November 3, 2013

THE SKED REVIEW: “Saturday Night Live” with Kerry Washington


For Jay Pharoah and Kenan Thompson–but especially Pharoah–this week must have felt like alternate-universe SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, because with Kerry Washington as host, suddenly he was the show’s featured leading man, a situation he probably shouldn’t expect to see again anytime soon.  Washington herself was an enormously enthusiastic host, very funny (despite a certain amount of eyes-fixed-on-cuecard-itis) when the material was there for her.  If nothing else, after a couple of ho-hum outings with hosts Bruce Willis and Edward Norton, tonight’s show had some real blood coursing through its veins.

SNL is nothing if not self-conscious, and the cold open was a meta-sketch about the increasingly public fact that the show is low on performers of color, and in particular, has no black women in the cast at all.  Having Washington forced to play Michelle Obama and Oprah via quick-change was a first-rate showcase for her (too bad we never got to see her Beyonce), and the surprisingly harsh punch-line was supplied by Al Sharpton when he preceded the “Live From New York…” intro by noting “What have we learned from this sketch?  As usual–nothing.”

Sad but true, Reverend Al, and proven by the post-monologue sketch, in which Washington played sassy black assistant to career counselor Nasim Pedrad.  Washington got all the laughs that were there to be had, and Pedrad and the show’s technical team did a terrific job hitting the marks with the sound effects that accompanied practically every line of her bit (although I fear this is the kind of broad character we’ll now be seeing again and again), but really… sassy black assistant?

The show might have gone meta again when it dug the How’s He Doin’? sketch out of mothballs–with three black performers available, the piece about black voters’ unstoppable support for Obama was viable again for the first time in a while.  Instead, the sketch was played straight, and it was quite sharp, especially when Thompson, Pharoah and Washington joked about how wonderful it would be to get white people’s mail (nothing but pre-approved credit cards and Pottery Barn catalogues) and how proud whites are of watching The Wire.

Anyway, one area where SNL has been consistently first-rate this season has been the pre-taped pieces, and although nothing could top last week’s Wes Anderson mini-masterpiece, they delivered again tonight with a parody of “What Does the Fox Say?” called What Does My Girl Say?, with Pharoah and Washington as the leads.  Not just a clever idea, but efficiently and effectively written to build to a punch-line that made sense.  (A later piece in which the workers at an ice cream store were so overcome by trying to understand the innocent joke told by a patron that they literally needed medical help was more interesting than funny, and shoehorned into the last slot before goodnights, it felt like it might have been shot for an earlier episode–Washington didn’t appear–and used to fill a short slot.)

It was also nice to see a monologue that didn’t force a song or any celebrity stunt cameos.  There wasn’t much to it–various cast members treated Washington as though she were really Olivia Pope, and she had to crisply solve their various life crises–but it was a little different, and turned out to be the closest thing we’d get all night to a Scandal parody.

Weekend Update had a good outing.  The Seth Meyers/Cecily Strong partnership is now very smooth, and the two desk pieces were new or at least semi-new:  Kate McKinnon’s Angela Merkel, depressed and worried that the NSA spies had read her browser history (which included “Jason Segal–shirtless”), and although we’ve seen Thompson’s Charles Barkley before, this time he was joined by Pharoah as a crosseyed, half-mad Shaq.

The rest was more typical SNL, although it was downright bizarre to see a sketch about the Miss Universe pageant that didn’t even make a nod in the direction of the difficulty that show had in finding a host due to Russia’s anti-gay laws.  (Well, bizarre until you remembered that NBC aired the pageant.)  The sketch was instead an excuse for various women in the cast, including Washington, to come on as the contestants from fringe countries, one stranger than the other.  Aidy Bryant probably took honors as Miss Greenland, who proudly announced that there were three people there, and she was the woman.

There was the usual game show bit, this one in theory about identifying Cartoon Catchphrases (with Washington as the host) but really a pretext for Bryant to find out that her no-good husband was sleeping with just about everyone, including Washington.  The cartoon idea actually sounded funnier than the sketch itself, and the piece suffered from a lack of internal logic, beating the same gag to death in increasingly unlikely ways.  The high school sketch returned, this time set at a charity fair, with Pharoah as principal, Thompson as the coach, and Washington as an unpopular teacher who made the bad decision to volunteer for the dunk tank.  The (essentially) 12:55AM sketch was an MTV dating show parody with Washington, Cecily Strong and Bryant as airhead contestants; it never quite hit the surreal heights of the show’s somewhat similar ex-porn star commercials.

SNL takes next week off (a rerun of the Miley Cyrus episode, y’all), and returns on November 16 with what should be an interesting outing:  not just musical guest but host Lady Gaga.  Those of us who saw her acting debut in Machete Kills hope the only place to go after that is up.


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."