SNL was fairly strong and also fairly weird this week, as Cameron Diaz hosted with musical guests Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars. The episode featured some really great, funny ideas; some that worked while making me simultaneously laugh and scratch my head, and lively musical performances that were truly entertaining.
The episode started out with the funniest political sketch they’ve written on SNL in recent memory, continuing the trend of better political writing that I noted last week. The sketch was a spoof on Schoolhouse Rock, as Kenan Thompson played the singing ‘Bill’ from the old children’s educational special. Jay Pharoah’s Obama came out to continuously push the bill down Capitol Hill before he could become law in favor of Bobby Moynihan as the ‘Executive Order.’ The sketch was insanely funny, topical, witty, and biting, and offered what may go down as one of the best cold opens for the entire 2014-15 season. The show couldn’t have started much better than that, in my opinion. Cameron Diaz came out for her monologue, and it really wasn’t anything too special, just the old ‘cast members pose as audience members to ask stupid questions’ bit, nothing much to talk about there. Since it was the Thanksgiving SNL episode, the first sketch was a pre-taped bit featuring the girls of SNL, including the incomparable Lil Baby Aidy, as they returned to their parents’ homes for the holidays and took over like bosses. I really like that the show has such a strong, diverse cast of funny women, and these skits with them are a good showcase of the talent of their cast, and this skit was just decently funny, even though maybe not as much as the one they did last holidays.
The rest of the sketches for the entirety of the night were a mixture of odd-but-funny bits, and just plain odd ketches that didn’t do much for me. A good example was the ‘Annie’ sketch they did, with Leslie Jones playing a 40-something Annie trying to get adopted by the modern Daddy Warbucks, Jamie Foxx, as played by Jay Pharoah. It’s topical in the sense that there is an updated theatrical release of Annie coming out, but regardless of that, the sketch was conceptually weird in every way. Still, it managed to be funny because Leslie Jones and Jay Pharoah both fell back on their comedic strengths and carried the skit well through all the strangeness. Another example of the strange vibe from the episode was the ‘experimental theatre’ skit. I thought it was absolutely hilarious, something I would totally expect high school theatrical kids to do, but it made me ask why the hell they would come up with this idea as an SNL sketch. I appreciated it, and it was well-acted, but it was a very strange idea that just happened to work out. There were skits that were odd and just fell flat though, and they were major downers for an overall good episode. Beck Bennett’s ‘Baby CEO’ character is ridiculous and needs to be retired, even though the sketch they did worked ok thanks to the great acting of Cameron Diaz. The mere use of this character is enough to disappoint me; it’s really not funny at all, and it hardened my mood on the episode. Then later, Kenan Thompson played a scorned animal trainer in a skit I likened to an unfunny Brian Fellows knock-off. It was a strange idea to begin with, one that really offered little comedic value, and even though the actors played off each other ok, it really fell very flat. So while the tenor of the skits were strange all night, in a largely cohesive way, some clearly worked better than others, making the comedy portion of the night a mixed bag.
The musical guests of the night, musician and producer Mark Ronson, and pop star Bruno Mars put together an incredible pair of performances, bringing a very strong funk and R&B vibe to the stage, which was a stark contrast to some of the more modern pop acts featured this season. Ronson played guitar as Bruno and four backup singers snag their new single “Uptown Funk,” a great, upbeat pop song. Their performance was very energetic and had a classic soul vibe that made it seem like a throwback to the 70’s, eerily reminiscent of Bruno Mars’ solo performance on SNL last season. The second performance was of a song titled “Feel Right” featuring guest vocals from Mystikal, a name I hadn’t heard since 2002. It was another really entertaining, interesting performance by the ensemble, who definitely were one of the highlights of the episode.
Overall, this was a solid episode of SNL. Some of the skits weren’t to my liking, but overall the episode was entertaining, and felt like a cohesive effort by the cast and writers. The musical guests were really a highlight, and finally there was a truly great cold open this season, so there were plenty of positives to take away from this episode. In two weeks, James Franco will be the host and Nicki Minaj will be on as musical guest. That has the making for an interesting episode, and I’ve always liked Franco, so I’m looking forward to what’s in store for SNL in December.