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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Saturday Night Live plays it safe, dull with Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer
Amy Schumer
Screenshot: Saturday Night Live
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“I’m not saying you guys don’t work hard, because I know on Saturdays, you do.”

I’m not an actor, I’m a [standup, movie] star!

Returning for her second hosting stint, Amy Schumer took the mic for her monologue and coasted on the warm milk vibe of the show’s Mother’s Day cold open. Joking that her recent marriage will rob her of her signature “getting railed” standup material, Schumer didn’t exactly refute the premise, doing some comparatively tame jokes about being an aging bridesmaid, being an aging bride, and aging. Nothing wrong with those subjects if Schumer had anything interesting to say about them, but she didn’t, really. For contrast, see her tampon and period material (phrasing), which might be standard fare, but which Schumer enlivened with energy and gleeful bluntness. Translating a helpful tampon-sharer’s “What size?” question as “What’s the circumference of your vagina hole?” smacked satisfyingly of better Schumer routines past.


In the sketches, as was the case last time she hosted, Schumer gamely but nondescriptly labored to bring something to some indifferently written material. In the annual, adorable, and disposable cast moms cold open, Beck Bennett’s mom joked about SNL’s reliance on game- and talk show sketches. (Thank you, Beck’s mom.) So the episode resolutely wheeled out a predictably dull game show sketch right out of the gate. Schumer’s host of a mom-and-teen Dating Game-type game show was left to gape and stammer at the too-affectionate antics of Mikey Day’s son and Kate McKinnon’s mother, playing it dutifully straight in a sketch that ran a straight, short line from premise to execution. McKinnon managed, unsurprisingly, to wrong some laughs out of her cult-adjacent mother/lover character’s glassy-eyed answers (“He is of me.”), but Saturday Night Live too often sets up a “person acting weird/straight man acting shocked” dynamic that, here, is isn’t elevated by any original touches, leaving the sketch to stumble on in gracelessly deployed outrage.

The same goes for “Gospel Brunch,” which, despite a few nice side-bits and some solid energy from Kenan, Leslie, and Chris Redd (and a rousing church choir), introduces the premise (“Southern cooking is often very unhealthy!”) and then makes a lot of jokes about how Southern cooking is often very unhealthy. I laughed when Cecily Strong’s visiting atheist chef is immediately broomed offstage by a smilingly apologetic Redd, and at Schumer’s delivery of her secret pecan pie smoothie recipe’s main ingredient (a whole pecan pie), but, again, if the premise is going to essentially be the joke, then the actual jokes stemming off of the premise have to be a lot fresher. (The rule of threes joke, though—“heart disease, diabetes, sugar foot”—was solid.)

Weekend Update update

Jost and Che were reliable, if not uproarious, tonight. Maybe it was that mom sensibility, or the fact that Donald Trump had a notable accomplishment to point to this week in the release of three Americans from North Korea, but the Update duo were less sharp than usual. Jost managed to find the Trump-shaped cloud inside the hostage silver lining, joking that at least Trump didn’t ask, “I thought they were Americans” upon meeting the freed Asian-American prisoners. And Che made the “it’s quiet—too quiet” joke about the week in Trump-world. But there’s enough material (read: horrible, ignorant, venal, or outright insane shit) emanating from the White House, even on a “quiet” week, that this week’s Update felt a little like a series of missed opportunities.

Heidi Gardner brought back her teen YouTube movie reviewer Bailey, to fine effect. Gardner keeps making room to show off her impressive character skills—she really is a wonderful actor. And Bailey’s all-too-authentic teen awkwardness, inarticulateness, and angst is, in Gardner’s performance, specific and immediate. Overreacting to Michael Che’s solicitous advice at one point, Gardner holds on a tearful beat for just the right amount of time. Like Kyle Mooney with Bruce Chandling, Gardner carves out space on Update to let a fully realized characterization breathe, and her Bailey is just as impressive.

Of all the Mother’s Day coziness this week, Melissa Mccarthy’s surprise turn as Michael Che’s doting stepmom was the strongest—and warmest. The joke that Che’s proud stepmother (complete with “world’s proudest stepmom” sweatshirt) is, well, just so darned proud of her Michael is an opportunity for McCarthy, too, to show off what a fine, underrated actor she is. Like Gardner before her here, McCarthy just slays a crying beat, welling up at a long-ago memory of Che’s grade school poem. (“Horseshoe crabs have very limited life spans, and I know that because of you.”) And it’s both wise and sweet that Che never undercuts the sentimentality of the joke, acting bashful but never contemptuous of his stepmother’s thoroughly mom-like amusement and wonder at every little thing he does, even though she isn’t up on all that politics stuff. (“Go ahead—you were doing a joke about Judy... Judy Rudy... Judy Rudiani.”) And the capper—with McCarthy (having forgotten her cheaters) wheeling her chair right into camera to read the “world’s best stepmom” joke that Che wrote for her is as mom-loopy as it is genuinely touching.

