memorable episode, this bit stands out as not only the most shareable, but clearly the best (which would put me in an awkward position of agreeing with randos from high school on Facebook). As Michael Che iterated during Weekend Update, the reaction to Formation hasn’t been quite as controversial as Buzzfeed articles want us to think, but still, the general reaction in certain circles to the unabashed blackness of this new single has been unsettling, if hard to pin down. This sketch explains it in a way that is succinct and satisfying, best summed up in Cecily Strong’s terrified reaction to Bobby Moynihan’s assertion that maybe “this song isn’t for us”: “But usually everything is!” It was over the top in a way that made absolute sense, and it did what good satire should-- exaggerated a concept to prove just how ridiculous it is in even in its simplest form. A
Test Screening: After a test screening for a new horror film, participants are shown videos of their reactions during the viewing, revealing that one audience member in particular had some rather extreme reactions to the footage. I think one of the major reasons Melissa McCarthy keeps getting invited back to SNL (other than being an obviously talented comedic actress) is that it has been very easy from the get go for the cast and crew to realize exactly how they could best utilize her talents; in short, give her a crazy wig and a funny sweater and then just let her go wild. Physical comedy isn’t my favorite form of humor, but I will fully admit that McCarthy is a champion at it, and even I couldn’t help but laugh at her screaming while dumping a soda over her shoulder in fear. Then she started projectile vomiting and it maybe veered a little far for me. Still, this was a funny enough sketch and a good showcase for McCarthy’s talents early in the show. B-
Movie Night: A teenage boy and his parents attempt to salvage the awkwardness of sitting through a sex scene together during a family screening of Terminator. Running narration from all three of them keeps us updated on their thoughts. It’s nice when sketch comedy takes an occasional break from the absurd and moves into more banal, relatable material like this, and though this sketch perhaps went on a couple beats too long, it made for a good addition to the night. Each character was clearly defined by their internal monologue-- Moynihan as the well-meaning but skeevy dad (“Now they’ll know I have a Mr. Skin account”), McCarthy as the well-meaning but nerdy mom (“I wish I hadn’t started touching Tommy’s thigh again when I brought up the rubbers”), and Pete Davidson and his tiny baby face as the well-meaning but slowly-dying-from-embarrassment teen who, after rambling about how long the guy on screen was lasting and how his parents were probably hot back in the day, finally declares “Ew, what am I saying? I hate the Terminator! Also I’m a virgin, okay see you guys!,” providing a solid ending to this sketch and a much-needed ending to poor Tommy’s night. A-
Weekend Update: Let’s get the most important thing out of the way first: Vanessa Bayer’s Rachel from Friends impersonation is the greatest gift SNL has given us in a long while, and this had better not be the last we see of it. Just like with her Miley Cyrus impression, Bayer managed to take a person I didn’t even realize had exceedingly obvious mannerisms, then imitated them so perfectly that I could never go back to not seeing them. A good reminder that Vanessa Bayer is a treasure we don’t appreciate often enough.
The first of the other two Update guests was Von Miller. Miller is a football player for the Denver Broncos who won MVP at the Super Bowl, and those are all facts I definitely knew before he was introduced on Update tonight because I definitely watched the whole Super Bowl closely and didn’t miss the ending because my sister called me during the fourth quarter to discuss the latest episode of Jane the Virgin. Miller was brought on to discuss the new scientific discovery of gravitational waves, since he studied science in college (“Yeah, I guess you could say that I did,” he replied when Che asked him if this was true). He went on to describe gravitational pull only in metaphors relating to him winning at the Super Bowl (“Now these forces are colliding like gravity waves, like when I collided with Cam Newton, forcing the fumble”). It was a good “athlete being charming by being even halfway decent at reading cue cards moment.” Also I really dug his glasses, so he gets a pass.
The last guest of the night was Leslie Jones, who treated us to her list of qualities she wants in a dream man, ranging from “smokes weed” and “hates avocados” to “an ass so tight it can crack walnuts” and “smells like an Israeli.” Best parts included her extended rant on how flowers are just death, and when she claimed her dream man “can grill a steak without having to cut into it and check if it’s cooked like a little bitch,” then followed the statement with an extended glare at Colin (“How many steaks have you seen me cut?” he protests, but come on, Colin’s face screams “cuts into a steak like a little bitch”).
