‘Saturday Night Live’ review: Did ‘Scandal’ parody, Liam Neeson, ‘Matthew McConaughey’ help Lena Dunham?

Saturday Night Live -Saturday Night Live” came on the air this weekend with Lena Dunham as the host, and plenty of expectations that she would be able to bring some of the humor and creativity that she brings to “Girls“.

Did she succeed? We’re going to get to that at the end of the article. For the time being, we’re going to go through some of the sketches here as they happen, and then give you the letter grade at the end. It’s a little different from our standard “SNL” review, but this is also no ordinary episode. We also have a podcast up about the episode, so be sure to take a listen.

Obama cold open – Generally when you have a Presidential opening, it’s a bore. So what actually made this one special? Thank Liam Neeson, who brought his unique set of skills in and made some pretty hilarious threats to Vladimir Putin over the situation right now in the Ukraine and Crimea. Also, applause for the self-references, and the sight of Jay Pharoah as Obama shirtless on top of a horse.

Lena Dunham monologue – We thought that this was going to be relatively ho-hum given that Dunham is a first-time host who doesn’t really do this sort of comedy often, but she showed up with a good sense of humor about “Girls” and the amount of R-rated material (to put it lightly). We didn’t really care for the “cast members approaching Lena” bit at first, but then Bobby Moynihan flashed her, and then Kate McKinnon stole everything as Lena’s “grandma.”

Ooh Child – At first, we hated the idea of this sketch of just having the GPS come up every time Dunham’s character started to sing in a car full of her friends … but it got more and more ridiculous as it went along, culminating with Lena trying to trick the GPS, and then the random reveal that they had kidnapped Brooks Whelan and were seemingly going to execute him in the middle of the woods.

“Scandal” spoof – What a fun surprise this was! While the majority of the impersonations were only moderately accurate, there were many laughs to be had. It was nice to see Sasheer Zamata actually get to run point on something as a very uptight Olivia Pope, but the real winner here was Dunham as Kelsey, the clueless Gladiator who was basically another version of Hannah. Not that we minded, since it worked well in the context of this sketch.

What’s Poppin’ – Another sketch that was sort of like Ooh Child, at least in that it started out reasonably cheesy, and then got funnier as it went along. To us, the real selling point here was getting the opportunity to see Lena actually pull off this rap. This was a really challenging sketch to do, and it was bold for the writers to even have this sort of confidence in her.

“Girl” trailer – We already know that Lena has no problem making fun of herself when it comes to the no-clothes department, so this Adam and Eve inspired trailer was no surprise. There were some great little bits in here (the argument with God), but we do still have to say that Taran Killam’s Adam Driver still leaves something to be desired.

“What Are You Even Doing? You’re Being Crazy” – The first real dud of the night to us. Not even the presence of the amazing Jon Hamm could save us from whatever in the world this was. Maybe this is just our hatred of all things “talk show” on “SNL” these days, but this was almost on the level of Girlfriends Talk Show annoying.

The National – They performed, the lead singer looked a little like an English professor, and then they left. We’re not going to sit here and even remotely say that we’re a good judge of music. This is a TV site, after all!

Weekend Update – There were jokes about Arby’s, push-up jeans, a food truck with a very controversial name, and more. Colin Jost was better in his second go-around, though he needs to react faster to the ones that bomb.

As for the guests, Killam was hilarious, despite not really looking anything at all like Matthew McConaughey in mocking his Oscar speech. As for the return of the Two Best Friends from Growing Up, ugh. Fred Armisen has had almost more airtime this season than Kyle Mooney. He might as well be a featured player!

Jewelry party – What in the world was this? We now have our second major dud of the night, and the first time that Dunham was off her game. It looked like she had a pretty big flub with the lines, and we also have no idea why “SNL” decided that a “men’s right activist” was a good place to mine jokes. Also, why were there even five people in this sketch?

Pimpin Pimpin Pimpin – Did Pharoah’s Katt Williams merit a sketch? This wasn’t an amazing sketch late in the show, but compared to some other late sketches that “SNL” has put on the air, it wasn’t horrible. We had in here an okay Jared Leto (Whelan), an awkward Liza Minnelli (McKinnon), and then to cap it off, a pretty funny Harrison Ford (Killam).

“Will Smith Concert” – We’ve never particularly loved these new sketches by the male featured players, but compared to some of the others, not a terrible way to end the show. There were at least some good zingers in here about guys getting duped … and that’s better than nothing.

In the end, we’d consider this show to be a very pleasant surprise. It may have been aided somewhat by our uneven expectations, and while there were few sketches that we’d watch over and over again, there was a nice laugh ratio and only a couple of genuine duds. Grade: B+

Want more good stuff about “SNL”? You can also click here if you missed the announcement about who is joining the show next on March 29, or here if you want to sign up to get some more TV updates from us via our CarterMatt Newsletter.

Photo: NBC

 

 

 

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