October 5, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY TV Review: “Saturday Night Live” with Sarah Silverman


Two weeks is too soon to be a trend, but it’s been heartening to see the 40th season of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE rely more on original sketch ideas than franchise characters.  Of course, when building a weekly 90 minutes from original concepts, unevenness is very much a given, and that was certainly true of tonight’s Sarah Silverman-hosted effort.  Still, there were some moments of real inspiration in the mix.

That didn’t include the cold open, which once again wasted its showcase spot on a soft take on the news, tonight’s being a fake 60 Minutes interview of President Obama (Jay Pharoah resuming his tenure) where the joke was how effective ISIS has been at using social media, which was mostly a way for the writers to demonstrate how many websites and apps they could name.

Silverman’s monologue, though, was an improvement.  No song!  And if the star sitting on the lap of what appeared to be a genuine audience member for a very, very long time wore out its humor before it ended, there was inventive use of footage from Silverman’s own brief stay on SNL as a writer/featured performer, with her old bits as an audience member posing planted questions cut in as though they were being put to present-day her as host, requiring her to answer non sequiturs like “What makes a knee bend?” and “What did you feed the dinosaurs?”

The idea of an afterlife roast starring the late Joan Rivers was a perfectly good one, but the execution faltered badly, both in Silverman’s repeatedly botching the cue cards and the choice of deceased guests (Jay Pharoah doing perhaps his worst impersonation ever as Richard Pryor, musical guest Adam Levine as Freddie Mercury, etc).  Only the running gag of Bobby Moynihan’s Benjamin Franklin not getting Joan’s bawdy jokes worked.  A sketch purporting to offer clips from a defunct soap called “Supportive Women,” where that title was the entire gag, was also less clever that it might have seemed on paper.

On the other hand, the pre-tape department was in good form tonight.  A phony trailer for a sequel to The Fault In Our Stars where Silverman’s character, much to the discomfort of new boyfriend Taran Killam, turned out to have Ebola instead of cancer, managed to be both topical and funny.  A commercial on behalf of white people, enjoying their last decades before the other races take over, hit just the right note of cheery discomfort.  Even though a Beck Bennett/Kyle Mooney/Silverman piece that lampooned the rom-com trope of soulmates simultaneously finishing each others’ sentences didn’t find the right tone, it still drew a few laughs.

Weekend Update, too, is on a bit of a roll.  Despite Michael Che’s continuing discomfort with cue cards, and his occasional overeagerness to laugh at his own jokes, he’s got more personality than any Update host since Tina Fey, and his charisma even seems to be lifting Colin Jost out of his cardboard blandness.  A bit where the two of them debated what words either is allowed to say was notably bright.  The desk pieces were merely OK, with Kenan Thompson returning as Al Sharpton, and Silverman and Kate McKinnon as the feminist folk duo Garage (pronounced “Gara-hey”) & Her, with a song about everything good in life being a woman, the lyrics of which just weren’t as well-written as they needed to be.

The 12:30AM half-hour was mostly weak.  There was a music-and-talk sketch with Silverman, Cecily Strong and Sasheer Zamata playing singers on a Mississippi River casino riverboat who interrupted their rendition of “Proud Mary” to make clear how unhappy they were to be performing there.  Another piece had Silverman returning from a trip to Amsterdam and confessing on the drive home that she’d cheated on her boyfriend (Moynihan), not realizing that he–and her parents, and Adam Levine–were all hiding in the back seat to surprise her.  The 12:55AM spot went to an odd informercial-gone-bad sketch where Vanessa Bayer, plugging her new blender, exposed neighbor Silverman’s money woes–there were some good awkward beats between the two women, but the bit didn’t go anywhere.

It was an up and down night, but SNL nevertheless feels faster and more interesting when it doesn’t stop in its tracks every few minutes to repeat a franchise that differs only in its details from one installment to the next.  Franchises, however, are likely to be the stock in trade of SNL‘s next episode, which features former star Bill Hader as host, and musical guest Hozier.  (And as much as originality is a good thing, it’ll be nice to welcome back Stefon for an encore.)


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."