April 11, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Review: “Saturday Night Live” with Taraji P. Henson


Often the SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE cast needs to prop up its weekly hosts, who are frequently performers unversed in live comedy (or comedy at all, or even performing at all), but that was hardly the case tonight, as Taraji P. Henson all but blew most of the regulars away, playing even the most routine roles for all they were worth (and often more).  The show, unfortunately, didn’t give her much material that was worthy of her high-octane skill, but she still elevated what could have been a routine evening.

Henson’s commitment was particularly notable in a sketch like the one where she played a QVC host, interviewing the celebrity designer of a poncho who couldn’t remember how it was supposed to be worn.  Henson’s was obviously meant to be the straight (wo)man part, with Kate McKinnon getting the colorful bits as the befuddled but enthusiastic guest.  (Somewhat mystifyingly, McKinnon seemed pretty clearly to be playing Liza Minnelli, but the character went by a different name.)  Henson, however, threw a spin into every line she fed McKinnon, and practically shanghaied the sketch.  She almost managed the same in a piece where she played the claimant’s attorney in a lawsuit in which a teen’s mother was suing the teacher (Cecily Strong) who had seduced her son (Pete Davidson), much to his enjoyment, but that sketch was written to be a showcase for Davidson’s happy seducee.

Even in the ensemble sketches, hardly anyone else was able to keep up with Henson.  Her Nicki Minaj was the highlight of the pre-taped promo for a Home sequel in which Jim Parsons (Taran Killam) was paired with an assortment of hip-hop stars in place of Rihanna.  In a Celebrity Game Night franchise sketch, her uncanny Wanda Sykes killed, challenged only by Jay Pharoah’s Common and the return of McKinnon’s Jane Lynch.

Henson’s musical chops helped as well, allowing her to make something of yet another song-based monologue, in which her interaction with Leslie Jones–the song was about the challenges Henson and the cast had survived to make it onto the show, and Jones couldn’t even utter the unspeakable, but clearly scary, things she’d done–made one wish the writers had paired the two of them a lot more.  (They were together late in the show in a nicely pointed parody of A League of Their Own in which the WWII-era female baseball players balked at having black women on the team, but Jones’s role in the sketch was very limited.)  Later on, Sasheer Zamata returned as the YouTube teen streaming a dance show from her room, and Henson, as Zamata’s not-nearly-as-suburban-as-she-seems mom, danced up a storm.  She even committed fully to the brief 12:55AM sketch, where she was part of a sci-fi team whose spaceships combined to form a giant robot, and who insisted on being allowed to control the robot head.

The inevitable Empire parody came late in the show, and from an unexpected direction, as Henson’s Cookie appeared on Sesame Street, where she bullied all the Muppets, and ultimately wore an Elmo-fur coat.  Empire is a show ripe for parody, so as clever as the Sesame Street bit was, it was a bit disappointing that SNL didn’t go for a full-on satire of the series.  The bigger disappointment, though, was that the show only intermittently made full use of its powerhouse host.

The rest of the show was SNL‘s usual uneven self.  The cold open showed Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton, much like the real woman, ready to enter election season (delivering a supposedly casual selfie announcement of her candidacy:  “Citizens!  You will elect me!”), with the added pleasure of the return of Darrell Hammond as Bill Clinton.  Hammond has taken over Don Pardo’s voiceover duties, so he’s a regular presence at the show again, which means this didn’t have to be a one-time cameo.  Apart from the Home 2 sketch, pre-tapes included an innocuous fake commercial about adult diapers with the faces of old-time celebrities on them, and a mostly African-American spin on Game of Thrones called South Centros (with a cameo by the real Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) that was never as funny as it seemed like it should be, despite a good contribution by Kenan Thompson as Ice Cube.

Thinking of cameos, Billy Crystal–in need of some public attention with his new sitcom The Comedians getting started–showed up on Weekend Update, aping Vanessa Bayer as the father of Jacob The Bar-Mitzvah Boy, which unfortunately made an overly extended bit even longer.  Kate McKinnon was better as her Italian artist character, this time defending the deeply odd statue of Lucille Ball that’s been protested in upstate New York.  The best part of Update, however, was the team of Michael Che and Colin Jost finally jelling, with Jost apparently genuinely breaking up Che with an impromptu wave at the camera after Che had delivered a gag about white people never facing consequences when they rioted after sports events.

SNL is taking 2 weeks off before returning with host Scarlett Johansson, who will appear on May 2, which just happens to be the day after Avengers: Age of Ultron hits theaters.  (No musical guest has yet been announced.)


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."