Saturday Night Live, Season 40, Episode 7, “Cameron Diaz/Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars”
November 22, 2014, 11:30 p.m. (EST), NBC
Luke Annand: Going into this week’s episode, part of me was nervous about the host they had for this week, Cameron Diaz. Like I mentioned in last week’s recap, while I’ll always stick up for her as being better than people give her credit for (at least she intentionally ventures out into uncharted territory with stuff like Being John Malkovich, Any Given Sunday, In Her Shoes, The Box and The Counselor), here I wasn’t exactly sure if she could pull off hosting duties, since being a part of live sketch comedy requires a very unique skill set. If she has hosted SNL before, I’m not aware of it. But my concerns were assuaged by the end of the episode, since with a few minor exceptions, I thought this was the strongest episode of the season yet. The opening political sketch (a take on School House Rock that had Obama repeatedly shoving Bill down the steps of the Capitol building in favor of Executive Order) was on point and actually funny, even though it leaves out the part where the 5 million people he’s protecting are normal everyday people and not the criminals they’re targeting. And is it just me or does the animation of the Bill falling down the steps remind you of Robert Smigel’s TV Funhouse animation sketches? The opening monologue with Cameron answering some very fast questions showed that the writer’s knew that she’s not a comedian nor does she sing, so we might as well just get through that a.s.a.p. But the first great sketch was the return of YR Girls with “Back Home Baller”. After last year’s “Twin Bed” song, I was excited about seeing the women of the cast take the baton from Lonely Island of “hip hop songs about white domesticity” and run with it. After that was the Annie sketch, obviously to tie into Diaz’s next film. I’m not a fan of Annie in any way, shape or form and it’s enduring popularity is something I will never understand. But when Leslie Jones showed up as the 43 year old black Annie, that’s when the sketch was saved. Next up was the Woodbridge High School experimental theater sketch. Now experimental theater is low hanging fruit in terms of comedy (Spaced did a great bit about it where David Walliams of Little Britain did an incomprehensible bit, paused and then said “I’m not finished!”), but man did they just bit into it and sucked up all the juice from it (“Which one is your kid?””I’d rather not say.”)
The first song from Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars (“Uptown Funk”) was once again a great showcase for Mars’ abilities as a performer. The song felt like a great mix of James Brown and Michael Jackson. Mars get’s criticized for being more of an imitator of other music as opposed to having an original voice. He’s Dewey Cox, but for real. But I honestly didn’t mind, since if he is ripping off someone else, at least he’s taking from the best. This week’s Weekend Update I felt was the strongest one this season where every joke and one liner hit and the real life characters they brought on were great. After that, we saw the return of Baby Boss, Beck Bennett’s recurring character. Now as mentioned before, I don’t mind one-joke characters so long as the one joke about them is really funny. And in this case with Baby Boss out of the office and at his home dining with his future CFO, it brought in a fresh enough scenario to make the one joke repeated over and over work. But then we get to what I thought was the best sketch of the evening with Dr. Dave and Buggles’ Animal Hour where Kenan Thompson spent the sketch fuming at his monkey co-host who last week ripped his testicles off and threw them at the Exit sign. Seeing the host halfheartedly having to keep going on with the show after a traumatic event and Diaz’s lemur wrangler react in horror while Jay Pharoah’s maintenance guy put up the new Exit sign was just the perfect alchemy of absurdity and sadness. And we got another taped Mooney sketch of him fighting Andy Rydell with the “fight” intercut with stock footage of car crashes and explosions to make it seem bigger than it really was in a way that only a high school boy would do it.
As for the rest of the episode, the Nest’Spresso commercial fell flat. “I don’t know how it works.” really isn’t that much of a joke. The poetry teacher sketch was kinda funny, but Bayer’s teacher character is really grating. At least the sketch acknowledged that with Zamata asking “Did that lady swallow a bike horn?” And the final sketch of the phone sex line with the women asking for the callers to do criminal activities for them was just OK. And while there were some line flubs, seeing as how it’s an 11:55 sketch, I’m not willing to rake them over the coals like you’ve been over the last few weeks.
