After an imperfect but entertaining start to the milestone 40th season of “Saturday Night Live,” things didn’t get exponentially better in the second episode with host Sarah Silverman. However, there were some improvements, mostly in the Weekend Update department, and a host with experience in Studio 8H (albeit from 20 years ago) made for a smooth episode with some solid, though inconsistent, bouts of laughter. So let’s get to the sketches.
Whites – Now this is the kind of biting, sharp social commentary that made “SNL” such a bold, crowning achievement when it first started. And it certainly seems like Mike O’Brien is doing just fine back in the writers’ room, and he even gets prominent placement in the sketch. With all the talks of racism and prejudice all over news networks lately due to Ferguson and other law enforcement conflicts, this was the perfect time for this sketch. Man, white people just love hiking and camping.
Vitamix – This was a 10-to-1 sketch, but it was executed in such a way that it didn’t feel as peculiar as the sketches that are normally reserved for this timeslot. In fact, this week’s contribution from the team of Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett was much weirder (and less funny) than this late sketch of the night, but we’ll get to that later. Taking one of these infomercials and adding passive aggressive conflict isn’t an entirely fresh idea, but it was pulled off pretty well by Sarah Silverman and Vanessa Bayer.
Fault in Our Stars Trailer – With ebola in the United States making headlines (despite there being no legitimate need for fear) this was a much more clever way to deal with the disease’s prominence than just doing a news desk sketch (though it would have been a fun topic for Fox & Friends). Plus, isn’t Sarah Silverman just adorable?
Forgotten Television Gems – When you have a strong female comedic voice like Silverman, it’s good to see these kind of sketches get some playing time. It’s not often that there are many truly female-driven sketches that make it to air, but with someone like Silverman involved, all the ladies of the cast got plenty of screentime, and this was the best effort. Again, there’s some great social commentary here on the misuse of female characters on television from decades ago. But for me, the most hilarious part was Kenan Thompson’s hosting.
Traffic – This sketch was simple and silly and just enjoyable enough to make me chuckle, from Adam Levine playing himself and getting hit by a car to the silly “You Cheated on Me and Then You Gave Me Fudge” song on the radio. At the end it feels like a commercial for Pizza Hut, but whatever. (This sketch isn’t online due to music rights).
River Sisters – Musical sketches like this are extremely hit or miss, and if it wasn’t for Kenan Thompson hosting this trainwreck, I might not have laughed at all. This feels like a much weaker form of the musical bar sketch that began with the episode hosted by Rainn Wilson in 2007, the one with the group of guys reflecting on their favorite memories brought about by the tune “Danny’s Song,” which ended up recurring several times with different songs. There’s just silence after what should be the punchlines, and that’s no good. (This sketch isn’t online due to music rights).
Joan Rivers – While this was a sweet tribute that Joan Rivers would have loved, it was not pulled off gracefully or funnily at all. Silverman does a decent Joan Rivers (even though she jumbled way too many lines), but no one else is given anything to do except look like a dead famous person (even Jay Pharoah’s decent Richard Pryor impression felt wasted). The only saving grace is Bobby Moynihan as a funny, chuckling Benjamin Franklin.
60 Minutes – There’s just something that’s not all that funny about the most notorious terrorist organization at large today sending effective, cute updates on Twitter and having a profile on Tinder. And I’ll leave it at that.
Poem – Last week, Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett had arguably the best sketch of the night with their skewering of 90s sitcoms, but this week, they didn’t knock it out of the park. The initial premise is funny, but then it takes a sour, repetitive turn for physical comedy that only goes so far. Mooney and Bennett specialize in these off-kilter sort of sketches, but for every big hit, there’s definitely some odd misses like this one.
In their second appearance at the Weekend Update desk, Colin Jost and Michael Che appear to be quickly settling into a nice groove. Che wasn’t nearly as nervous as last week, and he has a very natural delivery, almost reminiscent of Seth Meyers. And next to Che, co-head writer Jost seems to be much more at ease than he was when he first arrived last season.
Also, I’m really glad Che and Jost seem to be going out of their way to do little bits like this where they interact and really get to show off their chemistry. Also, it’s the first time we really get to see the white/black dynamic between them as co-anchors, something that should be used to great effect as the season goes on.
Reverend Al Sharpton – Kenan Thompson had a pretty solid night on “SNL,” and this is actually one of the better appearances he’s made as Al Sharpton on Weekend Update. Also, there’s more evidence of Jost getting more comfortable at the desk from his interaction with Thompson.
Garage and Her – If Sarah Silverman was still a cast member on “Saturday Night Live,” I wouldn’t mind seeing this duo pop up on Weekend Update again. After all, since Fred Armisen and Kristen Wiig left, we’ve been missing a nice musical duo on Weekend Update. And hey, Kate McKinnon can play guitar. Is there anything she can’t do?
Sarah Silverman is a very comfortable performer with experience in sketch comedy and stand-up comedy spanning an impressive career. She’s one of the most prominent and influential women in comedy today, and her voice shined in her monologue, complete with a very clever reference to her appearances as a plant in the audience during monologues from her short stint as a featured player. By the way, that little bit where she sat on an audience member’s lap is something she’s been doing on the Oddball Comedy Festival, and it was awesome to see it reprised on television, complete with varied improvisation.
Sarah Silverman – There’s something thoroughly satisfying about seeing a former featured player, especially one who never really excelled on the show, return to host and do such a spectacular job. Silverman was able to be a little risque (though nothing like her stand-up voice), and get back into the sketch comedy groove that people loved so much from her old show on Comedy Central. She’s adorable and edgy all at the same time. Honorable mention to Kenan Thompson for bringing some surprisingly big laughs with what could have been throwaway, phone-it-in characters.
The Final Word
It wasn’t a major improvement over the shortcomings of the first episode of the season, but it’s clear that with a little more time that this cast has the potential to be great. Weekend Update alone really hit its stride, and since that saw the biggest shake-up between seasons, that’s important. The only real bummer this time was the absence of featured player Pete Davidson and a big lack of Sasheer Zamata, who really needs a recurring character of some sort to stand out.
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