James Franco hosts a ‘Saturday Night Live’ that tries — and fails — to be controversial

Saturday Night Live
James Franco & SZA
December 9, 2017

This is the fourth time James Franco has hosted Saturday Night Live (which means the next time he comes back — and he will be back — he will be inducted into the “Five-Timers Club”). And this just makes sense, he’s a natural fit for the show. Funny, goofy and willing to be self-deprecating, Franco blends rather seamlessly into the cast (if the cast were constantly plugging their new movie, The Disaster Artist).

Unfortunately, he appeared on a night in which the writers seemed more determined to provoke than entertain, and they weren’t even particularly successful at that. To be fair to Franco, he did his very best with material that often fell short of his comedic talents. In fact, in most of the sketches he was in, Franco was the best thing about them.

Oh well, maybe next time, Franco. (And we all know there will be a next time — no way you’re going to pass up that Five-Timers robe.)

The evening began with a funny-enough sketch in which kids visiting Santa ask him pointed political questions, everything from “what did Al Franken do?” to “why are the (football) players kneeling during the national anthem?” to asking for the American embassy in Israel to remain in Tel Aviv. As you can see in the dress rehearsal video they posted online, it’s cute and funny. But live, something went terribly wrong with the teleprompter or cue cards and some kids forgot their lines and the whole thing became something of a horrible, adorable mess.

Grade: A- (but based on this video — it was a hot mess when it aired live, trust me)

James Franco’s monologue was mostly an excuse to bring in Seth Rogan, Jonah Hill, and Steve Martin. It’s fine if completely unmemorable.

Grade: B+

The first Franco sketch featured him as a company executive accused of mild sexual harassment of his employees. He is forced to apologize publicly, where he is met with open hostility. Meanwhile, older security guard, “Charlie,” also apologizes for much more egregious behavior but is waved off by the women as just “Charlie being Charlie.”

I will grant that the things Charlie says are so awful as to be funny. However, the optics of this sketch make me really uncomfortable. I don’t necessarily think the writers intended to suggest that white men are being unfairly victimized in this ongoing sexual harassment scandal …

… but …

… then again …

It’s a shame that after several weeks of sketches that took powerfully pointed and hilariously female-centric takes on the sexual harassment scandal, the show has backslid into a “but what about the guys?” position here. I’m fairly confident in thinking that this bit did not come from the female writers. Maybe just leave the sexual harassment scandal to the ladies, y’all.

Grade: C

James Franco and Kate McKinnon are gift wrappers at a department store and it ends in blood. Lots of blood. Blood everywhere. (A prop mishap, too, but whaddya gonna do?)

Grade: A-

Look. As far as Kyle Mooney sketches go, this wasn’t a terrible Kyle Mooney sketch. It was no “The Race,” for instance. But this bit in which a young guy’s roommate is basically Scrooge and a complete asshole is still a Kyle Mooney sketch and I, for one, am done with Kyle Mooney sketches.

Grade: B-

Franco is a middle school spelling bee moderator in this bit, giving the kids very personal and inappropriate definitions and sentence examples. It was dark but in a solidly funny way. Also, go watch the movie Bad Words if you enjoyed this sketch. Trust me.

Grade: A

Here’s your “Weekend Update.” I always like a good “Trump’s wacky doctor” joke, so I’ll give it a solid grade.

Grade: A-

Again, for personal reasons, I can not talk about Cathy Anne because she makes me so fucking uncomfortable. TOO CLOSE. TOO REAL.

Last night, Michael Che addressed the fact that he gets a lot of shit from white women (like yours truly) for his insensitive jokes. And so, as an homage to the classic Eddie Murphy sketch in which he went undercover as a white man, Che did a bit where he went undercover as a white woman named Gretchen. Except he didn’t use any makeup, he just put on a wig and a bunch of scarves? And it was sorta funny — mostly within the context of the original. But it’s also going to piss off A LOT OF PEOPLE who are going to feel like this sketch illustrates the problem and that Che thinks his critics are a bunch of basic spoiled bitches which is why they can be summarily dismissed. I am literally all over the place with this one. Did I laugh? Yep! Was I also feeling really tense about it? Yep!

Grade: EEEESH I DON’T EVEN KNOW. A-? C? I’m going to go lie down. 

Here is the brilliant Eddie Murphy sketch for comparison.

I don’t know if you heard about the amazing case that went before the Louisiana Supreme Court in which a suspect in an arrest told the police during the interrogation, “get me a lawyer, dog.” They did not, thereby depriving him of his rights, and then they argued that they did not deprive him of his rights because he asked not for a lawyer, but a “lawyer dog.” AND THE LOUISIANA SUPREME COURT AGREED WITH THE COPS.

That completely true story is funnier (and much more infuriating) than this courtroom sketch in which a lawyer argues that when a suspect says he was eating “za” he was eating lasagna instead of pizza.

Grade: C-

I’m not going to give away the punchline of this digital sketch in which Cecily Strong helps out a homeless man, except to say that Arrested Development did it first with “Homeless Dad.”

Grade: B

In the final sketch of the night, James Franco is James Franco at a family reunion, talking to his weird cousin Mandy and I hated every single thing about this. Not even Dave Franco could save this, and Dave Franco saves everything.

Grade: D+

But SZA was brilliant:

Final grade: B.  A solid B. Look, I wasn’t angry at this episode when I was watching it live — but going back over the individual sketches, I realized not only was there not anything brilliant or stand out about it, but that they seemed to be trying to hard to be provocative. We’ll see if they were successful.

it sucked and you sucked snl terrible bad

Saturday Night Live airs at 10:30/11:30 p.m. Saturdays on NBC.

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