March 1, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Review: “Saturday Night Live” with Dakota Johnson


50 Shades of Grey has only been playing in theatres for 2 weeks, but it’s plunged so quickly from its opening weekend that Dakota Johnson already seems a bit like the answer to a pop culture trivia question.  Nevertheless, the star of the presumed franchise (produced by Universal, which also owns NBC, which also owns SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE) was this week’s SNL host, even though the show didn’t seem to know what to do with her besides piling on the 50 Shades jokes.  This wasn’t her fault, since she has a comedy background (she starred in FOX’s short-lived but not unappreciated Ben & Kate), and performed well in all her sketches.

Unusually, Johnson made an appearance in the cold open’s Birdman parody (as its Emma Stone), which had one of the more clever ideas for an opening sketch this season, but never made its meld of the Oscar-winning Best Picture with Rudy Giuliani’s comments about President Obama not loving the US into more than a gimmick–and after two better Birdman parodies (single-take visuals, drumming musical score) on both the Oscars and the Spirit awards last weekend, it felt particularly weak.  Taran Killam and Beck Bennett were fine as Michael Keaton/Giuliani and his Birdman alter ego, though.

The 50 Shades motif kicked in with the monologue, which was yet another “audience” Q&A bit, with a supposed punchline of cameos by Johnson’s real-life parents Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson that didn’t deliver.  Later in the show, a sketch with Johnson, at her 50 Shades junket, being interviewed by Kyle Mooney, as a precocious young critic, only allowed her to be his straight woman, and didn’t have more to offer than the joke of a supposed little kid knowing about the goings-on in Christian Grey’s red room.

SNL seemed to be getting a jump on Disney’s upcoming Cinderella remake with a sketch featuring Johnson at the fairytale ball and Killam as her prince, but again the host was pushed to the background, this time in favor of a Cecily Strong franchise character, the blowsy woman we met in this season’s troll sketch, who here was Cinderella’s fellow maid, proving to be one-note and ultimately a bore.

Things got worse after that.  A sketch where office workers (one of them Johnson) ignored the fact that Aidy Bryant had two broken arms and insisted that she close her window felt like a 12:50AM piece that had wandered earlier in the show.  The inclusion of a sketch where Kenan Thompson played a doctor called to surgery from a fan-fest where he’d been dressed as Worf from Star Trek was intended as a salute to the late Leonard Nimoy, but felt pointless because it wasn’t even Nimoy’s branch of the franchise.  A late bit in which idiots who live on the internet had no idea what net neutrality was managed to be even worse–but it did have the distinction of the night’s one genuinely funny 50 Shades gag, in part because it arose so unexpectedly when Johnson’s meek character, slapped by a genuine internet expert, suddenly demanded to be hit harder.

Weekend Update was busy, with a trio of desk pieces.  Kate McKinnon’s Ruth Bader Ginsberg repeated the joke about the victims of her snark being “Gins-burned” more than it was worth, but the sight of her joyous dances whenever she got off an insult was fun.  Jay Pharoah brought back his Kanye West, this time with a an amusing Greatest Apology of All Time rap.  And apparently Bobby Moynihan’s Riblet, supposed old pal of Michael Che and determined to show that he can do the Update job just as well, is going to be a franchise character.  That left relatively little room for actual Update jokes, but as usual Colin Jost’s delivery was too bland and Che’s was overly self-satisfied.

The pre-taped pieces had a patchy week.  A parody of the commercial where a dad brings his daughter to begin her stint in the US Army was just a build to the punch-line that she was actually going to join ISIS, but it was nicely done.  A bit that first seemed to celebrate women who speak the things they’ve been holding back and then painted them as self-obsessed didn’t manage its tonal shift effectively.  And a Kyle Mooney/Beck Bennett “Mr. Riot Films” expose on people not helping when faced with increasingly absurd situations of need on the street (a homeless man, a woman being underpaid, Mooney dressed as a dog) never found a level of reality that worked.

In all, not the most promising start for SNL‘s fifth decade–luckily, NBC’s need for a February special aside, the show won’t actually begin its 41st season until next fall.  Next up:  Chris Hemsworth, a name synonymous with comedy, as host, with musical guest Zac Brown Band.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."