Saturday Night Live Recap: Lena Dunham May Be the Host of Her Generation

Saturday Night Live

Lena Dunham/The National
Season 39 Episode 15
Editor’s Rating 3 stars

Saturday Night Live

Lena Dunham/The National
Season 39 Episode 15
Editor’s Rating 3 stars
Photo: ?2014/Dana Edelson/NBC

Yesterday afternoon, Joan Rivers tweeted that Lena Dunham’s SNL-hosting debut might mark the first time the writer-director appeared onscreen with her clothes on. (Still got it, Joan!) The legendary comedian may have missed the point, though. Dunham’s proclivity for nudity on Girls, the TV show she created, is certainly notable, and it did not escape the attention of SNL’s writers. (In multiple sketches, nonetheless.) What’s far more interesting, however, is that at age 24, Dunham created a TV show, and is either the voice of her generation, the person most closely associated with it, or a harbinger of the fact that everyone from her generation comprises the voice of that generation. In any case, this second aspect is what last night’s episode focused on, mostly to positive effect. All that was missing was Tina Fey’s Albanian Girls character, Blerta, who sadly did not make an appearance.

Cameo That Was Sadly Not Tina Fey of the Week

Sometimes movie stars show up on SNL to briefly promote their films without any justification for their presence beyond a coinciding release date. Fortunately for everybody involved, including us viewers, not only does Liam Neeson have a movie in theaters now, but he is also the symbolic hero America wants in a time of Ukrainian crisis. Rather than feeling shoehorned in, like the De Niro/Stallone double-teaming in John Goodman’s episode last December, Neeson’s cameo in the presidential-address cold open felt as welcome as a clotheslined windpipe in a Liam Neeson movie. Also, welcome: Jay Pharoah’s President Obama slapping a bear.

Third Base Coach of the Week

It would be wrong to say that Dunham’s episode gets the nudity issue out of the way in the monologue, since it does indeed come up again later, but it is initially addressed here. Our host’s habit of disrobing is turned into an invitation for everyone else to approach her with their sex stuff, including a parade of frisky cast members, most notably Kate McKinnon as Dunham’s grandmother. “In the 1940s only cool girls went to third base, and I was cool as hell,” McKinnon says, adding that she was practically a third base coach. With sex stuff adequately addressed, the show is now officially underway.

Inevitable Robot Uprising of the Week

Sometimes it just feels like technology is out to get you personally and oh my god why is it doing this right now. Whether it’s the lack of reception in a time of urgency, or catastrophic autocorrect, we’ve all borne the brunt of a digital vendetta. In this pretaped sketch, Dunham’s character is constantly interrupted mid-sing-along by GPS directions while everybody else on the road trip gets their American Idol on, unimpeded. It’s a fun look at how trying to explain a uniquely annoying moment never seems to help you get out of that moment, albeit one with a bizarre twist ending kind of tacked on.

Millennial Mockery of the Week

Thanks to certain staffing changes of late, SNL can now effectively parody high-stakes, prime-time soap opera Scandal without the participation of Kerry Washington. This sketch is only a spoof of that show on the surface, however, and it’s mostly a vehicle for Dunham to portray one of the less capable members of the generation that she is maybe the voice of. As the hapless Kelsey, Dunham is confounded by the fierce hyper-competency of Sasheer Zamata’s Olivia Pope, and the writers use her to make a few digs at both millennials and some of the more implausible aspects of Scandal. (“You walk faster than I run even though you are always dressed for a formal wedding,” Kelsey says of Olivia, accurately.)

Example of Great Rap of the Week

The safest way for SNL to do racial humor is making white people the butt of the joke, and nobody’s complaining. This week, the show introduces Pharoah and Kenan Thompson as Lil Taint Anthony and LeGod Williams, hosts of the MTV2 show “What’s Poppin’.” Before we get to an admittedly rock-solid entry in the “white people are lame” canon of hip-hop sketches, Zamata is briefly pictured on an album cover as N’Kaysha Gniles, purveyor of a song so dirty it’s just one long censored bleep. (Fun fact: I would gladly watch a video of that song.) That’s a Rap is like the bizarro world Roots — a hip-hop band that is entirely wrong.

