After last week's unfortunate outing, Saturday Night Live went to the We Know What Works well this time around and delivered a very strong outing. Elizabeth Banks has the perfect skill set to host the show, and the material that SNL provided gave her the opportunity to exist inside the ensemble rather than outside of it. Anytime you can say, "I could see that host being a cast member," that's a huge compliment. While it's only Banks' first time hosting, we're already looking forward to her next appearance.
Many strong sketches didn't make the cut this time around, which means something like "Walk-On Role," which would have been the best sketch last week, doesn't even appear below. Is that comeback surprising? Absolutely not. Those that watched last week's episode declaring SNL dead don't understand the show's resiliency. SNL isn't supposed to be consistent. It walks a very thin line in which comic disaster is built into its DNA. Terrible sketches and even terrible shows are par for the course. The fact that SNL can turn around and keep delivering episodes like this is why it's lasted as long as it has.
Black Jeopardy With Elizabeth Banks
The first version of this sketch was a highlight of Season 40, and this follow up did not disappoint. In place of Louis C.K.'s nebbish professor is Banks' overly liberal know-it-all, who is equally inept at answering questions in categories such as "I Don't Know You" and "What Had Happened Was."
Not only is this a great showcase for Kenan Thompson, it's also a clever structure onto which the show can hang a lot of disparate comedic ideas. It's almost like "Weekend Update" in that respect, as the categories allow the flexibility to talk about Starbucks' supposed War On Christmas, outrage over Bill Cosby and Tom Brady, and the current location of Tupac Shakur. This sketch doesn't have quite the same re-usability as "Celebrity Jeopardy!," but it's still a potent sketch that should remain in the show's arsenal for the foreseeable future.
First Got Horny 2 U
Each era of SNL gets sketches associated with the cast of that time. These are sketches that are a specific byproduct of a specific combination of cast and show sensibility. Tonight's episode featured two segments that I bet will be part of this cast's identity. "First Got Horny 2 U" is an original concept within an established subgenre, as we've seen many instances in which the current female cast exhibits their sexuality and silliness within a musical video.
I can understand why some might think SNL dips into this well too often for their liking. But there's something endearing about this version, from Kate McKinnon's admission that Hanson convinced her she was gay to Aidy Bryant getting turned on by a character from the TV show Dinosaurs. Anything that humanizes the Not Ready For Primetime Players is always a good thing, and even if these admissions aren't strictly biographical, they still provide an insight to those that make us laugh each week. That type of connection is important: Knowing what makes these people tick can only help strengthen the bond between those in Studio 8 and those of us at home.
High School Theatre Show With Elizabeth Banks
If there's a single sketch that will define the current era, this is it. It's so specific to this version of SNL that it's really impossible to think of any other cast doing it. It was so good so immediately when it first debuted that it's easy to take it for granted, and Lord knows the Reese Witherspoon iteration suggested that the show itself did last time around. But this was sharp, pointed, and had a few tricks up its sleeve to differentiate itself.
The biggest, and best, change this time around came from the students' interrogation of the audience, which made the play far more confrontational and thus sparked funnier reactions from the horrified parents. The sketch never takes the side of the overconfident students: Even if their positions are valid, their approach is so condescending that we side with Leslie Jones when her character up and leaves after the first scene. Aidy Bryant's troupe leader comes off as a sincere eco-warrior, but her mother (played by Vanessa Bayer) notes that offstage she's an awful person who can't even treat her own family well. The best SNL sketches suggest a rich story that exists before and after the current action, and there still feels like a lot to tell within this high school theatre.