Once again, Saturday Night Live was really funny and on point this week, with host Michael Keaton and musical guest Carly Rae Jepsen both putting on great performances. The only bad thing about the episode was that I couldn’t hear anything after the first half hour! Watching it live was a bit of a debacle for reasons I’ll touch on, but once I finally got around to watching the show with sound, I was amused by it from start to finish, something I’m not usually able to say.
The show opened with a topical Final Four sketch, which impressed me from the get-go by its reliance on up to date scores and events. With Final Four games being played the same night as the broadcast, the writers and producers did a great job incorporating the games into the skit, something that couldn’t have been rehearsed too long in advance. It was nice to see them start off talking about Kentucky losing, and then switching to a press conference with Mike Krzyzewski, played by Taran Killam, talking about the finals game. It was also fun to see them really lay into the teams about their “student-athletes,” it’s a topic everyone thinks about, but no one really talks about. Bobby Moynihan was the perfect person to use as the stand-in player when Coach K announced Jahlil Okafor couldn’t play because he had a big test. The open was topical, it was up-to-the-minute, and it was a fun way to break the ice on the show before Michael Keaton’s monologue. Keaton has of course hosted before, so it was no surprise he was a complete natural on the stage and shined in his monologue. Unlike some of the subpar musical numbers I’ve been critical of this season, Keaton, Taran Killam, and Bobby Moynihan put on a delightful performance, with the two cast members asking Michael Keaton to play Batman with them. And the pre-taped part that Killam and Moynihan did as The Joker and The Penguin was probably one of the best moments of the episode. It just goes to show that if you put great actors with a flair for musicality together, you’re going to have a funny opening, versus putting actors like The Rock into a role they’re not made for and falling flat. The moral of the story is the show needs to write to their guests strengths, and they did just that this episode.
First skit of the night was a spoof on CNN broadcasts, and it was wonderfully biting from start to finish. Cecily Strong played a CNN anchor leading normal mid-day news coverage, and she did just as well in this skit as she did in the Serial skit from earlier in the season. Cecily is really becoming a great go-to actor when it comes to serious-funny roles, and her ability to keep a serious face in a really satirical skit is an asset for the show. In this bit, different correspondents reported in from news scenes and showed off the state of the art CNN technology they were using, all of which were completely ridiculous. I think it’s great that the show took a swipe at the media, you see this kind of stuff on Late Night TV talk shows like The Daily Show or The Tonight Show, but to do it in a skit format was a lot more fun than just talking about it would be. I like sketch comedy a lot, I think it’s obvious by me doing these recaps, and I think when sketch comedy does satire, it can do it in a more dynamic way than stand-up could ever. After this skit, we got to see what is now becoming a recurring feature of the program; a Mike O’Brien picture. His short films are always quirky and weird, and change up the pace in a way that The Good Neighbor Stuff guys have tried (and kind of failed) to do. In this one, he played a ne’er do well student who was bet that he couldn’t make his teacher (played by Michael Keaton) the prom queen if he took him to the dance. The whole thing was awkward and weird, but it’s exactly what I’ve come to expect and love from Mike’s work. Even though he’s not in the cast anymore, it’s nice to see that the show recognizes talent and lets the writers go on camera if they have good pitches. We’ve seen a lot of writers go from the writer’s room to the cast over the last few seasons (O’Brien, Colin Jost, Leslie Jones) and I think that kind of inclusiveness really works on this show. There are no apparent breakout stars in this cast, it’s definitely a true ensemble in season 40, so why not let the writers run with their ideas on screen?
Coming back from commercial break was when my viewing experience got so rudely interrupted, in a very peculiar episode of audio glitches. When they came back from commercial break, I could see a group of cast members sitting around a desk in a boardroom setting, but I had no audio on my television. I checked other channels, but everything else was fine, so it clearly must’ve been an issue with NBC. Even for a brief second, I contemplated whether or not they were just miming the sketch in some weird avant-garde deal, but I quickly but that notion aside. I went on twitter to see if everyone was having the same viewing issues, but it seemed like only a handful of New York viewers weren’t able to get any audio. I waited patiently for about 30 minutes for the audio to come around, missing what looked like a hilarious Scientology music video spoof (after getting around to re-watching, the Church of Neurotology video was absolutely epic), Carly Rae Jepsen’s first set, and Weekend Update, I just decided to give up on getting anything back, and I turned it off. I really like watching the show live it’s part of the mystique of SNL for me, so having a glitch like that ruin my viewing experience was kind of upsetting.
When I got around to watching the latter half of the show on Sunday, I found that it kept rolling along well. While Weekend Update was highlight, thanks to some decently racy jokes from Collin Jost, and guest appearances from Pete Davidson and Norman Reedus, I was most pleasantly surprised by Carly Rae Jepsen actually. I’ve always found the pop star to be a little too cliché and sugar sweet for my liking, but she actually put on a really nice performance. Her new song “I Really Like You” sounds like nonsensical drivel for the most part, but when you watch her perform it live, you realize she’s not really about making top notch music, she’s just trying to have fun and get people to have fun. I appreciate the innocence and honesty in her music, so I was actually able to appreciate her performance better than I thought I would. Her second song of the night, titled “All That,” was actually really enjoyable. The thing about it I liked the most was the backing track, whoever produced it clearly had some respect for early 90’s era R&B because it was a complete throwback to that sound (which doesn’t get nearly enough throwback love as I think it should). It’s a slower jam, but her performance is honest and sensual, a complete 180 from the sound of her 3 biggest hits. I really, really, really, really, really, really liked Carly on SNL, she brought some fun to the stage, and that tied together the episode marvelously, in my opinion.
Even if I had to watch it in two installments liked an unnecessary miniseries, I still loved SNL this week. From the host, to the musical guest, to the actors and writers alike, everyone put on great performances this week. Michael Keaton is such a natural with sketch comedy, I think he needs to be inducted in the Five Timers Club very soon by being invited back a few more times. Keaton was great, and the whole cast just kind of gelled around him and put together a good show. This coming Saturday will be the third straight live show, with Empire sensation Taraji P. Henson hosting, along with musical guest Mumford and Sons. It’s kind of an odd combination of host and musician (like I discussed last week) but still I’m interested in how it will go. I don’t know Taraji’s work that well, so I’m hoping she’ll be a good fit on a comedy show. Time will tell I suppose, so tune in Saturday night and we shall see if they can make it three good episodes in a row!