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SNL can’t raise its game for Amy Schumer

Vanessa Bayer, Amy Schumer (NBC)
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“I’m not an actor, I’m a [standup, sitcom, & movie] star!”

As was the case with Louis C.K., Sarah Silverman, and Chris Rock last year, the highlight of Amy Schumer’s hosting gig was, not surprisingly, her monologue. It’s not that Schumer’s not a good sketch comedian—she has her own, very good sketch show—or that’s she’s not a good actress (Trainwreck should be opening plenty of doors in the movie biz), but she was stranded almost totally by some indifferently written sketches here. Her monologue was super—it’s always a good sign when a standup brings out a handheld mic—exhibiting a confidence that she tried her damnedest to carry over into the rest of the show, hurling herself around (and outside) the plane set in the Delta Airlines sketch (how psyched must Delta be about that one?), and going big and brash in the Mary Todd Lincoln, porn star, and baby shower sketches. It’s just that those sketches weren’t very good (and shared an aversion to satisfying endings. Or endings.)


Another unfortunate similarity with that Rock episode is how unable or uninterested the show was with raising its game to meet its host’s comic sensibilities. SNL has always had issues with race (just ask Chris Rock), but, apart from Rock’s monologue, his hosting gig made little use of the fact that one of the comedians with the most to say on the subject was in the studio. Inside Amy Schumer has become a unique, reliably trenchant force in addressing issues facing women—in comedy and in general. Tonight, however, Schumer, surrounded though she was by a cast full of strong woman comedians, was stuck in a series of nondescript sketches that had essentially nothing to say on the topic. Which wouldn’t be a problem whatsoever if the sketches were any good. Without either interesting points of view or, you know, real laughs, the show wasn’t much of anything at all.


Weekend Update update


Well, after two years, that’s the formula, Colin and Michael. Picking up on the promising signs from last week, the anchors delivered their jokes with confidence and energy, and the two have finally settled on a dynamic that makes them seem to be the team that any two-person Update team needs to be. Jost—called out for being bland and stiff—is finally leaning in, playing the role of the privileged, slightly clueless one, which frees up Che by giving him a foil to play off of. In their gun control debate tonight, no one’s really on the pro-gun side, but Jost ably essays the contrarian, calling out gun control supporters more on pragmatic grounds, citing the furor when former Mayor Bloomberg tried to ban big sodas. (“He’s trying to take our soda buckets!) Che comes off especially well taking counterpoint, listing off things harder to obtain than guns (a purple belt in karate, a driver’s license, Kevin Hart tickets), before throwing to an uncomfortable Jost after a joke about the founding fathers wanting guns because they owned slaves. (Jost: “You’re not supposed to cut to me after that.” Che: “Oh no, I told them to do that.”) Add to that the fact that the rest of the jokes were uniformly solid, and this is easily the best Update Che and Jost have ever done—and a good harbinger of Updates to come.

Best/worst sketch of the night

Well, Update and the monologue aren’t proper sketches, and the gun ad isn’t a sketch, either. So, considering the fact that there wasn’t a genuinely good sketch in the mix tonight, all that’s left is to pick out little snatches of performance from what we got. Aidy Bryant’s clueless but conscientious student almost made up for the fact that the porn teacher sketch just limped along (and had no ending). Her earnest, “Okay, I guess I’ll just study everything” was just right, and Vanessa Bayer as her equally unobservant mom got a laugh, too, noting that she was initially suspicious of her daughter’s new school “because it’s an office building.” The Delta sketch saw Bayer and Schumer going for broke as their flight attendants kept getting sucked out of the very insecure plane door, and the incongruous little character bits sprinkled in there were amusing. (“You did nothing, Useless Mark!” suggests a backstory between them and Taran Killam’s ineffectual male attendant.) The hands-free selfie stick was a cheap gag (you jam it up your butt), enlivened only by Schumer’s delighted, “Oh, it takes pictures?” line. The citizen’s forum didn’t do much with the parade of kooky townspeople complaints—I just couldn’t help comparing it to the stellar similar scenes on Parks And Recreation. Schumer’s strange little girl character was amusing though, mixing as she did age-appropriate silliness (Jesus for teacher, pizza for lunch) with right-wing sloganeering (and the show’s third gun control jab of the night). And Bobby Moynihan’s city councilor benefited from Moynihan’s always-underrated underplaying. And, in the baby shower sketch, Cecily Strong does some great hysterical weeping. And that’s all I’ve got.


If a worst sketch must be picked, the Lincoln re-enactors sketch was all yelling all the time. Schumer’s improv-happy Mary Todd’s obsession with the idea that John Wilkes Booth was going to ravish her after killing Abe was a funny detail, though.

