Over the past two seasons, the hosting gig for SNL has seemingly become dominated by musicians. Not that this is in any way a bad thing, just an observation. The idea seems to be replicate the dynamic that Justin Timberlake over the past decade with a new generation of musicians. Between Bruno Mars, Adam Levine, Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga to name a few, performing double duties has gone from being a rare honor to a run-of-the-mill task. Enter Drake. In episode structure, Drake’s episode was in no way different than what the show did for Bruno Mars: play to his musical ability, disguise him in some softball impressions and then bury him in bizarre roles. And while Drake never quite got to a bizarreness peak like Bruno did, his episode ended up being one of the best of the season. And before anyone starts reading into this too much, the episode wasn’t good because it tackled subject matters it hadn’t before. The episode wasn’t good because it introduced a wealth of new character possibilities. The episode was good because it was funny. The writers took risks and wrote some obvious guarantees. In the end, Drake did the best thing that a host could do: blend in.
Performer of the Week: Kenan Thompson
The main reason I stopped writing these recaps a while back was that this section of the recap has become plug-and-chug. Through half a season, Kenan has carried the show on his back. There have been other good performers and some great moments sprinkled in here and there, but Kenan has finally been given the chance to become the star this season. He seized it. As Kenan hinted at in the night’s cleverest skit, I have no idea who Sway is. Granted. But his impressions in that BET sketch show why he is as versatile as he is. Why SNL has used the Reginald VelJohnson impression yet perplexes me after seeing it on Saturday, especially when it could have been used to spice up the stale Bruce Willis episode with a Die Hard spoof. But more importantly, the Rick Ross impression that nearly made me pee my pants in the Lady Gaga episode returned in an even better fashion. I would watch the Teletubbies to this day if they cast Rick Ross as Po. That isn’t exaggeration; I think I would. Kenan didn’t show up too often after that sketch, sprinkling in a few other gems, but for the work he put in in that sketch alone, Kenan wrangles yet another MVP.
Impression of the Week: Drake
I never thought I’d see the day when I gave a host Impression of the Week honors when Taran Killam pulled out his Eminem and we got, likely, the last glimpse of Arianna Huffington before Seth’s departure. But Drizzy did Weezy. (Frankly, I don’t know what either of those words mean. I think it’s an accurate statement. I don’t listen to much rip-rapping.) No disrespect to Drake’s impressions of A-Rod, Jay-Z or Katt Williams, but I definitely know that Jay Pharaoh could have done better on all of those. But for Li’l Wayne, a bedrock impression of Jay’s, Drake knocked it out of the park. He looked like him. He acted like him. He sounded like him. He made it somewhat believable that Li’l Wayne could have been the original Urkel. (No he didn’t.) It was a brilliant impression.
Alarming Absence: Cecily Strong
Cecily did update, as usual, and she did another fine good job if I say so myself. But aside from that, Cecily only appeared in a spot detail in the slumber party sketch, which may have been the weakest sketch of the night. Which is a shame. Cecily had really been gaining steam over the past few episodes. She really looks primed to take over as the funniest woman on the cast, which is saying something with how talented Kate McKinnon is. But if the show is planning on fazing her into the role Seth currently holds of just doing Update, they are making a grave mistake.
Facial Expression of the Week:
Overexplanation of a Joke: Cecily Strong
Here’s my favorite example of why Cecily was underused this week. She has been sneaky good all year on Update, overshadowed by Seth. But who wouldn’t be? Over the past three years, Seth may have solidified himself as the greatest Weekend Update host ever. (Just an opinion. If you don’t agree, that’s what the comment section is for. Rip me to shreds, one person who is reading this.) But this week Cecily seemed to have perfect timing with every joke. My personal favorite was a parody of the state of Florida’s legal code, when she remarked that “20 Items or Less” is the state’s only law. You get it? It’s because a lot of stupid things happen in Florida! And the people there tend to do those stupid things! In a way, Cecily found a way to sum up my experience in Jacksonville from earlier this month in one joke. Kudos to her.
Joke of the Week: Nasim Pedrad
I’ll talk a lot more in depth about Nasim’s best performance of the night at a later juncture, but here I’m returning to her impression of Huffington. “As the busboy said to the waiter, Chris Christie is already finished!” Go back and watch that clip to see how long she and Seth milk that joke. It was about five second of staring at the audience, waiting for the joke to be caught. And caught it was. Nasim always dominates this impression, but this week they shied away from way too much innuendo and just came hard with the jokes. Honestly, if you didn’t like this, give me a break of the kit-kat bar.
Newbie of the Week: Noel Wells
This was a week for veterans. Unless we count Drake as a newbie, very few new cast members got their own sketches. And as much as I love the Good Neighbor guys, I have to admit this week wasn’t their best short. And no disrespect to Sasheer Zamata, she did a fine job in her first episode, but I just didn’t find her to be that funny. That leaves Noel, who managed to keep a straight face while lampooning Nancy Grace, which is no easy task.
Sketch of the Week: I. AM. RAHAT.
I would only assume this sketch got mixed reaction. It was juvenile, ridiculous, could-have-been racist and bordering on mean. But damn, was it funny. Drake managed to keep his composure while repeating the same encouraging cheers over and over again and Nasim’s deadpan was as good as ever. She has a knack of finding a way to carry sketches by herself without ever expanding on a character beyond the obvious, something that a woman on SNL hasn’t done since Cheri Oteri’s golden days. She isn’t the funniest woman on staff, but she has a way of getting into these ridiculous characters and stealing scenes. That being said, it was Drake’s reactions that truly were the best. The character he played seemed just grounded enough to be believable, yet just self-loathing enough to be funny.
Single Best Skit of the Season … So Far
Through over half a season of a show, it’s tough to pinpoint a single sketch as the funniest of the season. What does that mean? Is it staying power? Is it funniest the first time I saw it? Is it mass appeal? Is it niche zaniness? I don’t know. So I’m just going to go with the biggest laugh I had all season. It might not be as funny the second time, and I know I’ve talked to a few people who didn’t like this sketch, but with all due respect they are wrong. Here it is one more time. Here is the Office Baby.
Jonah Hill returns to SNL. I’m not sure if he’ll be fat Jonah or skinny Jonah, but it does leave room to bring back Taran Killam’s Michael Cera impression. Here’s hoping.