‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: Season 40, Episode 8 with Host James Franco

By December 8, 2014
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With the hack of Sony Pictures being the talk of Hollywood, the timing couldn’t be better for James Franco to host “Saturday Night Live” leading up to the release of his comedy The Interview, in which he co-stars with Seth Rogen (he pops up a couple times this episode). Unfortunately, he came during a week when the live sketch show seemed to be sorely off their game, delivering an episode that as almost nearly as bad as the Chris Rock hosted episode. But there were some saving graces, including the presence of Nicki Minaj, surprisingly enough, and a few great sketches. So let’s get down to it.

The Best

Grow a Guy – Mike O’Brien may not be a cast member anymore, but that didn’t stop him from delivering the best sketch of the night in a pre-recorded piece that stands just as strong as any SNL Digital Short. The concept of this sketch was almost so good that I wanted to see this brought to life in the form of an 80s movie. This was hilarious, weird, and just an absolute delight.

Saturday Night Live - Nicki Minaj - James Franco

Brain – Sadly, due to music rights this sketch isn’t online officially (you can find it if you really want to), but it was easily one of the best of the night. A visual representation of all the useless information we have in our brain, this made me want to see a different one for every person that I know. But this one is a pretty solid representation of the average person’s brain, with a random assortment of movie quotes and 90s music lyrics.

Star Wars Teaser – Someone at “SNL” screwed up when this sketched aired live, because the version that debuted during the show was an unfinished cut with crucial visual effects, namely some green screen backgrounds and the lightsaber walker, missing. But if you watch the final, proper cut that doesn’t distract you because of the unfinished effects, it’s actually a pretty damn funny parody, especially since we haven’t even seen the likes of Han Solo and Princess Leia yet.

The Average

Porn Stars with James Franco – This sketch is always amusing, just because Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong are so great as these spacey, dead-eyed ex-porn stars. But James Franco and Seth Rogen didn’t really add much to the proceedings, and there are much better versions of this recurring bit. Still worth some laughs though.

The Worst

Magic Bridge – The version of this sketch that you see above is actually recorded from dress rehearsal, and not the live version we saw air on television. That’s probably because this sketch really seemed to bomb on the air. But when you see how well it does during dress rehearsal, you can see why it made the cut. Kudos to James Franco and Cecily Strong for giving 110% to make this work, but it just didn’t work for me.

Politics Nation – Kenan Thompson as a dimwitted Al Sharpton isn’t always enough to make sketches like this work, and that’s sadly the case here. It’s a good thing this was the cold open though, because if this came after the Weekend Update approach to the headline making grand jury decision that just happened in New York, it would have looked even less funny (though it already doesn’t work well at all).

Peter Pan Live! – If any of you watched the live production of Peter Pan on NBC with Allison Williams this past Thursday, then you know that the production itself was already silly enough to incite laughter. Therefore, trying to parody it seems a little pointless, even if it did allow Aidy Bryant to return as the sassy sister of Tinkerbell (she debuted last season in the Jim Parsons hosted episode). Seeing James Franco do his mediocre Christopher Walken impression was amusing in itself, but there were single tweets from the live airing of the show that were funnier than this whole sketch.

Jingle Ballerz Special – Like a bad high school nativity play, this was just a big mess. The off kilter rapping and singing just made this clunky and completely unfunny. Though it was somewhat funny to see Nicki Minaj appear as Beyonce, you know, if Beyonce had a much more…pronounced chest.

The Weird

Kid Mayor – James Franco yelling at a four-year old kid who just won the job of mayor in Minnesota? Uh, okay. Though surprisingly, this was a fairly funny piece, with Franco being a tough, douchebag politician furious about losing to a child, so much that he starts to act like a child himself (albeit one who wouldn’t be out of place at a fraternity). And hey, Franco cracked himself up in the sketch, which was worth a good laugh.

Weekend Update

 

Kudos to Colin Jost and Michael Che for giving more time than usual to the aforementioned grand jury decision in the death of Eric Garner in New York City. “SNL” is known for being irreverent and topical, and while there were jokes at the core of the opening of Weekend Update, there was also a powerful message of intolerance for this kind of “justice” in our country, and that’s exactly what should have happened.

Anthony Crispino – It’s been far too long since Anthony Crispino graced the Weekend Update desk, though unfortunately his return wasn’t one of the better uses of the character. However, closing with the Bill Cosby bit was a pretty smart decision. I love this character, so I still laughed a good amount, but it could have been better.

Leslie Jones on 420Singles.com – Lorne Michaels should probably slow down on putting Pete Davidson and Leslie Jones at the Weekend Update desk for these stand-up comedy style bits, or the audience is going to get sick of their schtick. While Jones brings her unique energy and potent attitude every time, this one just didn’t stick its landing all that well.

Kim Kardashian – While I would have much rather seen Nasim Pedrad return for this bit, “SNL” made nice use of Nicki Minaj again, almost to the point that she might as well have co-hosted the show with James Franco. Minaj and Kardashian have very similar features in the caboose department, so it was a no brained to have her play the dimwitted “celebrity” clearing up the confusion around her controversial magazine cover.

The Host

James Franco wasn’t particularly fantastic in his latest hosting effort, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Franco is one of those hosts who blends in well with the cast due to has affinity for comedy, and that means he doesn’t stand out like a Miley Cyrus or a Paris Hilton. But at the same time, he didn’t exactly do anything spectacular in this episode either. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be his fault as the episode itself was rather uneventful for the most part.

The MVP

Saturday Night Live - Mike O'Brien

You know what, since this was mostly a lackluster episode, I’m giving this week’s MVP to Mike O’Brien. That “Grow a Guy” sketch was not only one of the best of the night, but I can see it being one of the best of the year when the season is over. It’s a shame that O’Brien faltered a little too often as a cast member, but as a writer and occasional guest star (so to speak), he’s doing what Jorma Taccone and Akiva Shaffer used to do with Andy Samberg in the SNL Digital Shorts, and that’s just great.

The Final Word

Sadly, this episode as a whole was a mess. There were a lot of bad sketches, but at least Colin Jost and Michael Che delivered one of the better Weekend Update segments, and Mike O’Brien came through in the pre-recorded sketch department. It’s certainly not anything that should stop Franco from coming back to host again in the future, but it would be nice if the cast gave him something better to do next time.

I’ll be back next week after The Hobbit trilogy star Martin Freeman hosts on December 13th.

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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.