Let’s take a moment—a quiet moment of adoring reflection—in praise of Bruno Mars’ appearance on Saturday Night Live.
Guest host Emily Blunt did a fine job, yes. SNL42’s revised cast and new head writers continue to work things out—mostly for the better—and Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump and Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton continue to make the show’s political cold open segment shine. But man-oh-man. Did you see that Bruno Mars performance?
“24K Magic” is the title song from Mars’ new album (releasing November 18, 2016) and he uses the occasion of SNL’s third episode to debut it and another ‘80s-styled, funk-a-licious track (“Chunky”). But this is not your typical SNL musical performance. Mars and his musical entourage invade studio 8-H, turn it into a party. It’s really one of the most exciting, most original musical performances in Saturday Night Live history…with a camera dashing through a throng of party-ready fans, deep into the backstage area…and after a breathless beat, Mars has us on our heels, backpedaling into the studio with a kind of smooth-footed, easy-going confidence that not only sells the new song, but also manages to reclaim pop/R&B music as the genre of musicality, dance, and fun. It was as though, for a moment, we had Prince and Michael back, and everything was right in the world again.
New reports suggest that this episode of SNL is the one that finally got under Donald Trump’s skin. Indeed, the onslaught of “Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton Town Hall Debate Cold Open,” “Melanianade,” “Melania Moments” and Weekend Update take deadly aim at the Republican candidate for president. The blows are brutal (have we ever seen a candidate’s spouse and family lampooned to this degree?) but most are quite funny, and topical given the current political season. These pieces are hardly conspiratorial, Mr. Trump. They are vibrant, lively, passionate. Saturday Night Live is neither boring nor unfunny. Things are bearing up.
Emily Blunt proved to be yet another excellent choice for guest host— SNL42 is off to its best start in years. The British actress (star of The Girl on the Train) is up for anything and eager to play with the cast. And she can sing! As evidenced in her opening monologue—a perfectly lovely offer of pure bliss (puppies for everyone!!) in the midst of political season fatigue.
“Short Film,” fake commercial “Chonk,” and “The Sink” were the episode’s best non-Bruno Mars moments—along with the return of two familiar Weekend Update guests: Kate McKinnon’s Olya Povlotasky and Vanessa Bayer’s Laura Parsons.
In “Short Film,” Vanessa Bayer finds herself on the spot as the only audience member left in the theater after the cast and crew of an arty film take to the stage for a post-screening Q&A. Bayer struggles to think of questions to ask, while the filmmakers struggle to provide adequate answers. Those who’ve ever had to endure a post-screening film festival “talk-back” will immediately recognize this awkward collision of social pressure and artistic hubris: Our influences? “Richard Linklater and Charlie Kaufman,” of course!
Commercial parody “Chonk” shills for a new women’s clothing store that celebrates “your unique body….gorgeous at any size,” while also judging: “You rock it! You rule the world! That’s why you shop at CHONK….sizes 2-28.” This is what SNL satire tends to get right: addressing hot button issues like body shaming with the perfect mix of righteous indignation and comedic irony. Particularly perfect in this piece are Vanessa Bayer and Aidy Bryant whose faces say it all: “You’re a queen. You’re a goddess. You are CHONK.”
Many will wonder what’s going on with a strange, alt-comedy short film like “The Sink.” But taken with the previous episode’s “Diego Calls His Mom,” a new pattern of curious experimentation seems to be happening within Saturday Night Live’s out-of-studio production unit. This is a promising development in the show’s continuing evolution. Whereas live studio sketches like “Honda Robotics” and “Drive-Thru Window” feel out of date and too-quickly out of laughs, and quasi-absurdist comedies like “Hamsters” fail to fully convince the studio audience, these pre-tape experiments are exciting.
Next week, a rare fourth straight SNL episode in a row (the show has traditionally scheduled a week’s hiatus every two or three episodes) offers a show-stopping lineup of guest host Tom Hanks and musical guest Lady Gaga. This happens at just the right moment as the season is off to a great start, and this level of star power promises to deliver a substantial audience. Should the show bring the same level of emerging genius we’ve seen in its first three weeks to air next Saturday, expect rumblings of a Saturday Night Live renaissance.
NEXT WEEK: Tom Hanks and Lady Gaga
Chris White writes and directs independent feature films. His latest is
a southern gothic comedy starring Patti D’Arbanville and Michael Forest. Follow Chris on Twitter.