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

I love Kate McKinnon’s ever-present commitment to her broadest recurring characters, but it might be time to retire the one-joke neighbor from hell Mrs. Santino, who takes malicious delight in reading the passive aggressive notes she leaves for her neighbors. Still, there are always some funny lines—I especially enjoyed her salutation to her pothead neighbors, “Dear cast of the movie Friday…”


Jay Pharoah’s attempt to introduce a new character, Update travel correspondent Solomon (who, it’s revealed, never used his pre-paid ticket to Italy) isn’t too promising. Pharoah, too, commits to the character work, and he builds up some steam with the recurring admissions to his tangled web of excuses, but Solomon won’t make anyone forget Stefon any time soon.

Fox & Friends was back, too. (See next.)

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


Fox & Friends is always amusing, if for no other reason than Bobby Moynihan’s childishly guileless Brian Kilmeade. (Tonight, objecting to the idea of Newt Gingrich becoming Speaker of the House because “That’s the man who stole Christmas!”) The impact of these sketches is always blunted, though, because they stop at “Fox News has its own version of a bubble-headed morning show,” rather than going particularly deep into the issues they raise. Having Kate McKinnon’s Planned Parenthood advocate call out Elisabeth Hasselbeck for argument tactics she knows are intellectually dishonest is about as pointed as things got. I’ll leave it to the first hero in the comments to list all the apologies— “King cobras are not elected,” and “John Stamos is not the Greek god of yogurt” stood out for me.


If there was anything pointed tonight (apart from Che and Jost’s gun control debate on Update), it was the parody commercial where people take comfort in their ubiquitous guns. One especially insidious argument in the gun control debate is that gun control advocates are “politicizing” mass shootings by pointing out that, if there were sensible controls on obtaining guns, maybe, crazily, it would be harder for those inclined to kill a bunch of people to do that. Some comedians have the skill and the courage to take on that issue (and the inevitable backlash) head-on, which has never been SNL’s style, really. But this ad—as ever, beautifully crafted to emulate the language of contemporary advertising—does an end run by going after the highly-rehearsed P.R. efforts of the gun lobby to normalize gun culture without ever mentioning the NRA by name. The setup, with Schumer and various cast members playing lonely, troubled people looking for connection or assistance, only to light up when their beloved guns enter the frame, is driven home by the filming and the music, an eloquent and darkly funny indictment of how the war on guns is waged on emotional rather than intellectual grounds. When the tagline “Guns are here to stay” comes in at the end, it lands with a subtle power a more straightforward attack on the gun lobby wouldn’t have.

I am hip to the musics of today

The Weeknd brought his smooth, vaguely menacing R&B grooves “The Hills,” (with an energetic guest vocal from Nicki Minaj) and “I Can’t Feel My Face,” both comparatively benign examples of the singer’s sometimes-offputting “drugs and disposable sexual partners” oeuvre. It’s be tempting to think that SNL brought in The Weeknd’s button-pushing perceived misogyny as counter-programming to the proudly feminist Schumer—but the musical acts are not really something Lorne Michaels gives much thought to these days. (Not embedding it here, but here’s a link to his completely NSFW and troubling video for “Pretty,” if you need context.)


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

It’s the Jost and Che show, both for their strong outing itself, and for the hope tonight’s Update gives going forward.


Other than that, Vanessa Bayer had some big moments, selling the hell out her physical comedy in the airplane sketch (“I swallowed so much air!”), and Aidy Bryant did her usual solid character work in the porn and selfie-stick sketches.


I did not see either Beck Bennett or new guy Jon Rudnitsky at all.

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

The baby shower sketch is the sort of low-concept, character-driven group sketch that can make for a great last sketch of the night. Here, though, it was just more yelling and no ending.


Stray observations

  • Pete Davidson played his first Congressman! His sweaty callowness in the role worked, since he was playing Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), whose line here “I talked more than anyone!” accurately sums up how badly he was exposed during the recent Planned Parenthood hearings.
  • “They’re selling baby parts on Snapchat!”
  • “I’m sorry, I always agree with whoever’s the loudest.”
  • “Am I dating Bradley Cooper? I don’t know how Hollywood works, but…”
  • “Can we really trust the word of a guy with a sponge in his brain?”—Che, reporting on a story about one of Ben Carson’s patients, who sued the surgeon/presidential candidate for allegedly leaving a sponge in his brain.
  • “That company that makes fliers for missing persons.”—American Apparel, according to Jost.
  • Che, on a story about a state celebrating breast cancer awareness by hanging thousands of bras from a crane: “Man, I’d hate to see how they celebrate Black History Month.”
  • NBC hasn’t posted clips as of 3 a.m.—I’ll post them as soon as they get their act together.

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