The music sounds like elevator jazz and the rapping is just sing-songy slam poetry about the fact that rappers Dunham, Cecily Strong, and a flute-playing Aidy Bryant are in fact rapping. The wordplay is the best possible outcome of what you might hear in a university coffee shop, so in other words, it’s terrible, but amusingly so. But aside from the fact that Mike O’Brien plays a character named Jerry whose rap name is “Tim,” the best joke here might be the wardrobe, which was pilfered, it seems, from a Spin Doctors garage sale in 1994. As the members of That’s a Rap would say: Choo-choo, sha-booch!

Forbidden Fruit of the Week

The frequent nudity on Dunham’s HBO show rises to the forefront again, this time in a parody of recent religious movies like Son of God and the forthcoming Noah. Girl is a Girls-style Adam and Eve movie, featuring Taran Killam as Adam Driver as Adam. It has a lot of biblical jokes with a Hannah Horvath twist, but those almost seem beside the point, which, again, is Lena Dunham is frequently naked! Frankly, while I’m not sick of the filmmaker’s naked body, I’ve probably had my fill of parodies involving the strategic blurring of her naked body.

Middle-School Mayhem of the Week

“What Are You Even Doing? You’re Being Crazy” occupies the very same territory as the recurring “Girlfriends” sketch. They both feature young girls hosting a talk show for some reason, and acting mystified by their male guests. The difference is that the “Girlfriends” sketches are character-driven, and this one kinda sags under the weight of its title and the middle school girl vernacular that seems to be its main focus. Bobby Moynihan gets in some decent moments, though, as the older brother who’s over it, and there’s a surprising cameo from Josh Hamm (the artist formerly known as Jon Hamm.)

Oscar-Worthy Performance of the Week

In his second on-camera turn as “Weekend Update” co-anchor, Colin Jost is settling into his role nicely. Of course, he is upstaged by his guests who are uniformly great. First up, there’s Taran Killam as Matthew McConaughey. Wearing the newly minted Best Actor’s white tux from the Oscars, Killam internalizes all of McConaughey’s mannerisms from hand gestures to that slow drawl. Best of all, though, is his sure-to-stick nickname for Colin Jost: CoJo.

After two famous actors already made cameos on the episode, Fred Armisen drops in for “Weekend Update” to reprise his “world leader’s best friends growing up” character alongside Vanessa Bayer. This time, the leader in question is Putin instead of Ahmadinejad, but the soto voce gossiping works as well as ever. Considering that Armisen is now band leader over at the neighboring Late Night With Seth Meyers, we’ll probably be seeing him back more often.

Justice Moment of the Week

Yesterday was International Women’s Day and what better way to celebrate than sticking it to a men’s rights activist? Here, Cecily Strong’s Marisol is a walking Latina stereotype in the vein of Sofia Vergara on Modern Family or Salma Hayek in life. She’s brought her boyfriend Bruce to a jewelry party, and everybody turns on him the moment it emerges that he’s a men’s rights activist. As they should — men’s rights activists are the worst. This sketch is perhaps most notable, however, for the rather graceful way Lena Dunham recovers from a flubbed line.

Double-Dipping Pimping of the Week

Talk show sketch “Pimpin’ Pimpin’ Pimpin’” is the second caricature of Katt Williams on SNL this year, and to those unfamiliar with the comedian, it must be hard to believe Williams is a real person and not a creation of the show. His whole pimp-emulating shtick has not exactly aged well, and it’s amazing that Jay Pharoah is not at all exaggerating in his representation of it. The novelty of Drake’s impersonation was amusing enough to justify its inclusion in January, but why another sketch so soon? No disrespect to the comedian or his fans, but how relevant is Katt Williams in the pop-culture landscape right now? Not so forgotten as to be a weird reference point, but certainly not hot enough to demand multiple SNL send-ups. Please tell me how I’m wrong and a jerk in the comments below.

SNL Recap: Is Dunham the Host of Her Generation?