Saturday Night Live – Elizabeth Banks, Disclosure
I have never been so happy to see Elizabeth Banks. Granted, on any other weekend, her hosting Saturday Night Live is a great idea. She’s an actress with real comedic talent and has some excellent material under her belt. When I first heard about her hosting a few weeks ago, I was already looking forward to it. After last week though? She looks like a comedy messiah. Donald Trump’s episode was one of the worst I’ve ever watched, and it still upsets me that it was the highest rated night in nearly four years. It’s embarrassing, to be honest. All Banks needs to do is smile and wave and her episode will be infinitely better. Of course, she’ll do far more than that by lending her legitimate comedic talents to (hopefully) get this show back on track.
As for the musical guest, I’m fairly indifferent to Disclosure. Sam Smith and Lorde are much more notable considering their meteoric rise in popularity this year. I’m looking forward to their performances, simply because their combined talent is incredible.
The greatest weapon Banks had in her arsenal throughout the night was confidence. She didn’t miss a single beat and effortlessly rolled through whatever the writing staff threw at her. Banks’ monologue is perhaps the best example of this. Emboldened by her recent experience directing Pitch Perfect 2, Banks decided to take full control of her own monologue. What followed was a very well done musical number complete with the host belting out directorial requests. More star wipes! Treadmill! Throw up an octopus on that green screen! No Bobby Moynihan! Her ability to bounce between the music and seemingly random commands was incredibly impressive, and this wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if she wasn’t so assured in her talents. The same can be said about nearly every other sketch.
Pre-recorded bits are apparently on the rise, and last night had three of them. Two were great so you can consider these segments an overall success. The best was definitely “Uber for Jen”, a Mike O’Brien production. O’Brien produced segments are reliably excellent and this was no exception. It opened up with the titular Jen (Banks) wondering why her Uber driver (O’Brien) won’t go to her destination, and then the hilarity piles on from there. They end up going on this crazy personal adventure that involved hiding a dead body, delivering a child in the back seat, and saving a turtle. The kicker here is that the drivers rate the passengers afterword. “First Got Horny 2 U” was the other strong bit. The second all female musical number in a row, it told the tale of how various cast members got their first sexual awakening. It wasn’t as funny as “Uber for Jen,” but it had enough humor buoyed by impressive construction to remain a highlight.
“The Adventures of Young Ben Carson” was probably my favorite bit. A lot of people have found mileage this week from Carson’s absurd story about a belt buckle stopping a knife, including Trump, who put on a comedy show far superior to what he did last week. SNL takes the cake though on this front, purely because Jay Pharoah is such an incredible impersonator. His soft-spoken and close-eyed Carson parody was comedy gold, punctuated beautifully by footnotes referencing the actual things the Presidential hopeful has said. The supporting cast was no slouch either with Banks throwing up belts to protect people and Kenan Thompson appropriately playing a black Jesus.
Weekend Update continues to grow in quality. Colin Jost and Michael Che were severely handicapped last week, but this time around they were able to take some claws out. Jost actually made Trump the brunt of his very first joke. It’s clear they’re working on a nice rapport too. They had a great back and forth about diversity, and it looked like Che was throwing in some improvised digs at Jost. There’s actually something forming here. The guests were excellent too. Kate McKinnon’s Olya Povlatsky is always a winner, this time talking about wolf ambushes and Russia’s finest holiday, Rock Day. Pete Davidson taking the common sense approach towards the recent anti-discrimination bill defeat was hysterical too. Even though I’d rather he get some more mileage outside of update, it’s clear there’s still a great strength here. Bruce Chandling was the other guest, and he was actually better this time around. He’s still as depressing as ever, but Mooney really excelled at the transition from happy Chandling to “my life is a mess” Chandling. This time, he might have dated a high schooler! Poor, poor Bruce.
It’s worth mentioning how excellent the music performances were last night. Sam Smith and Lorde effortlessly adapted to Disclosure’s electronic style and that sibling duo really made the numbers energetic. I’d definitely recommend checking these out.
Lastly, the Cold Open acknowledging the recent Paris nightmare was short but beautiful too. Wonderful job Cecily Strong, and to whoever else was behind it for making it so tasteful.
“Black Jeopardy” has already lost some shine, which is disappointing. It’s great that a segment like this can air and a white person isn’t put on because there’s not enough black people. For all the flak the show received in recent seasons, it really is much more diverse now. Comedically though, this was weakened because you knew what the punchlines were once Banks appeared. Surprise is one of comedy’s best tools and something distinct is lost when you take that away. The writers will get a lot more mileage out of this segment if they find a way to make it less transparent.
The same can be said about “So Ghetto”. Banks gets a ton of credit for being able to carry this bit because her delivery alone gave it humor. Whenever she was telling her friends about how her place was literally a ghetto household, I was laughing more at how incredulous she was at the whole concept and less at what she was actually saying. It also didn’t help that the other cast members with her were clearly just trying the bridge the jokes back so she can make them funny. At the very least though, this did mean the night ended on some laughs.
SNL needed a night like this after last week’s debacle. It was actually funny! Banks was undeniably pleasant on her first hosting gig and it’s very likely that she’ll come back again for more. Nothing was really overtly terrible too; there was just a lot of lulls with so-so humor. “Aron’s List”, the other pre-recorded bit, was okay. “Student Theater Showcase” still continues as a surprising recurring bit that is still mostly average. “Walk-On Role” was good for a few laughs too but it didn’t feel like enough was done with the great concept of a guest winner getting a terrible role on a cop show. We did have a couple real gems though, surprisingly appearing in the back half of the show. The Cold Open was incredibly tasteful too. All in all, definitely a great return to form.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor. Every Saturday afternoon you can read his 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.