Things start well enough as Reese Witherspoon hosts a Mother’s Day-themed Saturday Night Live. “2016 Republicans Cold Open” is terrific, and Witherspoon’s “Mother’s Day Apologies” opening monologue is even better. But as is so often the case with post-Weekend Update SNL, the episode fades fast with a trio of sketches that should have been cut for time. Still, given SNL40’s track record of high highs coming on the heels of withering lows, we should expect a solid season finale next week, penultimate episode notwithstanding.
“2016 Republicans Cold Open” gives us the Southern Republican Leadership Conference with a twist: a super-hype DJ introducing presidential hopefuls Mike Huckabee (Beck Bennett), Ben Carson (Kenan Thompson), Ted Cruz (Bobby Moynihan), Carly Fiorina (Kate McKinnon), Rand Paul (Kyle Mooney) and Marco Rubio (Taran Killam). The sketch consists of pretty standard Republican riffs, but unlike comprehensive political parodies of the past, all of the performances are excellent. Though its ultimate joke is that Jeb Bush wins the Republican nomination not matter who runs, the sketch serves as a fine audition piece for cast members vying for VP candidate airtime next season.
Witherspoon handles hosting duties like an old pro, even though it’s only her second SNL appearance. An affable emcee for “Mother’s Day Apologies Monologue,” she seems more at home creating bizarre characters with Cecily Strong (“The L.A. Scene,” “Two Girls You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation with at a Party,” “Southern Women”), Aidy Bryant (“High School Theatre Show”), and Kate McKinnon (“Whiskers R’ We Spring Cat Giveaway”). Witherspoon succeeds where other stars of her stature fail: she’s all-in; willing to parody her own image and have fun while doing it.
It’s lovely to see most of the current SNL cast members on screen with their mothers, ostensibly to apologize for various childhood antics (Kyle Mooney’s mom’s hamminess is a highlight). But for fans of the show, nothing beats the home video montage of these cast members as kids. In every clip we catch a glimpse of what a future Saturday Night Live cast member looks like. The genius of the montage, however, is that they all look like us—our brothers and sisters, our children, the kids we grew up with.
There’s not much to “The L.A. Scene.” It’s more of a platform for a Cecily and Reese to goof on a pair of Kathie Lee and Hoda-styled desperate housewives. But the sketch barrels forward anyway, and like “High School Theatre Show,” succeeds because it refuses not to. “Picture Perfect,” on the other hand, wins us over because of the genius of its comic premise: nobody draws the prophet Muhammad, not even for a million bucks.
It’s not that Colin Jost and Michael Che’s Weekend Update jokes aren’t funny. On paper, 95% of this episode’s Weekend Update jokes were great. The problem with the segment lies with the two guys reading the jokes. First, Jost and Che are at odds with how the fake news segment works. Jost plays it deadpan, while Che chuckles his way through. Either approach can work, but the disconnect between the two is off-putting. Second, neither Jost nor Che can act. It’s excruciating to watch Colin Jost try to play with Leslie Jones. And Michael Che trying to interact with Two Girls You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation with at a Party is a bust, simply because the acting that is required to sell the bit (e.g. Seth Myers) is missing.
It’s easy to imagine that many SNL staffers sneaked downstairs to watch U2’s live performance this week on Jimmy Fallon’s stage, and perhaps that big arena energy made its way to Florence + the Machine, who deliver two songs from their soon-to-be released new record: “Ship To Wreck” and “What Kind of Man.” The performances are electrifying, even as lead vocalist Florence Welch sang, casually perched on a barstool. Indeed, SNL40 has not disappointed musically, booking one of the strongest, most fascinating line-ups of guests in show history.
Add to the top of your list of Worst Sketches of SNL40, the pointless “Waterslide,” where two water park workers flirt with a lifeguard to the peril of the kids going down the slide. Honestly, what happened here SNL? This is a baffling disaster of a sketch, especially this late in the season. Can it simply be fatigue setting in?
One more episode to go in a landmark season of Saturday Night Live. The fact that Louis C.K. is slated to host is a very good omen, though the show tends to do better when the guest host sits back and lets the show be the show, which we can assume Louis won’t do. It’s been a season of high hopes, big surprises, and a few lingering disappointments. No doubt, we can expect more of the same next week.
SNL NEXT: (5/16/15): Louis C.K. with Rihanna
Chris White writes and directs independent feature films. His latest, a showbiz comedy about looking for Bill Murray, is called
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