When inspiration hit this week’s SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, it came from an unexpected direction. African-American staff writer Leslie Jones, who isn’t an official cast member, pretty much blew the doors off Weekend Update with a sustained piece of political incorrectness that was all the more startling in the context of the timidity that is modern-day SNL, starting off with a riff on Lupita Nyong’o’s People Magazine Most Beautiful Woman title and veering into a lament about how much more vital Jones’s own sex life would be if she’d only been born into slavery, with a conclusion that turned LeBron James’s “Decision” into a choice about what plantation to take his talents to. The show hasn’t seen anything like it in–literally–years, and among other things it made the episode’s cold open, about Donald Sterling and his racial remarks, look even more toothless than it had at the start of the show. (The only sharp moment in that one was a silent one where Bobby Moynihan’s Sterling recoiled from the very touch of Jay Pharoah’s Dennis Rodman.) If Jones comes back, and does anything comparable, it could propel SNL all the way into the 21st century.
That show of force came in an episode hosted by Andrew Garfield, a likable and talented actor (and, of course, star of the world’s #1 movie this weekend) so self-effacing that despite his evident enthusiasm, he failed to dominate any sketch he appeared in. That included his own monologue, in which he faded into the background as his Gwen Stacy, Emma Stone, a former host herself, showed up to give him “pointers” for his hosting gig.
The same thing happened in the All-Star Family Feud sketch, in which Garfield was given the star turn as Justin Timberlake, but his imitation was inexpert, and the bit was owned instead by Aidy Bryant’s adorable Adele, and Taran Killiam, who had a hysterical bit as Russell Crowe, singing a gibberish Les Miserables pastiche. Garfield did best in a The Beygency pre-taped sketch in which he was hunted down for saying something mildly disparaging about a Beyonce song, but even there his thunder was stolen by surprise appearances from Kiefer Sutherland and Mary-Lynn Rajskub as agents facing dire fates for their musical criticism.
Other sketches were just bad. An Oliver Twist piece where Cecily Strong played an older woman trying to talk her way into Garfield as Oliver’s extra gruel had no discernible point, and a skit where Garfield and Stone revealed that they didn’t know how to kiss like normal people was just an excuse for some slapstick and for Chris Martin of Coldplay to score the punchline by choosing to kiss Garfield rather than Stone. The 12:55AM sketch (which was actually at 12:45, because the 2d Coldplay song and a rerun of the “Bird Bible” pre-tape from a few weeks ago followed) had the potentially amusing idea of Garfield’s best man using his toast to try and steal the bride away, despite her total lack of interest, and then for him to have to give the real toast with his wife beside him, but the piece had nowhere to go after laying out the basic gag.
The rest of Update featured franchise characters, first Kate McKinnon as the Russian villager bewailing her life (although somewhat cheered that Full House reruns had finally made their way to Russia), then Killam as the waspish old-time critic who hates everything, a bit that tried to be funny by not being funny about feline AIDS and Lincoln’s assassination, but reached its highlight when Killam went up on his lines.
The only original pre-tape apart from Beygency was for a product called Stanx that holds in farts the way Spanx holds in stomachs. So there was that.
In all, apart from that startling 5 minutes when you could almost believe you were watching genuinely edgy TV comedy, it wasn’t an impressive hour and a half. SNL has 2 more chances to leave viewers with a good taste in their mouths for the season, starting next week with host Charlize Theron and musical guests The Black Keys.