Sarah Silverman is a former Saturday Night Live cast member in the same way Julia Louis-Dreyfus is. After brief, mostly unremarkable stints on the show, each has gone on to so many bigger, better, career-defining and redefining projects that their SNL tenures are now mere trivia. At least half the audience watching Silverman host the show last night let out Keanu-like whoas when she referenced her history there, and then went back to half-watching while making a zine on Pinterest or whatever. Most people know the host as a multiple Emmy Award–winning stand-up, an author, actress, political spark plug, fucker of Matt Damon, and creator/star of The Sarah Silverman Program — all things that happened over a decade after she was unceremoniously dismissed from SNL. Unfortunately, Silverman’s career trajectory since leaving the show is pretty much the opposite of how the episode she hosted went.
After a strong start, last night’s show sort of made a Toonces the Cat–style nosedive off a cliff. It wasn’t all bad, by any means, but there were too many conceptually solid sketches that ended up only evoking a quick laugh of recognition (“Oh, I see what they’re doing”) before making you wonder how they ever made it past a table read. It was interesting to see Silverman be funny in a sketch dynamic for a change, but in a lot of instances the jokes just weren’t there, leaving us to savor the occasional funny line like scraps. Those of us whose parents always fall sleep immediately after “Weekend Update” when attempting to watch SNL may have had the right idea.
Sarah Silverman’s Monologue
This monologue was pretty much everything you’d want out of a Sarah Silverman monologue. As awesome as it is when gifted comics like Louis C.K. host the show and do ten minutes of new stand-up during this portion, I almost prefer seeing some innovative spin on it. Silverman starts out with some immodest meta-commentary on her presence as host. (“It’s crazy to be hosting SNL. Is it really crazy? I’m a pretty big comedian.”) Things get really interesting, though, when her interaction with an audience member ends with Silverman sitting on a woman’s lap, playing with her hair, and soliciting compliments from her while said woman looks like she’s trying not to cry. Then it turns out this whole bit has been a setup for what comes next, both a dissection of audience-interaction segments on monologues and a brilliant way to work in old footage of Silverman’s time in the cast. This is what hitting the ground running looks like.
The Fault in Our Stars Trailer
Immediately after that terrific monologue comes another winner. This parody of the weepy YA cancer movie from earlier this year gets the very timely twist of swapping out cancer for Ebola. Before the gloriously on-the-nose title The Fault in Our Stars 2: The Ebola in Our Everything appears, the sketch has already succeeded by making fun of movie marketing tropes. (“Because being sick doesn’t have to be a life sentence” is exactly the kind of tagline FIOS had.) Taran Killam and Sarah Silverman’s sickly meet-cute gently mocks its source material until the element of Ebola is introduced. Silverman retains her young protagonist’s pluckiness (“If my doctor knows so much, why is he dead from Ebola?”), while Killam gets understandably more squeamish than the character for whom he’s standing in.
SNL has a mixed track record when it comes to racial humor, and also every other kind of humor. This sketch about whiteness-advocacy, though, is the show’s finest statement on race since “Black Jeopardy.” It takes the very real fear that many Caucasoid Americans have about their waning global supremacy and packages it in the playful, pleasant tone of a Cialis ad. Although the fake ad is scored by Train’s beyond-white “Hey, Soul Sister,” these pointed barbs at whites’ expense are not super obvious, and the lame dancing is not even exaggerated. The sketch’s only setback is the painful reminder that Mike O’Brien, the writer who was bumped up to Featured Player last season and makes an appearance here, has since been un-bumped.
Sarah Silverman would not be where she is today without Joan Rivers. The recently deceased comedian was a trailblazer who fought through all manner of sexist horseshit to become a huge star in a male-dominated field on her own terms. This sketch is an opportunity for Silverman to pay tribute to Rivers by playing her being welcomed to heaven by a bizarre gathering of famous personages. Rivers’ entrée into the afterlife takes the form of a roast, and even though Silverman flubs her lines a couple of times, she’s got Rivers’s delivery down cold. Basically, it’s a chance for SNL writers to write Rivers-type insults about people like Richard Pryor and Steve Jobs. Somehow, though, Bobby Moynihan walks away with the sketch when his Benjamin Franklin can’t stop obliviously laughing, and Kate McKinnon’s two seconds as Lucille Ball seem destined for a follow-up in a future episode.
You Cheated On Me
This sketch establishes its premise immediately and does a great job of heightening. Taran Killam picks Silverman up from the airport after her trip to Amsterdam, only to immediately elicit her admission that she cheated on her boyfriend Jeff while she was there. The only problem: Jeff was hiding in the back of the car, with a ring, waiting to propose. Instead of his girlfriend’s hand in marriage, Jeff will now have to accept the box of fudge she brought back for him — a fact made clear by the song that soon plays on the radio, “You cheated on me and then you gave me fudge.” (Bobby Moynihan as Jeff has the perfect reaction to hearing this song.) As the sketch goes on, more and more people show up in the car, including the lead singer of musical guests Maroon 5, playing himself. “Why is Adam Levine here?” is a question that is asked during this sketch and that many have asked throughout history.
Obama 60 Minutes Cold Open
This is the essence of a cold open sketch: topical, competently performed, utterly forgettable.
Forgotten TV Gems
There is a smart idea at work here. The way that women treat other women in soap operas perpetuates a lot of crappy stereotypes and deserves to be taken to task. Something about the execution here, though, is lacking, and it never really comes together.
Kenan Thompson’s Al Sharpton is always a hoot, and the feminist music duo Garage and Her (pronounced “Gara-hey”) will delight and enrage the Ani DiFranco faithful in equal measure, but this was not “Weekend Update” at its best. Both hosts were a little stiff this week, with Che revealing a habit of allowing a tiny little laugh a moment too late after some jokes. Here’s hoping for better soon.
Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney make fun of the romantic-comedy cliché of two characters bonding by saying the same thing at the same time, which would be funnier if it hadn’t already been done before, most recently in They Came Together and 30 Rock. Having said that, this typically unusual approach to this cliché was funnier than just about anything else in the show’s second half.
Finally, the show closes on another sketch that probably sounded better on paper. Silverman and Vanessa Bayer (mostly absent this episode) enjoy a post-workout kale-apple smoothie from Bayer’s new blender and end up getting into a class argument. The infomercial-gone-wrong angle is more interesting than funny, though, and nothing really sticks beyond Bayer’s predilection for nut butters.
Considering that last week’s episode was strong, and this week’s was less so, let’s hope that this season’s overall success rate doesn’t mimic the path of this batch of sketches. Next week, we’ll have Bill Hader as host, another former cast member who is only just now starting to do the kinds of things that will make people associate him less with his eight years on SNL, so a continued downturn seems unlikely.