Brie Larson may be best known for her roles in dramatic films — e.g., Short Term 12 and the adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s The Room, for which she won the Best Actress Oscar this year — but she’s also quite funny. Yes, she told Jimmy Kimmel last year that "pretty much any comedy you’ve ever seen me in, I thought it was a drama," and she’s regularly proven she has great timing and a nice sense of character. She played Amy’s sister Kim in Trainwreck, holding her own with Amy Schumer and a cast of great comics; for that alone, she gets a gold star. Her appearances on shows such as Comedy Bang! Bang! illustrate that she can do sketchy and silly just fine, too.
That said, her SNL performance is neither special nor slight. She’s enthusiastic, charming and fun; in short, she’s a really competent host, even if none of the parts she plays are real stand-outs. Larson gamely steps into every part she’s handed, delivers the material with energy, leads sketches when it’s required but doesn’t get in the way of something that has potential to be really funny. Either by design or by coincidence, there aren’t any sketches that might put her in a truly embarrassing or uncomfortable circumstance — which is often where the gold is.
Anyone old enough to remember the Church Lady will get a nostalgic kick after hearing the organ music and serene v.o. announcing Church Chat. (I, for one, had the sinking feeling I was watching an early ’90s rerun before I saw a photo of Madonna’s “57-year-old mother” ass from the Met Gala.) All those who don’t have nostalgia for Dana Carvey’s fusty, God-loving grammy and her interest in kicking misbehaving politicians in the naughty bits won’t be moved. Carvey, looking to raise his profile in advance of his new show First Impressions, brings out Ted Cruz (Taran Killam) and Donald Trump (Darrell Hammond) but there’s little new analysis. Trump pretends to understand religion, and Cruz becomes a devil but still can’t handle being mocked by Trump. Carvey looks to be having fun, but the studio audience doesn’t give him much — they can hardly muster a “woo” for the old catchphrase, “Well, isn’t that special?”
Brie Larson Monologue
This monologue is designed to be diverting and charming, not funny, and it accomplishes what it sets out to do. As it’s the eve before Mother’s Day, Larson pays tribute to her mom, who is in the audience. This prompts the rest of the cast to send messages to their mothers or bring them out onstage to indulge a quick bit — e.g. Kate McKinnon’s mom delivering a line she wrote on her own: “Who doesn’t like a good Brie?”
Presidential Barbie Ad
The voice-over of this ad parody offers a new toy to a group of young girls playing in their room: Presidential Barbie. The kids just aren’t interested because they “don’t have to play with dolls,” and because “she’s trying too hard” with her smartphone accessory (that has Snapchat). The voice-over — which not only represents the voice of Clinton’s campaign, but the older generation who sees Hillary’s potential victory as a symbolic victory for all women — gets more insistent and distraught with the girls’ indifference, and the girls get less interested. It’s a smart and fun angle on the idea that millennials aren’t giving their votes to Hillary solely on the basis of her sex.
This sketch revisits the misadventures of one Ms. Rafferty, a slouching, chain-smoking, splay-legged, foul-mouthed lady in pastel and mom jeans who once had a terrible alien abduction. (Those who watched “giggling” Ryan Gosling’s episode of SNL last December will likely get a tinge of excitement upon seeing the exam room set and a spiky wig on Kate McKinnon’s head.) This time, she and two gal pals accidentally drive into a lake and have a near-death experience that last nearly an hour. While her friends are gently shepherded to the light by benevolent angels, Ms. Rafferty has Keith, a guy who yanks her soul out of her body by the waistband of her sweatpants. Of course, we’re all waiting for McKinnon to say “coot coot” and to find out whether her costars can keep from breaking — they do, barely. As a sequel, it doesn’t top the energy of the first but the writing is great and McKinnon kills. Her ability to embody this gross, put-upon misfit is impressive.
In a jolly cult of Stepford wives, all mothers get “the cut” — a certain sort of bob that is “a soft waterfall in the front and knives in the back.” Larson, an expectant mom-to-be with shoulder-length hair, is schooled by this pack of cheery zombies about the moment something “will break inside” and she must get the cut. One woman got the cut after snatching a centerpiece and leaving a wedding early; another made that choice when she discovered her bathroom needed to be an ocean replete with “lighthouses, seashells and soap in the shape of a flip flop.” There’s some nice observation here about suburban moms’ tacky décor and ingrained habits (e.g. saving gift bags to use at a later date), and it gives moms a gentle ribbing on the eve of Mother’s Day.
