After taking a well-deserved week off to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday – presumably, a break that included at least a smidge of Back Home Baller-ing – the cast of Saturday Night Live returned to Studio 8H to begin wrapping up the 2014 portion of the show’s fortieth season. James Franco (self-professed "actor, poet, artist, dude") was on hand to host for the third time, with best pal Seth Rogen and musical act Nicki Minaj frequently popping up to assist in the merry-making duties.
The episode was a mostly mid-level energy affair, one that zinged between targeting unsettling current events (something the show has struggled to do well during its latest season) and goofy, music-heavy numbers that allowed Minaj to put her own game spin on another famous females (looking at you, Beyonce and Kim K). As ever, Franco wasn't afraid to go big and weird with his work, but the end result was an episode that was never willing to go far enough into either the topical or the silly. Still, there were some major highlights, including these three stand-out clips.
"Star Wars Teaser"
The joke here – there's a new Star Wars coming out, and man, are those original cast members old now! – isn't a new one, but the details of this digital bit lift it above the sci-fi fray. There's the casting, including Bobby Moynihan as Princess Leia (surely, the woman has to be a queen by now, right?) and Franco as a geriatric Luke Skywalker, that provide obvious laughs. There's the older set's struggles with the most basic of technologies (it's sort of like being with your own family). There's even a nod to the future of the series, with Jay Pharoah playing John Boyega's currently unnamed newbie Stormtropper with just the right touch of exasperated drama. But what this teaser does so well is recognize what fans of the seminal series really want to see: their heroes, back in action, wondering what the hell that adorable little droid is. That thing is rolling.
Mike O'Brien may no longer be a regular Saturday Night Live cast member, but luckily for all of us, he's still churning out his unique brand of sad/sweet sketches via various digital shorts. O'Brien's best work has always tight-roped the line between amusing and just kind of heartbreaking, a special subgenre of comedy that he again explores with his "Grow-A-Guy."
It should come as little shock that O'Brien and Franco would re-team for another digital outing – remember their glorious "Monster Pals" from last season? – but it is surprising just how much "Grow-A-Guy" echoes that sketch’s themes of fitting in and appreciating friendship (we promise this is funny, as emotionally downbeat as that may sound). O'Brien stars in his own short – billed as "A Mike O'Brien Picture" – as a slightly sadsack high school student whose own friends (especially Beck Bennett, who can now add "jerky teen" to his repertoire of characters) don’t especially like him. Pushed to prove he’s got other pals, O'Brien's Trevor grows one, nursing a newly hatched Franco into real-boy status.
Well, kind of. He is a Grow-A-Guy after all, and when his true identity is found out (thanks to his dizzying misunderstanding of the nature of hashtags), the short takes a decidedly O'Brien-esque left turn into unexpected emotion. Won’t someone real be Trevor’s friend, for goodness sakes?
"Porn Stars With James Franco and Seth Rogen"
Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong slip back into their trademark bandage dresses for a fresh round of attempting to prove their value as spokeswomen for yet another "luxirant" and "desrabable" premium product. This time around, it's Sunseeker Yachts, which allows the duo to sport kicky sailor hats while also mispronouncing "yachts" in new and unexpected ways.
As comfortable as Bayer and Strong might be with their dim-bulb, ex-porn star alter-egos by now, there’s still plenty of good material to mine here (and lots more backstory to explore, including this week’s revelation of a peculiar physical ailment suffered by Bayer's "Brekkie"), and it only gets better when fresh participants are thrown into the mispronounced stew of utter idiocy. Franco and Rogen literally sail into the sketch (twice, actually) appearing as underwater porn directors looking to make a quick buck by foisting yachts on rich consumers. Their commitment to the gag – especially Franco's understanding of the product they're shilling as "seersucker yaks" – row the sketch into undiscovered waters, just like sailing on the Titanus!