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James Franco Gets By (Sorta) With Help From His Famous Friends on SNL

James Franco Seth Rogen Jonah Hill on SNL
Photo Credit: Will Heath/NBC

Saturday Night Live Season 43, Episode 8: James Franco (host), SZA (musical guest) with guest cameos from Steve Martin, Jonah Hill, and Seth Rogen

Written by Melissa Jouben and Mark Henely

The Host – James Franco

Melissa: Something I’ve been wrestling with in regards to James Franco during his current promotional tour for The Disaster Artist, and the Oscar buzz surrounding it, is where he falls in a post-Harvey Weinstein world. Now that we’re finally taking sexual misconduct seriously, are we going to at long last take his very public attempt at sleeping with an underage girl seriously, or are we sweeping it under the rug because he made a great movie? I wasn’t planning on taking that into consideration when reviewing this episode, but SNL left me no choice.

The episode starts with a cold-open that made me sorry I ever hoped we’d be free of another bad Trump impression, where Santa fields questions from an endless parade of children regarding what people like Al Franken and Roy Moore did. The show comes out swinging against sexual predators, but the fact that James Franco is hosting, and given his past, isn’t lost on me.

Especially not when the first proper sketch of the night has his character apologizing to his co-workers for the misconduct that got him fired, and then growing upset when another employee on the chopping block has done far worse and yet he is still beloved by the staff, only getting fired for stealing and other non-sexual misconduct.

Later he plays a man chosen to moderate a kid’s spelling bee, who can’t separate his private life from his public life and begins asking the children to spell words related to his sexual fetishes. It’s baffling to me that SNL continues to play both sides of the fence with material like this and it significantly reduces the enjoyment in what is supposed to be relieving us from the anxiety of the news, not adding to it.

But all that aside: was James Franco good? The short answer is no. The long answer is that he wasn’t good and his performance last night has made me more aware than ever of how much Franco has changed over the years and mellowed into one of those strange older men that seem nice but are surrounded by an aura that you can only describe as discomforting. It was nice of his friends Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, and Steve Martin to help him through his monologue because boy did he need it.

Melissa’s Favorite Sketch – Scrudge

Melissa: It’s no surprise that a Kyle Mooney/Beck Bennett is my pick for best sketch of the night, but the reason why goes beyond my preference for them. They are a beacon in the darkness on most episodes these days, where a well-timed short can save an otherwise dreary episode. They are a-political and goofy, and often they are the only sketch of the night that feels this way. It’s a break from all the heavy stuff that makes me sad to think about, essentially.

In “Scrudge,” Kyle Mooney’s character invites his Scrooge-esque miser of a roommate, the titular Scrudge, to a Christmas party out of pity. At the party, Scrudge berates and verbally abuses most of the party-goers, making it clear to his roommate that it was a mistake to bring him. Just like in “A Christmas Carol,” where we learned a lesson about kindness and generosity from Scrooge, Scrudge presents a lesson that I think most of us could stand to learn as well: don’t be that person everyone is embarrassed of at the party. And definitely don’t hog all the coke.

Worst Sketch of the Night – Sexual Harassment Charlie

Melissa: As I mentioned up top, “Sexual Harassment Charlie” is a terrible sketch. To lead with it was a bold, but wrong move; after that bummer of a cold open, I might only be speaking for myself here, but I definitely needed a breather. I also completely lack an understanding of the point this sketch was trying to make. Franco’s character accuses the staff of putting up with Keenan’s Charlie character and his blatant sexual harassment because he is a “funny old black man.” Was the point then that white men are being unfairly punished when it comes to sexual harassment? The things they had Franco’s character apologizing for were all extremely mild and barely offensive, but this was of course by design. Rarely, if ever, would someone get fired simply for telling his female coworker to smile more.

I also think that “Gift Wrap” was bad and that Dan Aykroyd did it better 40+ years ago.

Mark: Last week on Weekend Update, Colin Jost had a joke about a new play being staged where the performers and audience and were both naked. The punchline to that joke is that reviewers said “Maybe not now.” That’s how I feel about this sketch. Maybe now isn’t the time to point out the potential hypocrisy of the accusers. Whatever message they were trying to get across did not land and I just think this was entirely the wrong time for this sketch to exist.

Mark’s Spotlight Sketches: “Gift Wrap” and “Za”

Mark: While I agree with Melissa that this wasn’t a strong showing from James Franco, I think he really shined in the sketches “Gift Wrap” and “Za”. Both sketches are based around incredibly simple (and stupid) jokes that Franco commits to whole heartedly. 

While others could say that these sketches have premises that wear thin over the course of their full running lengths, I believe these are both sketches you can share with your friends and family without fear of judgement.

Musical Guest – SZA

Melissa: Thank goodness for a good musical guest on an episode like this. It almost feels like the show knows when a host might bomb, so they ask on a really cool musical guest to keep the audience engaged. I’ve never heard of SZA before she was announced as the musical guest for this episode, but I really liked what I heard. It’s not often I go check out a musical guest’s stuff after an appearance on SNL but that’s definitely where I’m headed.

Mark: SZA isn’t for me, but I’m happy she got an opportunity to shine.


Pop-Break Staff
Pop-Break Staffhttps://thepopbreak.com
Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

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