SNL’s diversity problem has dominated the headlines for the past several weeks. The issue came to a head when the hiring of six white (and almost all male) cast members for the show’s 39th season rubbed audiences the wrong way. The situation was aggravated by comments from Kenan Thompson. There was buzz about a secret audition, which turned out to be true — and SNL welcomed Upright Citizens Brigade regular Sasheer Zamata as a featured player, and added LaKendra Tookes and Leslie Jones to the writing staff.
This, of course, doesn’t mean that SNL’s problems are solved. It’s imperative that SNL expands its voice — especially for a long-running series set in one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world — but how Lorne Michaels and company approach casting and comedy from here on out will be critical. Sasheer’s hiring shouldn’t be a mere band-aid on the situation to appease critics. It should hopefully signal the end of SNL’s self-imposed limitations and spark a transformation of its hiring practices. The talent is out there.
Seeing how SNL integrated Sasheer into the mix during tonight’s episode was also critical. We wondered if the writers would draw attention to her hiring à la the Kerry Washington ep, but the burden she instantly carries due to show’s hasty move is unfair, and thankfully SNL just let her be another member of the cast.
“Piers Morgan Cold Open”
The Piers Morgan sketches usually feel like a throwaway bit, but this one gets progressively funny — a nice surprise. Bobby Moynihan delivers his thuggish Governor Chris Christie, an antsy Drake gives us disgraced Major Leaguer Alex Rodriguez, and Kate McKinnon finishes strong with her Justin Bieber — the best of the bunch. The pop singer is in trouble for throwing eggs at someone’s house (something that actually happened, yikes). McKinnon’s physical comedy is top-notch as she does her Bieber best, pouting and posing her way through the “interview.”
“Drake Bar Mitzvah Monologue”
This is a nice and easy introduction to Sasheer without making things feel forced. Drake takes us back in time to his bar mitzvah when he was still Aubrey Graham. We get a rap about Kim Kardashian and W-2s, and find out that his newly chosen name is “Drakeob,” which is pretty fantastic.
“Before They Were Stars”
Drake started his career on Degrassi: The Next Generation, so naturally we need a sketch about rappers before they were famous — this one hosted by Kenan Thompson’s Sway Calloway and his hat. I’d watch at least one episode of Taran Killam’s Eminem in Felicity, Drake’s Lil Wayne in Family Matters, and Sasheer’s Rihanna in Barbados’ version of Blossom, renamed B’Lossom. This sketch also serves as a reminder that Sasheer’s hiring isn’t important simply so she can play every female African-American role in pop culture — but now the show has the option to introduce new and diverse impressions without resorting to Thompson in freaking drag.
Sasheer provides backup vocals on this digital short about New Year’s resolutions. It becomes increasingly ridiculous when Taran Killam, Drake, and Jay Pharoah’s vices are revealed. Oh, and there’s LARPing.
“Weekend Update: Arianna Huffington and Jacqueline Bisset”
Nasim Pedrad’s Arianna Huffington sleazing on Seth is always fun (yes, he’s still here). And just when you thought SNL missed a huge opportunity with last week’s Golden Globes mess, here’s Vanessa Bayer’s Jacqueline Bisset having a tearful, existential crisis while walking to the news desk.
Bayer’s poetry nerd Miss Meadows makes a return, and this time it’s Drake’s character who is reciting pervy verse to get her attention. The sketch lags, but who doesn’t want to see Aidy Bryant read a poem about “Doritos! Doritos! Doritos!” and listen to Bayer sound like “someone punching a dolphin” when she gets verklempt?
The Miley Cyrus “Mornin’ Miami” sketch was surprisingly great, and it’s back with Drake as an anchor. SNL is known for killing a good thing, so a familiar formula always leaves a bit of a question mark hanging over the sketch. This time we’re basically waiting out the buildup to hear who gets zany first and what Moynihan’s B.F. stands for. (It doesn’t disappoint, by the way.) This “Mornin’ Miami” sequel would have benefitted from the writers upping the ante, but it gets the job done.
Points for Drake’s fabulous impression of Friday After Next star and comedian Katt Williams (mondo hair flips!), but damn, shouldn’t Kate McKinnon as a baker pushing pot brownies be more amusing?
Everyone knows sleepover parties can be a hotbed of preteen and teenage hormones, and Aidy Bryant’s character is feeling it big time. She crushes on her pal’s dad, played by a gloriously nerdy Drake (mustache porn). The sketch gets awkward, intentionally and unintentionally so, and the big “reveal” doesn’t make things better. These things usually work better when the oddity or quirk is super obvious from the get-go. I’m thinking of Beck Bennett’s baby boss from a few weeks ago.
“Disney World Show”
Drake really brought the enthusiasm for this stinker, starring Nasim Pedrad in one of SNL’s lame “foreigner” bits. Remember Miss Uganda?
The digital shorts have been a welcome presence adding a nice layer of surrealism to the late-night chapter of the series, but this one didn’t even elicit a smile.