Saturday Night Live, Season 41, Episode 2, “Amy Schumer/The Weeknd”
Airs Saturdays at 11:30 pm ET on NBC (East coast version watched for review)
Host: Amy Schumer is one of the most versatile, intelligent comedians of the most recent comedy boom, and probably the most deserving of the kind of national fame that she is amassing. Between her lights out sketch show on comedy central and writing and starring in one of the summer’s best movies, hosting SNL seemed like only a natural extension of Schumer staking her claim to all things funny. Schumer’s touch is evident all throughout the show, from her standup monologue talking about run-ins with celebs and butt holes to a sketch lampooning porn, several sketches skewering gun laws, and high concept weirdness like falling out of an airplane door mid-flight. All-star comedians generally force SNL to rise to their level — look at any episode Louis CK or Zach Galifianakis has hosted — and Schumer is able to pull a whole episode’s worth of good-to-great sketches out of a writer’s room and cast that could barely make a competent joke last week.
Musical Guest: While this isn’t the first time The Weeknd has graced the SNL stage, it’s his first having the space all to himself. A new school R&B crooner, The Weeknd sings narratives that would make Drake feel creepy, but imbues them with heartbreak sincerity. This dude is skilled, too: The ease with which he jumps octaves in both performances tonight is scary for anyone whose main vocal training involves shouting along to the car radio. He also knows how to how to perform: He brings out Nicki Minaj for a surprise remix of “The Hills” and lets her own the stage, and then busts wide open for “Can’t Feel My Face”, dancing all over the stage and throwing out vocal embellishments just because it makes him happy. Shortly after this week’s performance, The Weeknd will take a flight down to Austin to close out the second weekend of Austin City Limits. The good people of Austin are in for a real spectacle.
Best Sketch: This is a hard award to hand out this week because the show starts out so strong and one sketch late in the show parades out the cast as a series of weirdos, which is always a treat. In regards to the latter, the world is introduced to the magic of MC Strategy, a Dutch rapper who is convinced that small-town America is home to the hardest underground hip-hop scene in the world. Any time Kyle Mooney gets a chance to project way more confidence than any human being has the right to, and gets to use a ridiculous voice, it automatically guarantees the episode a recommendation. But when the time comes to split hairs, “Hot for Teacher 8” pulls ahead of the pack. The sketch nails the look of classroom porn videos with the specificity of a Key & Peele sketch, Schumer’s teacher’s bored sensuality and dim attitude feels lived in, and the earnestness of Aidy Bryant and Vanessa Bayer’s regular people who choose to live in this madness keeps the sketch perfectly off-balance. In the second episode, SNL has already produced a contender for its best sketch of the season.
Weakest Sketch: It always feels like bullying to put a 10-1 sketch here. The end of the episode is supposed to be the space where the show is given an excuse to try whatever it wants without fear of having the sketch make or break the show. But in an episode with no outright bombs, a weak 10-1 just comes off as undercooked. Schumer shows up to a bridal shower she wasn’t invited to and then starts screaming at all the other suburban guests that someone stole the purse of her friend, played by Cecily Strong. Amy Schumer has a supernatural ability at comedy screaming, so a sketch that allows her to do that is moving in the right direction, but the stakes of the sketch need to properly escalate for the screaming to continue, and mild bemusement doesn’t properly count as adequate stakes.
Weekend Update: For whatever reason — maybe too many sketches got cut at dress — Update is long this week, which means that too many weak one-liners are allowed to sneak in. Note to SNL: If you’re stuck between choosing the lesser of two evils of a long Update or a weak sketch, go with the weak sketch. Throw in the diminishing returns of Kate McKinnon as Jost’s weird neighbor and Jay Pharoah doing a half-baked Willie, and Update would be a minus this week. What pushes it to a plus, however, is Jost and Che doing an extended bit on gun violence. It’s a real shame this anchor duo doesn’t get political more often, because when they do they often knock it out of the park, even if that’s because overt political drilling has been missing from the Update desk for awhile. Jost and Che have the comic chops to be smart about this topic, with Che’s comparison of the constitution to a grandparent being particularly inspired. One can only hope that they decide to keep this kind of overt politicizing
Other Notes: On the whole, this episode is more political than any entire SNL has in a long while. While it feels cheap to peg it solely on Schumer, she is the new variable that seems like the easiest explanation. Next week, Tracy Morgan will make his triumphant return to comedy after earning a standing ovation at the Emmys. Demi Lovato is slated to be the musical guest.