Saturday Night Live, Season 40, Episode 19, “Scarlett Johansson/Wiz Khalifa”
Aired May 2, 2015 at 11:30 pm ET on NBC (East coast version watched for review)
The Host: Scarlett Johansson is a mother in lots of films—that’s what MILF means right?—and that’s because she is supernaturally talented. Her 2013-2014 run of Don Jon, Under the Skin, Her, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Lucy (Chef is in there too as the only arguable demerit) will likely be the greatest string of films by any actor this decade. So it would make sense that with so much star power and charisma in the studio this week, SNL would use it to their advantage. The monologue would seem to indicate that the show would be smartly taking advantage of Johansson’s presence, as she sings what turns out to be a very sexy lullaby that will keep Kenan Thompson up for the rest of his life. But the show that follows chooses to just use her as a supporting player for most of the night. It’s no coincidence that Johansson’s two best sketches of the night, “Black Widow: Age of Me” and “Pampers Pitch”, are the ones that allow Johansson to be an integral part of their universe, as opposed to, in one case, a literal sideline reporter.
Musical Guest: Wiz Khalifa has some crazy dance moves, right? During both “See You Again” and “We Dem Boyz”, Khalifa is hopping and bouncing around stage like a mosher who stepped in a pile of fire ants. Khalifa brings energy to both of the performances, making his turn on the show the bare minimum for successful. Neither of these performances is likely to be widely shared and blow up the internet, but at least they are enjoyable in the moment, and keep the show from reaching any kind of sustained low point.
Best Sketch: If this category were for most representative sketch, the “Orioles” sketch would be selected, because Johansson is simply another player in it. This leaves the sketch to work simply on the strength of its jokes on paper and the “Orioles” sketch’s parade of misunderstandings, with the announcers making comments like “Baltimore took an absolute beating from the boys in blue.” But then 10-1 comes along and knocks it out of the park. If “Orioles” is a sacrifice fly, “Pampers” is a Giancarlo Stanton laser to left field. (Here endeth the baseball metaphors). “Pampers” has a dumb premise. Aidy Bryant and Johansson are two jingle writers who have just come out of a pilgrimage in the desert and only write jingles about their experiences there. But Bryant and Johansson transcend the simple stupidity of that premise by going very broad in their performances. Watching them belt out lyrics like “The desert eagle screams!” and “Nothing soothes its black soul except Pampers” with confidence and the terror of spiritual enlightenment in their eyes is the kind of loony vignette the 10-1 space is made for.
Worst Sketch: Isn’t it, like, totally super annoying when you are around, like, a valley girl, and she keeps using the word “random” to end every sentence? Oh, you didn’t find that particularly funny? What if we add Taran Killam in a kind of shaggy wig and have him move his head a bunch so his hair is constantly whipping back and forth? Oh, that doesn’t help and is just kind of confusing? This is the “Museum” sketch in totality. The bad SNL sketches start with a decent premise and don’t escalate, and that is exactly what happens here. Johansson and Cecily Strong’s characters never make the leap out of annoying and into funny, and Killam’s wig antics reek of a sketch that is just throwing stuff at the wall because it realizes how weak it is.
Weekend Update: Even with the rest of this episode’s hit and miss structure, Update is the one segment that is all hits and no whiffs (Ok, NOW the baseball metaphors are done). Jost and Che open hard, ripping apart the Baltimore police department. With only a few episodes left this season, it has been refreshing to see that Jost and Che have stuck to taking the powerful to task. Update will never reach Daily Show-levels of satire, as the format doesn’t really engender that, but it works best when it is being political and just a tad dangerous. And in 2015, biting into current social and political failings at midnight once a week is the closest a network show gets to dangerous. Shifting gears, the panel segments are capital g Great. The relationship segment with Sam and Gilly from Game of Thrones is cute, but the real stars are the return of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Charles and Shaq. Kate McKinnon’s Ginsburg is a firecracker of sick burns and sicker dance moves. McKinnon has somehow made Ruth a more grounded loon than her first time around, which gives the character the right amount of spunk that the show will likely try to run into the ground, like they did with Jebediah Atkinson. Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah, on the other hand, make Barkley and Shaq the perfect odd couple. Shaq is just a big lug that Barkley desperately wants to help, but always questions his dedication to the cause: “I gave you power of attorney. If I die you get my kids.” The studio audience is left in stitches in the hands of Thompson and Pharoah, and it will be a long time before the episode reaches laughs anywhere like that again.
Other Notes: The Black Widow parody is fantastic, as is the other pre-taped bit, “Blazer.” Also, congrats to Jay Pharoah for winning the Kentucky Derby. Next week is Reese Witherspoon and Florence + The Machine.