The first half of Update takes apart the week in Donald, both his triumph as the Republican nominee and his “I love Hispanics” tweet on Cinco de Mayo with the image of him eating a Taco Bowl. (Jost quips that this is the term Trump would use to describe “a group of Mexicans in a hot tub.”) Things get sillier when Vanessa Bayer shows up as Laura Parsons, the kid news reader who can’t help but deliver incredibly adult stories. Sample gag: When she brings up STDs, she defends herself: “I think STD stands for “Seriously Terrible Dates … because everyone has herpes.” Che asks her if she knows what that is and she replies, “When your downstairs says, ‘ay yi yi.’” The Parsons segments are always short and sweet, and they let Bayer juxtapose her childlike enthusiasm with some wonderfully disturbing material.
There are a few nice jokes in the second half, and in particular one about a man who calls himself Jesus that was arrested for trespassing: “The man plead not guilty to trespassing, and also forgave those who trespassed against him.” Between the jokes, Sasheer Zamata and Pete Davidson both get time to give monologues about Larry Wilmore calling Obama “my nigga,” at the White House Correspondents Dinner and Mother’s Day, respectively. While each gives a sense of the performer’s charming personality, both feel loose and fall a little flat. (Which is not to say they shouldn’t be given this sort of air time! They should! Let them try, let them find stuff that works!)
Jon Snow’s Resurrection
Dare I say, there are Game of Thrones spoilers in this recap? Presumably, if you were awake this week but failed to watch the most recent episode, it was already ruined for you. In any case, you’ve been warned.
Jon Snow is dead on the slab, and his mourners know it. They also knows he’s coming back to life, so why is that taking so goddamn long? Can’t he just come back to life already so the show can focus on dragons, fighting, or almost anything else? While a lot of sketches may be gripes examined over the course of several minutes, this one basically enacts its own gripe. There’s very little ground to cover in the 3 minutes and 45 seconds remaining after the premise is made clear. If you’re not a fervent GOT fan, this is a skipper.
Quiz Whiz 2018
In a game show set only two years from now, proven contestants have a very hard time remembering one fact: Who was the runner-up in the race to become the 2016 Republican candidate for president? Get it? Ted Cruz is forgettable! There’s little to this sketch other than its premise, which is mildly amusing at best. It might be worth watching the last 30 seconds if you’re curious to see the odd rituals we’ll have to engage in if Trump becomes president.
Discreet Annihilation Kickstarter
This elongated Kickstarter pitch comes from a nu metal band of “all whites” who do “black-style raps,” fronted by Chris Fitzpatrick (Kyle Mooney). Though they just formed “this summer,” they need $750,000 to make an EP, tour the world, and produce a full-length web-feature called Johnny Shadow. As with all of Mooney’s creations, it’s not just about the clearly misguided ambitions and stilted posturing of these suburban Korn-clones; their heart and genuine guilelessness make them endearing, too. This piece also has some of the best character writing of the night, including Fitzpatrick’s succinct review of present-day cinema: “Most movies are boring, romantic, little bitch, brainwash bubble gum.”
Dead Bopz Commercial
This fake ad for a compilation CD takes on performing holograms in a way Russell Crowe’s museum sketch failed to last month. “This exciting new science from the ’90s” resurrects early- to mid-20th-century crooners like Paul Robeson and Roy Orbison to sing modern day hits such as “Trap Queen” by Fetty Wap and Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.” Yes, it’s just a series of impressions, but they serve a larger purpose in this context: Showing how far pop culture has come in 60 to 70 years, and how easily it can ruin the memories of our heroes. Zamata’s Eartha Kitt, McKinnon’s Ginger Rogers, and Aidy Bryant’s Ethel Merman stand out; the cherry on top is Larson as squeaky-clean Leslie Gore doing Nicki Minaj’s filthy rap from “Dance Ass.”
While it is not a stunner, this episode proves Larson is a solid supporting player, and the return of McKinnon’s Ms. Rafferty and the quirky, end-of-episode sketches make up for some of the evening’s duds. An Old Navy ad starring mostly SNL people and a Pizza Hut commercial featuring Bobby Moynihan are meant to prepare us, I guess, for next year — SNL announced it would have fewer commercials but much more “branded content.” It’s an uncomfortable announcement but, as the show shed its countercultural credibility a long ago, there’s nothing to mourn.