So what do you say, Jordan? Is this the first truly solid episode of SNL‘s 40th season? And do you think it was the right call to basically just incorporate Diaz into the cast and let them do their thing as opposed to building an episode around her, like they’ve done with Rock, Carrey and Hader?
Jordan Ferguson: A few weeks back, we disagreed on how much Jim Carrey’s comedy is driven by vanity vs. fearlessness, and that kept coming to mind tonight as I watched Cameron Diaz, an actress whose career is often defined by her willingness to just dive in and do whatever is asked of her, whether it is using semen as hair gel in There’s Something About Mary, enjoying herself with an automobile in The Counselor, or dancing around in her underwear as the most winsome goofball around in Charlie’s Angels. To me, Diaz is someone who is always willing to commit for the sake of whatever she’s doing, and even if the results are not always stellar, I respect that as a comedic instinct.
Our big disagreement this week will apparently be about Nest’Spresso, which was far and away my favorite sketch of the night. The moment when Bayer said “Meet me in my house…now” and just stood there smiling vacantly as KIllam and McKinnon awkwardly hurled themselves over her fence killed me, and the “How does it work?” “I don’t know that part” was a very effective way to puncture the hollow infomercial veneer. Overall, I am ready to hand Vanessa Bayer this week’s MVP award. She was note-perfect in that sketch, played White Annie hilariously, and gave enough personality to her grating teacher character that it stayed funny enough when it would have immediately fallen flat in lesser hands. The sketch that fell flattest for me was “Back Home Baller,” which was a good showcase for the cast’s women in theory, but gave them pretty weak material at the end of the day. It felt one note to me, excepting that wonderful moment where Aidy Bryant is confronted by a neighbor and awkwardly retreats.
This was actually Diaz’s fourth time as host, Luke, and I think that lends her the comfort with the role that allows the show to just throw her into the mix where it needs her. She also lacks the gravitational force of the hosts who shape SNL to their will when they show up, and I think that is mostly a good thing. Diaz isn’t forcing anyone to make the show fit her established personality. She just shows up, is game for whatever they want, and seems to have a genuinely good time being silly. I wouldn’t say that either hosting mode is inherently superior to the other, but I think we’ve had a lot of the former so far this season, so it is nice to see someone who is willing to just hang out with the cast and wear dreadlocks when they ask her to.
I was perhaps most impressed with the experimental theater sketch, which like you said is a tired comedic premise, but was executed well enough that I probably could have watched an even longer version of it (Kenan’s confusion about the boxes just kept working, even after it should have felt tired, and Bayer was again stellar as a deeply humiliated parent who wanted to give up on theater forever after five minutes). I’m not sure I can call this my favorite episode of the season so far, because while the highs were high, the lows were also pretty low (this was maybe the worst Weekend Update of the season so far, the monologue did very little for me, and the phone sex sketch never really found the humor in its premise), but I think it what worked here worked. And since apparently I’ve beat the flub drum enough for your taste at the moment, I’ll let this week’s various blunders slide (even though I still think this is a problem for this season). How do you think Diaz meshed with the cast? And at the risk of poking the bear, where do you come down on her go-for-broke approach?
