SNL #39.11 RECAP: Host and musical guest Drake (Sasheer Zamata’s debut)

New cast, new host, great show and that’s far from the most I can say about how easy it is and was to ensure that Saturday Night Live got off to a good start for 2014.

How did they not think of this before?

Am I talking about making Drake a host, because he is the Canadian black Jewish Justin Timberlake that SNL wants and needs for the next decade? Am I talking about Sasheer Zamata, because Shazam she joined the cast like a superhero that SNL wanted and needed for the past seven years and now gets to enjoy for the next seven?


Yes to both of it. Yes to all of it.

About the thing SNL didn’t do last night that I thought they could’ve, would’ve and should’ve done was acknowledge the disparity between 2008-2013 and now by having Zamata portray Michelle Obama on the night following the First Lady’s 50th birthday. But what do I know, anyhow? I do know how to supply you with recaps of what actually did happen, with whatever insight I can muster. So let’s get to it!

We open cold with CNN’s Piers Morgan Live, which if there’s any way I could care less about Piers Morgan it’d be by putting him on a TV channel that I don’t even want to tune into, but that hasn’t happened yet. Give it time. In the meantime, we opened the show:

At least Taran Killam as Morgan started it off on the right note, saying: “What I lack in journalistic integrity…” He interviews (via remotes) Bobby Moynihan as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie about that bridge closure, and Moynihan’s politics of intimidation impersonation is spot-on but we’ve come to expect him to nail guys like this. Drake, on the other hand, arrives on the scene with authority as Alex Rodriguez, the disgraced baseball star who just cannot stop using performance-enhancing drugs to try to make himself more of a star. But I digress. Drake came to show he meant business when you said show business. BLAME IT ON THE AUTO-CORRECT > BLAME IT ON THE ALCOHOL. And then there’s Kate McKinnon, proving once and for all without a shadow of a doubt that Justin Bieber is a lesbian. That impression wins all of the trophies. And we haven’t even begun to hand out trophies tonight!

Drake’s monologue is so great, it seamlessly segues into a sketch. First off, he’s still a Toronto kid — one fun fact he doesn’t mention is that he went to the same school that SNL creator/producer Lorne Michaels went to generations earlier. But Drake does mention other fun facts, such as the most topical one about Toronto: It’s “where the rappers are polite, and the mayor smokes crack.” He’s also responsible for you knowing both about DeGrassi and about YOLO. His sincerest apologies for the latter; psyched you remember the former. And he’s Jewish! Cut to his bar mitzvah of 1999, when he still went by his given birth name, Aubrey. “Shabbat shalom wassssssup!” Hilarious because he’s 13 and he was partying like it was 1999. Jay Pharoah and Vanessa Bayer play his parents in the re-enactment, with Kyle Mooney as one uncle, Kenan Thompson as another, and brand-new cast member Sasheer Zamata as an “auntie,” whose first line on the show is, appropriately (?!) “Mazel Tov!” And for everyone needing an “I’m black and Jewish” song/rap anthem, you have one now. You’re welcome.

No fake ad in the fake ad slot!

Instead, we return from the first commercial break with a BET parody of Hip Hop Classics: Before They Were Stars, with Kenan Thompson hosting as Sway. This is one of those next-level all-in cast impersonation sketches — here’s the premise, what does everyone have to offer? Taran Killam gave us Eminem in a scene from Felicity (with Vanessa Bayer as short-haired Keri Russell and Brooks Wheelan as the other guy). Drake played Lil Wayne as Urkel before “Urkel” on Family Matters (with Kenan Thompson as the family dad and Jay Pharoah as the dad’s kid). Sasheer Zamata played Rihanna as B’Lossom (with Kyle Mooney as a jumping Joey Lawrence and Noel Wells as Jenna Von Oy). We also got Kenan Thompson as Rick Ross, the Red Teletubby? Jay Pharoah as 2 Chainz on a Disney set with Zamata, McKinnon and Wells. Drake as Jay-Z’s Shawn Carter on Mr. Wizard (Beck Bennett). And an unnecessary add-on with Thompson as Flavor Flav giving voice-over commentary for The Wonder Years.

That was so much to digest, we needed another commercial break.

