With the movie musical adaptation “Annie” gearing up for its December 19th release, actress Cameron Diaz returned to Studio 8H for the first time since 2005 to host “Saturday Night Live.” While her fourth outing as host may not have been her most memorable, the episode as a whole was unquestionably the strongest yet for the Season 40 ensemble.
However, one thing that has made Diaz such a luminous performer in Hollywood for over two decades now is her go-for-broke spirit: Underneath her tabloid-ready good looks is a very skilled comedian who is always game to take a part in a nutty story or to commit to a dirty punchline. So what a complete missed opportunity it was to have Diaz host and not play to her strengths — the craziest thing the actress did this weekend was act in a sketch with a lemur on her shoulder, a far cry from the Diaz who raised quite a few eyebrows last year by straddling a car windshield in “The Counselor.” Other than delivering a pretty freaky UPS-man-inspired poem, Diaz proved to be the least impactful host of the season thus far — this news may have been disappointing for her followers, but it ended it up being sensationally great for fans of the show’s cast.
Hosts like Bill Hader and Jim Carrey have such high spirited personalities that they indirectly hogged all the comedy for themselves during their respective outings. But a host like Diaz, who didn’t really make an impression in any sketch, ended up putting a bigger spotlight on the ensemble, and what an exciting week it was for the cast as a result. Episode 7 may not have been a season highlight, but it definitely made exceptional use of the ensemble. Nearly every cast member got a moment to shine this week, quite possibly making Episode 7 the long-awaited moment when the Season 40 ensemble got the funny train rolling all together. We’ll see if the cast can keep this momentum going in the weeks to come, but for now here are this week’s “SNL” MVPs:
The Women of “SNL” (“Back Home Ballers”)
Let’s give the ladies of “SNL” in general a big round of applause. After misfiring late last season with the uncomfortably forced “Dong All Over the World,” the funny women reunited this weekend for an uproariously worthy sequel to last season’s Emmy-nominated viral smash, “(Do It On My) Twin Bed.” The hook here, about entitled daughters coming home for Thanksgiving and being treated like princesses, played perfectly into the loopy confidence of each cast member. And as exciting as it was to see the ladies band together and let loose, color us even more surprised that the show then utilized each lady effectively in subsequent sketches.
Vannessa Bayer wisely controlled her awkwardness in “Poetry Class” and showed a sinister ignorance in “Nest-Presso.” Cecily Strong underlined her sexed-up call girl Aurora in “Night Murmurs” with a funny dumbed down creepiness, something she’s become awfully good at during the show’s more risqué 12:55 a.m. sketches. Aidy Bryant, or Lil’ Baby Aidy as she’s so humorously known during music videos, dillusionally led an experimental play in “High School Theater Group.”
Even Sasheer Zamata got a few solid reaction bits during “Office Boss” (see Beck Bennett below). And while Leslie Jones’ Black Annie may not have used the full potential of the racy comic, her hip-hop interlude on all of the bowls her parents leave around the house during “Back Home Ballers” provided the single biggest belly laugh of the entire night. So major kudos to “SNL” for not only uniting the ladies for a worthy “Twin Bed” sequel, but also for keeping them justly occupied throughout the remainder of the night. If the clip below hasn’t already gone viral by the time this ranking is posted, it certainly will soon:
Kate McKinnon (“Angela Merkel,” “Night Murmurs”)
Even though so many of “SNL’s” funny ladies were on their game this episode, Kate McKinnon still managed to emerge most victorious, thanks to her reliable wacky shenanigans. Just the way she continuously finds new cringe-worthy ways to pose during the “Night Murmurs” call girl infomercial is enough to throw her some MVP love. But there’s also that sexually confused look she gives after asking, “What kind of favors?,” and the way she twists the phone while talking about what a horrible bet maker she is, and the downright dirty hip thrust she does after explaining why a 20-pound turkey will be thrown at her back… Yes, you read that correctly. “Night Murmurs” was all about turning sexuality into bizarre humor, and no one can do that better than the always-game McKinnon.
