SNL #40.14 RECAP: Host Dakota Johnson, musical guest Alabama Shakes

We’ve known for two weeks now that not only was Dakota Johnson hosting, but that we’d have plenty of references to her starring role in the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey. Johnson mentioned it during #SNL40, and all of the promos leaned on the source material’s S&M/T&A. I cannot help but remember, however, that before this movie, Johnson starred in a lovable yet short-lived FOX sitcom in which she replaced former SNL cast member Abby Elliott. I yearned for any kind of deep-cut reference to the career crossroads of Johnson with Elliott. I would be disappointed. Nevertheless, Saturday Night Live‘s first show post-anniversary proved both daring and clever for the most part.

Did you enjoy it? If you haven’t seen it or need a refresher…to the recap!

Giuliani Cold Open: Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (Taran Killam) reflects on how he ended up going from a potential presidential candidate to a guest on The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson (Vanessa Bayer) with help from Birdman (Beck Bennett). SNL now is in the habit of using cable news settings just as the set-up — we don’t even care who the news personality is or what they’re about/not about. It’s just to get to the guest who’s carrying the joke premise. In this instance, Killam’s facial expressions are very much Michael Keaton, although the voice isn’t much of a Giuliani. Bobby Moynihan and host Dakota Johnson get cameos as the Zach Galifianakis and Emma Stone characters from Birdman. Bennett nails his end of the bargain. An A for effort all around.

Monologue: Host Dakota Johnson discusses starring in Fifty Shades of Grey and how she was conceived the night mom Melanie Griffith hosted SNL in 1988. Now that’s a fun fact! Not as fun: Kyle Mooney and Kate McKinnon as a couple posing as audience members and superfans of the book/movie. More fun: Griffith and Johnson’s father, Don Johnson, reunited in the audience and covering their faces in embarrassment.

Fake ad in the fake ad slot!

Father Daughter Ad: After her graduation from high school, a father (Taran Killam) must let his daughter (Dakota Johnson) go … join ISIS. The fake ad video that takes a real car ad about a father dropping off his daughter to join the military, only SNL’s writers have the daughter joining ISIS instead. Because there are some warped and twisted college-aged women in the world who somehow are convinced that ISIS is a good, safe place for a woman to exist. It’s as if they didn’t read any print, fine or headline. Plenty of critics have jumped on this sketch as out-of-line or over-the-line. It’s really one of those sketches that’s divisive by nature. Some people will understand the satire. Some won’t. In fact, the kind of women who already are joining ISIS probably don’t even think this is supposed to be a joke. So, yeah. There’s that.

Cinderella: Cinderella (Dakota Johnson) and Prince Charming’s (Taran Killam) meet-cute gets interrupted when Cathy Anne (Cecily Strong) shows up. So this is Cecily Strong’s recurring character this year? Not what you might have predicted coming out of last summer’s break. I’m a fan of Cecily Strong, but still need convincing about Cathy Anne.

Say What You Wanna Say: Five women (Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, Dakota Johnson, Aidy Bryant, Leslie Jones) stop holding back and start telling the truth, just like Sara Bareilles would want them to. Kudos to Bareilles for agreeing to use her music in this alternate music video that shrewdly heightens the premise as the song continues. So #brave.

Press Junket: Dakota Johnson fields questions from fourth grader Peter (Kyle Mooney) during the Fifty Shades of Grey press junket. The thing is, there really are pre-adolescents out there somehow making a name for themselves as would-be movie critics. Thanks, YouTube generation. Mooney elevates the premise with a couple of twists and turns to his character’s backstory.

I Can’t: Three coworkers (Bobby Moynihan, Dakota Johnson, Cecily Strong) just can’t even when it comes to their coworker Margo (Aidy Bryant) and her two broken arms. Oh, to be a Millennial. Kids these days, are we right? So selfie-absorbed.

