TV Recap: Saturday Night Live – James Franco, Nicki Minaj

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Saturday Night Live – Season 40, Episode 8

Pre-Show Thoughts

When it comes to wanting public attention, James Franco and Nicki Minaj are two very similar people. Neither of them like to shackle to basic conceptions, and they’re both in the news fairly frequently for the wild things they do. For Franco, he clearly has some legitimate acting talent, but he’s more likely to attach himself to movies like The Interview than 127 Hours, which got him a Best Actor nom. He also taught a class about himself a few years ago. Minaj is the same when it comes to music. She is, without a doubt, an insanely gifted rapper, but whenever anyone thinks about her, it’s not her rapping that comes to mind. It’s how she’s goes completely wild with her performances. How else can you possibly describe “Anaconda,” her big hit of 2014? That music video is literally all about her ass.

Photo Credit: Dana Edelson/NBC
Photo Credit: Dana Edelson/NBC

That being said, I’m really looking forward to this episode. For all of their excessive activity, both Franco and Minaj are immensely entertaining. If the writers can let Franco do what he does best, which is essentially being James Franco, and not trot Minaj out too much to make jokes about her body like last time, this can be a great show. Also, Seth Rogen is totally coming.

The Good

Last night didn’t have any avant garde video segments produced by Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett. Instead, it had a really bizarre bit called “Grow A Guy,” created by writer and former cast member Mike O’Brien. Out of all the featured players who didn’t return from last year, O’Brien was clearly the best. I’m glad he had this writing gig to fall back on because “Grow A Guy” really was funny. The concept is obviously weird, it’s similar to those “just add water” sea monkey kits, but the execution is what made it work. I couldn’t stop laughing at the montage of O’Brien teaching Franco, the grown guy, basic things like high fives, eating food, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Interestingly enough, this isn’t the first time Franco and O’Brien worked together on a segment like this. The other was “Monster Pals” which aired earlier this year. Both were great and I look forward to seeing more of what O’Brien can do from the writer’s room.

The “Kid Mayor” was a nice bit of insanity too. Really, this was the writer’s big excuse to have Franco fly off the handle, which is something he does very well. It was probably one of his strongest performances of the night. Even though he broke character a couple times, occasionally laughing at his own words, Franco was able to carry this entirely on his own. I’d say this could have worked really well as a 10-to-1 sketch. A grown man having vitriolic hatred to a kid who “pooped his pants in school and cried to the teacher, while he hasn’t pooped his pants in over a year,” is the exact type of subject that can appropriately end an episode. Fortunately it didn’t though because that left us time for one of my favorite recurring segments: retired pornstars.

Photo Credit: Dana Edelson/NBC
Photo Credit: Dana Edelson/NBC

Cecily Strong and Vanessa Bayer’s retired pornstars are two characters I’m always ecstatic to see. I find myself eagerly awaiting their appearance because it never disappoints. Excellent example, their first showing in Season 40 was last night. I totally pegged this happening because who else can work off them better than Franco? Surprise surprise, it was as phenomenal as ever. This time around, Strong and Bayer were there to incoherently sell Sunseeker Yachts, and I was in pain from laughing so hard. Seriously, the one liners the writers think up for this bit are always on point. I know this skit can get old if it happened every week, so I’m glad it only pops up every once and a while. When it does though, I’m fully prepared respond the same way every time: throw my hands in the air and say “Yes!”

The Bad

SNL’s send up of Peter Pan Live! was exactly as reserved as you’d expect. It really only hit three beats: Peter Pan was played by a girl, Christopher Walken can’t do musicals, and Tonkerbell is a raunchy Tinkerbell. Strong, Franco, and Aidy Bryant did their best in these roles, but you know it couldn’t go too far because NBC is the parent company of both programs. I wonder how often the writers had to check and make sure that what they were doing was permissible by the network. It also didn’t help that Tonkerbell was the only original joke of the bunch. Everything else was done way before the show even happened. Yes, I laughed a couple times, but there was nothing special here.

The Weekend Update clearly has a way to go before it becomes great again, and you really saw that last night. The opening banter between Colin Jost and Michael Che felt so forced. I respect SNL’s decision to send their own message out about the recent grand jury decisions, but the clear lack of chemistry between anchors was too blatant to ignore. Later on, Che flubbed some more lines, which sadly isn’t shocking anymore. Leslie Jones was also brought back out as the Relationship Expert for at least her third or fourth time this season. Like I’ve said before, I think this is her best role, but the willingness to keep bringing her out even after she became a cast member makes we wish for something new. Nicki Minaj stopped by to portray Kim Kardashian, something she can obviously do physically but not that humorously. I laughed at some of her jokes, while simultaneously wishing it was Nasim Pedrad in her place. At least we had Bobby Moynihan as the Second Hand News Correspondent Anthony Crispino. He was the definite highlight, even if Crispino isn’t the best recurring character in Moynihan’s arsenal.

Photo Credit: Dana Edelson/NBC
Photo Credit: Dana Edelson/NBC

Lastly, “Jeremy’s Brain” lacked any sense of direction. It felt like one of those Various Artists segments the show is so fond of that literally only exist to get as many people on screen as possible. Instead of music though, we had the diverse memories of a boy named Jeremy. The original characters created for the segment were humorous, like Bryant as the word “rhombus”, but I was also completely lost when the skit began diving into the really obscure references. Killam played a guy from some music act? There was a dog named Ubu? Beck Bennett played…someone? I laughed a couple times, and of course the writers would find a way to put in “Anaconda,” but too many jokes went over my head.

Overall Thoughts

This episode was a noticeable step up from Cameron Diaz’s turn two weeks ago. Franco was both completely game to do whatever and his humor was really on point. Most of the show worked too. Though it wasn’t the best or the worst, the “Hip Hop Nativity” bit had both Kate McKinnon as Justin Bieber and Jay Pharoah as Kanye West. Both of them do these characters very well and they always make me laugh. The Weekend Update was easily the lowest point, but it was surrounded by enough good to keep the show afloat.

Nicki Minaj showed up in a ton of skits, which did get a bit tiring after a while. She got more attention than some of the cast members. Nothing she did was really that hilarious either, though she was clearly prepared to do whatever, like playing both Beyonce and Kim Kardashian. It’s only a matter of time before she hosts her own show. Seth Rogen also showed up in both the monologue and “Sunseeker Yachts,” which was the perfect amount for this episode. Franco doesn’t need Rogen’s help, but I’m not against him appearing only a couple times.

See you next week with Martin Freeman and Charli XCX!

Rating: 8/10

Photo Credit: Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC
Photo Credit: Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC

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Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.

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