The end of November is always a secondary, slightly forgettable waiting period before Saturday Night Live, like much of New York, hits a stride during the holiday season. Despite that, last night's episode was still plenty of fun.
After an uneven first few months, Saturday Night Live hit its stride. The show is still working out its hierarchy after last year's big departures. How the show will deal with Seth Meyers leaving in January for Late Night is still a major question mark. The new cast members are still fighting to break out from a crowded pack. The show can't have a black female host every night. All of that said, they deliver at a pace that may not blow you away week to week but, sketch for sketch, perhaps delivers more consistently than last season. A very promising December will answer whether that's a recurring trend or Sunday morning delusion talking.
There were almost no stakes last night. It was the episode before the show brings in a heavy hitting December line up of veterans designed to make you forget about all of those very big problems. Josh Hutcherson's stature doesn't measure up to Saturday Night Live getting Jennifer Lawrence. She is probably indisposed anyway. But Peeta performed admirably and participated in nearly every sketch tonight. Let's not take points away from a host who wore a few different masks and seemed up for the job. He let Vanessa Bayer eat corn from his hand for Peeta's sake. But Hutcherson did not impress us enough to land on this week's rankings, falling just short of...
...Beck Bennett. The new cast members have all struggled to make a name for themselves in the limited airtime granted to them. Coming into this season, Bennett easily had the biggest profile thanks to some commercial work. But John Mihliser and Kyle Mooney have arguably had the greatest success on the show so far. (We're pulling for you, Noel Wells!) Bennett made a break for it last night with the Baby Boss sketch.
The lack of physical comedy on the show has been an issue. Most sketches are four cast members standing around trading one-liners. (Except last week's perilous Rob Ford sketch, of course.) So it was nice to see some physical energy! It wasn't exactly a Chevy Chase-worthy fall or anything, but someone finally remembered physical comedy can get laughs. This choice was in no way definitive among the Wire brain trust. It nearly tore this experiment apart. But here we are, making the best of it and going for broke. -- C.S. ["No comment." -- J.R.]
After delivering such a strong debut season last year, Cecily Strong's ascendence to the Weekend Update desk has been a double-edged sword. It was great to see her rewarded for good work, but while she smooths things out behind the desk, it feels like her growth in regular sketches has been stunted a bit. Not this week, though. She's certainly playing second-fiddle to Bryant on "Girlfriends Talk Show," but her and Bobby Moynihan's recurring sketch where they call out their co-workers for their various personal foibles gives her a fantastic, nasty showcase. I was also tickled by her accent work in the vet hospital sketch.
It should also be noted that this was a solid Weekend Update, particularly when it came to Strong's jokes. She's developing a steadier hand, guiding the audience through the punchlines and getting everybody to adapt to her cadence. The under-appreciated challenge of a two-person Update desk is that you're bouncing between the delivery styles of two different comedians. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were on the same page for so many years that we've maybe forgotten what a challenge that is. So I'll throw a few degree-of-difficulty points Strong's way. — J.R.
Much as last season came to be (at least partly) defined by the ascendance of Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong, this season has thus far been pretty well dominated by Aidy Bryant. Last night's episode put all of Bryant's best qualities on display. "Girlfriends Talk Show" manages to get better and better with every repetition, which not only makes it an anomaly among SNL recurring sketches, it also speaks quite well of Bryant (and Strong) as performers willing to tweak and hone and perfect their characters. Bryant's in her sweet spot when she's playing women of rapidly unspooling desperation, and Girlfriends plays into that perfectly.
Bryant's Weekend Update character was a bit of a left turn from that kind of desperation, nicely giving her the chance to play a stridently obnoxious Worst Flier In The World. Yeah, she's bringing Panda Express on an airplane! Chicken and broccoli! — J.R.