December 7, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY REVIEW: “Saturday Night Live” with James Franco


Host James Franco (and very busy musical guest Nicki Minaj, who turned up in several sketches) had the benefit of one of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE’s sharper episodes of the season tonight–uneven, of course, but with at least as much good as bad.

Things didn’t start off particularly well.  It’s gotten to the point where one dreads a major news event that occurs in New York, because SNL will feel it has to address the issue, and usually does so hamhandedly, which was the case with its treatment of the Eric Garner grand jury verdict.  The idea of framing the story with Kenan Thompson’s recurring Al Sharpton character in the cold open made sense, but the sketch itself just reran the malaprops and silliness of any other Sharpton sketch.  Later, in Weekend Update, there was a more genuine attempt to deal with the subject by both Michael Che and Colin Jost, which were better-written and delivered more pointedly, but suffered from some bad cue-card reading (it felt as though the piece had been hurriedly rewritten just before the cast members went on camera, and they were playing catch-up) that somewhat bungled the effort.  If SNL really had guts,  it would have turned Leslie Jones loose on the Garner verdict, which might have scorched the entire show–maybe even the entire season.  As it was, her Update piece about her mushroom-aided conversation with Harriet Tubman had more fire than any of the night’s Garner material.

Franco’s monologue, which of course featured his The Interview co-star, friend of SNL Seth Rogen, wasn’t particularly mirthful–the single joke was the set of supposedly embarrassing photos hacked off their phones as part of the recent Sony computer invasion–but at least it was quick.  (What would have really been daring would have been a piece that addressed the fact that Rogen and Franco’s real Interview salaries have become public as part of the leak.)

After that, though, things improved.  A insta-spoof of Peter Pan Live brought back Aidy Bryant’s all-attitude Tonka-Bell, and nicely skewered both Allison Williams’ not-so-boyish Peter and and the fact that Christopher Walken’s Hook was incapable of singing or dancing (even though several other cast members could probably have done better Walkens than Franco’s).  A pre-taped parody of the Star Wars teaser trailer was sparked by Taran Killam’s brilliant geriatric Harrison Ford, and a great sight gag that had Luke using a walker.

Two sketches were processions of impersonations.  An MTV Jingle Ballerz piece brought back KIllam’s and Jay Pharoah’s inspired Eminem and Kanye West, and also combined the return of Kate McKinnon’s deadly Justin Bieber with a bright turn by Minaj as Beyonce, the two of them playing Joseph and Mary.  (Pharoah’s Kanye was Jesus, which was only right.)  Later, a thin framework of the need to clean out Pete Davidson’s brain so he could remember a new computer password provided the excuse for Killam to do Billy Zane in Titanic (whose very existence in Davidson’s head made Franco’s executive in charge of brain-clearance crazy) and had Minaj as herself, repeating the first two lines of her song over and over because that’s all Davidson remembered.

The night’s other pre-tape was an unusually lengthy and ambitious piece, billed as “A Mike O’Brien Picture” even though he doesn’t seem to have directed it, about friends grown from a package, who turned out to be the only people O’Brien’s character knew.  It was nicely paced, with more character nuance than the SNL norm.

Apart from the pieces described above, Weekend Update featured the return of Bobby Moynihan’s Guy Who Gets the News Second-Hand, a franchise so established that there’s not much to be said about it, and yet another sketch appearance by Minaj, this time–in the absence of Nasim Pedrad, whose pastures on Mulaney turned out not to be greener after all–as Kim Kardashian, attempting to explain her recent much-dissected photo spread.  Minaj was enthusiastic in the role, although she didn’t bring to it the utter commitment to idiocy that Pedrad had.

The rest of the evening was nicely weird.  There was a sketch with Franco as a bisexual troll, who lived under the bridge with a platonic, somewhat wasted pal (Cecily Strong), and who demanded kisses from Davidson or Bryant to pass over his bridge.  Another, with Franco as a local politician bewailing the fact that his town had chosen a 4-year old as its Mayor over him, beat its single joke into the ground after a while, but had some funny bits (even if the riff on the two of them pooping their pants wasn’t as hysterical as Franco evidently thought it was).  And the ex-pornstars made a 12:55AM appearance, this time selling yachts that were variously referred to as “yach-ets” and “yaks”.  The best joke of the night might have been Rogen, after Franco had identified his porn name in the spirit of the franchise as “Captain Jack Swallow,” simply saying that he was “James Franco”.

In all, not a bad start to the final stretch of 2014.  Next week’s host is Martin Freeman, promoting the final Hobbit, and Charli XCX.


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."