Pick Up Artists: A group of women who have just completed a course in the art of picking up men go to a bar to practice their new skills. One of them, however, takes every tip a little too far and winds up seriously turning off all the guys she tries to lure in. This was McCarthy’s second put-on-a-weird-wig-and-funny-sweater-and-go-crazy role of the night, and despite some sound issues (she was awfully hard to hear a few times), it was another solid entry in the category. It was a prime McCarthy character: mumbly and bespectacled and deeply unaware of personal space. When told to lightly insult her targets, she calls them pieces of crap. When told to act aggressive with her targets, she tells them she’d like to hit their face with a wrench and knocks their drinks out of their hands. She also has an upsetting obsession with her Uncle Joe, who she goes ahead and tells her target she’s pretty sure is a serial killer (when he appears at the end of the sketch, played by an upsettingly greasy Beck Bennett, it isn’t hard to see why). I didn’t laugh as hard as Leslie Jones (cast member breaking alert!), but in terms of McCarthy’s characters I would name this one the clear winner of the night. A-
Rap Battle: Upon learning that Kanye West will be this week’s musical guest, Kyle Mooney reveals his passion for hip hop and decides to engage Kanye in a rap battle. Essentially Kyle Mooney’s one shtick is to mumble and trip over his words with an unexpected confidence. You’d think I’d be annoyed with him going back to this well so often, but I never really am, especially tonight when he put a more polished spin on it than normal. Between this and the Beyonce sketch, the SNL film crew must have been hard at work this week, making a verifiable music documentary out of Kyle’s quest to beat Kanye, even including a fake interview with the actual cast of the Today Show. Kyle’s continual braggadocio contrasted perfectly with his mumbly vibe, and I am truly grateful I’ve now seen home movies of preteen Kyle Mooney breakdancing in his suburban living room. But to actually get Kanye to engage in the rap battle with him (and, obviously, kill it), was a perfect ending, wrapped up neatly with Mooney’s sighed “Well, that was the biggest mistake of my life. I just destroyed Kanye in a rap battle and now he’s probably really sad.” A
Bus On a bus, a black woman is seated next to a white woman who consistently says racist things with no idea of how racist they actually are. This was a pretty great sketch concept brought down by the fact that it required better jokes than it provided, and that it was not the kind of sketch that it’s easy to come up with an ending for. The writers got around that particular problem by ending it with a Speed reference in which the bus literally explodes, which felt unnecessary to say the least. There were some particularly solid jokes scattered throughout-- I liked McCarthy’s character’s humble brag that she knew who The Roots were, as well as her list of great “white movies” including “The Godfather, Gremlins, and Star Wars”-- but it never quite got into its groove. C
Whiskers R We A couple who own a cat shelter show off the cats they’re selling this Valentine’s Day, all the while flirting with each other. I mean, I love to see Kate McKinnon and Melissa McCarthy goof off together, and this was a great opportunity for the SNL costume department to continue their episode-long parade of great wigs and glasses, but overall this one was a bit of a dud. Though I laughed pretty hard at the dog dressed as a cat’s introduction (“We think it’s kind of a Mrs. Doubtfire situation.” “He has to pretend he’s a cat to see his kids”), it was something of a too-little-too-late situation at that point. C-
Quotes, Extras, and Final Thoughts:
Melissa McCarthy opened her monologue with a special Valentine’s Day surprise: “Everybody look under your seats! And if you find a glove… I’m looking for a glove.”
Kate McKinnon panics about Beyonce’s blackness with a series of questions for Kenan Thompson: “Beyonce is black? But what about Single Ladies?” “She was black in that.” “What about Jumpin’ Jumpin’?” “She was black in that too.” “What about the Pink Panther movie?” “Okay, she was white in that.”
Tommy panics and says yes when his dad asks if he’d like him to pause the movie while he gets a snack, then returns with a box of pasta. “Oh my God, I was so in my head about the pause thing, I just opened the pantry and grabbed a package of dry rigatoni pasta”
Thoughts on the Musical Guest: I enjoyed the way Kanye danced around the stage in a jumpy, Chris Martin kind of way on the first song, but felt a little uncomfortable at the Kim K sex tape references. The second song was beautiful and made me feel things for real. So mixed, I guess? Look, I’m just trying to stay neutral because I don’t want to get on Taylor Swift or Kris Jenner’s bad side: I’m fairly certain both could take me in a fight. This has been Thoughts on the Musical Guest.
Michael Che with the night’s controversial Update joke: The doctor who discovered CTE “believes OJ developed CTE due to repeated injuries he suffered while committing double murder.”
Though I do still feel like Hillary's gotten a slightly lighter treatment than other candidates by the SNL crew, they got pretty savage during Update with that scroll of things she's potentially lied about.
Rachel from Friends points at Che and asks, “What’s that?” “She’s from Friends; she’s never seen a black person,” Che explains.
“Make no mistake that if I had a penis it would be huge” - Leslie Jones, ladies and gents
Kyle Mooney explains how his rap career was sidetracked once he was hired at SNL: “It’s like when people see me they’re like, ‘Oh, he’s this white nerdy guy, sort of like a heartthrob on the rise maybe, it doesn’t matter’”
Second OJ joke of the night in the Whiskers R We sketch: “We call this cat OJ cause he’s orange like the juice and a murderer like the athlete.” I think the SNL writers have been watching American Crime Story.
And to complete the trifecta of American Crime Story references, the night ends with Kanye showing off his tee shirt with Robert Kardashian’s face spray painted on it. What a finale.
Next up is a two-week hiatus, then we’re back on March 5th with Jonah Hill! I will be watching Vanessa Bayer’s imitation of Rachel from Friends every day until then.