‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: Season 40, Episode 14 with Host Dakota Johnson

By March 2, 2015
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After the huge box office success that was Fifty Shades of Grey, it was smart of “Saturday Night Live” to bring Dakota Johnson in as host to follow the 40th anniversary special, especially since many more people know who she is now. Unfortunately, since this is the first show back from the magnificent “SNL 40” tribute, it’s clear that the writers had trouble getting back in the normal groove, or maybe they were just tired.  This was a rough show that never really got off the ground and only has a couple sketches worth remembering. So let’s get down to the goods.

The Best

Father Daughter Ad – This is the kind of sketch that “Saturday Night Live” delivered more often decades ago. It’s bold, provocative and sends up the mind-boggling, real-life current affair that is seeing upper class young women heading off to join the terrorist group ISIS. “SNL” has tried to lampoon ISIS before, but it hasn’t worked out to well, but this brief, commercial spoof worked wonderfully. And in case there’s any doubt, just look at how people who don’t get the joke are responding.

Say What You Wanna Say – The pure, exquisite joy on the faces of Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Cecily Strong makes this such a lively, fun sketch. Plus, this is a much better use of “Brave” by Sara Bareilles than all those other commercials out there. Look how wonderful this world would be if we were all just a little more honest about what we wanted and who we didn’t like in our lives.

The Average

Emergency Room – It was nice to see a “Star Trek” sketch in the line-up following the death of Leonard Nimoy on Friday, however, this one does feel like it was rushed simply in order to pay tribute to the iconic sci-fi legend. The concept itself was funny, but the pacing just made it fall apart a bit. Also, I’m not entirely sure if Dakota Johnson actually broke during this sketch, or if she just did a really good job as a surgical assistant laughing because she couldn’t take the doctor seriously dressed as Worf. Still, mostly because of Kenan Thompson’s dedication to the character, I enjoyed this enough.

Mr. Riot Films – Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett continue their schtick of lampooning various popular online videos, and while this one never entirely comes together, these characters are pitch perfect spoofs of the kind of weird people who make these videos intended to shame others. Much like those being poked at in the video though, their heart is in the right place, but it just doesn’t work the way it should.

I Can’t – Aidy Bryant made this sketch far more entertaining than it should have been once the exaggerated millennial chatter from Bobby Moynihan, Dakota Johnson and Cecily Strong got old. Easily the best part being “I tried to can, but I literally can’t even.” There should have been more talk about the things that Bryant couldn’t do because of the casts that she needed help with instead of so much blabbering from the other characters. Kudos to Bryant for a great pratfall though.

Press Junket – This was a character that Kyle Mooney was pulling off so wonderfully that I wanted to like this sketch infinitely more, but I feel like that maybe it just didn’t work with Dakota Johnson in the other chair. I wouldn’t mind if Mooney was allowed to bring this back sometime in the future to interview others celebrity hosts as themselves.

The Worst

Giuliani – Maybe it’s because there’s been so many Birdman parodies already done that this just felt like too much icing on a cake where everybody has already had a slice, but this one just didn’t work. Honestly, if they wanted to really pull this off, I feel like it should have been pre-recorded. However, I like the layers at work here since Taran Killam is the one who usually does impressions of Michael Keaton on “SNL,” and he plays Rudy Giuliani in Keaton’s Birdman role while Beck Bennett does the alter ego version of Keaton’s grizzly former superhero. Maybe they should have swapped?

Cinderella – Man, it’s not fun to hate on sketches like this when the set looks so amazing and Cecily Strong has such a great character, but she’s just being utilized in all the wrong ways. I would almost have preferred to see this character as a terrible fairy godmother talking to Cinderella about granting her wishes or something. As it stands, this sketch was just not funny and lasted way too long.

The Weird

Net Neutrality -Obviously it’s funny that there are tons of people who don’t really understand net neutrality, both who support it and are against it. But this sketch uses poor and obvious caricatures of online personalities all over the internet to provide “funny” commentary and it just doesn’t work. In the end, it all turns out to be long, awkward set up for a Fifty Shades of Grey joke that just completely takes you out of the sketch anyway.

Weekend Update

Ruth Bader Ginsburg – Kate McKinnon is a gift to comedy, and here is prime evidence of that. Joining the ranks of her many recurring Weekend Update characters, I hope this version of Ruth Bader Ginsburg pops up again sometime down the road.

Kanye West – This is one of Jay Pharoah’s not-so-secret weapons, and it’s finally nice to see it make the show without being caught up in that terrible talk show format with Kim Kardashian. With the perfect rap about the greatest apology of all-time, Pharoah made his presence known on last night’s show, which is good since this was the only time he was able to do it.

Riblet – This character popped up on the Blake Shelton episode that went without a review as I was attending the Sundance Film Festival in January, but I’m so glad to see him return. The interaction Riblet has with Michael Che is exactly what’s missing from this iteration of Weekend Update, and I love how dedicated Riblet is to mocking Che’s job on the show while proving he can do it perfectly. The mic dropping bit cracked me up. Bobby Moynihan is doing a good jorb.

The Host

There’s a good chance nobody was expecting much from Dakota Johnson since most people just became familiar with the actress because of Fifty Shades of Grey. But she has some solid comedic chops that have been on display in The Five-Year Engagement and the sadly short-lived Fox comedy series “Ben & Kate.” Johnson certainly didn’t hold up the show and was a bright spot in some sketches, staying in character and never really faltering, however, she just came during a week where it seems like the writer’s weren’t really up to task, and she wasn’t giving many memorable moments herself as the host. But it was cool to see Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith pop up during her monologue.

The MVP

Saturday Night Live - Kate McKinnon - Bobby Moynihan

Bobby Moynihan & Kate McKinnon – Since these two had such dynamite moments on Weekend Update and their presence in various sketches from the night brought big laughs, I couldn’t just pick one. McKinnon had more success with the better top sketch of the night, but Moynihan’s work on the failed Net Neutrality sketch brought the only laugh I could give that piece, and it wasn’t easy since it was towards the end of that disaster. Riblet and Ruth Bader Ginsburg for life!

The Final Word

Despite a valiant effort from Dakota Johnson, the actress just wasn’t given much to do with this episode. Clearly the impact of “SNL 40” was still lingering behind the scenes of Studio 8H, just as much as it was online for the week following, the show failed to start back up on all four cylinders. It’s understandable considering the massive undertaking that was the three and a half hour, four decade-spanning tribute, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing.

Here’s hoping “SNL” is back in order when Chris Hemsworth hosts on March 7th.

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Ethan Anderton
Some of his favorite films include Ghostbusters, The Empire Strikes Back and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, while his favorite TV series include LOST, Mad Men, 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation, Arrested Development and Saturday Night Live.