After the extreme highs of last week, there was nowhere for Saturday Night Live to go but down this time around. This Amy Schumer-led episode wasn't bad by any stretch, but featured a miss for every hit. That consistent inconsistency made it difficult for the episode to gather any momentum: For every solid sketch, there was one met with relative silence from the crowd. Not every sketch can be a winner, and sketch order has as much (if not more) to do with production practicality than comedic quality. But more than most installments in Season 43, this was a Jekyll and Hyde episode.
The best segments all centered on the same thing: Mother's Day. The list below makes it seem like this was a thematically-centered episode from start to finish. Instead, it demonstrates just how much this holiday brings out of the cast and crew. Not only did it bring out some surprisingly touching comedy, but it also brought out a huge cameo that will probably steal the post-show thunder from Schumer in the week leading up to the show's season finale.
Mother's Day Cold Open
Pairing up SNL cast members with their mothers in this cold open leads to a lot of flubbed cues and mistimed line readings, but it literally doesn't matter: I'm a fan of any sketch in which we learn a little about what makes this cast tick. I don't pretend like I know a lot more about the Not Ready For Primetime Players after watching this, but their interactions here seem genuine, and understanding what makes these people tick goes a long way to understanding what's important to them when it comes to comedy. Yes, the relationship between cast and audience is an illusion, but it's still interesting to catch a glimpse of what these people are like when not playing a character or hiding behind irony.
Underneath these short pairings, the show addressed its controversial approach to the Trump administration, as several mothers condemned SNL for its political sketches this season. You could read this as the mothers simply saying lines for comedic effect. But it's equally possible to read this as the show owning up to a generational disconnect between the two demographics, one that even extends to the parents of the show's cast. I don't think either interpretation is incorrect, and trying to arrive at the "right" answer is beside the point. What's important is showing that even something like celebrating Mother's Day has become politicized, which makes this cold open one of the most subversive of the season.
The Day You Were Born
Totally savage, utterly unsparing, and ultimately extremely empathetic, this pre-taped sketch runs the gamut of moods. Nothing here is exactly groundbreaking: We've seen enough popular culture deconstruction the myth of the "miracle" of birth to understand this sketch's premise almost immediately. But it's the execution that makes special. In less than four minutes, this short film tells a complete story that moves quickly from the specific to the universal.
A lot of what makes this work is the cinematography and editing. The rapid cuts between Schumer's mom lovingly telling her son about the day he was born and the reality of what unfolded land every time. But it's the contrast between the way the present and the past are lit that really lands, as it paints the present as an illusion that is sold to would-be parents. The messy, television screen-lit living room is much more accurate than the immaculately sun-drenched bedroom that serves as the central set.
On top of that, the sketch shows just how fundamentally useless many men are when it comes to child rearing. Yes, Schumer yelling at Mikey Day in the Emergency Room that he's "not a man" is funny. But showing him quickly going about his normal activities post-child birth and leaving the everyday responsibilities of keeping that kid alive is downright damning. Without having to overtly underline its message, this sketch turns from satire to empathy and earns that transition.
Weekend Update: Michael Che's Step-Mom
It hasn't been THAT long since McCarthy essentially took over SNL with her Sean Spicer impressions. It just feels that way because time moves differently than it did 18 months ago, with days feeling like weeks due to the abundance of information that bombards us all. Having her back on now in some ways makes sense (her new movie Life Of The Party opens this weekend; also, she's one of those actors that SNL always rolls the welcome mat out for), and in others doesn't (why give this six-minute segment to her when Schumer could have done it?). The hows and whys ultimately don't matter. It went down this way, and the crowd absolutely ate it up.
Now, saying Schumer could have played this role in no way implies that Schumer could have done THIS with the role, let's be clear. That's also not saying it would have been better or worse, but it absolutely would have been different. McCarthy has a specific skill in being absolutely sweet and utterly unpredictable at the same time. Her character is totally sympathetic to Michael Che, and yet you can see Che on edge the entire time over what curveball McCarthy might throw at him on live TV. Her improvisational ability makes her completely enthralling on SNL: It's not that she goes completely off-script so much as she intuitively knows how to make an unplanned moment funnier, and watching Che work to keep up with her resulted in one of his most focused performances of the year.