Somehow, I didn’t foresee how unrelentingly charming the combination of Anna Kendrick and Pharrell would be on Saturday Night Live. Kendrick is so delightful to watch, she even made watching the Twilight movies bearable, and Pharrell literally has a song called “Happy” that should be cloyingly sweet, but ends up being damn fun and can in fact make me happy. With their powers combined, this week’s SNL became more adorable and warm than it has been in quite some time.
Even the tired SNL tropes seemed to have great little twists to them, starting with the typical political cold open. I didn’t much care for the C-Span GM Ignition Switch Recall that started the night, but Kate McKinnon as the face of the “New GM” who is trying to avoid all questions really won me over by trying to pull the “Live From New York!” to get out of the deposition she was trapped in.
Then it makes sense for Kendrick to do a musical monologue, but that’s one idea that SNL has really dragged into the ground. I was disappointed that SNL was going down this route, but after a Beauty and the Beast parodying number which involved the entire cast, I was grinning like an idiot. This might be the most wonderful little musical opener in years, and it’s always great to get every single cast member in on the opener.
Even though it’s been done so many times, the Fox News crew is maybe one of the most consistently funny recurring skits. As someone who has watched far too much on Fox News than I’d like to admit, it’s not that far off from the truth. This time, they’re worried about Obamacare and climate change, where they bring out Kenan Thompson as Neil deGrasse Tyson to explain. Thompson as Tyson is pretty great, and the list of mistakes is never not funny. Some choice corrections: “Chicklets do not grow up to be roosters,” “Garfunkle is not Garfield’s black cousin” and my favorite, “Don Cheadle does not appear if you say ‘Cheadlejuice’ three times.”
Maybe the weakest of the night’s sketches was “Dongs All Over the World,” a music video about a group of women traveling around the world, as the name implies, to get dongs from all over the world. Icona Pop show up as the plane’s pilots and there are a few funny lines, such as Aidy Bryant explaining that she is an International Nasty Girl, but the whole joke gets dragged on for far too long.
This was followed by a Little Mermaid parody, where Kendrick as Ariel sings songs from artists like Britney Spears and Iggy Azalea when Ursula tries to take her voice. Usually three musical skits before Update would be obnoxious, but it doesn’t get old. Bryant is a perfect Ursula and Jay Pharaoh—who had a great night of small appearances—is hilarious as Sebastian. Plus if Kendrick doesn’t get a part in some Disney film after this episode, it’s a huge mistake.
I’m no stranger to praising these Kyle Mooney shorts, but his one this week might be one of the best. Mooney and Vanessa Bayer are neighbors who keep awkwardly trying to ask each other out, but by avoiding doing so, make things even more awkward. It’s incredibly relatable, even if its just incredibly weird, like when Beck Bennett just walks up to Bayer asking if she wants to have sex right now, to which she says yes, then agrees to go on a date with Mooney. I mentioned this in the comments on last week’s review, but I think Mooney has absolutely been the stand-out featured player this year and is well on his way to becoming the next Andy Samberg.
Pharrell’s two performances were also pretty wonderful and on his 40th birthday no less. Yes, Pharrell is somehow 40. “Happy” was, as expected, a happy affair, with a group of kid dancers, some of whom came to the stage front to dance along with Pharrell and his green hat. His second song, “Marilyn Monroe,” had a young female string section orchestrated by Hans Zimmer. Pharrell is just incredibly fun to watch live, and his young entourage for the night were especially great, as well.
Weekend Update was a huge step up from last week’s awkward affair. For what I believe is the first time, Colin Jost and Cecily Strong tried to do a bit together that worked well. It seems the dynamic they might be going for now is Jost as the straight guy, with Strong as the unknowingly dumber member of the duo. McKinnon makes every one of her WU characters worthwhile, this time as Chancellor Angela Merkel caught stuck in-between Obama and Putin. I also really like Brooks Wheelan’s straightforward confessions, this time talking about drinking responsibly and how one time his friends put butter down his pants after he got blackout drunk. His response was to keep it to himself that he might have the rarest STD on the planet that not even the Internet has heard of. Maybe the best Brooks Wheelan character is when he is playing himself, as my three favorite skits of his have involved just that. The final guest was Bobby Moynihan as George R.R. Martin, who is having trouble with writing the rest of Game of Thrones. It’s not a necessarily new take on Martin, but Moynihan is brilliant enough to make it work very well.
Next came two more recurring skits that I just can’t get enough of. First, the return of Les Jeunes de Paris, which makes less and less sense each time. This time around, Mooney shows up as Picard and strangely and hilariously, Pharaoh pops up as Chris Tucker’s character from The Fifth Element. Kendrick makes fun of her “Cups” song, and somehow the fact that Phoenix’s “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” album was clearly visible in the Paris jukebox made me laugh far more than it should have.
Then there is the incredibly funny Principal Fry, which I don’t think can ever get old to me. Pharaoh’s “attentionteachersandstudents” delivery is amazing, as is Thompson as the gym teacher willing to yell at the students of Booker T. Washington high school. The meanness of the never-seen students just keeps getting weirder.
The last three bits of the night weren’t quite as strong, but still enjoyable enough. Killam played a lumberjack type named Big Joe who can’t lift light rocks due to a possible bone disease to save Moynihan from a rock slide. In the next skit, Bayer and Kendrick play twin sisters auditioning to be Pharrell’s back up singers, with one being awful, the other great, yet they’re a packaged deal. The final skit was a commercial for a NCAA tournament highlight video called “The Best of the White Guys.” None of these were overly hilarious, but still none were too long and they were at least amusing.
This has been a particularly strong year for first-time female hosts, like Kerry Washington and Lena Dunham. Anna Kendrick might have been one the best debut hosts of the season and definitely helped make this the most charming episode of 2014 by far.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.