But the comic’s real tour-de-force of the evening was when she dropped by “Weekend Update” as frustrated German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In a sketch commentating on all the unusual highlights from the 2014 G20 Summit of World Leaders, McKinnon ripped into Merkel with a theatrical German accent and some tightly-wound aggression (“G20? More like F U!”). Watch as McKinnon licks her lips while fawning over Obama and try not to giggle; ultimately, it’s the way McKinnon’s physicality can help make a joke explode that shined brightest in this bit. Her bug-eyed reaction while responding to claims she has “resting bitch face” made her follow-up punchline really pop, and the joyously wild expression she gave after claiming, “I bet Obama’s Keystone Pipeline is XL” proves what a master comedian she is. McKinnon was even able to crack up the usually stiff Colin Jost, making her appearance as Merkel a welcome addition to this getting-better-every-week iteration of “Weekend Update.”
Kenan Thompson (“Dr. Dave and Buggles,” “Poetry Class”)
Thompson once again proved this weekend he gives the best reaction shots in “Saturday Night Live” history. Seriously, this seasoned veteran deserves some kind of award for the comedy he’s able to harness from just seconds of reaction time. Although he absolutely crushed the delivery of a poem devoted to the sitcom “Friends” during the “Poetry Class” sketch (“Ross is a little bitch! But he made me laugh though” was one the night’s most riotous lines), it’s really that gapping jaw-drop during a reaction shot following Cameron Diaz’s sexy poem that won the night. If anyone can steal an entire five-minute sketch in just a couple of seconds, it’s without a doubt Thompson.
The comedian also proved his worthiness as the lead in “Dr. Dave and Buggles,” an immaturely conceived sketch about an animal show host who got his “dong and balls” ripped off by a monkey. Much has been written about the show’s writing woes in recent years, and while the show could absolutely use help in the writer’s room, a great cast can go a long way in covering up some of the more painful writing speed bumps. Take Thompson in this sketch as a shining example. “Dr. Dave” pretty much had one testicle joke going for it over and over again, but the way Thompson sort of admitted the ridiculousness of this repetition to himself as he performed, and used that acceptance to draw out the lunacy of the premise, is what makes him the cast’s most vital asset. The writing may have been uninspired here, but you’d be hard pressed to care with Thompson at the head.
Beck Bennett (“Office Boss,” “The Fight”)
Beck Bennett is often the jelly to Kyle Mooney’s odd tasting peanut butter, and that was certainly the case during the pair’s hilarious “The Fight” video clip. But anytime the show gives Bennett the chance to fly solo with his ingenious adult baby character, he always brings his physical A-game. Bennett has killed it before playing this character, so the real surprise here was actually how the writers did the bit justice by relocating the character away from the office and into the household, giving Bennett the chance to bring his immature shenanigans to new jokes and appliances. This adult baby may prove one-note for some, but it never fails to make us laugh out loud. Everything from the exaggerated arm movements to the bursts of happy facial expressions is so spot-on that it makes the baby-mannerisms a bluntly funny juxtaposition to Bennet’s stately adult voice. If the show can continue to sporadically use this character (and not have it overstay its welcome like Kristin Wiig’s Gilly), than Bennet will always be an MVP when the adult baby comes out to play.
Needs Improvement: Nobody! So Let’s Celebrate With Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars
Technically we could get nit-picky here with Pete Davidson, since he was the only cast member completely side-lined this week (which comes off extra troublesome when all the other cast members are well used), but that has everything to do with the show’s utilization of him over his actual skills as a performer.
Instead, let’s celebrate the greatest use of the entire cast in a single episode by breaking it down with musical guests Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars. Anyone who thought “SNL’s” musical performances had hit an early peak with Prince in Episode 5 got a dazzling wake up call this week thanks to this electrifying duo. Not only was the stage design completely funked out, but Mars, Ronson and some committed backup singers brought the studio down with their loose choreography and infectious melodic hooks. Watch this and try not to boogie: