Like many, I was a fan of Taraji P. Henson way before her Empire days, which means that I was already expecting a host who knows how to command the stage and give it everything she’s got. And that’s just what we got last night! It wasn’t the strongest show, but as host, Taraji was incredibly engaged, and gave very strong efforts into every performance. In other words, she really wanted to be there to accomplish a dream come true, and it showed.
COLD OPEN: HILLARY CLINTON VIDEO (Bayer, McKinnon, Hammond)
Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton returns in lieu of her impending announcement for her campaign. We may very well be seeing more and more of McKinnon’s Clinton, and if that’s the case, the ‘scary and biting but warm’ manner in which McKinnon plays her might be great enough to be welcomed. And hey, Bill’s back!
TARAJI P. HENSON MONOLOGUE (Henson, Killam, Thompson, McKinnon, Davidson, Bayer, Jones)
Not the most memorable song monologue, nor one that the audience was super into right away, but I’m glad she didn’t just play a soft version of the TV character that got her on SNL, like some hosts would have done in the past. Kerry Washington’s monologue last season was basically that, and it didn’t quite hit, so…Taraji P. Henson sings! Sure, why not!! (Also: Kenan Thompson being in Good Burger 7 would be beyond sad because I guarantee that would air on BET today, buried behind a rerun of BeBe’s Kids.)
DEPENDS LEGENDS (Bennett, Bayer)
After this aired, I instantly saw the interwebs comparing it to the 90s commercial “Oops I Crapped My Pants”, also about elderly diapers. It may not be fair to compare the two, (they are, after all, still just poop jokes) but…if you had to: a diaper on the Truman headline or Tony Shaloub isn’t quite as great the pride the “Oops I Crapped My Pants” gentleman has when he announces that he’s wearing some. Okay, why not I guess? I’ve already forgotten about it, as it probably won’t go farther than a chuckle-worthy idea.
TEACHER TRIAL (Bennett, Bryant, Strong, McKinnon, Davidson, Henson, Thompson, Moynihan, Bayer)
“Ren and Pimpy” was my favorite out of Pete Davidson’s nicknames (which is the 17th one out of the 19 that I’m supposed to find funny, I’m sure). Hey, how about Pete Davidson here? This sketch can be filed under the ‘he was great back then too’ that we’ll refer to in a few years when he’s truly owning SNL as the star.
HOME 2 (Killam, Zamata, Pharoah, Henson, Strong, Thomson, Davidson, McKinnon)
I was hoping a Home parody about hip-hop artists would show up on this show. Not sure if Taran Killam’s Jim Parsons will live on as my favorite impression of his, but that’s beyond the point. As far as impression-reel sketches go, this wasn’t as memorable as I would have hoped. I still remember you, Back to the Future audition sketch.
QVC (Henson, McKinnon, Bryant, Moynihan)
Kate McKinnon (channeling Molly Shannon and a bit of Liza Minnelli) & Taraji were doing everything to sell this sketch. Unfortunately, with each question of “now what is that third way??”, this just didn’t go anywhere. That’s too bad, because I kind of wanted to know what a 3-way poncho is. What we got instead was just women acting quirky in voices. Oh well…I’ve seen much worse on the real QVC.
SOUTH CENTROS (Thompson, Pharoah, Che, Zamata, Jones, Henson, Coster-Waldau)
So, I still haven’t seen GoT. (Sue me. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) But even without that, I thought this was a fun way to integrate it with, of all things, Boyz n the Hood, which I am familiar with. I’m sure I would have enjoyed it even more if I was familiar with both sides of the parody, but even without that, I thought the final product was fairly good.
WEEKEND UPDATE (Jost, Che, McKinnon, Bayer, Crystal)
Michael Che getting miffed about white protesting without punishment followed by Colin Jost’s “hey!” was a great little moment. He’s becoming a better master of ceremonies figure behind the desk this year, but he’s really at his best when he’s the lowly, kind of nerdy guy playing off of someone else (Leslie Jones, or Che taking a crack at him are great examples).
McKinnon, busy having the night of her life, appeared as Cecilia Gimenez to defend her ugly Lucille Ball statue and reveal other celebrities she has created ‘art’ for (though I thought her Don Knotts looked more like Don Rickles, frankly).
You know, Che’s interaction with Jacob might be one of his top 5 segment interactions because he is trying so hard to engage Jacob, which means he can’t display his usual “this is just nonsense” attitude. However, Billy Crystal’s appearance as Jacob’s father got it pretty close to reverting back. And hey, Billy Crystal!
