SNL #40.18 RECAP: Host Taraji P. Henson, musical guest Mumford and Sons

Taraji P. Henson’s breakout performance in the new FOX hit Empire means I can no longer be selfish enough to think my crush on her is special or unique, because you all have wised up to the game. That includes you, Saturday Night Live. Henson would make light of this in her monologue as she hosted SNL this past weekend, which also saw Hillary Clinton finally re-enter the race for the White House.

Henson was a great host. Was it a great SNL, though? That depends upon how you want to define it.

Certainly a missed opportunity just on the basis of not updating the Update bit from Sasheer Zamata earlier this season about emoji racism, considering all of our iPhones just received a bunch of updated skin colors last week. What say you, SNL?!

As I watched, though, I understood what the show’s writers and cast were going for with their sketch premises, understood why they were choosing them this week, but failed to comprehend why they didn’t put as much effort into making the jokes land (the substance) as they did on executing the style of the premises. It all looked great. It really did. To the recap!

Hillary Election Video Cold Open: Hillary Clinton (Kate McKinnon) announces she’s running for president in a social media video co-starring her husband, Bill Clinton (Darrell Hammond). We’ve seen a number of SNL cast members take on Hillary over the past 23 years, and McKinnon proves the show can trust in another solid season or two or even four more years of glorious satire with a potential first female president of the United States. Which also just points out how little the show has been able to do with Barack Obama since 2008. The Clintons just make the satire look so easy by comparison. And having Darrell Hammond in the wings as the show’s announcer allows them to bring Bubba Bill back onscreen, the familiarity of it all adding another layer to the idea of a Clinton comeback.

Taraji P. Henson’s I Made It Monologue: Host Taraji P. Henson sings a gospel-inspired song about how differently her life would’ve turned out if she hadn’t made it as an actress. I tell you what now and what for, one more monologue that revolves around a musical number and they’re going to have to rename this show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip! As the cast members take turns telling Taraji where they’d have ended up had they not made it on SNL, Leslie Jones certainly steals the focus momentarily with her alternate timeline in jail, but for my money, Pete Davidson’s parallel universe as a “well-adjusted college sophomore” really makes you take a step back in wonder!

Fake ad in the fake ad slot!

Depend Legends: There’s no shame in wearing diapers when you’re wearing Depend Legends, the diaper with classic movie stars’ faces on it. So many poop jokes, so little time. Certainly been a long time, however, since an extra received all of the best lines in an SNL sketch, hasn’t it been?! The old guy delivering one-liners while he’s delivering number twos about dead celebs. That’s got to be worth something.

Teacher Trial: A lawyer (Taraji P. Henson) tries to prove a teacher (Cecily Strong) took advantage of her student (Pete Davidson) but instead learns the affair only had positive consequences. Mary Kay Letourneau was back on national TV just Friday night, talking to Barbara Walters on 20/20 about her now-teenage daughters she birthed in prison from her then-tween baby daddy she met as an elementary school student. Yes, they’re still a couple all these years later. But this sketch doesn’t go farther than the initial yuks and yucks of men thinking pedophilia is cool if it’s a teenage boy having sex with his hot teacher. By the way, SNL really leaning in on the hotness of Cecily Strong. Which isn’t what “lean in” is about.

Home 2: The animated sequel features the voice talents of Jim Parsons (Taran Killam), Nicki Minaj (Taraji P. Henson), Missy Elliott (Leslie Jones), Beyoncé (Sasheer Zamata) and many more. Isn’t it funny seeing awkward Jim Parsons do voices next to hip-hop stars? Supposed to be, yes. Henson’s Nicki Minaj was worth it. But barely.

QVC: Actress and singer-turned-designer Claudette Fontaine (Kate McKinnon) appears on QVC to promote her new product, the 3-way poncho, but has a hard time remembering what the three ways are. A sketch about a sales pitch that’s underdeveloped, somehow magically is an underdeveloped sketch. Go figure. How did this end up airing so early, when we’re about to see more slam-dunk ideas appear later in the show? That’s the $19.99 question.

