Saturday Night Live Recap: Melissa McCarthy Is a Comedic Pickup Artist

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Photo: NBC/2016 NBCUniversal Media, LLC
Saturday Night Live
Episode Title
Melissa McCarthy/Kanye West
Season
41
Episode
13
Editor’s Rating
3/5

Melissa McCarthy is always fun on SNL, fearless as she is in degrading herself and an obvious joy to work with — based on the effect she has on the cast. What makes her fun in Studio 8H is what makes her fun in movies and TV: We watch her reach for something, fail to achieve it, then be inglorious in defeat, and keep swinging wildly for what she wants anyway. It’s no surprise that almost every sketch she was in this week and her monologue were about her being wrong and bad, but delightfully so. We’ve been wrong and bad, too, Melissa. We’re with you. 

Hillary Sings Cold Open
A nice reframing of the political moment, this cold-open sketch shows a group of friends at a restaurant all thinking about which candidate they’re going to vote for. Given a choice between Hillary and Bernie, they say they’d probably vote for Hillary except ... that they’d vote for Bernie. Cue Hillary (Kate McKinnon) lowering from the ceiling to sing the eerily appropriate Bonnie Raitt classic “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” first solo, then with Bill on piano (Darrell Hammond, always welcome). They can’t see her, but she does make the room colder when she leaves. Then, of course, there’s Jeb!, also here to sing the blues. But they can see him, and it’s kinda sad. Still, Hillary’s polling well in the South — well enough to play a couple of tasty licks on the guitar.

Melissa McCarthy Monologue
The first of many chances to watch McCarthy set herself up grandly for failure, the monologue has her claiming it’s her fifth time hosting only to be corrected by Kenan that it’s the fourth (the 40th anniversary might count for an additional 1/16). She’s charming and warm here, as ever, but one of the things I’ve always admired about her most is the drive you can sense beneath the surface, whatever she’s doing. She has an “I’ve got this” vibe, and paired with her other comedic qualities it creates a collegial, “come with me” kind of feel. As the song says, she is born to host five times (maybe next time will be when Ghostbusters comes out?).

The Day Beyoncé Turned Black
Quite obviously the centerpiece of this week’s show, mega production values and all, this apocalypse-film trailer spoof sees all of white America suddenly realizing, with the release of her new single “Formation,” that Beyoncé is, in fact, black. Or rather, in their minds, she has “turned black.” There are tons of wonderful subtle details here — like when one woman (Vanessa Bayer) distinguishes between the not-so-blackness of her friend (Sasheer Zamata) and the obvious blackness of a dude on the street in sweatshirt and low pants. There are some killer lines, too (“Maybe this song isn’t for us?” “But usually everything is”; “Mom, is Taylor Swift still white?”). Recently, SNL has been unafraid to dip its toes into racial politics and, handled well (as it is here), it proves the show’s vibrancy and relevance. The next morning, this video was already lighting up the social-media feeds of everyone I know, and I’m sure that will carry through the week ahead. 

The Cul-de-sac Test Screening
Like other cherished comedians before her, McCarthy is unafraid to be gross, strange, and super-physical in her work. SNL knows this, and uses it frequently (that this tendency to debase her may be related to her size, and how that fits into the general desexualization of women of size, is a topic for another day). Here, it’s in the night-vision camera footage of McCarthy’s character reacting to a scary movie, with increasingly weird and gross results — she vomits, punches people, and pisses herself. But for $250, what would you do on TV? 

Family Movie Night
My personal highlight for this episode is this sweet, straightforward scene of a family watching The Terminator together, realizing they’re watching a sex scene, and then each dealing with an interior monologue about what to do. No one plays weird desperation quite like Pete Davidson, and with each passing week he becomes more fully realized as a performer. It’s a delight to watch, even if he admits he’d “Back to the Future” himself and hook up with his mom. Also, I forgot that Bobby Moynihan’s sense of timing and pacing is so spot-on. Hi, Bobby! 

Weekend Update
While we all try to remove the image of Hillary in Beyoncé’s halftime-show outfit, let’s take a moment to appreciate that this was a decent Update week! In particular, their handling of the Beyoncé “non-outrage” was clean and well-constructed, especially the patterning of “the Beyoncé of ______.” My only wish for Michael Che is that he not telegraph his displeasure at jokes/reactions to jokes that he’s not onboard with. We can see you shaking your head, sir. It’s TV. This week, however, Jost more than pulled his weight, be it his handling of the Ted Cruz ad starring a soft-core porn actress, his rattling off the unsexy place name of “Flu Farts, Ohio,” or his banter with Leslie as she detailed her perfect man. That bit, by the way, was one of the most coherent Jones desk bits so far, and Leslie also managed to color it with unexpected poignancy and nuance.

Still, the highlight of Update this week has to be Vanessa Bayer’s killer Rachel from Friends impression. Whenever someone on this show has a perfect impression that is so specific, they must be waiting with bated breath for the opportunity to deploy it. This felt like that, and Bayer earned every “okay” and “yeah” she uttered. Bonus points: When Rachel asks what Michael Che is, allowing Che to infer that because she was on Friends, she’s never seen a black person. 

The Art of the Pickup
Another opportunity to watch McCarthy be weird, aggressive, and gross, this time as a graduate of a female-leaning The Game–style pickup workshop. Of course, McCarthy is a blobby, frumpy, social outcast, sticking her hands in Kyle Mooney’s mouth and making bets on whether dying prisoners poop on the slab when they get lethal injection. Though the ending kind of shits the slab (so to speak), there are some tonal/pacing issues, and Leslie can’t keep her own proverbial shit together, it still adds up to a pretty fun time.

Rap Battle
Whenever SNL lets Kyle Mooney be Kyle Mooney, it’s usually (a) fun and (b) a tonal shift. This isn’t a bad thing — it’s a reminder that some of SNL’s stars come from preexisting comedy collectives with their own ideas of timing, pacing, and style. Lorne Michaels made room for the Lonely Island in this way, and he’s done the same to a lesser degree with the gentlemen of Good Neighbor (Mooney and Beck Bennett). This docu-style digital short, about Mooney’s history as a freestyle rapper and his desire to rap battle Kanye West, is heavily Good Neighborinfluenced, with its deadpan, self-serious tone. Mooney’s ability to modulate into delusions of grandeur and flights of ego while in a weirdly downbeat persona is a singular skill, well displayed here.

Bus Ride
Paired as it is this week with “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black,” this lighter and less successful approach to white people and black culture falls a little flat. Still, it’s fun to see Leslie Jones try to escape the well-intended racism McCarthy’s character spews, be it her many musings on Roots, “8 Years a Slave” (she didn’t see the whole thing), or how lucky Jones is she got the front seat on the bus. But whenever a sketch ends with the whole thing literally exploding (save, of course, MacGruber), I always think they got tired of writing it, god bless 'em. 

Whiskers R We 
As fun and playful a 10-to-1 sketch as e’er there could be, this one includes real cats and McKinnon and McCarthy having a ball as the two lesbian shop-owners who just want to give cats — “an animal in your house that you’re okay with” — away. Clearly these two — who spent last summer shooting Ghostbusters together — are pals, and that energy and affection comes through in this sketch. Nice details also abound, including a cat named O.J. “because he’s orange like the juice and a murderer like the athlete,” and a dog in a cat costume who is “Ms. Doubtfiring” — pretending to be a cat so he can see his kids. Even if McCarthy’s “Tabby-tha” is only sleeping with McKinnon’s character to “piss off her Senator father,” it still feels like true love to me.

***

A fun week, carried by McCarthy’s substantial work ethic and sense of play. No ground was broken (except by Beyoncé, perhaps) but nothing was lost either.

And now, my friends, I say adieu. This is my last SNL recap for you. It’s been a slice, short but sweet, etc. We’ll always have Larry David as Kevin Roberts.