Given the controversy that has swirled up around Saturday Night Live this season, after their addition of five new white male cast members put the diversity of the show into the spotlight, Kerry Washington’s hosting gig came at both the most opportune and most awkward time. The good thing is that Washington is probably used to carrying a lot of weight on her shoulders, whether it be as a successful black actress in Hollywood or as representative of one of network TV’s rare buzzy dramas. Much like with Edward Norton last week, Washington came into her hosting gig without a whole lot of experience in comedy, but she’s a gifted actress with a magnetic personality, and oftentimes, that’s more than half the battle.
Now, while we wait to see if Eminem will ever smile again, let’s take this thing sketch by sketch in a very solid episode that saw almost all the female cast members coming up big.
Real Talk of the Week
I admit, I did not expect the show to address the “no black women in the cast” issue as directly as they did, with Washington forced to file through all the black-women roles in an Oval Office sketch with Jay Pharoah’s Obama. Washington played the note of exasperation exactly right, and the word-crawl seemed to actually promise rectification of the casting issue fairly soon. Progress in our time! I think even the Revered Al Sharpton would be happy to hear that.
Obligatory Off-Network Promotion of the Week
The only play that Scandal got all night was a nod in the monologue to Washington’s fixer character, Olivia Pope. You could probably have written this one yourselves, as Bobby Moynihan and Vanessa Bayer coming out and asking “Olivia” for her help. Nice line about Bayer maybe having played Miley enough, though.
Unbridled Enthusiasm of the Week
Another great Nasim Pedrad sketch this week, this time as a Yemeni inspirational speaker with impeccably timed sound effects. Pedrad again delivers a killer weirdo, this one possessed with all the unnatural confidence of a woman who owns a Honda Prelude. I really enjoyed Washington here, too, as Tami, the gum-snapping assistant who doesn’t get paid enough to get sucked into towel drama. Any discomfort at Washington playing a ghetto-fab ball of attitude mere minutes after acknowledging that she’s representing all black women this week gets steamrolled by how flat-out funny she is, which is how it should be.
Weird Trend Acknowledgment of the Week
I literally have zero I idea about this “What’s the Fox Say” song, except that there was something on Dancing with the Stars about it this week. So I’m not sure how well the Jay Pharoah/Kerry Washington parodies that particular song. In any case, this was another sketch that probably shouldn’t have worked as well as it does, but the performers carry it through. Washington really throws herself into the song (“His cloud is full of butts”), not to mention the dancing. Not sure if these music videos are going to become a semi-regular feature, but I’m into it.
Surprise Recurrence of the Week
That the night’s first recurring sketch would be one yanked back from the last time Maya Rudolph hosted once again drew a box around the Only Black Woman in the World thing. But as with everything on that Rudolph-hosted episode, “How’s He Doing” is a very solid sketch, stretching a one-joke premise (no matter the Obama disappointments, black people aren’t going to stop supporting him) into some choice bits. Like calling out white people’s affinity for The Wire, particularly the bizarre practice of recapping episodes after the fact on the Internet and HEY!
This Week’s Cavalcade of Crude Regional Stereotypes
The Miss Universe sketch is just a thin excuse for a parade of women from far-flung countries being strange. Points to Aidy Bryant for her intimidating Miss Greenland and Kate McKinnon as an enthusiastic Miss Bolivia, but Washington wins the day with her assertive Miss Uganda (“What is who? How is where?”).
Kate McKinnon Accent of the Week
You knew McKinnon as German Chancellor Angela Merkel was going to be a winner. Her take on Merkel was unexpectedly sad and longing, and the odd dissonance of hearing melancholy longing in a clipped German accent is a winner of a concept.
Aidy Bryant Takeover Update
More and more, it seems like Bryant is the story of this season when it comes to cast members stepping up. She was aces in quite a few sketches this week, but Cartoon Catch Phrase was the crown jewel, as Bryant played a game-show contestant whose phone-a-friend husband won’t stop philandering all around town (“Are you just going door to door and ass to ass?”). Aidy Bryant’s Exaggerated Despair is starting to rival Vanessa Bayer’s Quiet Dignity on my list of favorite SNL things.
Refurbishment of the Week
I’m not usually a fan of the Booker T. Washington sketches, but once again, Washington sold me on an iffy sketch. Top-notch Long Island accent work, for one thing, and she got some great writing to work with. The line about squirting a black woman with a hose (“KNOW YA HISTORY”) sold me for good.
This Week’s Cavalcade of Trashy/Dumb Girl Jokes
Much as I feel like we should credit Taran Killam for some great non-verbal work as the date-seeker in “Date or Diss,” the sketch was really a rapid-fire exchange of one-liners from Washington, Bryant, and Cecily Strong. Great work from all three women, with particular love to Strong’s bleeding teeth and Bryant’s tendency to dump when tickled.
Weird Thing of the Week Is Weird
Was I expecting to see a sketch that made me think about Shane Carruth’s Primer at any point in this episode? No. No I was not. The digital-shorts have continued to get stranger and stranger, and they seem to be right in Kyle Mooney’s comedic wheelhouse. If he can just sort of play in that sandbox all season, I think he’ll end up making a name for himself.