Nudity has long been one of the biggest talking points surrounding HBO’s Girls, so it came as no surprise that it took a prominent position in Lena Dunham’s debut as host of Saturday Night Live. “There is an old saying: If you’re nervous about giving a speech, just imagine the audience naked,” the 27-year-old writer/director/actress said during her opening monologue. “Or at least imagine that they haven’t seen you naked.” The monologue progressed into a series of cringingly intimate sexual disclosures from castmembers and offered Dunham an endearing opportunity to project what seemed to be genuine excitement at being on the show.
Most of Dunham’s sketch characters last night bore some resemblance to her awkwardly hyperverbal Girls protagonist Hannah Horvath, and bits of feminist critique were tossed in throughout the show, but the most direct reference to Dunham’s hit series came as a biblical film parody. The Garden of Eden premise offered a clever excuse to get Dunham out into her customary birthday suit: “Even for Adam and Eve, there’s a lot of nudity,” proclaims one of the reviews. Taran Killam played Adam Driver playing Adam (part of a streak of great Killam impersonations last night, which also included Matthew McConaughey and Harrison Ford), and Vanessa Bayer played Shoshanna as the serpent. There was also a brief visual reference to Hannah’s horrible q-tip accident.
In a Scandal parody (with Sasheer Zamata donning Olivia Pope’s flawlessly tailored white pantsuit, superhuman efficiency and paralysis in the face of President Fitz), Dunham played the Dunham version of a regular person suddenly thrust into the midst of Olivia Pope and Associates’ operations. While the host played her reactions a bit broadly, the sketch had fun playing up Scandal‘s preposterous solutions to far-fetched predicaments.
A pre-teen girl talk show found Dunham playing second-banana to Nasim Pedrad in a sketch called “What Are You Even Doing, You’re Being Crazy?” The main highlight of the sketch was the appearance of a desperately uncomfortable Jon Hamm wandering onto the set looking for pizza. (It was the second big-name cameo of the night, after Liam Neeson’s turn in the cold open.)
Dunham’s awkward righteous white lady persona saw its funniest variant in “What’s Poppin’,” when two hip-hop talk show hosts reluctantly book an all-white rap group called That’s a Rap. Dunham delivers some truly ghastly 1990s women’s college positivity rhymes with perfectly dorky panache.
Aside from a serviceable Liza Minnelli impersonation, Dunham didn’t stretch far beyond her usual persona, but there were a few moments of clever writing in the show. One simple but effective setup involved two couples jamming out in the car to the Five Stairsteps’ “Ooh Child.” Every time the emotion builds into Dunham’s turn at a verse, the GPS directions cut into the song and put her off. The sketch ends with a dark twist that’s become a classic move in this type of short.
Louis C.K. will host for a second time when Saturday Night Live returns with a new episode on March 29th.