January 19, 2014

THE SKED Review: “Saturday Night Live” with Drake


Tonight’s footnote to SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE history was that it featured the debut of new cast member Sasheer Zamata, who is, not incidentally, an African-American woman–“not incidentally” only because her hiring came after a rather embarrassing amount of pressure, both internal and external, was applied to force Lorne Michaels to acknowledge that SNL was moving backwards when it came to diversity, especially considering this fall’s new crop of a half-dozen new white cast members (5 of them male).  Also not incidentally, the show’s writing staff opened its doors to a pair of African-American women writers.

The show opted, probably wisely, not to feature any meta-jokes about the new members of the SNL family, and apart from a brief mention during the goodnights, Zamata was allowed to make her entrance like any other new cast member, with perhaps a bit more on-screen time than most (although it’s also fairly axiomatic that black hosts mean extra roles for black cast members on the show).

That host was Drake (also the musical guest), who of course was an actor before he became a hugely successful singer, and he proved an extremely enthusiastic and accomplished sketch comic.  Unfortunately, tonight’s writing, despite (or because of) a break since the holidays, was even more slipshod than usual.

There were a high number of collective sketches, the ones where one cast member after another comes on to do a few seconds separate from the others under a very general framework.  Occasionally these pieces manage to build from one mini-sketch to the next, but more often they betray the fact that the writers could only come up with one gag per character.  Tonight it started with yet another iteration of Piers Morgan Tonight with Taran Killam as Morgan, this time hosting Chris Christie (Bobby Moynihan), Alex Rodriguez (Drake) and Justin Bieber (Kate McKinnon) in succession.  The Christie piece may have gotten less mileage out of his current scandal than any TV comedy show has in the past few weeks, but Drake and McKinnon brought a lot of energy to their bits, with McKinnon especially inspired aping Bieber’s poses.

Another combo sketch had Kenan Thompson’s Sway hosting a show of supposed clips from little known early TV turns by musical performers who, like Drake, later became famous singers.  Killam’s Eminem on Felicity was cute, and Zamata got her first featured spot as Rihanna on a Caribbean version of Blossom, but by the time Flavor Flav was narrating The Wonder Years, the joke had run dry.  A Nancy Grace Live sketch was hit and miss–Noel Wells was damagingly wide of the mark as Grace, all accent and no punch.  She was obsessively concerned about the effect of legalized pot on “the babies,” and although Drake had a good take on Katt Williams, there wasn’t much material for him.  McKinnon saved it, though, as a baker absolutely thrilled with her success selling pot munchies (“This is Baking Bad!”).

There was only the briefest of monologues tonight, just used as the set-up for a sketch about Drake’s bar-mitzvah, attended by his black and Jewish families.  Drake was very strong, delivering everything from fake Hebrew prayers to a rap about his mixed family.  (This, for the record, was where Zamata made her debut, with a few lines as Drake’s uncle’s new girlfriend.)  As Drake’s Jewish mother, Vanessa Bayer sounded so much like her “Jacob the Bar-Mitzvah Boy” character that Drake may secretly be related to him.  Drake also did everything humanly possible to sell a sketch in which Nasim Pedrad seemed to be trying to channel Rachel Dratch, as a tourist of indeterminate nationality who was enlisted to play Indiana Jones in a Disneyland show; Pedrad mumbling about her rice and ignoring Drake’s instructions as the show’s host were the sole jokes, but Drake captured the guy’s growing desperation behind his Disneyfied cheerfulness beautifully.

The only other completely new sketch was more curdled than fresh, with Aidy Bryant as a supposed 13-year old hot for her friend’s dorky father (Drake).  Bryant and Drake played the uncomfortable situation for all it was worth, but the writers didn’t have anything like the nerve necessary to pull off the premise, and it completely chickened out at the end, revealing that Bryant’s character was actually a 25-year old who didn’t know she’d been in a coma for 10 years.  (and… Scene!)

There were two unlikely franchise sketches.  One brought back the poetry teacher played by Vanessa Bayer earlier in the season, here being romanced by Drake’s student, and the other was the Mornin’ Miami crew that forced themselves to deliver cheerfully inane promos for their morning news show.  Neither really needed to be repeated.

The pop culture wheel spins so quickly these days that Weekend Update‘s attempt to gets some laughs from Jacqueline Bisset’s long, meandering trip to the podium at Sunday’s Golden Globes felt like very old material.  It was nice to see Pedrad’s Ariana Huffington flirt with Seth Meyers again, though, especially since he’ll presumably be departing soon for his new late-night show.

The pre-tape crew contributed two pieces.  One was a musical bit about making, then instantly breaking, New Year’s resolution, which was cute enough (and gave Zamata a featured role), and the other had the 12:55AM slot, a brief and fairly pointless piece for Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney that was sort of a desultory, slightly surreal rehash of the old Kristen Wiig character who had to one-up whoever was near her.

It felt like the show didn’t really measure up to its host this week, and that in the right hands, Drake could have given a near-Timberlake charge to the proceedings.  Next week it’s host Jonah Hill, boasting his second Oscar nomination, who’ll hope for better from the writing staff, with Bastille as musical guests.


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."