SNL #39.5 RECAP: Host Kerry Washington, musical guest Eminem

If you thought the timing of casting Kerry Washington as guest host of Saturday Night Live seemed suspicious when you first heard about it a couple of weeks ago, then seeing what happened live on Saturday night on NBC…wow. Just wow.

Before you launch into your arguments about how SNL hasn’t had a black woman in its cast since 2007 and how that’s just inexcusable because of First Lady Michelle Obama, because of Oprah, or just because, the show opened cold and more than addressed the issue, breaking the fourth wall as if Lorne Michaels thought that would make it all less embarrassing and more humorous. By the end, he had the Rev. Al Sharpton — who having lost so much weight, all he has to show for it is an MSNBC gig, but wait, he lost sooooo much weight that he looks disproportional somehow, or is it just his new wardrobe that makes him look out of place — step in front of the scene and address us: “What have we learned from this sketch? As usual: Nothing.”

Roll the clip!

This weirdly meta opening, so weirdly meta as it was, set the tone for what would be one of the more bold, ballsy and to borrow a classic catchphrase wild and crazy night for SNL. And it was much better for it.

Even if all we got to enjoy of all of those Matthew McConaugheys was what you just saw there. Yes. It was much better for it.

Here is the onscreen apology that ran during the cold open, as read by longtime SNL producer (and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon announcer/sidekick) Steve Higgins:




Having dispensed with that, as much as the show did or did not, no need for any additional acknowledgement in host Kerry Washington’s monologue. And yet.

Well, Kenan Thompson did have blood on his shirt, if not on his hands, for what he had said publicly. That’ll learn him, right, Lorne?! The rest of the monologue essentially has cast members acting as if Washington really is her Scandal character, Olivia Pope, and able to get them out of their jams.

Career Week Speaker: Speaking of diversity! Seeing as all of the stories on SNL’s racial makeup went out of their way to mention that Nasim Pedrad is an Iranian-American, how about the show go out of its way to remind us of her heritage?! From that supposition to this premise, we find Pedrad playing Heshy Farahat from Yemen. But we’re treated to something special here at the high school as Heshy delivers her presentation with thrusting dance moves and choreographed sound effects galore! Washington plays Heshy’s sassy assistant. Heshy’s cardboard cutout plays the straight woman. Well played!

My Girl: Talking about Ylvis. This parody music video starring Jay Pharoah and Kerry Washington works even if you hadn’t seen the so-called “viral” video from across the pond millions of times in the past two months.

How’s He Doing?: A talk show hosted by Kenan Thompson, ostensibly to ask his guests (played by Pharoah and Washington) how President Barack Obama really is doing, but turns into a cautionary tale about how differently white people think about black people. Another sketch you probably wouldn’t have seen this week if not for what had or hadn’t come before it. Anyone who thinks the joke about white people loving HBO’s The Wire comes out of left field hasn’t seen how many white people are playing left field.

Miss Universe: A mini-trend in tonight’s show brought us multiple jokes at the expense of how show business is manufactured. Hence, you may have glossed over the joke that is/was Nasim Pedrad’s co-host as just another E! personality. Because you definitely noticed the new Miss Universe contestants. Aidy Bryant’s Miss Greenland (northernest most lands) was a standout. Kate McKinnon, obviously, owns her part. And Washington as Miss Uganda reminded me as much of a stand-up comedian in NYC who jokes about his Haitian dad’s vocal tics than anything. Not that you noticed.

Ladies and gentlemen, Eminem. This song is “Berzerk.” No, that’s the title. How Bizarre? No, that’s the guy behind Eminem. And that’s Rick Rubin on the ones and twos. How much is real and how much is lip-sync is for you to decide, if you want to focus on that instead of the track that you’ll hear and not see on the radio or your mobile player, anyhow. The stroke’s the word.

Weekend Update

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Kate McKinnon) stopped by Update to address how the NSA spied on her telephone calls, and how many embarrassing small emails — they’re texts! — she had sent over the years.

Have you noticed just how much the white guys who dominate SNL aren’t dominating this episode? Even on Update. Not here.

Here, we see Pharoah and Thompson once more, this time as Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley to discuss the new NBA season. It’s Pharoah’s commitment to holding that Shaq facial expression that almost makes Kenan break over and over again. And yet, I don’t know that Shaq even holds that face.

Cartoon Catchphrase: Now here’s a game-show sketch that willingly goes off book right from the get-go, as our contestants all jump to the “Phone-A-Friend” option whether they know the right answer or not. Washington hosts as Melanie Griffish, because, well, whatevs. It doesn’t really matter. Rules don’t matter in this sketch. Either you’re along for the ride or you’re not.

Principal Frye – Fall Carnival: Even Jay Pharoah’s one real-life impersonation that you’re only familiar with through SNL (his high-school principal) gets another sketch this week! Washington plays the teacher who flunked her students and now faces karmic retribution by sitting in the dunk tank.

Once again, Eminem. This song was “Survival.”

Time for two more sketches! Let’s play two!

Date or Diss: The night began meta and it’s ending meta, as this spoof on MTV really spoofs MTV’s manufacturing of “reality” more than it does dating shows. Taran Killam, our bachelor, wants some real answers, but none of the three ladies (Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant or Kerry Washington, boasting another character name that’s just a wee bit off for unexplained reasons) can veer from the scripts MTV’s producers have drilled into their numb skulls.

Ice Cream: OK. I’m on board SNL’s decision to give late-night video time to the Good Neighbor crew. They started to win me over with their sly take on fraternity beer pong, and now this ice cream date gone dreamy has me in their clutches. I’d say this even if I hadn’t once gone on a date to this very ice cream shop in the East Village. The harmless small-chat joke by Beck Bennett sends Kyle Mooney into dreamland, and eventually drags everyone else down the rabbit hole. Spiraling into silliness. Two scoops of silly! Have the ambulance on call!

Goodnight, everybody! Next week is a repeat. Come back soon, though, for Lady Gaga serving as both host and musical guest. That should be something…

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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