SNL: “Elizabeth Banks/Disclosure” (41.05)

Comedy Reviews Elizabeth Banks
SNL: “Elizabeth Banks/Disclosure” (41.05)

After seeing the Elizabeth Banks-hosted SNL this week, it’s clear that the writers tanked last week’s episode with host Donald Trump.

With the exception of Banks’ opening monologue (the SNL opening musical number is a riff on 1970s television variety shows that should have been retired in the early 1990s), this was an exceptional episode. Every sketch was solid. Pre-taped pieces (“First Got Horny 2 U,” “Uber for Jen”) were strong, live sketches (“Black Jeopardy,” “Young Ben Carson,” “So Ghetto”) were excellent…even Weekend Update felt like it had a little bit of pep in its step.

If this is what happens after Donald Trump, maybe American could use at least one term with him as President.

It’s important to point out that this episode got its casting mix right. All of the show’s featured players were given opportunities to shine. Cecily Strong was pitch perfect in her role as SNL spokesperson in a solemn tribute to Paris. Aidy Bryant in “First Got Horny 2 U” delivered the night’s biggest laugh. Kyle Mooney returned to Weekend Update with crying on the inside standup comic Bruce Chandler. Vanessa Bayer as Aidy’s stage mom in “High School Theatre Show” gave one of the night’s best performances. Jay Pharoah as “Young Ben Carson” knocked it out of the park. And Bobby Moynihan’s “Walk-On Role” was one his best ever.

Not one of these performances take anything away from guest host Elizabeth Banks, who is often overlooked as one of the finest screen comedians of her generation because she shows up from time to time in studio tent poles like Spiderman, Pitch Perfect (which she produced and whose sequel she directed) and The Hunger Games. In fact, Banks might have been an SNL cast member herself had she pursued improv comedy instead of her acting MFA at a prestigious theatre conservatory. She goes all-in with her guest hosting duties, appearing in eight of the episode’s nine sketches.

The week’s most shareable sketch has to be “First Got Horny 2 U,” a spoof of ‘90s boy band videos about young women “coming of age” in the ‘90s. Not unlike last season’s “Wishin’ Boot,” Saturday Night Live flexes its pre-tape production unit’s muscles here, demonstrating that no one can make a funnier, more completely realized music video parody in half a week than they can.

It’s good to see Mike O’Brien back in the SNL mix with his self-produced short film, “Uber for Jen.” O’Brien’s short-lived stint as a featured player gave us glimpses of his absurdist genius, but he seems to have blossomed creatively now that he’s left to his own devices. “Uber for Jen” is a helpful, late-in-show diversion that keeps things moving at a nice clip, while also giving a nod to an alternative comedy perspective the show needs to stay relevant.

“Walk-On Role” and “So Ghetto” are fine examples of the kind of material sketch comedy troupes specialize in: one-joke set ups, broadly drawn situations, solid pay-offs. But more importantly, both pieces find a way to end without being incomplete…which has long been a Saturday Night Live sore spot. “Walk-On” and “Ghetto” work like fully formed plays, rewarding the audience while giving the players something to work for. This ultimately means that good writing is alive and well at 8H, despite a heretofore bumpy season 41.

Disclosure performed two fairly banal club songs, “Magnets” with Lorde and “Omen” with Sam Smith, but neither really took off. Performers who make music behind laptops tend not to work so well at SNL. The room is small, but the stage is big, and the NBC cameras like to see musical artists make a show of it. Clearly, the plan was to have Lorde and Smith carry the day, but neither artist looked as connected to the material as the two guys behind their laptops.

Weekend Update benefitted from three strong showings from Pete Davidson (“Transgender Rights”), Kyle Mooney (back as Bruce Chandler) and Kate McKinnon (returning as Olya Povlatsky). Both Colin Jost and Michael Che are getting better at playing off of these kinds of guest appearances, while still fumbling through the fake news jokes from time to time.

This is yet another recent SNL episode that seemed to get stronger as the show went on—despite a lackluster musical guest. Perhaps this is a sign that the cast is settling in, growing more comfortable with this season’s unique dynamic. Maybe the show’s writers are finding their groove, fine-tuning the material to the strengths of the cast.

Or maybe, just maybe, this is how Trump plans to make American great again—infecting us with disaster, then exiting stage left…the collective sigh of relief resulting in a renewed energy and vigor: “We can’t let that ever happen to us again.”

NEXT WEEK: Matthew McConaughey with Adele.

Chris White writes and directs independent feature films. His latest, an award-winning showbiz comedy about looking for Bill Murray, is called Cinema Purgatorio. Follow Chris on Twitter.

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