Last night, James Franco ushered in the first of our SNL Christmas shows! SNL has been pretty solid thus far in season 40, but there was something interesting about last night’s episode. They seemed to really be trying to experiment with new things in a way that gave the show more of an edge here and there – which was great! There was still plenty of room for good comedy, with only a couple of the usual “how did this make it to air” sketches. Also, Nicki Minaj was in a lot of sketches! She was mostly playing other renditions of herself, but who knows…maybe she keeps coming back and turns into the new Lady Gaga of SNL…or even Timberlake down the road? (I think I’m getting ahead of myself.)
On to an edgy SNL Scorecard!
COLD OPEN: POLITICS NATION (Thompson, Pharaoh, Moynihan)
You know, right before this show I was talking to someone who felt (like many others) that SNL isn’t funny anymore “like it used to be back in the good ol’ days.” I always defend this opinion…but I can only assume that those people turn on their TVs and see sketches like this when they make these claims. Politics Nation, as a whole, has just never been that great – it’s just Kenan’s Al Sharpton making goofy mispronunciations, and it’s not like Al Sharpton is known for being that goofy. (The little Pharell Williams joke did get me.) At least it tried to end with a point about things getting better in the future starting with each of us…I dunno. Maybe I’ll feel differently about this thing later. For now…
JAMES FRANCO MONOLOGUE (Franco, Rogen)
I would watch the heck out of Seth Rogen teaching James Franco how to read. This was shorter & left me wanting a little more of Franco’s leaked secrets before the pictures, but it was still fun & a good way to bring in the Sony leaks (although the real incident with the email sent to Sony employees was pretty terrifying).
PETER PAN LIVE (Mooney, McKinnon, Bennett, Strong, Bryant, Franco, Killan, Thompson, Moynihan)
I should’ve seen two things coming: A Peter Pan Live parody, and the return of Tonkerbell. This was somehow more of a mess than the first time we saw Tonkerbell on Jim Parsons’ show last season – mostly because the Tonkerbell stuff made it feel like there were multiple sketches at one time. Also, James Franco does not do a good Christopher Walken. The written material for everything aside from Tonkerbell was fine, but everything all together was too much. I really want to know what Taran Killam’s eager pirate had to say.
STAR WARS TEASER (Killam, Pharaoh, Moynihan, Franco, Thompson, Jones)
This was great – everyone in it was great, and it’s just tremendous to see Killam’s Harrison Ford + Moynihan as Leia. Great production values, good jokes…what else can I say? Nice piece of entertainment.
JINGLE BALLERZ SPECIAL (Davidson, Zamata, Killam, Franco, Thompson, McKinnon, Minaj, Pharaoh)
Kate McKinnon’s Justin Bieber is a national treasure. Furthermore, Jay Pharoah’s Kanye West is just the best thing ever. Kudos to Nicki Minaj who was solidly more committed in this role than the last time she was on the show as the bride of Blackenstein (which I still find funny).
GROW A GUY (O’Brien, Bennett, Bayer, Zamata, Davidson, Franco)
After appearing in Mike O’Brien’s great Monster Pals sketch from last season, James Franco co-starred in another broadly esoteric sketch from the strange, strange mind of the most interesting SNL writer on staff. This is one I really would have liked to watch at the pitch meeting – it probably sounded so simple on paper, but took off to insane limits once it was put into motion. Everything is actually so specifically complex once you break it down, from the imagery of the grow-a-guy in its’ pre-human stage to how seriously everyone takes this. Execution is what sells this one here the most, and it’s great enough to where I could watch a movie of this premise if given the right atmosphere.
MAGIC BRIDGE (Bryant, Mooney, Franco, Strong)
Not really sure what that was, but James Franco and Kyle Mooney shared a long kiss. I think that was the point, other than Cecily playing another “funny voice” character. The audience was pretty quiet, except for her quick jab at Bill Cosby that no one was expecting. Anyway, there just wasn’t a lot going on here.
WEEKEND UPDATE (Jost, Che, Moynihan, Jones, Minaj)
Yesterday, I read an article by Entertainment Weekly about how ‘Update’ has been missing a lot of things, but mainly a ‘bite’ to it in the last year. Millions of people compare Jost & Che’s current Update to the previous installments by Fallon, Fey, Poehler and Meyers, who all had more rants and interactive pieces to make it gel more memorably. I hope those who feel this way watched Update last night, because a somber Che and Jost opened up immediately tackling the recent failures of juries to indict policemen in the Eric Gardner and Mike Brown cases. These rants were fearless, sincere, had a little comedy tastefully thrown in, and just felt truly genuine from these two. This was the perfect thing that Update has been missing, and I’m so glad it was there. (It did seem to just up and stop rather than end, however.)
The walk-on segments were great: the return of Anthony Crispino! More Leslie Jones! And even Nicki Minaj came on as Kim Kardashian. It wasn’t much, and it was for a joke that I think is almost on its’ way out…but she was having fun, so whatever.
Best Update of the season so far.
BRAIN SPACE (Davidson, Franco, Strong, Killam, Bryant, Mooney, Pharaoh, Minaj, Moynihan, Bennett, McKinnon, Bayer)
“WHO REMEMBERS A BILLY ZANE LINE FROM TITANIC?!” = my favorite thing of the night. Pete Davidson is a guy trying to clear space in his brain, and James Franco does his best to clear out his old memories, including his old teacher, movie quotes and song lyrics. This was a great sketch idea, and I can definitely say I’ve thought of my brain functioning as beings representing information. I was pretty bummed when the Fresh Prince theme and the “Bye Bye Bye” dance had to leave. Finally, by now it was notable how strong of a presence Nicki Minaj had had on the show thus far tonight. Anyway, this sketch was funny.
This sketch doesn’t appear to be online, likely because of song copyright issues. A lot of throwback songs were in this.
KID MAYOR (Franco)
This Tad Rankin monologue was just hilarious. I laughed harder at this than almost anything else all night, save Anthony Crispino. Good lord, I laughed harder at this. James Franco yelling about how he’s more of a man than a kid who crapped his pants is my new favorite thing. My score is based purely on how much I laughed.
SUNSEEKER YACHTS (Bayer, Strong, Franco, Rogen)
Franco & Rogen are the perfect kind of guys to be in a sketch like this, but I agree with some twitter opinions that Nicki Minaj would have fit in with this one. Or then again, maybe letting her play other variations of herself (basically) in previous sketches was enough. Anyway, this sketch gets better every time I see it based mostly on individual jokes, which is what this one is all about.
Best Sketch of the Night: Grow a Guy
Worst Sketch of the Night: Magic Bridge
Joke of the Night: “WHO REMEMBERS A BILLY ZANE LINE FROM TITANIC?!” – Franco
(Also: everything in “Kid Mayor” – Franco)
Observations: Another solid show! James Franco both blended well into the cast as well as serving as the standout/lead when the material needed him to do so. Weekend Update led the way for SNL to really run the gauntlet in a fearless kind of way that seemed to transfer into the energy of other sketches, which while not new, still seems newer for this cast as of late. As such, I hope the writers and cast continue in this direction! It’ll definitely help to make the show stand out more positively than some want to admit right now. But anyway…yeah! This was funny! Go find little Tommy and make him your major!
BLACKOMETER AVERAGE: 6.81
Next time: Martin Freeman!
Bill Hader: 6.91
James Franco: 6.81
Woody Harrelson: 6.80
Jim Carrey: 6.80
Cameron Diaz: 6.78
Sarah Silverman: 6.78
Chris Pratt: 6.54
Chris Rock: 5.75