HOLLYWOOD GAME NIGHT (McKinnon, Bayer, Killam, Bryant, Pharoah, Mooney, Bennett, Strong, Henson)
This sketch should have just been all about Jay Pharoah’s Common. My lord, was that great. Without that and Wanda Sykes, this would only have been about as fine as the first time they did it back in October. Always good to see Nick Offerman’s mustache. And I get the feeling that Taraji P. Henson has always wanted to play Wanda Sykes, who I’m sure will be excited that the Internet knows who she is again.
VLOG (Zamata, Mooney, Henson, Pharoah)
Credit where credit is due, this was stronger than the first appearance of this sketch on Chris Rock’s show. It was a little more focused, and Taraji just takes it to another level and sells the heck out of it. Also: poor Jay Pharoah…he still gets the worst chores assigned to him.
SESAME STREET (Henson, Muppets)
Ha, this was kind of charming, predictable or not! If nothing else, the Muppets have reactions faces worthy of being back in the cast again. It’s only been 40 years. Anyway, Taraji was fun here, even is you can’t take the jokes as far (Cookie is a very, let’s say, adult character, and it’s not like the Sesame Street Muppets can go much farther than what we get here). Poor Elmo.
THEIR OWN LEAGUE (Thompson, Killam, Bryant, McKinnon, Strong, Moynihan, Henson, Jones)
Here’s the problem I have with this sketch: I think there may have been more here originally. They got right up to the point they were trying to make, made it quickly, and then jumped ship from that point instantly. The sketch seemed over as soon as it was over, and…I don’t know. With all that’s been taking place in society lately with racial struggles (especially with Taraji P. Henson being a major celebrity frontrunner of “Black Lives Matter” convos), this sketch seemed like it wanted to do more than just say “hey, we’re all equal!” and then bail so quickly. Maybe her character or Leslie Jones had more to say! Not like a sketch in a comedy show needs to be a piece of culture that makes a big statement, but…I don’t know. I could very well be looking too much into it, it just seems like a halfway missed opportunity. It didn’t help that some of the timing was off too.
CONNECTATRON (Killam, Strong, Moynihan, Pharoah, Henson)
Okay, so the version of this sketch that made it to air was pretty terrible. It was so truncated and rushed that you could barely make sense of it. The online version is obviously from dress rehearsal, in its’ full original form, and much more fun. The idea of a power-ranger-esque character not wanting to cooperate in the heat of battle, due to, shall we say, saltiness, is actually funny. The only thing just barely holding it together in the live version (hardly twice as short as the online version) was how much fun Taraji was trying to have. I get that the time cycle of SNL has to fit perfectly in the 90 minute slot, but why not just stretch the time a bit more and show us the full good nights instead of rushing through a sketch hap-hazardly and then barely giving us a good nights with the cast (again and again)?! Alas, here we are.
Best Sketch of the Night: Teacher Trial
Worst Sketch of the Night: Connectatron
Joke of the Night: “Cops don’t like pictures. It’s their least favorite thing to shoot.” – Che
Observations: There’s not much more I can say about Taraji P. Henson other than that she was a pretty great host. The energy she brought, even in lackluster sketches, maintained the continuous positive vibes SNL has had for most of its’ 40th season. Not a lot of great sketches unfortunately…but lots of great energy! And hey, how about Kate McKinnon? She was everywhere tonight, further establishing the mini-Renaissance she’s been having on this show. Who knows – in a season in which there’s a very strong ensemble with no real “star” (like Eddie Murphy or Will Ferrell or Kristen Wiig), maybe she grabs that mantle.
BLACKOMETER AVERAGE: 6.42
Next time: Scarlett Johansson!
Michael Keaton: 7.15
Martin Freeman: 6.98
Bill Hader: 6.91
Kevin Hart: 6.86
Dwayne Johnson: 6.81
Chris Hemsworth: 6.81
James Franco: 6.81
Woody Harrelson: 6.80
Jim Carrey: 6.80
Cameron Diaz: 6.78
Sarah Silverman: 6.78
J.K. Simmons: 6.70
Chris Pratt: 6.54
Taraji P. Henson: 6.42
Amy Adams: 6.18
Chris Rock: 5.75
Dakota Johnson: 5.62
Blake Shelton: 5