Luke:I thought Diaz meshed with the cast really well. And like I said before with her eclectic choice of films on her resume, I appreciated her go-for-broke approach to the material she was given on SNL. She went ahead with it and tried to make it her own without drawing attention to herself. Despite being a headliner, it’s clear from tonight’s episode she can fit into an ensemble really well. As for the previously mentioned sketches, I did chuckle at Killam and McKinnon climbing over the neighbor’s fence but that wasn’t enough for me to really get into the sketch. Maybe because I don’t think urban farming is a big enough thing to make a fake product out of, but the sketch just felt flat, uninspired and not up to the standard of other fake commercials I’ve seen in the past. As for the “Back Home Baller” sketch, mainly because I recognize so much of what goes on in the sketch whenever I’ve come home for the holidays, I’m way more partial to the sketch. Like I said, I wouldn’t mind seeing this as a recurring sketch so long as they don’t overuse it. I think once a year would be a good enough for me. And I’m surprised you didn’t like Weekend Update since every news piece they covered had the right punchline to them, I liked McKinnon’s German chancellor and while Killam’s Charlie Manson might not have been the best, since the guy is a real life demonic cartoon character there was no real wrong way to do him.
What did you think of Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney this week? We had the return of Baby Boss (this might’ve been his 3rd or 4th appearance, I’m not sure) and another weird, low-fi Mooney sketch. Has Baby Boss worn out his welcome yet for you? And how do you think this week’s Mooney sketch held up in relation to the other ones we’ve seen this season?
Jordan: Recurring characters are almost never my favorite thing about SNL, but they are an essential part of the show’s repertoire, both in terms of creating a cultural impact, and for the fact that it is just easier to fill time with some recurring sketches, and 90 minutes a week is a lot of time to fill. Bennett’s Baby Boss has never felt like a fully thought through premise to me, but then, it isn’t really supposed to be anything beyond a string of weird moments that let Bennett do his thing, and for that, it continues to work. I doubt Baby Boss will ever be my favorite sketch of the night (if so, we might be looking at a pretty dire episode), but I laughed a few times throughout it, and I think it is another indication that Bennett is a vital part of the current cast.
I would say the Mooney/Bennett sketch this time out was pretty weak (it felt like a rehash of their garage-based talk show a few weeks back), but I still enjoyed aspects of it. This one felt more like filler between bigger ideas for the two, but it was still entertaining, and definitely better than, say, Kenan’s sketch about a monkey castrating him, which gave into a lot of his worst tendencies as a performer. The show is off next week, and when it comes back, it will be the House of Franco. It may be a good showcase for his low-key comedic style, it may be another instance of a big personality running roughshod over an ensemble-based cast, or it may literally just be James Franco staring into a bucket and weeping for 90 straight minutes, with occasional Nicki Minaj intervals. What do you expect to see from a Franco-lead SNL? This will be his third time hosting, but the first since he has become “James Franco” the conceit as much as James Franco the man, and I imagine either way, we’ll have a lot to discuss.
Luke:Honestly, outside of maybe a pop-up from Seth Rogen during the opening monologue, I have no idea what to expect from Franco. The man is so all over the place and eclectic that either three of the scenarios you mentioned could very well be what will happen or maybe all three of them at once as a potential fourth. I don’t know if you know this, but last time he hosted, he actually brought a camera crew with him and he made a documentary about the week long writing, rehearsing and preparations that go into an episode of SNL. It’s been stuck in legal limbo for so long that I think it was only recently that the documentary was available to view on Hulu (which I have to boo, since Hulu is not available in Canada). Maybe this time around he’ll get some extra footage and re-edit it.
As much as I’m interested in Franco’s episode (and will have Nicki Minaj on mute so that I don’t hear that laugh that she makes in “Anaconda” that makes Tom Hulce’s laugh in Amadeus sound butch) , I’m even more excited for the episode after that with Martin Freeman hosting and Charli XCX as the musical guest. “Boom Clap” is one of the few pop songs this year I liked and while I’m sure there’ll be a Hobbit sketch, I have my fingers crossed for a Fargo sketch as well so that Freeman can resurrect Lester Nygaard, the most despicable character on television this year. And we also have Amy Adams and One Direction for their Christmas episode, but we’ll get to that later.
- “I’m an Executive Order, and I pretty much just happen…That’s it!”
- “Is Shrek just as grumpy in real life?”
- “For much more on this immigration story, bring it up to your grandfather at Thanksgiving.”
- On December 6: James Franco and Nicki Minaj