Saturday, January 3, 2015

SNL 40.8 Review - James Franco, Nicki Minaj

Original Airdate - 12/6/14

This episode is much more interesting looking back on now than it was in the moment.  James Franco was obviously hosting this episode as a part of his press run for The Interview, which ended up having a lot more significance in the weeks following his appearance.  With that said, as a host there are few that are better than James Franco.  He is one of the most versatile and self-deprecating actors working today.  I mean, he can go from an Oscar-nominated performance in 127 Hours to making attacking everything he stands for in This Is the End.  He is the perfect host.  Not to mention, whenever he hosts Seth Rogen shows up too, and vise versa.  When the previous episode lacked all originality, this episode brought it all back.

Cold Opening

The current event statement that needed to be made in this segment this week had to do with all the drama around the country surrounding police officers and alleged excessive force.  To comment on this, they use Kenan Thompson's Al Sharpton impression, which is about as close to a classic SNL character left on the show right now.  This character always makes me laugh, and it took a non-threatening uncontroversial personality to make the first comment on such a touchy subject for so many.  By having Al Sharpton address it, they were able to talk about it without really talking about it.  This was a fairly strong opening to the show.


This monologue is by far the moment in this episode that looks a lot different now than it did when it aired.  When this episode was filmed, news had just started coming out about the Sony hack.  What now has become a potential international incident as North Korea was allegedly behind it to shut down the release of the fictional story of an assassination attempt on Kim Jung-Un that is The Interview, at that point it just looked like yet another invasion of the privacy of celebrities.  So with the help of his buddy Seth, James Franco reveals all the embarrassing pictures of the two of them that would no doubt be leaked as a part of the hack.  In the moment, it was a funny, silly bit.  Looking at it now, it is strange to watch and think that these two goof balls became the center of a near war with North Korea.

Weekend Update

Weekend Update started this week on an uncomfortable note as they co-anchors had to do their best addressing the police controversies.  Having one black and one white anchor made it easy to have some scripted banter about the situation, but it was just more awkward than funny.  It wasn't until Colin Jost addressed the issue as a native Staten Islander that the segment was able to hit its normal groove.  Our guest stars this week started with this season's first appearance of Anthony Crispino, the second-hand news correspondent.  I find parts of this bit hilarious, especially without Seth helping to cheesball it up, but Bobby always goes a little too far with it and ruins it by the end.  The second guest showed one of the purposes of this episode was to see if Nicki Minaj would be capable to host at some point.  She appeared in three sketches as musical guest, which is a level reserved usually only for former hosts returning as musical guests (unless you are Bruno Mars apparently ... still bitter about that).  Here, she attempts to channel Kim Kardashian to discuss her latest "break the internet" photo shoot.  Outside of her being pretty much the same shape as Kim, it wasn't a great impression.  Well actually, that's all that really matters in that impression so I guess it was right on.  Honestly, the main thing that this guest appearance did was leave everyone disappointed that Nasim Pedrad wasn't back to give one of her few great characters from her time on the show.  The last guest to the Update desk is the third appearance by Leslie Jones in the first 8 episodes of the season.  I'd complain, but she's just too funny.

Best Sketch

The first half of the episode brought about many solid episodes, but probably not any great ones.  The best of the group were these two.  First, you have the SNL version of the new Star Wars trailer.  It's a funny sketch, and I am a fan of any opportunity for Taran Killam to do his Harrison Ford impression.  Second, we have an MTV Christmas as everyone pulls out their best hip-hop impressions.  Again, Taran Killam is a genius,  How long before he becomes the next Will Ferrell?  It already could be said he has reached those heights on SNL.  He just needs to find the right vehicle to be made relevant outside the show.  This sketch also has another appearance by Nicki, this time channeling Beyonce.  Once again, I was disappointed it wasn't the former cast member coming back to do her famous impression (this time Maya Rudolph).  And once again, Nicki's impression is more about having the curves and not really trying anything, which made this impression ... once again, spot on.

Worst Sketch

There were not really any bad sketches, but this was my least favorite as it once again continued a disappointing trend.  This sketch of a strange troll having a new request to cross his bridge brought about another awkward character from Cecily Strong.  She has played pretty much this exact character three or four times before, and I have hated it every time.  It's not funny when she tries these dimwitted characters.  She is so talented that it depresses me to see her waste her screen time on these idiotic characters.

Dark Horse Sketch

The first of these Dark Horses might be my favorite sketch of the year so far.  Due to copyright issues, it took some effort to find a clip of it online, but it's worth watching even on the awkward format.  Jeremy is a young man who needs to change one of his passwords, but his brain is too full to store it.  We then go to James Franco playing Jeremy's memory manager taking us through all of the random things stuck in that brain of his.  The results are absolutely hilarious, from Sound Garden, to the word rhombus (but not the meaning), to the Fresh Prince, to the first two lines of the song "Anaconda" (yes, another appearance by Nicki).  Any child of the 90's will love this sketch just as much as I do.  The second sketch has become a standard close to the show over the last few seasons as Cecily and Vanessa bring back their infomercial by ex-porn stars.  I usually don't talk about return sketches on here, but having Franco and Rogen involved makes it funny enough that it's worth singling out.

This episode had a lot of things going on.  You had the return of one of the better hosts around.  You also had a musical guest basically interviewing for a future hosting gig.  I don't think she's ready, but I also wouldn't be surprised if she hosted her own show before the end of this season.  Then you had the news events going on.  Going into the episode, it was all about the police controversies across the country, but leaving the episode the talk had to be the Sony hack.  Few people really knew what this was at the time, but seeing James Franco and Seth Rogen make fun of it before they realized how serious it was sure was interesting to say the least.  With all of this going on, I am glad the primary focus of this review could still be a great episode to start off the three-week Christmas push at 30 Rock.


View the full episode here:

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