As I said in my last review, for this young season of SNL, the thing I’m most interested in seeing is development of its young talent. Yeah, obviously the show should be funny every week, but it’s got such a shallow pool of recurring characters and bits to draw on right now. This is the incubation period for its new cast and tonight was a real showcase for three in particular: Beck Bennett, Kyle Mooney and Mike O’Brien, all of whom had standout nights. I think this was my favorite episode of the year, which is funny because it was hosted by Josh Hutcherson. No offense to the baby-faced Hunger Games star, it’s just unexpected.
The cold open was a fairly weak grab-bag of jokes about George Zimmerman presented by Piers Morgan, “the tiny little fool of news.” You do feel the loss of Jim Downey in these sketches, even if Downey’s extremely dry, straightforward approach probably needed to be retired. The topical cold open is a tradition SNL should never shed, but perhaps some tweak to the formula is needed? The only thing that really made me laugh was Bennett as the founder of Men’s Wearhouse, George Zimmer. “I do not like the way he’s making me look, I guarantee it.”
Hutcherson opened his night with a somewhat tiresome Hunger Games spoof, although that arrow shooting into Bobby Moynihan’s chest was the height of live TV trickery. I’m so easily impressed by that stuff. I may just be Hunger Games-ed out, cause I saw the movie about four hours before watching this episode. Also, I really don’t need Josh Hutcherson telling me he’s 21 years old. He was born in 1992. I don’t want to think about it.
The lead-off sketch was Girlfriends Talk Show, one of the few recurring bits the show seems really high on. I love Aidy Bryant’s work in general (she’s becoming a weekly MVP) and I always love Cecily Strong’s aside about her increasingly “crazy” boyfriend, but otherwise this sketch always comes off disjointed and weird to me. Bryant had some fantastic lines, mostly when talking about “private under-the-sheet romantic moments,” but Hutcherson wasn’t a particularly valuable addition to the sketch.
Then we had what, to me, was the sketch of the night, inarguably. I say “to me” because I’ve already noticed a very polarized reaction online to Bennett as “Baby Boss,” a genius-level CEO stuck in the body of a baby, and I suppose that’s not too surprising. It’s a very, very simple bit: Bennett spends three minutes trying to perform simple tasks while flailing his arms, walking funny, suddenly just crashing onto his butt to sit down, mashing spaghetti into everyone’s faces, etc. You’re either going to find this the funniest thing in the universe (me and my roommate were shrieking on the couch) or you’re going to be instantly turned off and then annoyed as it goes on and on. I thought Bennett nailed every moment and pretty much bought himself a few seasons on the show with that sketch, which I’ll be watching several more times.
The subway dancers sketch was another entry in the show’s new, muted digital shorts that always provoke smiles rather than big laughs from me. Maybe not quite as arresting as some of the videos this year, but I liked Jay Pharoah and Kenan Thompson’s exaggerated face dancing, and the loss of Hutcherson’s Lil Peanut was deeply felt (probably his most memorable performance of the night so far).
Two things to say about Weekend Update: one, Cecily Strong now feels very settled behind the desk, and she’s going to do fine once Meyers is gone (which is pretty soon, guys). She does seem to be cribbing from her current partner’s style a little bit, but I imagine she’ll evolve again once she’s working solo. Two, Bryant’s “Worst Lady on an Airplane” was the kind of Update character I am always immediately on board for. I was sold by the name alone, and her work with her neck pillow and loose plastic bags was just gravy. If that lady returns soon, I won’t be complaining.
At this point, I was just the happiest I’d been watching this show in a while. Every sketch had a very simple premise that it executed perfectly. The 80s homage to Outfield’s “Your Love” and Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl,” complete with Haim cameo (love those ladies) was very nicely staged. Strong and Bobby Moynihan as the employees who think they’re getting fired worked for me this time, or maybe it was just Taran Killam’s masterful performance as the dead-eyed serial killer employee.
Then we had another short from the show’s two Good Neighbor boys, Kyle and Beck, an updated (and improved) version of this sketch that worked not just as a complete little story, but also because of all its weird little details, like Bennett just throwing a VHS at a nearby TV to play it. God, I love what these two are bringing to this show. More Kyle and Beck, please, until I’m sick of them and I want them to die.
The pet store sketch that followed made me laugh a lot (and was Hutcherson’s best work of the night) but I don’t even know if I was just on a high at this point. That mix of callousness and incompetence was right in the sweet spot, and Strong (who hasn’t been in sketches as much this year but dominated tonight) was a great partner for J-Hutch in the delivering bad news department. “She went very peacefully after she screamed for about an hour.” I laughed hysterically at every line like that one.
At this point, I was done for the night. The show had made me happy, and even if it concluded with two iterations of The Californians, back to back, I would have dealt with it. But the Winston Sam Bass Investigative Report, which followed an extremely strange-looking Mike O’Brien as he asked bugs around town where the heck they had to be. I don’t know why this sketch was just so perfect, but I could deal with Winston Sam Bass showing up again. By again, I mean every week. Every little detail and turn (his breakdown over his weight, the appearance of his brother) made him a particularly special kind of weirdo that you don’t get to see on SNL enough. I love that the show is encouraging this kind of material right now, and I want more of it, MORE.
Finally, Vanessa Bayer was a turkey girlfriend at a Thanksgiving meal who ate corn out of Hutcherson’s hand and had a nervous breakdown. It was an excellent 12:55 sketch and that’s all I have to say about that. A great capper to a great night.
- Zimmerman’s girlfriend explains herself. “I just love it when a man’s features look like they’re being vacuumed to the center of his face.”
- “We’re such BFFs that we finish each other’s-“ “-awesome!”
- The Worst Lady on an Airplane has a 28-inch Dell laptop.
- “It’s practically the hottest club in town. DJs.”
- “As of 10am this morning she has been dead.”
- Man, Killam nails it even when he’s just playing a background character like the dad in the turkey sketch. “It’s Thanksgiving! I didn’t know your girlfriend was a GOD DAMNED TURKEY!”