Live from New York, it’s the Sasheer Zamata show! No, not really. But it’s hard not to feel sympathy for Zamata as she enters into what would already be a high-profile gig with ridiculously weighty expectations. Saturday Night Live did nothing particular to draw attention to their new hire (the media has done that job expertly enough for them already), but Zamata was in a ton of sketches for her maiden episode will undoubtedly look to prove her chops on the show the old-fashioned way, by being funny. I have high hopes that she’ll do an excellent job.
Zamata took the reins for Drake’s first episode as host, although he’s been a very solid musical guest in the past who’s shown some sketch chops. Right from the monologue, this was an episode that leaned on stereotype humor perhaps a little too much but I thought that Drake did a good job. No, he wasn’t the revelation some might have hoped for, but he had some impressions, he rapped, he played a hell of a dorky dad—he was everyone’s definition of a competent SNL host. He even snuck into the cold open as Alex Rodriguez and did a nice job doing an impression of someone people don’t really think of as a talker. Kate McKinnon’s Justin Bieber outshone him, sure, but most hosts don’t even get a sniff of that cold open.
The monologue with the bar mitzvah jokes… oy. It’s important to get the word out to everyone that Drake is Jewish, I agree, but it’s always a fine line between hacky and knowingly self-aware when you bust out the hoary old “Jews are cheap and dorky!” gags. Not to mention Kenan Thompson as the pimpin’ uncle with a new aunt (Zamata) on his arm.
Things quickly turned around when Kenan introduced himself as Sway. “If you black, you know me from The Wake Up Show. If you white, you know me from this hat.” The cavalcade of rappers in TV shows was the usual mixed bag but the positives far outweighed the negatives. You had the return of Taran Killam’s Eminem impression, which he doesn’t bust out nearly enough and always slays me. Drake as a Lil’ Wayne Urkel on Family Matters was cute, but I’d like to spend some time with Kenan’s Reginald VelJohnson. Much stronger was Drake’s Jay-Z (and Beck Bennett’s Mr. Wizard) which I would say outstrips Jay Pharoah’s take on the guy.
Noel Wells busted out another shaky impression, this time Nancy Grace, although she has a killer catchphrase in “What about the babies?” that pretty much guarantees this one will be back on our screens at some point. May I never have to think about Drake playing Katt Williams again, though. At the writer’s table, he must have just been like, “I do a killer Katt Williams!” I imagine the writers turning to themselves and wondering which sketch they could crowbar THAT into.
The resolution song was good, although the build was all wrong—starting with Killam furiously eating donuts was a mistake, since that was the funniest part of the video. Jay Pharoah madly fucking a plastic sex doll was maybe not quite as funny as everyone thought it might be, but the stinger of furious LARPing brought things home pretty nicely.
Things got stronger as the night went on. Drake as the square dad being humped by a confused and horny Aidy Bryant was a decent showcase for both of them (I really enjoy Drake as a straight man, and Aidy as a sexual terrorist) but the ending of the sketch was too weird and unsettling to be really funny. Then Weekend Update did the Jacqueline Bisset bit you expected (Bayer looked confused and took the entire sketch just to get to the desk) mixed in with a terrific Nasim Pedrad as Ariana Huffington. “I mean come on, give me a break of the Kit Kat bar!” Huffington’s Update appearances aren’t joke-heavy, and her political commentary is mostly pretty reasoned and on the money. The laughs are all in Pedrad’s impression.
Pedrad had a good night, actually. I was a little uncomfortable about the generic “otherness” of her Rahat character in the Disneyworld sketch but Drake’s ridiculous energy in trying to get her to go along with the play-acting, mixed with Rahat’s childish confusion, largely worked for me. This felt like an idea Pedrad had from the ground up, but I actually have no idea whether she wrote it or developed it with a writer. I wouldn’t mind seeing Rahat one more time this season, though.
Three strong sketches closed out the night, largely a successful opening for SNL in 2014. The return of Bayer’s poetry teacher Miss Meadows was much appreciated, if largely similar to her last time around. But the ridiculous cadence and laugh of that character are what you’re there to see. The return of Mornin’ Miami also went along the exact same lines as the first time around, but it was one of the ten best sketches of last year’s run, so I’m not complaining. And the latest Good Neighbor sketch was a little more straightforward than some of Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney’s efforts, but I’m still enjoying the hell out of those two and whatever they do. Throw them on at 12:55 every week! I don’t care! As long as I get to see it!
- “Good evening, I’m Piers Morgan, and what I lack in journalistic integrity…”
- Bobby Moynihan’s Chris Christie says what he’s really thinking. “I’d like to apologize to the people of New Jersey for this entire incident and also it’s over so shut up.”
- Sway has to go. “I’m not saying there’s a cat on my head, but if there is I have to feed it.”
- “Nancy, somewhere out there, there is someone wearing only a snuggie and shower shoes, and he is only half as crazy as your ass, okay?”
- Aidy has no time for seventh-grade studs. “Kyle is a whisper of a boy. Your dad is a shout of a man.”
- “Actress Jeanne Tripplehorn is back from the dead to tell us how we were wrong and she never died.”