After possibly the most politically insane week in an already insane year, all eyes were on “SNL” to see what they’d do with it: Would there be a virulently racist Keebler Elf Jeff Sessions cold open with Kate McKinnon? (Yes.) Would Beck Bennett’s smug and mostly inert Putin make an appearance? (Yes.)
And for the more cynical among us: Would all of that be shoved into the obligatory cold open, ignored for the rest of the episode, and then left to a toothless “Weekend Update” to nosh on the crumbs? Also yes.
The South Park Republicanism and male entitlement of the current “WU” staff, the men and one woman behind Colin Just and Michael Che’s wide-grinning nonsense, wouldn’t have it any other way — this week, they even amped up the usual with that classic fallacy, the dirtbag left’s (still somehow constant) assertion that, had Bernie not lost the primary, he definitely would have won the primary. When the Frat Bros start trying to impress Bernie Bros, who are already busy frantically trying to impress each other, history shows that will head south real fast — so let’s stick a pin in it for now.
The good-faith gesture of inviting Octavia Spencer onto the show the weekend after the Oscars, doesn’t go unnoticed… Although the Oscars upset, one of the biggest entertainment stories in decades, somehow did. Spencer won Best Supporting for “The Help” (2011), and was nominated this year for her crucial and fascinating “Hidden Figures” story, by all of the big three: Academy, SAG and the Foreign Press. Her career really took off in 2000, after her first recurring role on “City of Angels,” and jumped another level after an astounding and memorable role in John August’s brilliant “The Nines,” in 2007.
Now it’s five years after “The Help,” and we’re still talking about “The Help,” but Spencer is known for her grace and humility, and a chill but nice monologue tells us exactly what will happen for the remainder: We get to spend some time with a truly interesting, warm woman, with very few bumps in the road to come:
And speaking of chill and edgeless, have you met Father John Misty? This is the most, maybe only, interesting thing about him and it’s not even really about him: Shot, chaser. Fleet Foxes drummer by day, wannabe guru by night, imagine his brand as Thom Yorke’s or Natalie Merchant’s cynical Gen-X conviction that merely crying for the unwashed masses absolves you of thinking of them that way, plus a hipster haircut — and he also happens to have shared video time and/or songwriting credits with everyone you have ever heard of.
For the uninitiated:
And for the superfans, who will tell you that you just don’t get it no matter how deeply you know in your heart that you do get it, you just hate it, let’s just say: Speaking of co-writing credits, surely we can agree Bobby Moynihan missed his shot to bring out Drunk Uncle for a duet on FJM’s hit “Is This Oculus Rift Gluten Free?”
He’s fine. He may look and act like he sells artisinal mustards and has a degree in mansplaining feminism to his girlfriend, but there are worse people in the world. I mean it’s not like he’s not Colin Jost.
‘Update’ Streak Continues
While we’re thankfully spared the Jost/Che takes on women this week, the bar’s actually set higher than ever: In a week that saw the administration not only demonstrate every single accusation they’ve made against their opposition in the last few decades, but get caught at it, the job couldn’t be easier… Unless, of course, you never really got the stakes in the first place. Have some softballs — the zingers scattered throughout are worth it.
While the only required action when the Trump sons come up is to flash a photograph of Nate Mooney & Jimmi Simpson as “Always Sunny’s” McPoyle brothers — which I will now do:
…The show has taken the “Mice & Men” route, with Alex Moffat and Mikey Day as Eric and DJ. A joke we’ve seen before, not really expanded upon here — although Day’s expressions of bright-eyed self-assurance and brotherly encouragement are always fun to watch, as unrehearsed and authentic-feeling as ever.
Of course, the show’s big statement follows a confused narrative and message, which gets more and more obsolete as every day passes, seeming to claim that the GOP is somehow ideologically against the things it is, itself, doing. Down to the light — and bipartisan — slap at Speaker Paul Ryan, it feels like a Facebook video created by, and for, people with only a vague understanding of what boring ol’ politics is all about, which all too often lately is on the show’s brand.
That the same creative team who did this:
Not to mention this:
Could come up with something as equivocating and repetitive as this:
Is… As usual, mystifying.
We’re not even going to talk about the first sketch of the night, in which Spencer — along with Sasheer Zamata and Leslie Jones, who are otherwise utterly absent from the episode, as if putting multiple women of color onscreen simultaneously might break the show — bring suit against Merck pharmaceuticals for naming their drugs after black women: Seasonique, Boniva, Celexa…
Tylenol was one of them. Tylenol.
But we mention it because while Cecily Strong’s willingness to perform white feminism at the drop of a hat is to be lauded — and obviously “Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With” is one of the sharpest satires this cast has yet to invent — it’s impossible to watch “Wine Bar,” in which Strong’s character thoughtlessly uses Spencer’s “Joad” as an accessory to her wokeness, without avoiding just how much the sketch feels like the entire episode in miniature:
Stunt-casting Spencer to prove something, and then jamming her uncomfortably into generic setups and jokes, putting a coffee mug in her hand that says “I Love to Fart” and some ridiculous novelty specs from “Spencer’s Gifts” (get it?) and calling it a day.
If it hadn’t traded on a general misogynist animus toward January Jones as a human at the time, which weaponized it, the comparison here would be to her infamously aimless episode, for which she’s still blamed in some circles. But the fact that we love Spencer, that she’s having her moment, that’s she a gifted and fearless comedic actress… And that none of that matters is really discouraging. Not every artist can do every single art, and she did seem alternately nervous and spaced out from time to time, but in this case the writing is on the page.
Which is why open sketches like this one, written around whatever impressions the involved cast feel they can rock, are such a balm in times like these: It’s a meaningless sequence, but one with a lot of goodwill toward its players — and anything that gets Melissa Villasenor in front of the camera, of course, is good for us. (And on that topic: Kyle Mooney’s speaking lines this week totaled, I think, three.)
While it relies on a single joke told multiple times, in a throwback to Broken Lizard’s style, it’s a joke that perhaps needs to be repeated a few more times. The left is just discovering the snake guaranteed to be sitting coiled beneath the seat of any self-proclaimed “male feminist,” waiting to strike — and while that discussion gets tricky considering how often men fall prey to the same issues in the realm of realpolitik, it’s worth thinking about how this sketch might appear in the mindset of the unreconstructed: There’s no “both sides” here, as in so much of the above: Just a note, strongly worded, on a transparent and clichéd behavior that the transparent and clichéd men practicing it tend to think, as they do of themselves, is neither.
So does it feel like an accusation? Like misandry? (If so, good and excellent, respectively.) Does it seem like more liberal nonsense from a show that tends to pick and choose its moments to be strong? (Undoubtedly, and that’s not so good.) But given what we have to work with, it’s clearly this hour’s smartest moment.
But it wouldn’t be fair to let a favorite recurring character go by without comment — Vanessa Bayer’s Laura Parsons is as funny to the initiated as Bill Hader’s Stefon, as we’ve said before, and may well prove more enduring than any of this fever dream’s political caricatures, years from now — and so we leave you with this (despite our misgivings about its swing-and-a-miss carelessness toward the continued survival of transgender kids):
“The prank was murder!” is… The last word on the subject, I’d say. Bravo to Bayer, as usual.
“Saturday Night Live” airs at 11:29 p.m. on NBC. On Mar. 12, host Scarlett Johansson will be joined by musical guest and a powerful crone of the wilds known only as Lorde.