J.K. Simmons hosted Saturday Night Live this week, and even though both he and musical guest D’Angelo are not exactly household names, they put together good performances for the night, leading to another solid, if maybe unspectacular episode. As a fan of the show for years, I think I might be more excited about what’s to come next, as it was announced that the next live episode will be February 15th, the 40th anniversary of the very first episode of what now is an iconic television show. It’s amazing that SNL will be able to celebrate such a tremendous feat, 40 years on the air, through thick and thin, through cast changes and controversies. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they will do to celebrate, who will come by the show to be a part of it, and how they’ll structure the show. But, until then, I’ll focus back on the last episode.
The show started solidly yet again, with a Super Bowl themed cold opening. Jay Pharoah played Richard Sherman and Kenan Thompson played Marshawn Lynch of the Super Bowl bound Seattle Seahawks, and lampooned their interesting public personas really well. As an unashamed Seahawks fan, I loved that some of my favorite players are getting nods on Saturday Night Live, so for that reason alone I really enjoyed the opening, and the cast played their parts well. J.K. Simmons came out for his monologue, and I really wasn’t sure what to expect of him. He did note what he’s been in over the past few months or so, partially to be informative and probably partly to throw some shade at people (like me) who were asking why he was hosting the show. He did a musical number with Kyle Mooney and Aidy Bryant, which really turned hilarious when the seemingly jovial Simmons started turning nasty, ridiculing their playing skills, and throwing shade at Mooney because of his ‘weird little videos’ and Pete Davidson for being a pretty boy. It was hilarious to see Simmons throwing barbs like that, it really made him seem like a natural on the show and eased any doubts I had that he would be a good host. It was definitely a great introduction for me to the actor who would be host for the night. It was also great to see Fred Armisen make an appearance in the monologue as well, taking over the drums from Pete and showing everyone how it’s done.
The skit portion of the show from the night really wasn’t overly memorable, which is unfortunate because the host actually did shine in the things he was in. The ‘Cinema Classics’ skit initially evoked a negative reaction from me since I never really like Kenan’s host character from that, but the Casablanca spoof Simmons and McKinnon did was absolutely hilarious. Simmons played a really on point as Rick Blaine, and McKinnon had me dying as she played a less romantic version of Ilsa Lund, trying to get on the plane as Rick tried to give a sweeping romantic speech. At the end as he finished, she simply said “Byeeeee” and it was just perfect, a wonderful spoof. The ‘Teacher Snow Day’ pre-taped skit was solid as well, but considering what a production it was, with most of the cast and the host involved, it seemed a little bit underwhelming. The premise was kind of wonky, and despite it being fun and well played by the cast, it just didn’t work as well for me as I feel it could have. I think if anything, The Lonely Island guys probably would have done this premise a little more justice, and after the smash hit “Wishin’ Boot” from last week, this just paled in comparison.
R&B crooner D’Angelo was the musical guest this week, and he put on very solid performances for his genre. I’ve never gotten into him, since his heyday as a musician was slightly before my time, but I’ll give him some credit, he can sing well, and he has a fairly devout following in the R&B community, so much so that his return after many years without releasing music created serious internet buzz. After his initial performance, Weekend Update came, and was fairly guest driven this week, with the return of Cecily Strong’s ‘Female Character in a Male Driven Comedy’ and Taran Killam’s ever popular movie critic Jebediah Atkinson. Both characters are really turning into classics, molded by two really talented character actors, and having their inclusion on Weekend Update definitely helps buoy the segment. Che and Jost delivered some fairly gasp worthy jokes here and there on the night, but a slip up from Che and a general lack of rhythm of the segment sort of marred this week’s Update. It’s still just not clicking the way it should be at this point.
The latter half of the episode at least had one fairly memorable skit, and once again it was the host J.K. Simmons shining as a father with a very peculiar job to share at his son’s career day. Pete Davidson played Simmons’ embarrassed son as his father explained his career as a “Japanese Messy Boy.” It was an extremely bizarre premise, as he explained that he eats sloppy food for the entertainment of wealthy, powerful Japanese business men. It was such an out-of-left-field premise that the shock and weirdness of the skit, matched with Simmons’ pride and enjoyment in explaining it made the sketch all sorts of awesome, likely the best of the night. Simmons proved to be versatile, charming, and funny throughout the night, and this sketch was sort of the icing on the cake of his performance. I wasn’t overly sold on the writing and flow of this episode, but Simmons was a great host, and his overall performance throughout the night was sort of the tipping point for me to say this was a good episode of SNL.
The episode wasn’t an all-time great by any stretch of the imagination, but it had many enjoyable moments, and featured a solid performance by a host whose work I haven’t been apprised of. I’ll have to keep my eyes on J.K. Simmons in the future, and maybe I’ll have to check out his recent film Whiplash too. In two weeks time we’ll have the aforementioned 40th anniversary special of SNL. It will be a 3-hour event on a Sunday night, and should feature some of SNL’s most storied featured players and guests from the last 40 years. It’s already been confirmed that Eddie Murphy will make his first appearance on the show in 30 years, and it’s hopeful that frequent visitors like Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig, Jimmy Fallon, Christopher Walken and more may stop by. For sure, there will be plenty of surprises and great memories relived as SNL celebrates the success of their brand. I’m looking forward to a great show two weeks from now; it should be one for the ages!