Melissa McCarthy! Kanye West! Could there be an episode of "Saturday Night Live" with more expectations? The answer? Nope! The show almost delivered upon this potential, but a lot of the laughs felt lighter than they were supposed to.
The cold open was a perfect read on what all of your liberal friends have been saying about the democratic candidates. It began with a pair of couples at brunch explaining why they were voting for Bernie Sanders, saying things like, "Hillary is the most qualified candidate in history, but at the same time, meh!" Meanwhile, Kate McKinnon's Hillary Clinton lowered down on a swing, singing Adele's "I Can't Make You Love Me," something that only existed in the characters' subconscious thoughts. As they discussed why they should vote for Hillary, but why they are voting for Bernie, the song became more dramatic. It really was an accurate read on what people are saying as we head into more and more primaries, but it could have been delivered in a funnier way. Count this one as the show just getting rid of the obligatory political sketch at the top.
Melissa McCarthy began her monologue by asking audience members to look under their chairs in an Oprah-style reveal, but then explained that she was missing one of her gloves. She discussed how she was excited to be a part of the five-timers club, hosting "SNL" for her fifth time, and did a sendup of the disco classic, "Born to Be Alive," changing it to "Born to Host Five Times." Then Kenan Thompson, wearing a huge foam No. 5, broke the news to her that it was actually only her fourth time hosting. The bit was funny in a G-rated "aw shucks" way, but still no real LOLs here at the top of the show.
And now it's time for the sketch you'll be seeing in your feed for the next week. We should probably come up with a name for this, eh? Let's call it the FeedFiller! That'll catch on, right? #SNLFeedFiller! Let's get it started, people! Anyway, sorry to distract from what was basically the best-produced moment of this episode. Let's get into this week's #SNLFeedFiller! It was a pre-filmed movie preview parody of a film called, "The Day Beyonce Turned Black." Pegged to the release of Beyonce's latest video, the film detailed white people not understanding "Formation" and realizing that the superstar they heralded as one of their own didn't belong to them at all. The announcer delivered his lines in a trepidatious tenor, saying things like "It was the day white people lost their Beyonce." Every dramatic read "SNL" has ever done on Beyonce has been genius (see the Beygency sketch) and this was no different.
Next up was the first sketch that brought the real LOLs. It was a focus group discussing the horror movie they had just seen. Cecily Strong, ever capable of playing the straight woman and the ridiculous comic lead, announced that the people who had viewed the movie were being filmed watching, and their reactions might be used in the ad campaign to promote the film. From the very first time we saw Melissa McCarthy, we knew she would be shown doing some over-the-top stuff when she didn't know she was being filmed. And did she ever deliver! McCarthy kills at physical comedy, and the heightening in this sketch was intense, and should make any viewer of horror movies re-think how they should react during the scary scenes.
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Next up was another winner: a sketch that began with a family of three watching the first "Terminator" together. Pete Davidson played a teen who was uncomfortable watching a sex scene with his parents. He tried to ease the tension but couldn't come up with the right words. The sketch expanded to include the interior monologues of the parents, brilliantly juxtaposed with the cringe-inducing awkward things they say to diffuse the situation, which led to some ace one-liners like Bobby Moynihan saying, "She has very dark nipples for a white girl." The interior monologue is always a good comic device (see Joe Montana as the sincere roommate, circa 1987) especially when said monologue is set against what people really say. This was possibly one of Davidson's finest moments on the show to date.
Kanye West's performance was as intense as you might expect from an artist with a constantly shifting album release date, because he's still working on it. The album title has changed several times and was supposed to come out yesterday. Kanye West is an artist who is still realizing his vision, and that's exciting to behold as the album that is currently called "The Life of Pablo" takes shape. Standing on a reflective stage, against a pixelated backdrop of what looked like explosions, he sang "High Lights," in thickly autotuned vocals, against a simple beat. The posse he had onstage provided valuable vocal support. Whereas some hip-hop performances seem to just have the rappers' friends onstage, every person there with him had a purpose, and it was revolutionary in its simplicity.
"Weekend Update" began with the typical political fodder, but Colin Jost and Michael Che brought their A-game more than they have in the past few weeks. The jokes connected with each other seamlessly and there were multimedia elements such as a photoshopped image of Hillary Clinton wearing Beyonce's militant Super Bowl getup and a scrolling list of disclaimers of everything Hillary should have to explain about her political past. Speaking of Beyonce's Super Bowl performance, Che had a great quotable line about people who were supposedly outraged by it. "When did outrage go from pitchforks and torches to strongly worded tweets?" Bam! The cameos of the "Update" segment made for some light comedy, but it was nothing hilarious: Vanessa Bayer did a serviceable impersonation of Rachel from "Friends" and Super Bowl MVP Von Miller compared black holes to the way he shut down Cam Newton. Leslie Jones flirted with Jost and talked about the man of her dreams, but it was the same sort of thing she always does when she crashes "Update."
In the next sketch, Strong played a pickup artist, coaching women on how to get with guys at a bar. From the get-go, we could see that McCarthy's character would be the wild card here. Her character, a misanthrope who comes on too strong, was worth a few good laughs. The formula was simple, but once again, McCarthy's shined through with a ridiculous mixture of physical comedy and absurd lines.
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Oh shoot, maybe this next sketch was the #SNLFeedFiller! In a pre-filmed bit, Kyle Mooney played himself, chronicling how he wants to be the greatest rapper alive, and how he could achieve this dream by defeating Kanye West in a freestyle rap battle. The set-up was such a great exercise in self-awareness, and known personalities parodying themselves, culminating in Kanye rapping back at Mooney, and ending with the line, "I love you like Kanye loves Kanye."
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McCarthy and Leslie Jones played well off one another in the next sketch. They sat next to each other on a bus, and McCarthy ignorantly talked Jones' ear off about black movies. Choice line: "I did enjoy 'Roots' as much as any white movie." The social commentary was precise, but the jokes were somewhat predictable, and the arc of the sketch was somewhat careless.
Kanye's second song, "Ultra Light Beams," was similar in execution and tone to "High Lights," but with a more effective beat and a breathtaking gospel choir, to say nothing of the career-making cameo from Chance the Rapper! Kanye himself doesn't do much in this song, and during the performance he writhed around on the ground. It was almost an act of humility for the rapper to give the spotlight to other artists on the eve of his next huge moment.
To close the show, McCarthy and McKinnon played crazy cat ladies. It was very much end-of-the-show humor, but there were some good lines — McKinnon's best: "We call this cat O.J. because he's orange like the juice, and a murderer like the athlete" — and it was a joy to watch these two hilarious ladies interact together. Also, there must have been some weird sort of inside joke about O.J. Simpson, because there were a surprising number of references to him during the episode. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the father-in-law that Kanye never met — Robert Kardashian — defended the guy? Speaking of Robert Kardashian, Kanye sported a weird-ass memorial T-shirt to him in the show's closing credits.
All in all, this was a stellar episode, but the most groundbreaking stuff was probably from the musical guest, which shouldn't be the case for a comedy show.
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