April 6, 2014

THE SKED Review: “Saturday Night Live” with Anna Kendrick


SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE went musical in a big way for its host, Anna Kendrick, and that mostly wasn’t a bad thing.  Kendrick is a genuine musical-comedy performer, with not just the novelty hit “Cups” from Pitch Perfect to her credit but a lead in the upcoming film of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods on the way, so this was a case, more unusual than you’d think, where the show accommodated itself to the strengths of its host.

The tunes began with the opening monologue, a large-scale parody of “Bonjour” from Beauty and the Beast with Kendrick in the Belle role as enthusiastic first-time host and the entire cast (and Lorne Michaels) standing in as the villagers.  The lyrics could have been a lot more clever, but it all had a ton of energy, and Alan Menken’s spritely melody makes it a fine opening number for just about any occasion.

A lot of effort was put into the pre-taped musical video “Dongs All Over the World,” with Kendrick joined by Aidy Bryant, Cecily Strong, Sasheer Zamata and Kate McKinnon to sing about all the sex they’d be having in their travels.  Unfortunately, the supposed hilarity was confined to the repetition of the word and (clothed) images of dongs, and the laughs didn’t last long.  A The Little Mermaid piece was funnier, with Kendrick’s Ariel, told by Bryant’s Ursula that she had to surrender her voice, hurting Ursula’s ears by coming up with imitations of Kesha and Britney Spears, among others.  Bryant’s droll villainy was so good that Disney really should sign her up for a animated voice, and Jay Pharoah nailed Sebastian the crab (even if the sketch’s ending didn’t make any sense).

There was more music after Update, with our first sighting in quite a while of the Les Jeunes de Paris dance sketch, for which of course Kendrick was perfectly suited.  This franchise works for SNL because it’s used sparingly and with imagination, this time including references to “Cups” and The Fifth Element, among others.  Later on, musical guest Pharrell Williams, after his own two songs (one of which, of course, was “Happy”), showed up for the last live sketch of the night as himself, auditioning back-up singers for his act including Kendrick and her (fraternal) twin Vanessa Bayer, who performed “Take Me Or Leave Me” from Rent.  The joke was supposed to be that Bayer was so much worse than Kendrick but Pharrell preferred her anyway, and apart from not being much of a gag, Bayer wasn’t terrible enough to make it all that funny–but Kendrick sounded ready for a revival of the real Rent.

The non-musical sketches were less notable.  There was the usual toothless cold open based on current events, in this case GM’s failure to fix its ignition switches despite knowing about the flaw for years.  It was a one-note joke with McKinnon as the new head of GM, who side-stepped any and all questions, and although for just a moment it looked like it might get interesting when congressional committee chairman Taran Killam refused to let McKinnon’s character bounce out of the sketch with “Live From New York, it’s–“, that turned out to just be postponing his own delivery of the line a few seconds later.  Also demonstrating SNL‘s resistance to having any strong political point of view:  a return of the Fox & Friends sketch, with Kendrick as a violent alcoholic who blamed Obamacare for her problems and Kenan Thompson as Neil deGrasse Tyson, who insisted that global warming was a real thing, both points rushed off camera as quickly as possible.  (The fast-rolling list of corrections at the end was as usual the sketch’s highlight, this time including “Don Cheadle does not appear if you say ‘Cheadlejuice’ three times,” and “Noah is not “found footage'”.)

Also returning:  the high school sketch with Jay Pharoah as the furious principal, this time set on a field trip at the local zoo, with Kendrick as a guide who couldn’t help hearing the students’ rude comments.  Nothing new, although it was cute when the students replaced a zoo iguana (now a “functioning alcoholic” according to Kendrick) with a Shrek doll.  There was a late-in-show skit where the joke was that Taran Killam’s biggest man in a western town actually had brittle bones and couldn’t begin to lift the boulders that had fallen on Kendrick’s brother (or for that matter hold her wedding ring upright).

It was an off night for the pre-tape department.  Apart from the Dong music video, there was a notably pointless sketch with Bayer and Kyle Mooney as neighbors who endlessly just barely lose the nerve to ask each other out, and a promo for an NCAA “Best of the White Guys” compilation video built on the fascinating insight that most of the best players in college basketball are African-American.  It would have had to go a lot farther out on a limb to get any but the most obvious laughs from that premise.

Perhaps to make up for last week’s extremely short Weekend Update, tonight’s edition had no less than 3 desk pieces:  McKinnon as a very funny German Chancellor Angela Merkel, bemoaning that she’s always expected to be the world’s peacemaker, when what she really wants is a bad boy of her own; Brooks Wheelan doing a PSA on the dangers of college drinking, especially when your roommates put a stick of butter down your pants; and Bobby Moynihan as Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin, revealing he’s so burnt out that the next volume mostly takes place in Denver.

In all, not a bad outing, and the show’s second in a row after last week’s Louis C.K. episode.  Hoping to make it three in a row:  Seth Rogen, returning next week as host with Ed Sheeran as musical guest.


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."