At the ripe old age of 28, Emma Stone has become something of a national treasure. Jennifer Lawrence—also 28 years old—may do better box office, but Stone has greater range and makes better movies. She’s become the female Tom Hanks—everyone’s BFF, impossible not to like. In her third appearance as Saturday Night Live guest host, she once more proves that should her film career take a dive (it won’t), she’d make an excellent addition to the show’s repertory company.
This is, ultimately, the gist of “Emma Stone High School Monologue.” Stone says she feels like she came of age on the 8H stage—her previous hosting gigs happened in 2010 and 2011 when she was barely out of her teens. SNL feels like home, and she’s glad to be back.
Where this Stone-hosted episode stumbles has more to do with show order and general flow that any major missteps (I’m purposely ignoring you, “Cleaning Crew”). “High School Theatre Show” comes early in the evening—right after Stone’s monologue, where the much funnier “Film Screening” would have worked better. Granted, there was a Jennifer Aniston surprise cameo coming during Weekend Update that wouldn’t have been as effective if we knew she was in the studio. But the parody of piously concerned high school theatre geeks is getting stale. The recurring sketch has always verged on punching down, mocking teens who’d die for a chance to act on Saturday Night Live—or is it the adults who unfetter them? And placed so early in the show, the sketch undermines guest host Stone’s feel-good cheeriness by setting a sardonic tone early. (Even ten-to-one “The Nativity” would have been a better early-show sketch than “High School Theatre Show.”)
Pre-tape “The Christmas Candle” is good—no doubt destined to be one of the season’s most shared clips. But “Wells For Boys” is better. An ad for a wishing well playset for sensitive boys to pine away with, “Wells For Boys” manages to satirize gendered boy toys and the cultural phenomenon of mommy’s little princes—doted upon boys who prefer sullen contemplation to racecars and squirt guns.
Weekend Update was solid—offering a continued barrage on the incoming Trump administration (with a couple of final kicks to the gut of the failed Clinton campaign). Coupled with “Classroom Cold Open,” SNL is unrelenting in its critique of one of its biggest superfans, President-elect Trump. (Check DT’s Twitter feed. He snarls about Saturday Night Live like clockwork—every Saturday night ‘round midnight.) Still, Leslie Jones and Vanessa Bayer as Rachel from Friends steal the segment. Like Jost and Che, Jones seems to have finally found her groove offering warmed-up stand-up material in the form of relationship commentary behind the Weekend Update desk. And Bayer’s Rachel has never been better—this week played to and with Jennifer Aniston herself. Bayer appears in Aniston’s new film Office Christmas Party, so her presence is a calculated promotion, but it’s still very funny.
Musical guest Shawn Mendes is the quintessential modern popstar—a Vine phenom who eventually signed a major label record deal, then opened for Taylor Swift and now models on the side. He brings to mind young John Mayer when he sings…the sincerity and tone, holding that electric guitar just so. Mendes performs “Mercy” and “Treat You Better” from his latest album Illuminate. Close your eyes and squint your ears and maybe it’s Mayer, but the songwriting isn’t there, so the illusion is short-lived.
There are signs that SNL’s best season in years is slowing. “Posters” is a completely forgettable sketch about the posters on a high school kid’s bedroom walls coming to life, inspiring him to learn algebra. It’s borderline moronic, if not completely sophomoric. But then there’s “Film Screening” featuring best-in-cast Kate McKinnon’s character “Debette Goldry,” a survivor of Hollywood’s not-so-golden age. The sketch stares down the troubles of contemporary movie stars with a side eye on the outright abuse—real, alleged and exaggerated—of female stars that came just a few generations before them. It’s fantastic work—McKinnon’s performance and the writing that supports it. And compared to “Posters,” it proof that Saturday Night Live remains as capable of brilliance as mediocrity.
I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way.
NEXT WEEK: John Cena and Maren Morris
Chris White writes and directs independent feature films. His latest is
an award-winning, southern gothic comedy starring Patti D’Arbanville and Michael Forest. Follow Chris on Twitter.