SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE – SEASON 40, EPISODE 13
J.K. Simmons is hosting Saturday Night Live for the first time in his nearly 30 year career. It’s almost hard to believe that a character factory like SNL can miss such a beloved character actor for so long, but Simmons was likely too busy appearing in everything else. He is the ultimate “that guy” for people who never learned his name. Yet until 2014, his massive body of work never lead to any major acting awards. Whiplash changed that and now Simmons is a Golden Globe winning, Academy Award nominated actor. What does this mean for comedy? Well it’s simple. Simmons has experience doing a lot, which means he’ll be comfortable with whatever SNL writers throw at him. I have very positive expectations that this night will be awesome.
As for the musical guest, it’s R&B singer D’Angelo. I know nothing about his music. That is all.
Last night’s monologue was really funny. Instead of taking the regularly used path of first show commenting, Simmons took cues from Whiplash to kick off his show. I’ll admit, the set up was very predictable. Simmons attempting to disprove the theory of him being an angry person by showing how nice he is? It doesn’t take a genius to know that he will definitely start yelling at people. But despite this knowledge, his comments on several cast members easily made me laugh. There were some great one-liners thrown in that Simmons delivered with such aplomb you couldn’t help but enjoy them. Leslie Jones was a great pick to fire back at Simmons’ berating too. Fred Armisen’s appearance was unnecessary, but you absolutely cannot deny that man’s drumming skills. He completely tore it up.
I never thought of “Cinema Classics” as a recurring sketch. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I saw Kenan Thompson as Reese D’What. What I do remember though is thinking the whole skit was average. Thankfully, it was definitely much better this time around. D’What screened an alternate version of the classic plane scene from Casablanca that was “created by the director’s girlfriend.” People remember that as one of the most romantic scenes in film, so changing it into something completely unromantic seemed like a no-brainer. This was done by making the entire scene about Kate McKinnon’s character choosing between a plane and a concentration camp. Needless to say, she wanted the former, and it lead to a great exchange where Simmons tried to stay romantic but McKinnon clearly wanted out. I was a little surprised when McKinnon flubbed a few times though. Sure, she’s not perfect, but the woman is usually so solid. She handily made up for her mistakes however and really kept this skit on strong legs.
SNL had some very unique timing last night with Black History Month. Once the clock struck midnight and Weekend Update began, so did BHM, and the show capitalized on this twice. The first time was during the Update itself with Michael Che making a few jokes about black people on stamps. Believe it or not, that actually was one of the better Update bits (more on that later). The second time was during D’Angelo’s performance of “The Charade.” The strong lyrics were emphasized even more with the band wearing shirts with “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe”, D’Angelo donning a hoodie, and everyone putting their fists in the air with a chalk outline of a body on the ground. SNL’s 40 year history has seen more than a couple protests and this was easily one of the strongest.
Weekend Update was, once again, very poor last night. Let me get this out of the way first: on their own, Cecily Strong’s One Dimensional Female Character From A Male-Driven Comedy (ODFCFAMDC) and Taran Killam’s Jebediah Atkinson were great guests. Colin Jost and Michael Che as anchors? Not so much. Their jokes were complete letdowns with the vast majority not even getting a chuckle. Not only were they just bad jokes, the anchors did a very poor job delivering them. Jost was blander than usual and did a terrible job setting up a banter with ODFCFAMDC. Che once again blew a line in a noticeable way, and the fact that it was his first line of the night doesn’t help. Messing up is never good, but it’s certainly worse to turn your line into quick babbling followed by an “I’m sorry.” I know Update isn’t easy, but Che’s now 13 episodes into his tenure. This shouldn’t be happening. And for the sake of comparison, Strong was already much better at the desk by this time last year.
It’s always disappointing to watch a skit with potential absolutely die on delivery. That’s exactly what happened with “Miss Trash 2015.” When that logo flashed across the screen, I got pretty excited because absurd parodies, like a beauty pageant for disgusting people, are usually things SNL excels at. You can tell that there was something here too. But when it all played out with Simmons as the host and Aidy Bryant, Strong, McKinnon, and Vanessa Bayer as the contestants, it all fell apart. The skit felt sloppy from the beginning, right when Simmons began talking while the music was still playing. After that it felt like each person was rushing through their lines. It was basically, “Here’s a disgusting woman!” followed by a trashy joke, and then another disgusting women comes on with another trashy joke right after, and so on. To make matters worse, it was just mean. I can’t imagine the reasoning that went behind this getting passed dress.
The “Office Assistant” sketch was another bomb. Honestly, I can’t even remember the last time I or anyone I know still got Microsoft Office assistants like the freaking paperclip. We all know they’re garbage though, and those are the exact jokes that made up the bulk of this segment. Pushie the Push Pin doesn’t know exactly what you’re doing! Funny right?! Moynihan was an admirable Pushie but he simply couldn’t do enough. What’s worse though was the skit actually showed a possibility for greatness. I laughed significantly when “Kill Pushie” suddenly appeared as an option. It would have been much better if this was earlier and the rest of the skit was Pushie begging for his miserable life, going down that absurd path to generate laughs. Instead we got old jokes and barely anything fresh.
A sense of disbelief washed over me when it was time for the good nights. Somehow, someway, SNL squandered the talents of a master character actor to deliver a wholly disappointing night. Simmons was clearly ready for anything. He willingly jumped into whatever skit he was in and did his absolute best to carry the material. Yet when skits require him to do roles like “old man,” “mean pageant emcee,” and “football watcher,” he could only go so far. “Cinema Classics” and “Career Day” we’re about as close to pushing it as you can get for the night. As for the skits themselves, they were almost all duds. The musical number “Teacher Snow Day” was only average and the cold open hit well worn beats on the Seattle Seahawks, along with the ones I mentioned above. “The Jay-Z Story” was another enjoyable piece by Mike O’Brien and also featured the brief return of Jason Sudeikis, but it was by no means hilarious. Don’t even get me started on the sheer amount of slip-ups too. Doing three shows in a row obviously isn’t easy, but very few people were actually on the ball last night.
Bottom line, this should have been a great show, but it just wasn’t.
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.