Saturday Night Live came back with a burst of energy this last weekend with actress Dakota Johnson making her hosting debut. After all of the energy of the 40th anniversary special, the cast and crew delivered another great evening of programming, as Johnson and certain cast members took the opportunity they had to shine throughout the night. While one of the skits from the night created its fair share of controversy, the show as a whole was hilarious and brilliant enough to shine through any negative attention it may be getting.
The show opened with a spoof of Oscar winning movie ‘Birdman’ centered around Rudy Giuliani, who made news this last week saying that President Obama doesn’t love his country. It was a clever interpretation of the movie Birdman, considering that it’s a trendy subject, and while I haven’t seen the movie, I thought Taran Killam did great with his Giuliani character. I love that the show started with such a random bridge between two popular subjects, it was definitely a sign that the writer’s were on point this week. Dakota Johnson came out for her monologue after the sketch, and while I’m not overly aware of her work as an actress, I really took a liking to her just by the way she shined in her spotlight. She carried herself really confidently and sweetly, and she honestly seemed like a natural on the stage. While her actual monologue wasn’t overly exciting or memorable, her presence alone was enough to give me confidence in the episode.
The now infamous skit from this week’s episode aired first on the night, and it started out as a harmless pre-taped skit taking on the commercial where a dad drops his daughter off at the airport to go to the army. Of course, this skit didn’t have quite the warm ending as the TV commercial did, because in this one the father, played by Taran Killam, dropped his daughter, Dakota Johnson, off to join ISIS. One of the most sensational moments of the night was when Johnson turned to Killam and said “Don’t worry dad, it’s only ISIS!” The skit may have been in bad taste to a certain extent, but it was by far the most hilarious moment of the night. Those two actors were amazing in their roles, as was Kyle Mooney, who reprised his role as an ISIS militant, eloquently telling Killam’s father character “Death to America.” The premise obviously hit a bit too close to home for some, but the backlash the sketch has received in the mainstream media and on social media really underscores an issue with our culture’s sensitivity. As Killam said best in his response to the skit, “Freedom to mock is our greatest weapon.” People being offended by a skit like this simply lets the people who threaten violence and extremism win, and our culture now tries very hard to suppress freedom of expression if it’s deemed provocative, which I find troubling. I thought that the skit was not only hilarious, but greatly satirical of a ridiculous network of thugs who shouldn’t demand the respect that peoples’ fear would give them. So, to avoid going on a long rant, I’ll just say bravo to the actors and the writers for standing up for freedom of expression, and to all the critics, please learn to appreciate satire.
Now, back to the episode, the live portion of the night lacked as much bite as the pre-taped skit that they opened with, but still Johnson’s presence kind of made up for any lackluster feelings. The Cinderella skit wasn’t particularly memorable, but Dakota was a great lead in the sketch, and made it at the very least enjoyable. Later on in the show, SNL put it what was probably a last minute Star Trek skit, in honor of the passing of Leonard Nimoy. Sure, the sketch may have felt a bit stilted, but it was a great way to honor the actor, and provided extra laughs with Dakota Johnson breaking character trying not to laugh at Kenan Thompson with klingon makeup. It ended up being pretty funny all in all. One of my favorite skits of the night was still a pre-taped bit though, the ‘Brave’ sketch. While it was a bit of a builder for me, the sketch proved worth it as it gave pretty much the entire cast moments to shine, telling the truth in all different kinds of scenarios. I’ve always really liked the ensemble skits on the show, and this one definitely ended up being all kinds of fun.
After a soulful performance by Alabama Shakes, Weekend Update came back with Jost and Che, and while the guest spots were fun and the jokes were good, the audience could really see the difference from the 40th anniversary special. After seeing the likes of Fey, Poehler, and Curtin take on the Update Desk one more time, it was sort of noticeable seeing the lack of a bond Che and Jost have as co-hosts. I like them both a separates, but when they read the news together it just seems to lack chemistry and loses any energy it could have had because of that. I did like the reappearance of Riblet though, I think Bobby Moynihan does a great job performing in that character, and his appearance went a way towards making the segment fun, but overall Update was just alright this week. I guess they’ll just ride the wave out for the rest of the season with this co-hosting duo, but you just have to think at this point that next year will see a bit of a change.
Overall, SNL came back pretty strong after their 40th anniversary special. This episode boils down to two big storylines; a) Dakota Johnson is an adorable star in the making (plus Taran Killam and Kyle Mooney are awesome performers as well), and b) our culture doesn’t have much love or appreciation for biting satire. Regardless of how anyone feels about the ISIS skit, or about Dakota Johnson’s recent movie ‘Fifty Shades of Gray,’ people will be talking about this episode of SNL, and at the end of the day, that’s a pretty good thing for the show. This coming Saturday will be another live episode, with host Chris Hemsworth and musical guest Zac Brown Band. I’m not too familiar with either so I’ll be going into the next episode without knowing what to expect, but at times those can be the best episodes to watch, so I’ll be hoping for the best.