SNL Season 40, Episode 17 – Host Michael Keaton, Carly Rae Jepsen
Let’s be honest here. Nothing will top last week’s unbelievably funny episode with Dwayne Johnson. That very well might be the best night all season. However, if there is someone who can come at least close, it’s Michael Keaton who’s returning for his fourth time. The man’s a proven comedian and he’s riding a major high right now thanks to Birdman. Saturday Night Live is wise to strike while the iron is hot as Keaton is fresh in all of our minds. I’m not as excited as I was last week leading up to Johnson’s stint, but I am gearing up for a fun night.
I don’t have many thoughts about Carly Rae Jepsen though. She’s a…singer? I guess you can say “Call Me Maybe” is music. She’ll likely sing her current hit “I Really Like You.” So, get ready.
My favorite sketch of the night by far was the very last one. “An Easter Message From Michael Keaton and Portia” had the exact thing I wanted all night, which was Keaton being effortlessly weird. His delivery was totally spot on, a necessity when you consider how bizarred the dialogue was. The completely deadpan, “Matzoh, unlike Jesus, does not rise. Jesus 1, bread nothing,” destroyed me with laughter. Not only that, Kate McKinnon’s delightfully bizarre Portia was the perfect sidekick. It was obvious that there was going to be an Easter themed sketch, but going this direction so late in the show was amazing.
In fact, Keaton’s delivery of insane material was one of the episode’s universal highlights. The “Smart Home” sketch was another great example. To be honest, when this bit began, I was ready to write it off. It was tough to get into at first, and the part about the smart toaster mostly fell flat. Once Keaton and Cecily Strong began talking about the smart couch though, that was it. I was losing it. I’m surprised that everyone was able to keep it together. Just the sheer concept of a couch that sends a rod up your ass, with googly eyes no less, is the exact type of bizarre material that should have defined this episode. Since the Easter message came right after this, it was back to back hilarity for me.
The “Church of Neutrology” music video didn’t get much laughs, but it goes up here for both being really clever and hitting a pop culture phenomenon when it’s hot. Going Clear, the recent popular documentary on HBO, is making waves for it’s completely unabashed portrayal of Scientology as a nightmarish religion. It’s no surprise that top Scientologists wanted this documentary destroyed. This SNL sketch was an obvious parody of the music video that aired during the documentary, and it was excellent satire. The best part for me was the discovery that one of the Neutrology practitioners left to become a Scientologist. Glad to see SNL was able to find one step lower.
Michael Keaton’s monologue was disappointing, mainly because it wasn’t Michael Keaton’s monologue. The man barely got a chance to speak! It was all Taran Killam and Bobby Moynihan singing about how obsessed they are with Keaton. Yes, the man was Batman and created Beetlejuice, but I want to see him talk about that, not cast members. It sucks so much that this came after Johnson’s “Franchise Viagra” too. That was the perfect monologue, using the host to his fullest extent. This was the exact opposite, relegating the night’s star to a stammering extra.
That business meeting sketch was nothing to sing home about either. Its biggest weakness was that it didn’t have any direction. Keaton’s a funny guy, and clearly he knows how to deliver comedic material, but even he suffered from the haphazard storytelling. It just jumped around from joke to joke, with Keaton inexplicably talking about huge breasts and his bleeding stomach. It actually felt like the writers were throwing in material at random and hoping it would stick. Unfortunately it didn’t, and after a while, I was just waiting for the segment to end. Oh yeah, the ending was completely tacked on too. It was dumb.
Lastly, the “Final Four” Cold Open did not start the show with good comedic footing. It just wasn’t that funny! You have to give the writers credit for adapting the skit to recent NCAA victories. That really is one of the biggest benefits of being live. However, it was clear that this sketch only wanted to focus on basketball as if it was on a “current events” checklist and not for laughs. The punchline was the fact that these kids are students, which honestly wasn’t that great because none of those conflicting students with tests showed up. It would have been much funnier if Killam’s Duke coach kept pressuring a student to play while he’s very obviously studying for his class. Maybe even show them playing basketball with biology textbooks in their hands. Now that would have been funny. Plus, Kenan Thompson’s Charles Barkley was basically Thompson using his normal voice with a slight inflection. It looked lazy.
As expected, this night wasn’t nearly as good as last week’s. Not even Keaton could have topped the mountain-sized Johnson. Of course, it didn’t help that the writing felt quite lacking. The Cold Open and the monologue were average at best. Skits like “Call Your Grandmother” and the new Mike O’Brien short did have their moments, but had too many lulls where the comedy slowed down. They definitely needed more tweaking. I also got the feeling that Keaton was being pushed into the background. Yes, he did appear on screen in these skits, but it didn’t look like he was utilized to his fullest extent. He kept blending into the bits without really elevating them.
The night found much greater focus once the “Church of Neutrology” music video came around. It’s where the really bizarre sketches came out, and those were easily in Keaton’s wheelhouse. His episode definitely ended much stronger than it began. The Weekend Update was pretty solid too, with Colin Jost and Michael Che hitting some good beats, and Killam’s Jebediah Atkinson and Pete Davidson as hilarious correspondents. My favorite by far was Davidson, once again slaying it as the Resident Young Guy. Plus he came with a focus on The Walking Dead (not the only Dead joke during the night), and it gave us an amazing cameo by Norman Reedus. Did you know that this guy has never hosted? That definitely needs to change soon. His inclusion gives me hope that it will too because clearly both Reedus and the SNL heads are prepared to work together. I’m calling it right now: Norman Reedus will host either this season or next season when Dead returns.
SNL returns next week with host Taraji P. Henson and musical guest Mumford & Sons.
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.