After all the griping about the lack of diversity in the cast and even hosting choices for “Saturday Night Live,” the lovely Kerry Washington (“Scandal”) took the spotlight in Studio 8H as the host of the fifth episode this season on the late night sketch show, and it’s not likely to be forgotten anytime soon.
We’ll get to the details (and my extended reaction) on why in our recap of the sketches below, but let’s just say that “SNL” clearly acknowledged all the criticism and mostly reacted exactly as they should have. However, it might end up putting them under more scrutiny in the near future. Anyway, onto the recap…
My Girl – If you haven’t heard the song “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)” by the comedic Norwegian music duo Ylvis, you must not spend anytime on the Internet and you haven’t been anywhere near a radio or jukebox. But, since “Saturday Night Live” is so hip, they know exactly what’s going on, and they used the catchy tune to give Jay Pharoah what might be his best vehicle of his career on the sketch series. This parody of the song takes aim at the nagging of Pharoah’s girlfriend, played by Kerry Washington, and it’s just perfect. Bonus for Kate McKinnon’s horse face.
Michelle Obama at the White House – This is the sketch everybody will be talking about, because producer Lorne Michaels finally addresses all the criticism about the lack of a female cast member by having Kerry Washington appear as Michelle Obama (who hasn’t appeared since Maya Rudolph hosted in 2007), but has to keep leaving the room to change into Oprah Winfrey and Beyonce Knowles. But the clincher is the text scrawl and voiceover that says:
“The producers at Saturday Night Live would like to apologize to Kerry Washington for the number of black women she will be asked to play. We make these requests because Ms. Washington is an actress of considerable range and talent – and also because SNL does not currently have a black woman on the cast. Mostly the latter. We agree this is not an ideal situation and look forward to rectifying it in the near future, unless, of course, we fall in love with another white guy first.”
This is basically the best way for “Saturday Night Live” to address the gaping hole in the cast and all the negative talk about the lack of diversity, but we hope that “SNL” isn’t going to immediately try to hire just any black female cast member to fill that void and shut everyone up. This sketch lets everyone know that they are self-aware, and hopefully the critics out there don’t see this as a way to shut them up. If Michaels has proven anything, he knows where to find talent, and he hasn’t found anyone good enough for the staple sketch show yet – but he will. As the producer told the AP last week, “It’s not like it’s not a priority for us. It will happen. I’m sure it will happen.”
Having said that, this sketch was hilarious, and it set the stage for what turned out to be a successful night for Washington as a host. Moving on…
How’s He Doing? – In what turned out to be a surprising recurring sketch, Washington teams up with Jay Pharaoh and Kenan Thompson to lampoon the idea that no matter what President Obama does, he will always have the support of African-American citizens, even if he selects an all-white basketball team for a nonsensical, hypothetical game.
Principal Frye: Fall Carnival – As only the second recurring sketch of the night, Pharoah returns as Principal Frye for yet another school event, and while we know what to expect for the most part, it just works. Pharoah’s real-life inspired character just has such a goofy voice, and his choice of words to describe the mischievous antics of his students is always worth a good laugh. Plus, Washington’s “Know your history!” line was awesome.
Miss Universe – It’s a cavalcade of exaggerated accents and female cast members in this beauty pageant taking place in Moscow. It’s the goofy accents that really make this enjoyable, especially from Aidy Bryant as Miss Greenland and Kate McKinnon in her second best accent of the night as Miss Bolivia. It’s not necessarily the most clever sketch, but it let the female cast members have a lot of fun, and it was thoroughly enjoyable.
Cartoon Catchphrase – Despite a strange and abrupt ending, this kids-geared game show gone horribly wrong was a great premise, and it almost landed Aidy Bryant the position of MVP for the night in this review (but one other cast member’s stellar presence could not be ignored). It’s Bryant’s genuinely shocked reactions at her husband’s indiscretion over the phone-a-friends that really sold this for me.
Date or Diss – Though this accurately sends up the ridiculous culture that seems to have invaded youth and MTV, it just wasn’t funny. Not even amusing facial expressions from Taran Killam as his dates show how terrible they are could save it. Honestly, it might not work just because we probably know some terrible girls like that in real life and it just hits too close to home.
Career Week Speaker – Despite Nasim Pedrad’s enthusiasm and dedication to the ridiculousness of this character, it was just too odd to work. It’s sad to think that something got cut for this sketch where some air humping, fist pumping, and weapon sound effects made for the majority of the intended laughs. Sorry, Nasim, but we know you can do better than this.
Ice Cream – No one ever thought that a comedic take on Shane Carruth’s film indie time travel film Primer would make it on “SNL,” but here we are. For those who haven’t seen that film or maybe just aren’t in tune with the sensibilities of independent film, this sketch may not have worked. That’s likely why it was in the 10-to-1 timeslot (the space usually reserved for truly oddball sketches). If this had anyone other than cast members from “SNL” and appeared at a film festival, it would likely win an award.
Cecily Strong is as comfortable as she’s ever going to be, and that’s meant to be a great compliment. Strong has fit right into the anchor desk, and she may not need a co-anchor when Seth Meyers leaves next year. Hell, Strong even got an applause break for one joke about Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. Unfortunately, a clip of that isn’t available online.
Chancellor Angela Merkel – Kate McKinnon is the best female cast member on the show, and this is just more proof of that. In an appearance that is equally depressing and funny as German Chancellor Angela Merkel comes to terms with her phone being tapped as she copes with loneliness. It’s sadly hilarious.
Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal – Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah really need to team up more, and this Weekend Update segment is evidence of that. Pharoah’s exaggeratedly stupid O’Neal and Thompson’s Barkley make for a dynamic duo, and we’re not sure how the former is able to move his crossed eyes like that.
Kerry Washington might be the best host of the season so far, and if one particular cast member didn’t have one of the best shows of their career, she might have gotten the MVP slot. Washington never felt out of place, and fit right in with the entire cast. She came right out of the gate with an easy but solid Oprah Winfrey impression, busted some moves in that My Girl music video (who dat bitch?), and nailed every single sketch she appeared in. Washington needs to come back soon, and if Michaels doesn’t find a black female cast member soon, just bring Washington back every now and then.
Jay Pharoah – From his recurring turns as Principal Frye and Barack Obama, the incredible My Girl music video parody of The Fox, and his turn as Shaquille O’Neal, Pharoah had me rolling the whole night. He was in nearly every sketch (joined frequently by Kenan Thompson), and just owned the entire episode. He didn’t even have to do Jay-Z, Denzel Washington, or Will Smith!
The Final Word
As someone who is glad that “SNL” addressed their diversity criticism so comedically, host Kerry Washington did show that “SNL” really needs a black female cast member in order to expand into some untapped territory. It’s no coincidence that Jay Pharoah got MVP this episode, especially since he was able to do some unique sketch work with a black female by his side. Even Thompson upped his game with Washington present, and the entire episode felt fresh with very little reliance on familiar tropes. Again, that doesn’t mean Michaels should rush to fill that void, but as soon as he does, “SNL” will have some new comedy gold to mine.
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