Saturday Night Live, Season 41, Episode 5, “Elizabeth Banks/Disclosure”
Airs Saturdays at 11:30 pm ET on NBC (East coast version watched for review)
The Host: Elizabeth Banks is just funny, full stop. She was the one of the best parts of 30 Rock when that show started to show its age, she kills it in Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, and, as she makes abundantly clear in her monologue, she’s a talented comedy director as well. She just plays well with others. Tonight, she gamely acts as both catalyst (“Black Jeopardy”; “That’s so Ghetto”) and team player (“Student Theater”; “Adventures of Young Ben Carson”) because any ego or vanity she has is superseded by the need to make the thing she’s in right now be the best it can be. She modulates her mannered, cool girl charm across the disparate universes SNL throws her in to whatever degree gets the most laughs, and the show is all the better for it because it doesn’t have to write around her; it can simply write and know it’s got an ace of a host waiting in the wings to come in and save the day.
Musical Guest: Disclosure makes party music. It’s not much more complicated than that: They just are really good at their jobs and make unpretentious music. This can be seen in the way both their performances are staged tonight. Three levels: The very back occupied by some small gimmick – a drum line or soulful backup singers – that makes up the spine of the song, followed by the middle level where the dudes of Disclosure are encircled by all kinds of beat making instruments and keep the music moving, followed by a vocalist – Lorde or Sam Smith – who commands the most attention and are just happy be a part of the party. It’s a good time for all involved, especially the audience.
Best Sketch: SNL takes a page from LCD Soundsystem: Shut up and play the hits. “Black Jeopardy.” “Student Theater.” A Mike O’Brien short. Grade-A Weekend Update panelists. There really is something here for everyone. Picking the best, then, becomes an exercise in personal preference. (Not that liking art isn’t always an exercise in personal preference, but we need something to write about, don’t we?). So when it comes to splitting hairs, “Student Theater” wins out simply because of quantity and weirdness. The nature of the theater piece allows the writers to just create small nuggets of privilege running wild, rather than having to create an entire scenario to exploit that privilege like “That’s So Ghetto”. So all that’s needed for connective tissue is for Leslie Jones, Kenan Thompson, and Vanessa Bayer to act disgusted and confused. The sketch is quick and the premise changes in small enough amounts that at least one joke is bound to land with everyone, unlike “Black Jeopardy,” where those who don’t like and/or get the joke aren’t likely to find anything to like in the sketch. Really, any sketch where Jones gets to react big and leave the sketch is a winner.
Worst Sketch: “Adventures of Yong Ben Carson” works on a conceptual level but flounders a little in execution. Every sketch is strong tonight, but this one requires the most buying in. Viewers have to find the kitsch of Carson’s low energy juxtaposed with his violent past funny, the specific kind of genre parody the show is working for funny, and the crazy statements Carson has made over the years funny. The sketch spends its time spinning its wheels after Carson first tries to stab someone, having to literally bring Jesus into the sketch in order to find an ending. But even when everything doesn’t congeal tonight, there are still one or two things worth recommending, like Jay Pharoah’s Carson impression.
Weekend Update: The Panelists come to save the day again. Jost and Che are simply fine, but other than a good jab here or there – like Che’s Jeb Hitler joke – the anchors never find a rhythm, and their extended riff on campus protests, a type of segment they normally kill, doesn’t go anywhere or have a point other than “stop being racists, people.” But that almost doesn’t matter, because Bruce Chandling makes his triumphant return to the Update desk. The appeal of Kyle Mooney’s sadsack standup is to watch a human being slowly die over the course of several episodes of a late night comedy variety show. It’s a very specific type of anti-comedy that thrives on annoyance and revulsion and shock in equal measure. It’s Michael Scott without all the misplaced charisma. Watching Mooney’s face contort and puff as Chandling comes to realize he’s dating a high schooler is to watch rock bottom become animated and sweaty. Kate McKinnon and Pete Davidson also have good panel segments tonight, but neither holds a candle to the sublime failure of Bruce Chandling.
Other Notes: SNL can always be counted on to come through when there’s a tragedy. In response to the terror acts in Paris over the weekend, Cecily Strong opens the show with a heartfelt message of solidarity to the Parisian people spoken in both English and French, and the show’s title on all of Bank’s vanity cards coming back from break are written in blue, white, and red. There were more technical issues than normal tonight: A shot that followed Beck Bennett off after his lines were done, graphics on the screen coming in too early or too late. Next week is Matthew McConaughey and Adele, as the SNL apology tour continues.