During the break between the October 12th episode hosted by Bruce Willis and the October 26th episode hosted by Edward Norton, Saturday Night Live found itself in a bit of hot water. This all started when senior cast member Keenan Thompson stated that he refuses to play black female celebrities anymore. He went on to say that the lack of diversity was the fault of a shallow talent pool as opposed to who the show is picking as new members. Unsurprisingly, Thompson received a lot of heat for his comments and SNL’s shocking lack of diversity was thrust into the spotlight.
On that very same day, it was announced that Kerry Washington was going to host SNL on November 2nd with Eminem as the musical guest. Washington is one of the hottest actresses on the market right now with an Emmy Nomination for her role in Scandal and her acclaimed performances in Academy Award nominated films like Django Unchained. Her talent is undeniable and she’s now one of the highest paid TV actresses. She also just happens to be black and female, making her hosting announcement extremely noteworthy at this particular time. While the producers were clearly working on bringing her in before Thompson made headlines, the connection between the two events is undeniable. This meant that going into last night’s show there were two guarantees: Washington was going to kill it and SNL producers were going to have her play a lot of black female roles.
SNL has never been a show that would hide from public controversy and last night’s episode was no exception. In an absolutely brilliant move, the cold open immediately satirized this issue with Washington dressing up as Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Beyoncé (off camera). Jay Pharoah as Barack Obama even took a stab at this by commenting on how long it has been since he has seen Michelle. True enough, it’s been a long time since anyone dressed up as the first lady. The cold open even aired a message from the producers saying that they acknowledge the lack of diversity and apologized for the fact that Washington will end up playing a lot of black female roles in the forthcoming show. They also look forward to solving this issue quickly, unless they “fall in love with another white guy.” Al Sharpton himself even stopped by. It was a very tongue in cheek way of addressing this issue and it worked beautifully. That was one of the best opens I have seen in a while.
The Weekend Update last nice was especially great as well. You can always count on the Update to be a solid source of comedy, but so much of it depends on how well the guests do. A bad guest can really destroy the momentum started by the anchors, currently Seth Meyers and Cecily Strong. The guests last night were amazing though, keeping the Update funny from start to finish. Kate McKinnon was the first guest as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her desire to go public about the contents of her “little emails” in wake of the continuing phone tapping was hilarious, commenting that she sent suggestive texts at moments of weakness. McKinnon as always was on the top of her game. Pharoah as Shaquille O’Neal and Thompson as Charles Barkley were the next guests and the real star in that duo was Pharoah. He brought Shaq’s massive personality up to an entirely new level and it was great.
Then we come to the parody video of “The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?)” by Ylvis. The sheer amount of popularity that annoyingly catchy song has had in recent months made an SNL parody pretty much guaranteed. Sure it’s not exactly current at this point, those 15 minutes of fame have long passed, but it was clear a lot of work went into constructing this parody. The end result was an incredibly catchy update that is bound to get a lot of views. It is already one of the top trending videos on Hulu right now after all.
One of the weaker skits of the night came right after Washington’s monologue where Nasim Pedrad played an extremely energetic motivational speaker at a high school. Washington was her very sassy assistant. I was impressed that this skit went on without a hitch despite the immense amount of sound effects, but I didn’t get the sense that this had any direction. A lot of it was focused on Pedrad yelling at the audience and doing a ridiculous amount of pelvic thrusts. Washington was great which gave us a solid idea of what to expect from her comically, but after a while Pedrad’s thrusts and yells got a little exhausting.
The Miss Universe segment was particularly lacking as well. The idea of allowing developing nations participate like Moldova, Bolivia, and Uganda has a lot of potential but it didn’t really generate a lot of laughs. I have no point of reference for how people in those countries act either so I had no idea if what Vanessa Bayer, McKinnon, or Washington were doing was completely accurate. Pedrad and Taran Killam weren’t that great as the hosts either. The only part of this bit where I really busted out laughing was near the end when Aidy Bryant as Ms. Greenland karate chopped one of the contestants right on stage. It was awesome, but a bit too late.
Lastly, we had Pharoah return as Principal Frye hosting a Fall Carnival at Booker T Washington High. Washington played a teacher who has recently failed a lot of her students and those very same students get revenge on her buy repeatedly sending her to the dunk tank. Unfortunately we never even see the dunk tank, so something that could have been hilarious is done completely off screen. Yes I know that the show is live and trying to dry someone off during a commercial might take a while, but SNL has always pushed the boundaries of live programming and I believe something like this could have totally worked. I’m not a huge fan of the Principal Frye character either so this entire skit just felt like a trudge.
Washington’s talent as an actress is undeniable, and last night she brought that skill to the show in spades. She was simply incredible. Even when a skit wasn’t that great or Washington didn’t have a lot of material to work with, she made her characters shine. The writing last night was really on point as well too, giving us a show that in all honesty didn’t have many terrible skits. With the exception of a sparse few, every skit had their own moments that made them better. As for the controversy, I really can’t think if any better way to handle it than to address it head on. It would have been shameful for the show to brush this under the rug and pretending it didn’t exist. Hopefully they can actually rectify this in the near future. Overall, this was a pretty great episode.