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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Saturday Night Live: Kerry Washington & Eminem


I'm not sure if this was the best episode of the season so far, but it was easily the most consistent, with almost all of the sketches landing on some level, flawed at times and humorous at others, all in the same sketch. Nothing was brilliant, but nothing was terrible either.

And most of the credit for that goes to Kerry Washington, who was a fantastic host. She ended up appearing in nearly every sketch to varying degrees, and did a lot to elevate some of the lesser material. Having not watched Scandal, I'm not terribly familiar with Washington's work (I know her mainly from her minor role in the Fantastic Four films and Django Unchained), but based on this episode, I'd be happy to see her back hosting again any time (or on a sitcom someday).

Other Thoughts
So, that cold open: hilarious, in a "it's funny cuz it's true, and it's sad that it's true" kind of way, and it's nice to see the show acknowledge the problem it has with diversity (at least we know THEY know it's a problem). Of course, it becomes a lot less funny if the show doesn't actually do something about it. I don't expect the immediate hiring of new, more diverse cast members, but the next time the show needs to fill out its ranks, it better not come back with another cadre of bland, eerily similar white dudes. Because mocking your lack of diversity is fine if you intend to address it; mocking it then doing nothing is just wrong.

As pleased as I was to see Nasim Pedrad featured in the first post-monologue sketch, I'm not quite sure what that sketch was all about or why it led off the night. It was indicative of the night, in a lot of ways: a flawed or confusing premise with a strong performance or enough funny bits sprinkled throughout to keep it from being a total disaster. I guess, in that regard, it makes sense that it led off the night.

We continue to play this season's game of "recurring sketches I'd forgotten about" with How's He Doing? and the Booker T. Washington school one reappearing. The former, somewhat sadly, last appeared when Maya Rudolph hosted the show, and was consistently funny throughout. The later is one of the rare recurring sketches I neither love nor hate. It usually contains at least a few funny bits, but I don't find Jay Pharaoh's "attention teachers and students" schtick as funny as he apparently does.

That pre-filmed music video "My Girl" was apparently a spoof on the latest music video internet sensation du jour (a la "Gangnam Style" or that insipid Thursday song), "What Does the Fox Say?", something with which I wasn't familiar when I watched the sketch but, assuming it was a direct parody of something, sought out afterwards. The original is pretty insane in its own right, but this was still pretty funny and really well executed - Kerry Washington, in particular, shined once again.

Okay, I seriously lost it when Jay Pharaoh came out as Shaquille O'Neal. I don't know how he managed to get his slightly-cross eyed look down so well, but he did. Just the sight of him made me laugh. 

The cartoon game show sketch was pretty weak as a game show parody, but I did get a kick out of the plotline running throughout, specifically Aidy Bryant's reaction to it. So another sketch saved largely on the strength of Aidy Bryant's performance.

Least Favorite Sketch: The Miss Universe pageant, mainly because, even on the occasions it did make me laugh, I wasn't sure if I should be laughing...

Favorite Sketch: Again, while nothing was terrible, nothing really stood out at me. I guess I'd say the "My Girl" video, but in terms of actual live sketches, the cartoon game show stick in my memory despite its flaws.

Tammy: "Help, I have too many boners. What should I do? Sincerely, Mr. Boners.”
Heshy: Mr. Boners, I don’t know what boners are, but believe in yourself!

Tammy: I looked, Heshy. Respect my ability to assess a bucket.

Shaq: I like raisins. They’re like grapes. Only they small.

Episodes Featuring a Game Show: 2/5
Episodes Featuring a Talk Show: 4/5
Episodes with a Monologue Featuring a Song: 1/5
Episodes with a Monologue Technically Featuring a Song That Is Not a Song for the Purposes of "Episodes with a Monologue Featuring a Song": 1/5


3 comments:

  1. "Because mocking your lack of diversity is fine if you intend to address it; mocking it then doing nothing is just wrong."

    You hit the nail on the head. And really, in reviewing the cast, the lack of diversity is pretty shocking. I think the only "non-white" actors they have are Jay Pharaoh, Keenan Thompson and Nasim Pedrad. Not only do they not have a black woman, but there are no Asians, Hispanics, etc.

    And normally I'm not huge on diversity strictly for diversity's sake (although we also need to be careful of our inherent tendencies to subconsciously discriminate). Basically, if you're right for the job you're right for the job and I don't get too caught up on making sure you meet race quotas. However, this is a sketch comedy show and they are severely limiting the characters and public figures they can portray.

    And regarding the overall show, I pretty much agree with you. It was thoroughly average throughout. Although I did really enjoy the "How's he doing?" segment.

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  2. I haven't watched Scandal since the first couple of episodes, but it's not at all Kerry Washington's fault. She's more than capable in whatever I see her in, charming and funny visiting David Letterman or Jon Stewart. And she really killed it here — game, totally committed, versatile, Emma Stone and Melissa McCarthy good if not better. Having somebody step in from outside the improv circuit, though, only puts the show's inability and/or lack of desire to cast a black woman in a harsher light. The only excuse is a serious lack of talent fitting the bill available, which I realize is how many have interpreted Kenan Thompson's remarks on the subject, and even then of course the sketch-comedy world has to be asking itself why it doesn't attract or support such talent. I would add Washington herself to the cast in a heartbeat.

    Never having seen or heard "What Does the Fox Say?", the video was merely hilarious rather than a spot-on parody and hilarious, but it was easily the best of the night for me. The cold open nearly challenges it, although it sort-of has to be graded an Incomplete for the reasons you mention, plus I thought that having Al Sharpton come out of the wings on top of the scrolling text / voiceover was one bit too many and "What have we learned? Probably nothing" is while funny in the moment a little too much of a cheat given the importance of the issue. Like I said last week (and like Dr. Bitz says above), I care less about diversity for appearance's sake than for the sake of all the topics the show can't mine for humor.

    Among the other live sketches, I agree that most of them could've been better, but that almost uniformly felt like the fault of the writers rather than the host and cast. Jay Pharoah's Shaq was indeed fantastic. The Miss Universe pageant was a little iffy, like you say, but again the actors themselves delivered; I wish a more definite line had been drawn, like rather than emerging nations or whatever the premise was that the new contestants were from one of those completely sheltered hidden societies we hear about and were literally experiencing modern culture for the first time.

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  3. @Dr. Bitz: However, this is a sketch comedy show and they are severely limiting the characters and public figures they can portray.

    Exactly. Put all else aside, creatively, the lack of diversity just seems like a shot in the foot for a show like this.

    @Blam: The only excuse is a serious lack of talent fitting the bill available, which I realize is how many have interpreted Kenan Thompson's remarks on the subject, and even then of course the sketch-comedy world has to be asking itself why it doesn't attract or support such talent.

    Good point. And as TV critic Dan Feinberg pointed out, in its entire 37 year history, the show has featured three African-American female cast members. It's pretty hard to believe that in those *37* years only three women proved themselves capable of meeting SNL's standards. That's the point where you also have to start questioning those standards and/or the show's casting process/talent pool.

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