SNL always goes whole hog for the holidays, but this season in particular has a distinct “eat your vegetables before you eat dessert” quality to it. We have had to wade through a lot of bitter and not very fun hosts and sketches up to this point in the season, and now our patience is rewarded with the homecoming of two of SNL’s favorite daughters, and arguably the most creatively successful of their class, to cheer us up for the holidays.
Saturday Night Live
It would be hard to call Ryan Gosling an objectively good host. He is breaking throughout the show, half of his performances come off as wooden and tense, and his characters could largely be eliminated from sketches without altering them too dramatically. But damnit if Gosling isn’t just pleased as punch to be on the stage tonight.
All Tracy Morgan had to do was stand up on stage and crack a few jokes. No had any right to expect Morgan to reach the kind of lunatic heights he did in his prime. But to watch Morgan come on SNL tonight, trot out all of his old staples from the show, and absolutely slay is one of the warmest, uplifting moments to air in the history of TV.
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.
Many successful comedians and comics are incubated in nurturing, yet deeply competitive environments. The various comedy clubs on the East and West coast of the US spawned many of the post-war titans, such as Richard Pryor, Joan Rivers and George Carlin, bathing them in the blood of occasionally hostile, alcohol-fueled, combative audiences.
Unless the ratings for this puppy are just gargantuan, Miley Cyrus isn’t going to be hosting anything again anytime soon. The whole point of SNL having a celebrity host is to draw in viewers who are fans of that host and see how they operate in the strange worlds the show’s writers create for them. So rarely does the show, though, push its host to the side, to the point where an argument can be made that Hillary Clinton acts as more of a host than Miley.
Brent Hodge and Derik Murray’s new documentary, ‘I Am Chris Farley,’ tries to illuminate the comedian’s meteoric rise and fall, as well as to understand his delicate psyche. Mostly, it’s another chance to re-live some of Farley’s best bits, which is just enough to recommend this otherwise disappointing chat-fest.
Throughout this Louis golden age, SNL has been an integral part creative space, because the show is practically the only place where he is able to satisfy his sketch comedy itch, whether that be a shoemaker who is doing all he can to resist dominating his worker elves or a Lumberjack with a Glory tear because people no longer by wood products. Louis’ energy permeates SNL whenever he hosts the show, giving the writers and performers implicit permission to go all out resulting in the hands down best episode, soup to nuts, of the season. And there is no better way for the show to end its 40th season than with a real barn-burner of an episode.
Reese Witherspoon is a type of host that blends in with the cast and feels at home, similar to how Cameron Diaz’s episode played earlier in the season — Witherspoon’s outing even shares a sketch with Diaz’s. Unlike last week’s episode where there was always this nagging that the writers had no idea what to do with the talent they had on hands, Witherspoon settles perfectly into her role as support, best seen in her monologue where she simply introduces the cast and their mothers so that they can tell cute and embarrassing stories, like how Jay Pharoah was always throwing the artfully crafted sandwiches his mom would make for him. Witherspoon still gets a handful of laugh lines throughout, particularly in a rare-for-a-host appearance on Weekend Update, but her real strength comes from not hijacking the evening, allowing the sketches to live or die on their own merit.
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 Keenan 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.
Henson has been working steadily since the late 90s, but thanks to her role as Cookie on Empire, she has appeared to, per her monologue, “made it.” Henson blends in well with the cast and commits to the looney worlds the show has her inhabit. The best sketches of the night, however, are the ones that don’t have her play straight woman or second banana. This is most prominent is the obligatory Empire sketch, where Cookie becomes a new cast member on Sesame Street, where she immediately runs roughshod over the show, stealing and devouring Cookie Monster’s cookie and turning Elmo into a new fur coat. Henson has the makings of a great host and hopefully next time she stops by SNL, the show will build an entire episode around her strengths than just half of one.
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. So it is rather unfortunate that SNL, as well, can’t really figure out what to do with their host either. Keaton either finds himself the center of sketches that can’t construct a universe that can 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.
Chris Hemsworth has played Thor in “four movies: Thor 1, Thor 2, The Avengers, and Gone Girl.” And seeing as how America pretty clearly rejected hacker Hemsworth in Blackhat, the public is going to associate his chiseled looks with the norse deity for the foreseeable future. While that certainly isn’t a bad thing because Hemsworth was more or less tailor made to play Thor, he has a perfect level of movie star charm on display tonight that he hopefully can one day transfer into a post Marvel career.
Between the monologue, one whole sketch, and the punchline of another sketch, you would think that Fifty Shades of Grey is Dakota Johnson’s first acting role. Even though it is her big break, Johnson has had roles before (Ben and Kate forever!) and she will likely have roles after. But the titillation of being able to make jokes at the expense of BDSM is just too strong for the writers this week. And it’s easy not to blame them, because Johnson comes off as utterly uncomfortable with her duties tonight. Johnson appeared to be a bundle of nerves during her monologue, standing stiff, not moving her arms, her voice shaky.