I've learned the hard way not to assume any episode of Saturday Night Live will be good or bad. There are just too many variables baked into the DNA of the show to promise any particular level of success. An incredible episode can be followed by a dud, or vice versa. Throw in the fact that its two biggest stars this season aren't even part of the full-time cast, and you have an ever greater chance for the quality to be in question when those two aren't there.
Having an Oscar winner as a host should be able to offset a lot of the problems a particular episode might have. But there was little Octavia Spencer could do to elevate the proceedings tonight. With the show taking the last two weeks off, and with only two episodes this month, each installment takes on greater significance. That makes last night's subpar effort stand out even more. SNL as its best is mix of the timely and the timeless. This didn't feature much of either.
With that said, there are a few things to single out. Here's what people will be discussing until Scarlett Johansson hosts next week.
Girl At A Bar
Not so much a parody as an indictment of faux feminism and male fragility, this pre-taped sketch essentially has one joke going for it. But it's a pretty phenomenal joke all the same. One by one, men try to hit on Cecily Strong's character while she waits for her female friend to join her at the bar. All start off by insisting they aren't going to come onto her, and sometimes are literally wearing symbols of solidarity as proof of their innocent intentions. And yet, before even thirty seconds (often less) passes, they make an overtly sexual remark, get rebuffed, and instantly turn on her.
It's a segment all too familiar for many watching, regardless of the political optics of the sketch. Sure, Kyle Mooney's would-be suitor using his attendance at Women's March On Washington as a way to imply Strong's character owes him sex is gross. But that's just one specific example of a larger problem. "OK, bitch! I followed all the rules!" laments Beck Bennett's character at one point, suggesting that there's a playbook men (and yes, even the friend played by Aidy Bryant as well) study as if prepping for the LSATs.
One of the subtlest, yet most effective parts about this sketch is how Strong's character consistently falls for this approach. It's unclear if she's hopeful or naïve that the next encounter will be different from the previous one, but it's slightly (and intentionally) disconcerting to see one person after another continually convince her that this time, things will be different.
Zoo-opolis Voice Actors
Look, it's hard to break out on Saturday Night Live in your first year. Ask Jon Rudnitsky. Ask almost anyone that debuted at the start of Season 39. Ask the dozens of performers that make you ask, "Who?" when you see their names on the past and present SNL cast Wikipedia page. Until now, ask Melissa Villaseñor, who has struggled to make much of an impact in her brief time on the show. Part of that is just learning the ropes of how to get material on-air. But part of that is understanding the best way to present yourself and your talents. Performing sketch comedy really isn't her strong suit. Delivering killer impressions is.
You could see some of this back in the Aziz Ansari-hosted January episode, in which a sketch about sexual role-play gone bad was hampered by her inability to create a three-dimensional character. What she could do, however, was deliver a dead-on Owen Wilson. In this sketch, none of the primary players had to do anything except impressions, and as such, Villaseñor absolutely killed it. This type of "everyone gets to do some impressions" sketch usually is pre-taped, so some of the normal momentum was lost without the benefit of quick-cut editing. Still, I don't think we've seen a Kate McKinnon impression before, never mind one this good. By the time Villaseñor unveiled it, she already had the crowd eating out of her hands. Spencer and Alex Moffat were also strong here, but this was really Melissa Villaseñor's coming out party on the show. Let's see where she and SNL take it from here.
Weekend Update: Eric and Donald Trump Jr.
On a night light in sharp political humor, Mikey Day and Alex Moffat stepped in with their longest performance yet as the Trump brothers. Without Alec Baldwin and Melissa McCarthy around, and with the Jeff Sessions-led cold open missing the mark, this "Update" segment earned its place as the best topical part of the night.
Day did most of the talking here, but Moffat stole the show as the bumbling, disinterested, and wholly unqualified Eric. From his short interjections ("I got a sunburn!") to his inability to insert straws into juice packs, Moffat packed a master class of minimalism into this short segment. Eric's casual confession that President Trump is still running the family business produced perhaps the loudest laugh all night, one made possible by the fact that Moffat lulled the audience into a certain comedic rhythm before completely catching them off-guard.
While maybe not the instant and overt home run that McCarthy's Sean Spicer was, there's still plenty of material that can be mined from continually pairing these two throughout the spring.
From 'Dinner With Schmucks' to the recently released, 'The Shack,' take a look at Octavia Spencer's greatest movie roles.