Seth Rogen said what we were all thinking: SZA was the thing to get stoked for last week on SNL. “This is my fourth time hosting,” admitted James Franco, “which is the most you can do without it being special.” And this was not a special night of television. It was a very quotidian affair. But the lack of fucks given somehow charmed me. When Franco broke in every other sketch, or when prosthetics misfired, I felt like I was watching the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players. It harkened back to a day when everyone at Studio 8H was filled with cocaine and idealism, but mostly cocaine. When John Belushi would intentionally bomb sketches written by women because he felt it was his sacred duty to prove that women weren’t funny. James Franco is our generation’s Louise Lasser, and we’re lucky to have him.
Mall Santa Kenan has to contend with children’s difficult questions about the world around them. As someone who taught in an elementary school during the 2016 election, this was too real. Kids would ask me if the Mean Orange Man was going to deport their friends – it was awful. Almost as uncomfortable as being the Santa answering these questions was being an audience member watching children struggle to read cue cards. I’m glad Kenan was Santa. As a former child actor himself, he was the right cast member to help usher these kids into the public eye.
Finally, an audience Q&A monologue! I love Q&As, because you get to see writers before they blow up. It’s always mind-blowing to watch old SNLs and see Tina Fey or John Mulaney play randos in that little part of the audience that is right in front of the stage. Also hiding in the audience this time were Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, and Steve Martin for some reason. Seth Rogen’s cameo was interesting to me because he played the “negging life partner” role that hosts’ husbands or wives usually play. When Gwyneth Paltrow hosted, Ben Affleck came on to tell her she’s not British. When Affleck hosted, Goop came on to pull focus. Franco’s bromance with Seth Rogen functions in the same way as a Ben & Gwen-style love affair. It humanizes one (Franco/Gwyneth) while making the other seem more credible (Rogen/Affleck). Jonah Hill is Matt Damon, I guess.
Two men get fired for sexual harassment: one a CFO who said mildly douchey things, the other an older black security guard who jokingly propositioned every woman at the office. People love the security guard and despise the CFO with every fiber of their being. Who was this for? What was it trying to say? That dudes in a position of power are held to a higher standard of behavior? Because they should be. The CFO could fire the women he creeped on; the security guard is relatively powerless. Is it saying that old black men get a free pass on harassment? Was it just an excuse for Kenan to do some fun character work? I hope it was the latter, because all other options are super messed up. Don’t be one of those “I’m worried about a witch hunt” guys, SNL. Everyone who says that gets exposed as a serial predator like a week later.
Who doesn’t love fake blood spurting everywhere? Franco plays a gift wrapper at Bloomingdale’s (#spon) who doesn’t let a few severed limbs get in the way of his Christmas spirit. The thing that set this sketch apart was the truly heroic amount of fake blood that came out of Franco’s various veins and arteries. Not since The Addams Family have we seen a stage so slick with corn syrupy gore. My favorite part of this sketch was actually just watching James Franco try to deal with his props and read cue cards at the same time. Watch him try to wrap a present before any of the prosthetics are even involved. It’s like he has hooves for hands.
What if Ebenezer Scrooge was your shitty roommate? Last week saw SNL already dip into the Christmas Carol cookie jar. It seems a little early to base a sketch around the same IP. But Beck Bennett’s Scrudge makes some good, specific points about why the people at this particular Christmas party suck. “An ugly Christmas sweater!” he says. “So brave of you to do something so played out.” (Kind of a self-burn coming from a Scrooge in 2017.) Scrooge is never done as a passive-aggressive jerk – usually he’s just aggressive. That snark freshened up the premise somewhat.
James Franco moderates a spelling bee. His upsetting family life and sexual proclivities keep bubbling to the surface every time he is asked to provide a definition or use a word in a sentence. The fact that the middle schoolers are played by adults mitigates the yuck of having James Franco explain urophilia to a 14-year-old. Pete Davidson is the best of the fake children, looking resigned yet amused by Franco’s definition of Little Pig Boy as “that pathetic dirty bitch baby Mistress gets to stand on.” Alex Moffat also shines as a spelling bee color commentator that might not be able to read or write.
Update centered almost entirely on our culture’s recent efforts to burn problematic men to the ground. (Shoutout to Jamie Loftus for having actually made an advent calendar of exposed predators. She’s been posting hers on Instagram for two weeks.) Cathy Anne came back to talk about Al Franken, and Michael Che tried to learn some empathy for white women by going through life as one.
Combining the investigative journalism of Eddie Murphy with the wig of Joanne the Scammer, Che embedded as a liberal white woman named Gretchen. Che experienced all the things we white ladies go through, like eating a lot of salads to balance out all the pizza we eat while drunk, and being victimized by James Franco. Hopefully he will remember these life lessons and be more thoughtful in the future.
In a sketch that should have had the 10-to-1 spot, a prosecutor’s entire argument rests on the idea that “za” should be the nickname for lasagna instead pizza. I would call this idea farcical had I not recently read the minutes from Meek Mill’s trial. Prosecutor James Franco should have objected to Heidi Gardner’s leading question at the top of the scene, otherwise this was flawless jurisprudence.
Cecily Strong plays a workaholic business lady who takes time to help a homeless man played by James Franco, only to find out he’s actually just James Franco. Franco gets in the weirdest Disaster Artist plug yelled through a locked door.
In further Disaster Artist #spon, Franco plays himself trying to explain to his cousin that his career is actually doing fine. Gardner is back at the 10-to-1 as “Pretty Mandy,” the dart-throwing champion of the Franco family. She got a drink named after her: gin and a straw. Dave Franco stops by for a brief cameo as the best Franco and brings more energy into his 30 seconds of screen time that James did in the whole scene. I wanna see what Lil Davey Franco can do with a whole episode. Dave Franco for SNL host 2018.