Lorne Michaels sure is running through the sitcom stars now. Last week we had Jim Parsons hosting for the first time despite being the main character on a massively popular sitcom. Took enough time right? Now we have the ever popular and controversial Lena Dunham, getting her first time at Studio 8H two years after her hit show Girls began. Now I don’t watch Girls, that’s more my girlfriend’s style, but I do know how talented Dunham is as a comedienne. You clearly don’t get nominated for an Emmy or a Golden Globe against the likes of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler for nothing. Yet Dunham has been a lightning rod for criticism, mainly around the fact that she gets naked on Girls. The words thrown at her online are just disgusting. This was especially evident when it was announced she was hosting Saturday Night Live this week. What the hell people! Dunham is exceptionally talented at her craft. I personally was pretty excited leading into this to see what she can do on a non-premium network like NBC. I also generally enjoy The National so it’s basically a win-win.
The movie Taken came out over six years ago in France (and five years ago in the US). Since then, Liam Neeson has had a career resurgence on the backs of action films. He’s especially had no problem revisiting the persona of Bryan Mills time and time again. The reason I bring this up is because Neeson appeared on the Cold Open last night to make Jay Pharoah’s Barack Obama as intense as Vladimir Putin. Personally I’m starting to get a little tired of the Taken jokes, but clearly Neeson still loves it. It also helped that the open was hilarious. Once those action movie clips started with Obama riding a horse shirtless, fighting a bear, and doing karate, I was losing it. This easily got the show off on the right foot.
Weekend Update was once again in good graces last night too. While Colin Jost still needs some more time to fit in, Cecily Strong was obviously as great as ever. But the real star of the skit was Taran Killam as Matthew McConaughey. Killam was all over the place last night with impersonations and his McConaughey was the absolute best. He perfectly embodied the recent Academy Award winning star by parodying his award speeches, his easy going attitude, and that amazing chest thump chant from The Wolf of Wall Street. Then Fred Armisen came on with Vanessa Bayer to bring back their characters who are Vladimir Putin’s best friends. Considering how Armisen is literally down the hallway from Studio 8H, it only makes sense that he’ll stop by on occasion. It was great having this SNL veteran back again, and him and Bayer work awesome together.
My favorite bit of the night was easily “Girl,” a Girls parody mashed up with the classic tale of Adam and Eve. Like I said before, I don’t watch Girls, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this. The idea that Eve refused to wear fig leaves and “conform to society” was great. But what impressed me the most was how the writers were STILL able to find a reason to get Dunham naked on television. Sure she was censored because this isn’t HBO but the desired effect was still there. Creatively this was absolutely brilliant.
“What Are You Even Doing, You’re Being Crazy” was basically another version of Girlfriends Talk Show except with Nasim Pedrad and Dunham as the hosts. This bit really wasn’t funny for about 90% of it, but then Jon Hamm stopped by and it improved greatly. Hamm could probably make a floating plastic bag interesting, which is an apt metaphor because this skit wouldn’t have been even remotely good if he wasn’t there. If they find a way to bring this back or at least start bringing some surprise guests on to Girlfriends Talk Show, I’d probably be more of a fan of both. Right now I’d be fine dealing with neither.
“Pimpin’ Pimpin’ Pimpin’ with Katt Williams” was a generally forgettable bit for me as well. I couldn’t less about Williams the comedian and even a well done parody by Pharoah can’t make the person interesting. I sat there during most of the skit feeling tired and bored. I will say though that Killam absolutely killed it as Harrison Ford. This was like Jon Hamm’s appearance on “What Are You Even Doing, You’re Being Crazy.” It was a highly enjoyable moment on a generally uninteresting segment.
Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney brought back another one of their dual lead pre-recorded bits near the end of the show. As per usual, I wasn’t a huge fan. I really don’t understand why the people behind SNL prefer to push these segments to near the end of the broadcast. It’s clear they want to give Bennett and Mooney a means to show their specialty but I have yet to see these bits take off when everyone watching is exhausted. I’m eagerly waiting for the one magic skit that I just find absolutely hilarious. Unfortunately that has yet to happen.
Last night was a great episode of SNL. As entirely expected Dunham did an incredible job hosting and leading some of her own skits. Just like Parsons last week, I wouldn’t mind seeing Dunham make another appearance. It did feel however that Killam was all over the place and people like Kate McKinnon were relatively absent. Once McKinnon played Dunham’s grandmother in the monologue, she didn’t play anyone else of note except for a bit part on a Scandal parody. What’s up with that? There was also a surprising amount of punchlines that heavily relied on special guests. Neeson, Hamm, and Armisen are all amazing and I loved their appearances last night but what does it say about the skits themselves when the 17 people currently on staff aren’t fully utilized. Last night these surprise guests appeared in as many or more skits than Moynihan, John Milhiser, Noël Wells, and Sasheer Zamata. Jost right now doesn’t entirely count since he only does the Update (which should change if he wants to be more than “That guy who does the Update”). When this season ends, the execs will seriously need to cut down the cast members so people who aren’t even part of the show don’t overshadow those who do this for a living.