‘Saturday Night Live’: Still not live, still from home

Saturday Night Live
At-Home, Part 2
April 25, 2020

Those wacky kids over at SNL, they did it again. Using Zoom, phones, plenty of wigs and green screens, and a lot of creativity, the cast and writers of SNL managed to put on yet another 90-minute episode satirizing this insane situation we all find ourselves in. They also seemed to have worked out some of the bugs that didn’t work so well for them the last time they tried this (thank you, “Weekend Update,” for losing the laughter — that crutch was there for you guys, not the audience) and have embraced the adage, “brevity is the soul of wit.” Even when a sketch didn’t work — and not all of them did — they never lasted more than about 3 minutes, and your suffering would soon be over. And keeping that in mind, I will get on with it already:

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RuPaul serves sketch comedy genius on ‘Saturday Night Live’

Saturday Night Live
RuPaul & Justin Bieber
February 8, 2019

I’m just going to be honest: there are some people who host Saturday Night Live who I am just completely incapable of grading fairly because I love them so much. RuPaul Charles, Mama Ru, the Queen of Drag, is one of those people. RuPaul is unquestionably the world’s most famous drag queen, having managed to break into straight pop culture awareness back in 1993 with his single “Supermodel” and then bringing the universe of drag into all of our homes with RuPaul’s Drag Race, his drag competition series that started out as a spoof of Tyra Banks’ America’s Next Top Model, but which has become so much more. RuPaul, more than anyone else, is responsible for making drag culture part of the popular lexicon. But more than that, RuPaul helped create a more understanding, and accepting culture, giving drag queens and transwomen agency over their identities instead of just being the butt of jokes.

One of my few pop culture bragging rights is that I saw RuPaul in a small teen club in Houston, Texas in 1986. A 6’4″ black man in platform boots, what appears to be football shoulder pads covered in streamers and little else, flanked by two shirtless men in tight pants and brandishing toy guns, all singing “Starbooty, Starbooty, Starbooty, yeaaaaaaaah! Starbooty, Starbooty, Starbooty, awwwwww!” in falsetto — it left quite the impression on a 13-year-old me. It was wild and funny and unlike anything I had ever seen before, and in a small way it shaped me. The performance begins at the 1:20 mark in the video below.

And this is going a long way to basically say, no matter how Mama Ru did on Saturday Night Live, no matter what garbage they gave her to work with, she was going to come away with a high grade from yours truly.

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Relive Eddie Murphy’s almost-perfect ‘Saturday Night Live’

Saturday Night Live
Eddie Murphy & Lizzo
December 22, 2019

I’m going to try to avoid overthinking this episode because comedy never benefits from thinking about it too hard. (It’s one of the reasons I never recap comedies.) But, Eddie Murphy returning to Saturday Night Live for the first time in 35 years is not just a historically notable TV event, it’s one that required a little contemplation on both our part and the writers’.

Here’s the thing: Eddie Murphy blazed into superstardom on Saturday Night Live in 1980 when he was only 19 years old with characters like Mr. Robinson and Buckwheat — characters that made fun of racist stereotypes in a way that was so close to the chest that some viewers may not have understood they were supposed to be laughing with Murphy, not at him. Murphy was never putting on a minstrel show, he was pointing out how racist the minstrel show was. The problem is some viewers, particularly white ones, might have missed that nuance. (Honestly, maybe the greatest SNL sketch of all time is the one in which he went undercover as a white man — genuinely brilliant and tackling race in a way that remains as stinging and poignant 40 years later.)

So because a great deal has changed in the past 40 years, it was always going to be a delicate dance bringing some of these characters back to the show in a way that not only would be relevant but culturally palatable. But God damn, if they didn’t pull it off. Murphy’s 80s characters found themselves up against 21st-century issues like gentrification and the #MeToo movement — and that tension is where the comedy blossomed.

Then when you add to all of that the fact that Eddie Murphy waited long enough to come back to the show so that there were no more hard feelings, that he had shed enough of his movie star ego and aloofness that he could really enjoy himself on that stage in an uninhibited, genuine way … well, it made for the best episode of the year, certainly, and one of the best episodes of Saturday Night Live I’ve ever seen.

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‘Saturday Night Live’: Maybe comedy just isn’t Kit Harington’s thing?

Saturday Night Live
Kit Harington & Sara Bareilles
April 6, 2019

Kit Harington is perfect as Game of Thrones‘ Jon Snow. The role mostly consists of brooding, wearing a heavy coat and rocking a beard, and at those things, Harington is one of the best. However, as it turns out, these skills do not translate easily to comedy as we learned on last night’s weak Saturday Night Live. I rooting for Harington to pull it off, but, unfortunately, he was stiff and unsure, and at moments clearly uncomfortable performing in front of a live audience. Also, there was the matter of his American accent which … oof.

I don’t mean to blame Harington for this mediocre episode — the writing was dreadful, with concepts either ridiculously simplistic (“nerds are nerdy!” “a doctor who is about to perform a rectal exam has long fingernails!”) or just outright baffling, and he really didn’t stand much of a chance. That said, there were some fun Game of Thrones references, both in Harington’s monologue and in one pretty terrific sketch. But one sketch and a monologue are not enough to carry an entire episode.

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‘Saturday Night Live’: Kristen’s ThanksWiiging

Saturday Night Live
Kristen Wiig and xx
November 19, 2016

It’s hard: last week’s episode hosted by Dave Chappelle in the wake of Trump’s presidential upset will long be remembered as one of the best Saturday Night Live episodes of this particular era. Sharp, emotional, defiant and fierce, it felt important. It felt like SNL was taking on the responsibility in helping that half of America who was still in shock and in grief at the election results to find a way to laugh again.

As such, this week’s episode was going to be difficult for any host to follow. So how’d Kristen Wiig, SNL alum and fan favorite do?

Eh, she was fine. Last night’s episode was not terrible — Benedict Cumberbatch, now that was terrible — but last night wasn’t great or memorable, either. Last night’s episode was the equivalent of putting on an old sweatshirt: comfortable, familiar and warm, but not something you’ll remember even two days from now. It was fine! But the shame of it was with a host like Kristen Wiig, it could have been much, much better.

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