SNL returned after a week off with host Woody Harrelson and musical guest Kendrick Lamar, and it was a very solid episode in my opinion. It was difficult to get into the episode since I really have never seen much of Woody Harrelson’s work, and was unfamiliar with his comedy styling, but as the episode progressed I got more and more into the sketches and the overall tenor of the show, which was much lighter and more enjoyable than the previous episode. The cast, the writers, the host and musical guest all seemed to gel, and the episode turned out to be one of the most consistent of the year.
As the cold open started, I immediately got excited about the prospects of this episode simply because they attempted a political sketch that was really great, something I’ve been critical of so far this season. Jay Pharoah’s Obama had a congratulatory drink with Taran Killam’s Mitch McConnell, a character that might really work well for them in the future, which turned into an epic drinking session between the political opposites. The sketch was clever, well-written, and well acted, opening off the show with the kind of topical humor that’s been missing at times. Woody Harrelson came out for his monologue soon after, and I have to admit I didn’t quite get his style at first, mostly because I was just not very aware of who he is as an actor. He broke out a guitar and went into a weird parody of a Taylor Swift song I don’t know, and did some sort of weird leg grab with Jennifer Lawrence as her and Woody’s other Hunger games co-stars came out. It was a very awkward monologue for me, and it sort of deflated my hopes for the show momentarily.
The first sketch of the night looked to be a standard game show bit that SNL relies on for laughs, but it actually had quite a clever twist. Cecily Strong played a young and free girl looking to hook up on an MTV dating show, with 3 guys ready and willing to date her. Woody Harrelson played the host who ended up revealing that he was also the girl’s father, which drastically changed the responses of all the guys’ to her questions. They could have stuck to the a very standard format with that skit, but the writers showed some cleverness putting a twist in the plot and letting the actors play it off, it actually was more enjoyable than I thought it would have been if it had unfolded in a standard way. The show then transitioned into a pre-taped bit with stoners in New York, led by Pete Davidson, celebrating the de-criminalization of marijuana possession. While it was an ok skit in retrospect, I was a bit peeved that Harrelson appeared as a character that looked like a total rip off of Andy Samberg’s Ras Trent. I would have preferred to see Samberg make a brief appearance than to have another guest semi-emulate the character. After the fact, I kind of realized this was a pretty minor point to get hung up on, but on first watch it did kind of ruin the skit for me, much like what happened for me in watching the monologue.
One of the best sketches of the night was the “Young Tarts and Old Farts” infomercial, promoting a compilation of duets between veteran and modern pop sensations. These skits are almost always tops of any given night they’re included on because they give the whole cast a chance to shine with their impressions. One of the best duet moments was with Macklemore and Diana Ross, when Macklemore started singing “Same Love” and Diana Ross stopped and said “I don’t need him to educate me about gay people. I invented gay people.” The whole thing was just perfection.
After an exciting performance by one of rap music’s more underappreciated stars Kendrick Lamar, it was once again time for Weekend Update, and I think this was one of Che and Jost’s best overall performances as a duo. The writing of the actual news portion was witty and comical without really ever missing a beat for the entirety, and for once this season, they didn’t have to over rely on guests to carry the Update segment. This was the point when I knew the episode was a winner, and this was even before Woody Harrelson won me over with his character in the first bar sketch casually reminiscing about the days when cocaine was readily available and high quality. It was just so perfect how his character was so unapologetically offbeat from the others in the conversation, and it was at this point when I finally kind of put together Harrelson’s comedy style, and the whole episode just kind of clicked for me, even before the last skit aired.
It was a very successful night for SNL, with solid pop culture cameos, great acting, a great musical artist, and a host who was very unabashed and unafraid with his humor. Judging by the tone on Twitter, many people watching live really enjoyed the show, and while it did take some time for me to really sink into the vibe of the episode, once I got into it, I thought it was really great television. This coming Saturday will feature Cameron Diaz and a collaborative performance by Producer Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars. I’m very interested in that musical performance, it’s a collaboration that seems like it should be pretty epic, at least on paper. I’ll be tuning in Saturday for sure!