March 9, 2014

THE SKED Review: “Saturday Night Live” with Lena Dunham


Odd and inconsistent may have been the watchwords for tonight’s SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE with host Lena Dunham, but even intermittent inspiration was a big improvement after last week’s grimly unfunny outing with Jim Parsons.

Dunham has one of the most distinctive voices in current TV comedy, and her SNL gig worked best when it made use of that.  (If her intent was to use SNL as a showcase for her wider range, it was less successful.)  Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of her better moments were in pre-taped pieces where she didn’t have to worry about cue cards, and multiple takes were possible.

The show had already done a very funny Girls parody earlier in the season when Tina Fey hosted, and it found an original slant on a new one tonight by moving Hannah Horvath and some of her fellow characters to the Garden of Eden, where naturally Hannah had no use for fig leaves even after being thrown out of the Garden, and Vanessa Bayer’s Shoshanna was the stream of consciousness Snake, with Taran Killam as Adam (in both senses).   There was also a bright, if strange, piece that seemed for most of its length to be a one-joke sketch about a car pool (Dunham, Killam, Kenan Thompson, Cecily Strong) who sang “Ooh Child” along with their iPod as they drove, with Dunham’s solo lines constantly being interrupted by the car’s GPS–only to reveal a darker side at the very end, when it turned out that the group weren’t coworkers, they were on their way to deliver vigilante justice to a bound and gagged criminal.  (Dunham didn’t figure into the night’s weaker pre-tape, a vaguely surreal office bit where Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett kept sending coworker Brooks Wheelan e-mails with instructions about an upcoming Will Smith concert that he didn’t want to attend and which wasn’t taking place anyway.)

Some of the live sketches worked as well.  A Scandal parody in which Dunham’s intern (who might as well have been named Hannah) had all the commonsense reactions that viewers do to the nonsensical events that occur on that show on a weekly basis would have been even funnier if the other performers (including Sasheer Zamata as Kerry Washington) had done better jobs of imitating the Scandal cast members they were playing–if only this sketch had aired when Washington herself had hosted!–but the material was still strong.  Dunham’s monologue played on the theme of Girls as a festival of oversharing sexuality, as strangers (including Kate McKinnon, otherwise little seen tonight, as Dunham’s grandma) insisted on telling her their sexual secrets.  A sort of female Wayne’s World with Dunham and Nasim Pedrad as the newly pubescent, incompetently flirtatious hosts of “What Are You Even Doing? You’re Being Crazy!” was funnier than it had any right to be, thanks to the two women, a surprisingly restrained and on-point contribution by Bobby Moynihan as Pedrad’s brother–and a surreal cameo appearance by Jon Hamm as himself.

There were a surprising number of surprise guests on the show, including Liam Neeson showing up for the cold open to deliver a variation of his trademark Taken speech to threaten Vladimir Putin (that was amusing, but the sketch didn’t go anywhere after it), and Fred Armisen’s return to Weekend Update as (with Bayer) part of the couple who say complimentary things about their world leader friends (Putin again) while muttering their complaints.  Can’t say I was really missing that bit when Armisen left, but he and Bayer did it well–and since Seth Meyers had usually been the one to interact with them, it was another passing of the torch moment for Strong to serve as their host.  Newbie Colin Jost welcomed Killam’s Matthew McConaughey, which was fine, but at this point everyone and their grandmother does a McConaughey imitation, and Killam’s wasn’t inspired enough to require another.

The Oscars also featured into “Pimpin Pimpin Pimpin With Katt Williams,” a reprise of Jay Pharoah’s Williams imitation.  It’s a funny bit, but Wheelan’s Jared Leto was no great shakes, and Dunham’s Liza Minnelli was the night’s proof that celebrity impersonation is not her thing.  (It was almost exactly what it would have looked like in an episode of Girls if Hannah had done Liza.)  Killam worked crazy hard on his Harrison Ford in decline, and although the effort was visible, it still got laughs.

Even the night’s losers were at least bad in an original way.  One featured Mike O’Brien as the only man at a woman’s jewelry party, whose girlfriend was an ex-South American beauty queen (Strong, speaking with Sofia Vergara’s accent), and who turned out to be an anti-women’s rights activist.  There were ideas there, but so much artifice that it never came into focus.  A rap TV show bit called “What’s Poppin?” was an overlong one-joke sketch where the show’s musical guests were a white 1960s-type group of stoner hep-cats, and hosts Pharoah and Thompson didn’t know what to make of them–nor did the audience.

So, an uneven night in all.  Still, at its best this was one of the brighter recent SNLs.  Apparently exhausted by doing 2 consecutive episodes after a month off, the show now takes 3 more weeks of hiatus, returning on March 29 with host Louis C.K. (no musical guest designated yet).



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."