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Saturday Night Live, Ep. 40.17, “Michael Keaton/Carly Rae Jepsen” can’t build a show around its host

SNL_Michael Keaton

Saturday Night Live, Season 40, Episode 17, “Michael Keaton/Carly Rae Jepsen”
Aired April 4, 2015 at 11:30 pm ET on NBC (East coast version watched for review)

The Host: The world needs more Michael Keaton. He is an actor capable of incredibly unhinged weirdness and painfully deep pathos, so it makes some unfortunate sense that Hollywood has not always known what to do with him. But it is rather unfortunate that SNL can’t really figure out what to do with their host either. Keaton either finds himself at the center of sketches that can’t construct a universe to sustain his oddball energy (the advertising sketch) or sidelined in sketches without strong POVs (the “Smart House” sketch). It’s unsurprising, then, that the one sketch where Keaton shines is the Easter greeting sketch, where he just addresses the camera for five minutes, a conceit that puts the full breadth of his talents on display. It’s a shame it comes so late in the show.

Musical Guest: Carly Rae Jepsen is the pop star equivalent of her homeland of Canada: Viewed as an earnest also-ran. Both of her performances are less like a pop star commanding the stage and more like a wedding singer quietly enjoying herself in the background of a romantic comedy. The simple pleasures of Jepsen’s voice and music simply do not translate to the (figuratively) large stage of SNL.

Best Sketch: Somewhat paradoxically, the best sketch of the night is one with little Keaton. “CNN Newsroom”, however, has the strongest POV of all the sketches tonight. The writers clearly have a bone to pick with the way that CNN seems to be committed to not actually reporting anything of value. The graphics, by “the same team who did the Dire Straights’ ‘Money for Nothing’ music video”, are a great satirical rendering of the kinds of dopey graphics CNN is always employing, and the puppet Iranian nuclear negotiations and interpretive dance about Indiana’s anti-gay laws—complete with finger-wagging Keaton dressed as a chef—exaggerate the situation without losing sight of the target.

SNL_Neurology

Worst Sketch: “Smart House” has a good nugget of an idea—husband and wife Keaton and Cecily Strong have ostensibly invited their neighbors over to see how they’re converting their home into a smart home, once Keaton “puts science with it, of course”—but never takes the time to establish why exactly the audience is watching these two weirdos pitch their product ideas. The sketch is built to move the audience between sight gags of appliances with googly-eyes attached to them, a relatively good sight gag in and of itself. But the connective material between those gags, mainly Strong talking in a monotone with sentences of inordinate length, is too frail to justify the narrative that gives viewers the eventual punch lines.

Weekend Update: Update is on fire tonight, with the exception of another Pete Davidson standup segment, whose stoned exploits are no longer cute, that is saved by the last minute appearance of Norman Reedus. Che opens the segment with a haymaker of a bit, poking holes in the Iran Nuclear deal that sharply takes down every country with nuclear capabilities—“why should Iran have nukes instead of… the one country that has actually used them. Hey, it was only twice.” Jost continues to prove to be the king of the dark one-liner: “To all the Christians: Happy Easter. And to all the Jews: Nice try.” And the glorious return of Jebidiah Atkinson rounds out the segment, as he has come to put the medium of television in its place, peaking when he compares Lost’s final season to Joe Paterno’s.

Other Notes: Both the pretaped segments this week are perfect: A Mike O’Brien short about a jock (O’Brien) taking his math teacher (Keaton) to prom, and an excellent faux music video for a Scientology analogue that borrows smartly from a similar video featured in Alex Gibney’s Going Clear. Next week’s host and musical guest are Cookie herself, Taraji P. Henson, and a banjo-free Mumford & Sons.


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