I always forget that Jamie Foxx first got famous by doing sketch comedy on In Living Color. His post-television career has moved farther and farther away from comedy, but more importantly, even when he returns to his roots, as he did last night, it never has the feel of letting a natural comedic talent go out there and do his thing. It's more carefully managed, like you would do with a movie star. He's not bad. He flubbed about every fifth line and coasted through a couple sketches, but he still has something of an instinct for timing. I just think he left his comedic sensibility where he left In Living Color: in the mid-nineties.
Most Sensitive Depiction of Post-Traumatic Stress
Solid little cold open, with Jay Pharoah's Obama taking pity on poor, bullied John Boehner. The thing with Pharoah's Obama isn't that it's not funny. It's scary accurate, and that can always be put to good use. The problem has been that the accuracy has been an end in itself in previous sketches, and that wasn't enough. Now that the impersonation is being used in a sketch that has an actual idea to it, the results were quite funny. I think Bill Hader's Boehner could have been more orange, but to approach the actual levels of Boehner's skin tone, you'd have had to put Hader out of commission for the rest of the show, so I understand.
Time Warp of the Week
There was a lot about Foxx's performance that recalled the past, but none so intensely as his monologue. From "My name is Jamie Fid-oxx" to his Chris Rock-ish repetition on "How black is that?" everything felt decidedly warmed-over. Whoever wrote that joke about second-term Obama changing his name to "Barack Dikembe Mutombo 2 Pac Mandela Obama X" needs to update their Rolodex of "Black-Sounding Names." (And, fine, I have to update my Rolodex of joke setups to reflect the fact that nobody has used a Rolodex in ten years.) The thing was, we all knew this thing was going to end up with Foxx singing. Why waste all that time with hoary joke setups?
Rejected Samuel L. Jackson Sketch of the Week
Continuing the theme of "Didn't we see this sketch many years ago with a funnier performer?" was the game show "Bitch, What's the Answer," the premise of which was basically: "White people, am I right?" Three cracker-ass contestants took turns responding to un-answerable questions, while Foxx (as host "Mookie Meeks" ... Like, I think that was an actual character name from Mo' Money; what DECADE is this?) berated them. Even beyond the "Call Marsellus Wallace a bitch again" stuff, the trope of the unwinnable game show is maybe the most repeated one in SNL history (as we will find out again later in the show).
Most Welcome Return
I know it's not everybody's cup of tea, but I actually squealed with delight at the return of "J-Pop America Fun Time Now." In classic SNL fashion, it's the one-joke premise stretched out over countless repetitions, but I am so fond of Taran Killam and Vanessa Bayer, I could watch them bounce around to that theme song all day. Plus, Jason Sudeikis is great as the ever more outraged Sensei Mark Hoffman. Diminishing returns have definitely taken their toll on the premise, and Foxx's presence dragged the sketch to a halt; not to sound like a broken record, but I hope this at least is a signal that Bayer has been let out of whatever doghouse she's been in all season.
Nagging Minutiae of the Week
Funny idea with "Alex Cross 2" starring Tyler Perry as both Cross and Madea, and it probably featured Foxx's best comedic work, if only for the parts where Cross goes cross-eyed trying to struggle with Madea on the other side of his face. Not to get pedantic, but how are you gonna do a Madea sketch and not get the "heller" right? Foxx was saying it like "hellew." Which is CLEARLY NOT CORRECT. I mean.
Character Makeover of the Week
Not a particularly great Weekend Update this week, as Seth Meyers finally found the endpoint for his constant stream of Jerry Sandusky jokes (seriously, there's been one every week, and this one got an actively hostile response), and Jamie Foxx kept things on the cutting edge of comedy with a "Keep Their Heads Ringin'" reference. Best in show was Aidy Bryant as Mrs. Claus. The conception of the Lady Claus as vulgar and sexually unsatisfied isn't exactly breaking new ground in comedy, but Bryant delivered it with great enthusiasm.
Overdue Premise of the Week
Just because everything this week felt like old news doesn't necessarily mean it was bad news. People have been making jokes about confusing Dylan McDermott and Dermot Mulroney for years, after all. But overdue or not, making a game show out of it turned out to be a great idea, especially with the added element of three African American contestants who obviously don't know a damn thing about either one of those guys. Loved their indignation, loved the escalating sadism of Bill Hader as the host, loved the (obligatory, maybe, but still) cameo at the end. Loved the tag about Djimon Hounsou and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Well done.
Trenchant Social Commentary of the Week
More and more, as I get used to the rhythms of Digital Shorts: The Next Generation, I'm finding them a welcome presence. It's a significant change up pace, much more so than the original Digital Shorts ever were. These are slower, quieter, more willing to soak in a premise for a while. Kenan Thompson was great as the tree pimp, and while the sketch veered back and forth in terms of the rules (Is Kenan talking like a pimp while selling trees for standard holiday purposes, or is he selling trees to they can be had sex with? We kind of get both), there were more than enough laughs to make up for it. I especially liked the sparkly high-heeled shoe on the tree stump, as well as Kenan yelling at the little sapling to get off the streets.
Mouth-Fart of the Week
"Maine Justice" was the weirdest thing, you guys. I know that was the point, but still. I also know that Jason Sudeikis is leaving the show in like three seconds, and as such, his DGAF levels are off the charts. But for as much as this sketch was just an excuse for him to scream incoherently in a purposefully terrible New Orleans accent and try to make Jamie Foxx break character, he might as well have just stood in the middle of the stage and made mouth-farts for three minutes. I'm sure they could have found a way to fit a Charlie Day cameo into that as well.
Sketch of the Week
It took almost an hour and a half, but we finally got the show's big winner in the throwaway last sketch of the night. If you ask me, it made the whole rickety episode worth watching. True to this season's form, the episode played favorites with the female cast members. This week was a very Vanessa Bayer/Aidy Bryant week, while Kate McKinnon was absent entirely, as was the previously dominant Cecily Strong, up until this sketch, where she joined Bayer as two ex-porn stars shilling for Swarovski crystals. Or, you know, "Saboski" crystals. The whole thing was just a series of escalating non sequiturs about how life in the porn industry was great, but now: crystals. It reminded me of a favorite sketch of mine: Scarlett Johansson and the marble columns. So, yes, even the best sketch of the night was reminiscent of something older. Not always a bad thing.