Best/Worst sketch of the night

The thing I enjoyed most was McCarthy and Che’s silly-sweet doubles act, but, since that wasn’t a sketch proper, I’m going with “The Day You Were Born” for the best of the night. I mean, a filmed piece might be stretching “sketch” as well, but, honestly, there weren’t many live sketches to consider. The joke here is a standard one—the rosy breakfast-in-bed tales of childbirth Schumer shares with her young son contrast with the table-pooping, recrimination-shouting reality—but the bit is shot exceptionally well, and Schumer and husband Mikey Day’s smash cut delivery room panic is edited into the piece just as expertly. It was one of the few moments where Schumer got to cut loose tonight (“You’re not a man!!”), something the episode could have used more of.

Same goes for the ten-to-one graduation film. (Thanks to A.V. Club colleague Joe Blevins for reminding me that this one is at least a spiritual sequel to the “St. Joseph’s Christmas Mass Spectacular” film from 2014, so, technically, this belongs both in the recurring sketch and Ten-To-Oneland slots.) The joke of a mundane event being announced in “Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!” monster truck rally style is just a funny concept, with Beck Bennett’s announcer highlighting how the appearance of the one pregnant student hits the parents’ section “like an atomic bomb.” Cute, although the use of a filmed piece at the end of the show suggests a timing issue somewhere along the way left things running short.

Short and thin is how the show felt, although that has a lot to do with how forgettable most of the sketches were. The children’s theater production of Rent was another bit that never went much beyond the premise, although Day’s director explaining that his “AIDS into diabetes” bowdlerization was undertaken with a simple “find and replace in Microsoft Word” trick worked. Schumer got to act a bit as the conservative, Southern-accented child actor whose crabby self-righteousness presages exactly what she’ll sound like when she’s voting the straight Republican ticket in 40 years. (“She only speaks Spanish, and I only speak white.”)

The Handmaid’s Tale/Sex And The City mashup, too, makes its point without making any truly clever or funny jokes out of the concept. The oppressed brood-wives all making Gilead-specific catty comments (until the cattle prod comes out) could have had more bite, and even the review blurb jokes (always a funny drop-in gag) aren’t anything special. Plus, SNL has done The Handmaid’s Tale much better and smarter elsewhere.

“What do you call that act?” “The Californians!”—Recurring sketch report

Bailey, high school graduation (spiritual sequel), Sheila Sauvage.

“It was my understanding there would be no math”—Political comedy report

Moms making Trump jokes in place of Alec Baldwin making Trump jokes? Call it a wash. Still, Saturday Night Live can take a week largely off of politics any time they want, but the resulting show has to be a lot funnier.

I am hip to the musics of today

Kacey Musgraves did her first song under a rhinestone saddle chandelier and wearing 1970s-vintage striped slacks, a deliberate throwback vibe that underscored the country star’s knowing incorporation of her influences. I liked the second song, “Slow Burn” better, with Musgraves’ oft-noted Dolly Parton twang and lyrical snap emerging winningly. Our own Marah Eakin is the person to read for a full appreciation of Musgraves’ alt-country, though.

Most/Least Valuable (Not Ready For Prime Time) Player

It’s not just that Luke Null’s mom was on hand for the cold open that keeps me from bestowing another LVNRFPTP to the guy. I mean, he didn’t get on the show in any notable way, but his response to mom’s complaint about all the Trump jokes (“Mom, I’m so new here, please don’t do this to me.”) was genuinely funny. Same consideration goes for Melissa Villaseñor. Happy Mother’s Day!

Despite a subpar Update, I’ll give the top spot to Michael Che. His work opposite both Gardner and McCarthy was nimble and more heartfelt than we’re used to seeing, and it looked good on him.

What the hell is that thing?”—The Ten-To-Oneland Report

Oh, Sheila. Or, (not quite) anagrammatically, “Hole-ass vag.” Nobody needs to sell the world on Kate McKinnon’s gift for creatively lived-in scuzziness at this point, but tossing another Sheila at the end of the show suggests a serious lack of ambition. Here McKinnon’s Sauvage and visiting barfly Schumer do the usual nose-holding dance of barely interested seduction, ordering a “Monistat 7 and 7" and squirting each other’s tongues with hand sanitizer before sloppily slapping tonsils. But there’s nowhere to go with this bit beyond admittedly crowd-pleasing gameness (not to say gaminess).

Stray observations

  • Of all the moms, Chris Redd’s mother had the most screen presence. Happy Mother’s Day, ma’am. You are very funny.
  • “My producers are asking that you limit your songs to no songs.”
  • “I saw Seal at a club! I mean, I clubbed a seal with a saw.”
  • “You like Thanos? Isn’t he the villain?” “Or maybe he’s just, like, different.”
  • Happy Mother’s Day, mom. You are not awake for this.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.