Ladies and gentlemen, Alabama Shakes. This is “Don’t Wanna Fight.” And yet, how about that “Joy Division” T-shirt Johnson wore while introducing the band!

Weekend Update: Weekend Update anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che tackle the week’s biggest news, including a dress that people see as two different sets of colors, President Obama’s veto of the Keystone XL pipeline, how marijuana is the safest recreational drug and which town boats the best tasting water. Che’s use of Obama to illustrate the serious message underlying the whole #TheDress silliness is perfectly executed. Also enjoyed Che’s running commentary on Jost’s jokes. “That was good,” Che said of Jost’s bit on a guy’s homemade Batman costume. A minute later, when Jost followed with a bit on ADD, Che responded: “So dumb.”

Weekend Update: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Not Retiring: 81-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Kate McKinnon) stops by to say she may be the oldest justice on the bench but she’s not the closest to death. Another hit character from Kate McKinnon — enjoy!

Weekend Update: Kanye West Apologizes: Kanye West (Jay Pharoah) raps an apology about everything from the escaped llamas to giving daughter North a directional name. Pharoah’s Kanye impersonation is on point, even if he may say “fam” even more than Ye does for exaggeration. Still, when he launches into his apology rap/song, it’s hard to take your eyes off of Sasheer Zamata as his backup singer and dancer. She steals that scene. I want to publicly apologize to Jay Pharoah for not paying attention to him. Sorry, Jay Pharoah.

Weekend Update: Riblet Returns: Michael Che’s friend from high school, Riblet (Bobby Moynihan), returns to prove it’s not that hard to be a Weekend Update anchor. The triumphant return of Riblet begins with an awesome double-take by Moynihan as he turns to camera, and continues as a meta-commentary on the state of Weekend Update. As much as you may love Moynihan as his twin deviants — Drunk Uncle and Anthony Crispino — Riblet pulls off an even greater trick. Moynihan switches back and forth from Riblet as hoodlum and Riblet as mild-mannered Update anchor with ease. One of these days, people will call for Moynihan to just become an Update anchor…but replacing whom?

Emergency Room: When Dr. Thomas (Kenan Thompson) is called into work on his day off, he surprises his staff (Dakota Johnson) and his patient (Taran Killam) by showing up dressed as Worf from Star Trek. Appreciate what they tried to do, throwing together this sketch last-minute as a tribute to the recently deceased Leonard Nimoy — and including a Live Long and Prosper card with Nimoy as Spock to button the sketch. But the bit didn’t really connect. Perhaps Thompson’s “Worf” would have connected better with the audience and landed the jokes more effectively as a Weekend Update guest. Yes, it would’ve made Update that much longer. But also better.

Net Neutrality: Gennifer Owens (Sasheer Zamata) and panelists Samantha Shepherd (Dakota Johnson), Chris Konko (Pete Davidson), Mark Falanga (Bobby Moynihan) and Veronica Davis (Leslie Jones) discuss net neutrality. SNL really abhors the Internet culture, don’t you think? Before you can say Bill Hader, haters gonna hate, but mockers gonna mock them there haters. Gotta say, though, cute subtle callback to 50 Shades.

Once again, Alabama Shakes. This is “Gimme All Your Love.”

Mr. Riot Films: The latest production from Mr. Riot Films explores bullying and why no one does anything to stop it. And like a Good Neighbor, it’s six-minutes-to-one and we see the return of the Good Neighbor videos with Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett. This time around, they’re up and worthy to the task of making fun of the types of videos that places like Upworthy pass around. All self-righteously showing up unsuspecting people, all in the name of social experiements. Seemingly including real bystanders is a nice touch.

And that’s the show. Good night, everybody! Sweet cutaway to the balcony, where Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson are clapping and waving like the very proud parents they remain. Plus, Johnson’s got his hand in the air with the “Live Long and Prosper” Vulcan sign. Word. LLAP. See you next Saturday.

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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