The 8-H crew did not have an easy task this week: Everything interesting in America happened in the hours and minutes before the show went live. 24 hours before the lights came up, a new president was already signing executive orders by the wee fistful, attendance numbers were being fudged on the national news, and we were still processing the knowledge that Toby Keith had been invited to sing songs out in front of the Lincoln Memorial, in the spot where Dr. King gave his most famous speech 54 years before.
“SNL” did a good job with what they had. Aziz Ansari doesn’t ever seem to feel a variable amount of pressure, remaining affably earnest and nervously staccato — and the line flubs, while noticeable over the 90 minute show, weren’t over the top outrageous. It’s too bad we’ll have to wait a month or so for the next episode, given the intense material the show just received to work with — although presumably that will remain just as constant as Ansari’s likable-enough onstage awkwardness.
BEST of the NIGHT
It’s not just the way Kate McKinnon continues to refine her Kellyanne act — the lazy enunciation, the nonstop Pee Wee-esque blurring of her ages and dictions — that does it for us this week. The song is clever enough, and the concept — Kellyanne as “Chicago’s” Roxie Hart, obsessed with the fame she’s confused with redemption — is subtle for what it is. But what really stands out here is Kate McKinnon’s outrageous charisma no matter what she is doing, and the cruel artifice of her performance.
Every sneer, half-caught microexpression and moue is an indictment not just of our modern, baby-voiced Alfred Ingemar Berndt, but of the administration and hypocrisy and climate that created and rewards her. Incredible stuff.
OR MAYBE it was THIS ONE
We’ve wondered for a while if that’s the way Melissa Villasenor just actually talks, and now we know for sure. As Aziz’s strongest sketch of the night, it’s going to get raves — but for us it was the ickiness of the jokes and Villasenor’s low-key genius that really sold it.
She may be another Vanessa Bayer (or Jenny Slate, tbh): A freaky wolf in sexless sheep’s clothing, lulling us to sleep as a support player only to get radically and suddenly weird the second we think we have a handle on what she’s all about.
If you can handle the way Aziz does standup, you can handle this. If you can’t, it is still worth something. Nice message — it’s just kind of a bummer that Kyle Mooney continues to fade more and more into the background, when his whole vibe and act are about clowning on the same character traits and tics that we accept about Aziz: The repetition, the compulsive shrugging, the dunderheaded voice modulation, etc. It’s like we’re being punished for not getting the joke in the first place.
PUTIN THE DAMAGE ON
Cold open’s as close to honest as the show’s been in a while — even if it resorts to the needless nastiness and jingoism of McKinnon’s Olya Povlatsky, who I’d say could die in a fire except that would sound too much like one of the hilarious “jokes” the character’s about — and that’s worth something. For sure the Leftists would have a lot to say about the line between effective satire and joking about something so many times that it becomes normal — but for now, it feels like any mention of our stolen election is a good reminder that things are not normal.
Smoke ’em if you got ’em, because state-critical entertainment is not, if Putin’s taught us anything, a presumed right.
BOYS WILL BE BROS
For a “Weekend Update” largely about women and women’s issues, we sure did keep the camera on Jost and Che a lot this week, huh? Love 2 have feminism explained to me by a couple of men who regularly screw this stuff up, and can’t seem to get through a single joke without somehow relating it back to themselves, their penises, and straight men in general. And that’s before they slide into one of the season’s most bullsh*t, tone-deaf sketches as a painfully accurate Mikey Day reports from “the Friend Zone.”
Here’s your weekend update, dicks: There is no Friend Zone. There is male inability to understand other people as anything other than machines that dispense Sex Toys once you have deposited enough Kindness Tokens, which in turn perpetuates several damaging myths about the world. The way men relate to other people, male and female; who is responsible for sex and consent (never me, always the person I am attracted to); and what constitutes a good (will have sex with you) or a nasty (will not have sex with you) woman.
The truth is that if nobody will sleep with you, it’s not because you are nice, it’s because you are disgusting. Sorry that it’s so simple and so awful, but it is the case — we don’t love “bad boys,” we love boys who happen to appear “bad” to you, because you are the hero of your own deluded movie in which nothing you do is wrong and every opinion you hold is both utterly rational and objectively correct.
Although we did get this, which — Che’s as-per-usual dismissive and minimizing wrap-up aside — is worth a lot in an episode like this.
SO VERY BRAVE
There is nothing more courageous,* in the eyes of “SNL,” than to dislike something that “everybody” likes, because it’s easy to define “everybody” as “anybody who is bugging me today.”
You see it on the Left with “liberals,” on the Right with “liberals,” with everybody about “Millennials,” and increasingly toward Generation X. The “everybody” that makes you feel so small and unheard that you have to scream, because if people could hear you they would do what you say, because you are the holder of the correct opinion.
*(There is also nothing braver, of course, than admitting you’re into the things “everybody” likes just like “everybody” else — see every Adele-related sketch and most Taylor Swift-related sketches of the last 10 years. So much energy giving yourself permission and forgiveness for something that never required either in the first place.)
In this case, and for both reasons, the thing is “La La Land” (along with I think the fourth joke this season about how Black people don’t watch “Westworld,” which will never be as funny as they seem to think) and the joke is that people love “La La Land,” so in order to be an interesting person, you should like it less — just less enough that the strawman imaginary people you’ve created to scream at you about it will do so, and this demonstrates your superiority. The jokes are fine, the impetus behind the sketch is basic af, and that’s just how it rolls sometimes.
[Not represented: The first live sketch of the night, in which Vanessa Bayer destroys Ansari’s “Bookworm” on a game show by knowing things about the ’90s, which the Bookworm doesn’t understand because he is a nerd. Which was a one-joke premise at best, but increasingly troublesome as more and more people each year seem to believe that their knowledge of consumer products — “Lord of the Rings,” “Harry Potter,” me with this show — make them as important as actual scientists. I do believe that a deep understanding of your entertainment and what it does to your body, brain and soul are crucial to living a full life, but what I do not believe it requires is a student loan.]
On the other end of that whole rant, though, we have “Five Star Review,” a dumb concept that — like its subject — transforms itself from the inside, going from banal to hokey to funny to sublime… Just like the episodes of “Black Mirror” it’s referencing, not only in quality but in tone and sensibility. From the generic opening gambits, to the dial-down on “Nosedive’s” obsession with public ratings, to the overbearing friendliness of any number of surveillance episodes… By the time you get to those “San Junipero” colors overhead, you may even get a little misty.
A weird, bad thing happened at the end of the episode that I don’t want to talk about. Not sure if the jokes in “La La Land Interrogation” set this up or what — maybe real emotion tightens the throat — but Sasheer Zamata and Cecily Strong’s amateurish presentation of “To Sir With Love” in honor of President Obama was a goat rodeo nobody needed. They’re genius women and it’s a sweet sentiment, but given the pomp and circumstance of similar numbers this year — like the simultaneous goodbyes in “Hallelujah” below, or the sheer production value of the show’s farewell to Kristen “She’s a Rainbow” Wiig back in 2012 — it just seems like an afterthought, and a pretty shallow one at that.
“Saturday Night Live” airs Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. on NBC.