Game of Thrones: In a new episode guest directed by John Singleton, Game of Thrones introduces viewers to South Centros. Just because you have Jaime Lannister available for a short film parody doesn’t make it any funnier. Just makes it more likely you’ll share this video with your friends. He didn’t really have much to do in the season five premiere anyhow. NOT A SPOILER!

Ladies and gentlemen, Mumford & Sons. This is “The Wolf.” No heys or hos to be heard? Moving on, then.

Weekend Update 4-11-2015: Weekend Update anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che tackle the week’s biggest news, including Hillary Clinton announcing her presidential run, the Apple Watch becoming available for pre-order, DMX being accused of robbing a man at a New Jersey gas station and Golf Digest’s controversial topless cover of Lexi Thompson. Jost and Che starting to find their own rhythm, which continues to hit the best beats when they realize they’re on live TV and they’re both stand-up comedians who can thrive on understanding and reacting in the moment. That stamp joke by Che is downright diabolical.

Weekend Update: Cecilia Gimenez on Lucille Ball Statue: Ecce Homo fresco painter Cecilia Gimenez (Kate McKinnon) weighs in on the “scary Lucy” statue, saying she sees an uncanny resemblance. So McKinnon’s bad European painter is going to weigh in on any art issue now? Alrighty then. Nice T-shirt.

Weekend Update: Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy Explains Passover: Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy (Vanessa Bayer) explains Passover to Michael Che with a little help from his dad (Billy Crystal). Great stunt casting. Funny to see the live studio audience fall for the pump-fake punchline throwback to Fernando, too.

Hollywood Game Night with Taraji P. Henson: Vin Diesel (Taran Killam), Wynonna Judd (Aidy Bryant) and Common (Jay Pharoah) face off against Nick Offerman (Beck Bennett), Marion Cotillard (Cecily Strong) and Wanda Sykes (Taraji P. Henson). SNL must have a rule about game-show sketches that the main joke has to center on how horribly off contestants are with their guesses. That’s not necessarily funny. Second major sketch of the night that’s also all about shoehorning multiple celebrity impersonations. Henson manages to outshine them all with her Wanda Sykes. And you have to listen up if you want to hear the best jokes in the sketch, as they’re delivered almost under her breath by McKinnon as host Jane Lynch.

Vlog with Taraji P. Henson: Janelle (Sasheer Zamata) gets a lesson in dancing properly like a woman from her mom (Taraji P. Henson). This is the second Janelle dancing on YouTube sketch, with Kyle Mooney as her sad-sack friend who’s hot for her, just like her one million subscribers, but maddingly closer to her without getting close enough. Henson twerks it up, and all that was missing was a Chris Rock cameo — which is probably what Chris Rock was thinking when he first watched this.

Sesame Street Promo: When Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson) visits Sesame Street, chaos ensues. Cookie Lyon meets Cookie Monster. We get it. Everybody gets it. Hundreds of thousands of people have gotten it, watched it on YouTube and embedded it by the time you’re reading this.

Their Own League: Five women (Vanessa Bayer, Cecily Strong, Kate McKinnon, Bobby Moynihan, Aidy Bryant) form a baseball team and advocate for women’s rights – well, not all women (Taraji P. Henson, Leslie Jones). It’s not A League of Their Own, as Reese De’What (Kenan Thompson) has to point out in this classic cinema set-up, nor is it #YesAllWomen. It is, however, great and timely, even in a throwback fashion. Surprised this sketch and the Sesame Street video didn’t make it into the first half-hour of the show.

Once again, Mumford & Sons. This is “Believe.”

Connectatron: In order to form robot champion Connectatron, Mavis (Taraji P. Henson) has to attach her spaceship as the left leg but she’s not really feeling it. It’s five minutes to 1 a.m. on the East and West Coast, so bring out your strange. Or almost strange? Or almost funny? It’s late. Let’s get to the finish line already.

That’s your show, comedy fans. Good night, everybody!

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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