Saturday Night Live has two kinds of predictabilities. On one hand, a seasoned host brings in characters and impressions that the audience comes to expect. As much of a burden on the writers as that may be, it is the indelible truth of the show’s popularity. On the other hand, being predictable can also mean being stale. Sadly, in this recovering season between eras and identities, most episodes fall in some gray area in between the two possibilities. Somewhere between weird and odd, somewhere between crass and gross, somewhere between good and bad, Jonah Hill’s episode lay. I came into the episode with a few expectations. All of them were satiated. One in a very roundabout way, but we’ll get to that.
To quote Justin Timberlake from his 2009 hosting gig, when a host reaches his third time, he knows his way around. To quote Tom Hanks from his Five-Timer’s Monologue, the third time is just an excuse to make up for a bad second time. And to plug a movie. Both of those explanations exactly define Jonah’s third try in Studio 8-H. The episode wasn’t bad. By no means was it the worst episode of the season, nor is it likely in the bottom half. But it seemed uninspired. No boundaries were pushed. No buttons were pressed. But yet the show flowed smoothly. To put it simply, the episode won’t win any awards, but I doubt anyone would be disappointed if this were the average quality of an episode. That being said, if this is the best the show has to offer, the show is in trouble.
Performer of the Week: Cecily Strong ft. Kenan Thompson
The temptation was to go with Kenan again. He did knock out yet another stellar performance as he has been doing week after week. But this week, every time Kenan went off, Cecily was right there with him. This was really an odd situation that kept coming back up. Sketch after sketch, the two of them showcased a chemistry I’m annoyed hadn’t yet been used. Just watch their turn together on Weekend Update. This was honestly the first time that Cecily seemed comfortable interviewing a character on Update, which I finally now believe that she can do well. (Side Note: This obviously wasn’t a character. This was definitely something Kenan actually said and they decided to make into a character. The one-liners were amazing.) It’s the same thing as happens with Seth. When the host is happy, the character is funnier. And that string of jokes at Justin Bieber’s expense really was the highlight of the night.
That’s not to say that Cecily was only good with Kenan. She managed to carry the weak premise of the angry horse sketch all the way to a watchable debacle without Kenan’s assistance and her solo gags on Update genuinely made Seth laugh, which was funny. But Cecily truly broke out with Kenan by her side, both at the desk and behind the podium in the delightfully freaky game show sketch. Their chemistry alone was enough to earn Kenan a supporting actor nod, but Cecily was the lead actress on the night.
Impression of the Week: Taran Killam, I guess
There was only one true impression this week, and it was Taran’s impression of Scott Hamilton in the opening sketch. It was actually pretty good, but when you win by default, I don’t glorify you.
Alarming Absentee: Bobby Moynihan
This is alarming in the true sense of the word absentee. Bobby was not on set Saturday night. The only sketch he appeared in was the pre-taped Good Neighbor short, and he was even only in that in a supporting role. If Bobby Moynihan is supposed to be the star of the show, he should be there. I understand he probably had other commitments, so you can’t blame the guy for missing the show, but especially at such a crucial transitional point, you’d like the established stars to be there.
Facial Expression of the Week: Kenan Thompson
Time stamp: 3:03. For some reason, this is the closest I’ve ever felt Kenan got to an All That sketch on SNL. It just felt vintage. It just felt right.
Overexplanation of a Joke: Cecily Strong
I don’t know why her Scottish impression during Update was so freaking funny. I just don’t. But the thing is, it was. You don’t often get impressions of whisky-drunk Scottish fish on Update, but Cecily managed to enjoy the hell out of the joke. She channeled her inner Mike Myers for that joke. Come to think of it, was that symbolism? Was she trying to be Mike Myers to Seth’s Seth Meyers? With Seth leaving, does she feel so guilty about being the senior-most member behind the desk that she feels she has to make up for it by remaining at least Myers-ly? The next thing we know, will Cecily be showing up in green makeup with ogre ears sticking out of her hair? Or worse. Will she be wearing the Fat Bastard suit?
Come to think of it, that might not actually be worse.
This is a new segment on the recap dedicated to the surprising, or not so surprising, guests that show up with the host. This week we had two. First, in the monologue which I personally didn’t enjoy, new friend Leonardo DiCaprio showed up to put Jonah on top of the world. There’s a reason Leo isn’t a comedian. He kind of looked uncomfortable on live TV. That being said, uncomfortable for Leo still oozes more charisma than the next guest has ever mustered in his life. Of course, I’m speaking of the amazing cameo of the one and only Michael Cera. If you want to play the memory game, at the end of my last recap, I predicted we’d see Taran Killam’s Cera impression. They one-upped me. I’ll give the better surprise to the once and present Bluth though. No offense to Leo, his turn on the stage just wasn’t as funny.
Joke of the Week: Jonah Hill’s Voice
This one is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of joke. In the fantastic “Me” sketch, the lampoon of Spike Jonze’s “Her,” Jonah Hill’s operating system, played by Jonah Hill’s voice, rents a surrogate for, well, just watch the sketch. But listen closely. He doesn’t actually say “surrogate.” He says “Cera-gate.” It’s something you don’t notice until you rewatch it, but it has one of the biggest payoffs of the season if you do catch it.
Newbie of the Week: Kyle Mooney
This, just like last week, wasn’t that good of a week for the featured players. I might have to disregard this category altogether. But if I had to pick someone, Kyle’s Inside SoCal bit was the highlight of the night for the newbies. Kyle has a definite knack for sticking himself in the character of an awkward, young showman who has way too much confidence. It’s a skill that Andy Samberg had, which I think is why I root for Kyle so much. I’m just waiting for his version of Shy Ronnie, because that would be awesome.
Sketch of the Week: Me
I’ve talked about it already, but I might as well go back to it. Though it wasn’t the funniest part of the show, that crown belongs to Update, it was definitely the most coherent and well-thought sketch of the night. It was a territory rife with parody opportunities and the writers found it. Vanessa Bayer’s quasi-impression of Amy Adams was funny, but really the Superbad guys carried the sketch. And that’s all you need sometimes. When friends work together, the result is generally great.
Single Best Skit of the Season … So Far
This remains unchanged. Nothing this week made me laugh harder than Office Boss.
Next Week: I cry.
Melissa McCarthy host Seth Meyers’ final episode as a cast member on SNL. Expect my next recap to be tear-stained, as I lament the disappearance of the last vestiges of my childhood before my very eyes.