Ever since his first hosting gig in 2007, Seth Rogen has fit in well with the cast of Saturday Night Live, and by this, his third time, Rogen is a perfect addition. Rogen is great either as the center of attention and laughs, or just being an assistant to other people’s jokes, as is often the case this week.
I was quite excited by SNL starting with what looked like a cold open that didn’t involve politics for once. We’re taken to Coachella, right after Girl Talk has gone off stage and the crowd is waiting for Outkast, except instead we get the New Face of the Republican Party, led by Taran Killam’s Paul Ryan and Beck Bennett’s Jeb Bush. It’s a skit that relies on a lack of crowd participation, which is a very weird way to start off the night, but their attempts to seem cooler to a more liberal crowd does have its moments. As far as political opener to the show go, we’ve seen far worse.
If there’s a opening monologue trope that is almost as tired as the musical opener, it’s the host explaining his week at SNL. This time, Rogen has journaled about his week, which is filled with self-deprecating jokes, such as introducing the Rogen family, who all have the same laugh, and of course Rogen getting high, then journaling about pizza and drawing the Wu-Tang “W” over and over. Rogen states that he doesn’t need help with cameos from his friends, as Zooey Deschanel walks behind him onstage, followed by James Franco popping up, then Taylor Swift stating that she appears “whenever a man shows emotion.” Sure, it’s all fun, but it’s not exactly funny.
The one character introduced this year that has really won me over is by far Shallon, played by Nasim Pedrad. This character usually appears about halfway through the show, but has been moved up smartly to the post-monologue slot. This time, Rogen plays a police officer trying to explain D.A.R.E. to the kids, which inevitably leads to Shallon leading the kids to search for crack dealers during recess. Shallon’s optimism and her ability to get her entire class to rise against whatever adults are warning her against has made her one of this year’s best new recurring characters.
A CNN Take Home Pregnancy Test commercial came at just the right time, considering how tired everyone is about CNN’s constant updates with no new information. For this commercial, a couple uses one of these pregnancy tests, which updates every ten minutes, even if there’s nothing new to report. It’s accurate about 15% of the time, and is still working nine months after taking it.
Rogen’s skill as a great assist man worked well in the next skit, with Aidy Bryant as a woman with two broken arms at a friend’s birthday, and Rogen as her boyfriend who has to do everything for her. He puts on her lipstick, feeds her wine and steak, then eventually farts just to cause her pain. But as with some mediocre skit ideas, this one is very much enhanced by the cast’s inability to keep a straight face.
This has also been a very fine year for prerecorded segments, such as Monster Pals, which has two monsters deciding to undergo a surgery that turns them into normal people. This one is a combination of scripted elements and real reactions, which is incredibly fun to see people reacting to a monster in NYC. In the end, we find out the more expensive surgery turns a person into James Franco, whereas the cheaper version gets you the Mike O’Brien. It’s pretty fun and very sweet, as well.
I’ve always appreciated SNL’s ability to have a character get worked up over something so silly and taking it to an inappropriately huge overreaction. (See basically any skit where Will Ferrell is angry or upset.) It’s a particular strength the show has that rarely gets as much play as it should. Yet we get it here with a commercial for Blue River Dog Food, where a couple played by Cecily Strong and Rogen discuss why they changed dog foods, leading Strong to scream about how she hates all people and is “over it all.” It’s a fantastic freak-out and probably the best Strong skit ever. I would love something this insane and over-the-top every week.
Ed Sheeran, ehh, I don’t really get the appeal. There doesn’t seem to be much to his songs, and it all just seems pretty mediocre. Plus, this kid is clearly a Weasley, right? I was mostly on board with his first song, “Sing,” but when he basically raps that second verse, I just went “oh no…” His second song, “Don’t,” was slightly better, but I can’t imagine ever listening to Sheeran again.
Weekend Update is slowly getting better, with Colin Jost and Strong finding their chemistry little by little each week. Each got their own guest, with Jost getting David Ortiz talking about his selfie with Obama. I know very little about David Ortiz, but Kenan Thompson’s delivery worked well enough to get a few laughs out of me. Then Strong got a visit from the Bar Mitzvah Boy Jacob, a welcome surprise since I figured that character would have been retired once Seth Meyers left. I do like how Jacob’s reaction to Strong is slightly different from her reactions to Seth, to a point where it’s almost surprising.
This was followed by another Strong skit, with her playing Rogen’s Cousin Stacy, a woman who can’t stop talking about how Rogen once sucked “one” only once, so that makes him not gay. This is an uncomfortable skit, but I felt like it should have gone crazier but didn’t last long enough to do so.
The worst skit of the night by far was Undercover Sharpton, which places Thompson as, well, an undercover Al Sharpton in the 1980s. It’s so weird that it should be funny, but it falls flat over and over again. Plus there’s just nothing to do, especially since Thompson doesn’t even seem to be attempting an impression.
This week really excelled at making the last ten minutes of the show incredibly weird, thanks once again to Kyle Mooney. This time, he makes a video called “A Very Smoky 420,” which turns 420 into some weird Christmas/Jewish holiday mixture, celebrating the appearance of Bob Blinger. What makes the whole thing so great, and one of the best bits of the night, is Mooney’s complete obliviousness to anything related to pot culture, which is explained by the end since he doesn’t even smoke pot. I think we can all agree, Mooney is the MVP of SNL’s 39th season.
Continuing the weirdness, on the level of the two former strippers is a commercial for Herman & Sons Sperm Bank Going Out of Business Sale. It’s gross almost in a “can they say this?” way, as they state that their sperm bank will be turned into a TCBY’s and they don’t want to get confused, mixing up products. It’s so odd, and Rogen and Thompson are great at selling it.
It’s always charming to have Rogen return to SNL (even if I did have high hopes for another Muppets skit), along with his comedic sensibilities that mesh so well with the entire cast. Even during some of its weakest skits, Rogen makes everything a little better. This has been a surprisingly strong string of SNL episodes lately. Let’s hope they can keep it up when the show returns in May.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.