Noël Wells got to front a live sketch as Nancy Grace, inserting lost or dead kids into the equation in every interview. As she spoke with McKinnon as a Colorado baker doing double doobie now. “Nancy, last week I made $650,000!” Great stuff, to be sure. But holy Moses, Drake as Katt Williams! By now, it has become clear to anyone watching that the only question is whether Drake returns to host SNL again later this calendar year, or whether we wait until 2015 to see him back on the show. He’s killing it.

And then we jump right into a music video, with Sasheer Zamata starting off our “Resolution Revolution.” Timely. Catchy. Sasheer kicks it off, though the sketch jumps off and heightens after Taran Killam, Drake and Jay Pharoah contribute verses and start role-playing.

This slumber party sketch proves that it’s so easy to replace a white cast member with any other race/ethnicity and not have to change anything about the sketch. Because it’s not about race. It’s about Melanie (Aidy Bryant) having the hots for the slumber party host’s (Sasheer Zamata) dad (Drake). Of course, 34 is so much younger than 78. And Melanie’s no spring chicken herself. So what’s an age difference, right? “I choose dar and I dare myself to kiss your dad.” Also nice to see all of the women in a sketch together.

Ladies and gentlemen, Drake. This is “Started From The Bottom” and “Trophies.”

Dra-aaake. You know how to turn on the red light.

Weekend Update

Jacqueline Bisset started off the Golden Globes with a meandering stage walk and speech, so SNL took a risk and put Vanessa Bayer in the audience balcony to start, giving her three tries to make it to the Update desk. A bold risk. A funny one, too. But also a dubious one, it turned out. Just when I thought Millennials were our biggest threat to surviving as a culture, it was older audience members who couldn’t seem to behave themselves. An old guy pointing at the camera, quickly upstaged in poor form by two guys waving from the back row. Followed by the worst guy. The absolute worse. This guy. Ugh.

Thank goodness Seth Meyers and Cecily Strong were talking, because otherwise you’d really hear this schmuck who stares at Bayer and says out loud, “You’re beautiful,” then turns to camera and sticks his tongue out like a perv. I’m so disgusted by it that I’m forcing you to bear witness to it with me.

SNL as a New York City institution and as a media institution tends to favor some personalities that the rest of the civilized world may not even give a second thought to, and Arianna Huffington is one of those people. If The Huffington Post didn’t shine a bright light on SNL and all of the socio-political weirdness that SNL also loves, would we see her impersonated multiple times at the Update desk. No. That said, it gives us another look at Nasim Pedrad before she jets back to Los Angeles to tape more episodes of Mulaney. Interesting that her big laughs start coming on the Kit Kate throwaway line, which could have been written for any character. Coming from her and that accent, funnier.

And we’re ready for the final half-hour of weirdness.

Drake and his quads are in full effect — note to self: if I knew that viewers went this crazy over muscular quadriceps, I’d be wearing shorts everyday…ok, enough about me — Drake is in effect as a tour guide at DisneyWorld’s Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. Brooks Wheelan plays the other tour guide, who picks out an audience member to play Indy. That’s Nasim Pedrad as Rahat. She is Rahat. She. Is. Rahat. Language barriers! Cultural shocks! You can buy the video or just wait for it to be on YouTube.

Time to remember Mike O’Brien and John Milhiser also are new cast members. O’Brien is leading detention, which throws several cast members into the sketch as students, who listen to a visiting poetry leader, Miss Meadows (Vanessa Bayer, coming across as an older hippie version of Miley Cyrus). The poems from the students are aight. Drake’s poem, though, is a come-on. C’mon, Drake!

Once again, Drake. This was “Hold On We’re Going Home” and “From Time.” Jhene Alko duets on the second song, and apparently, Drake is still hot and bothered from the previous sketch.

You kids loved “Mornin’ Miami” last fall, and the local TV news promos are back! This time with Drake, Bobby Moynihan and Kate McKinnon as the exasperated anchors, Tre, BF and Lena.

And we have time for one more sketch, or video, in this case, it’s another “Good Neighbor” tale of low-key absurdity with Beck Bennett and his friend, Kyle Mooney, who wants to be a know-it-all. It’s “i know.” I know.

And that’s a wrap, people. Drake is kind and thoughtful and hugs Sasheer Zamata on her first goodnights as an SNL cast member, and gives a shout-out promo to Seth Meyers who’ll be jumping to Late Night in February. What a nice young man, that Drake. He must be Canadian.

See you next Saturday night!

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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