SNL Ranked: Elizabeth Banks Is Effortless in a Near-Perfect Episode
Boy, we sure could use a good SNL episode following last week’s Donald Trump disaster. Thank goodness Elizabeth Banks made her hosting debut this weekend, bringing her seemingly effortless charisma and lovability to the stage to scrub last week from our memory and deliver one of the most consistently solid episodes of the season. Read on for our ranking of this week’s sketches from best to worst (spoiler: nothing was actually bad this week!).
But first: This week’s episode skips the cold open to deliver a special message to the citizens of Paris. It’s short, simple and somberly kindhearted, and it feels right.
Let’s get into this.
First Got Horny 2 U (Bayer, Banks, Bryant, Strong, McKinnon)
Yes, yes to all of this, yes. How blessed are we to get music videos from the women of SNL two weeks in a row? Not only that, but this one covers a topic that isn’t discussed often enough: a young woman’s first experience with self-pleasure, which is far from the flowery awakening most people imagine. Nope, it’s always awkward and our first object of lust is always weird. Like Carson Daly weird or like Robbie from the Dinosaurs TV show weird. This music video is liberating. I feel so alive right now.
High School Theatre Show With Elizabeth Banks (Banks, Mooney, Bryant, Bennett, Davidson, McKinnon)
These high school theatre performances are sneakily becoming one of the best recurring sketches, thanks in part to their rarity. As usual, they perfectly capture the narcissism and precious, misguided attitudes of drama club kids. This week’s performance is titled “Mirror to America: A Reflection of You,” and features pretentious teen performance art on topics including SeaWorld and how whites run the world (not girls, Beyonce) — it’s enough to inspire a hilarious early exit from Leslie Jones, and that’s before the whole white thing.
Banks has been seamlessly assimilated into the cast and makes for the ideal host: sketches aren’t overtly built around her, and her stage and improv skills make her a natural fit. I can picture an alternate timeline where Banks was a long-running SNL cast member before successfully launching an independent career — not that she ever needed it, clearly.
Uber for Jen (O’Brien, Banks, Moynihan)
SNL is more than making up for last week’s episode with some serious A-game. Bruce Chandling, a music video from the ladies of SNL, Olya, theater kids, and A Mike O’Brien Picture? No joke, during the commercial break I wondered when we’d see another O’Brien short (I miss him so much), and SNL delivered like a benevolent deity.
His latest short takes us on an eventful ride with an Uber driver, who drags an annoyed passenger into his personal life, which is rather poignant in its ordinariness. It’s “the hidden lives of Uber drivers” told from O’Brien’s wonderfully weird and sweet point of view, taking a rather basic concept and elevating it to something that just feels good to watch. Someone give him money to make more things for the world.
Aron’s List (Thompson, Bennett, Mooney, Bayer, Moynihan, Pharoah, Davidson)
There’s a few seconds during the setup of this week’s fake ad where I wondered where this bit about cheap home service workers could possibly be going…and there it is: they’re non-violent sex offenders, guilty of crimes like “missing the statutory cutoff” and “toilet camera.” Bayer’s flat, declarative delivery of “what” up against the guys’ gleeful admissions of their crimes is fantastic. Shoutout to Jay Pharoah’s creepy dog walker.
Black Jeopardy With Elizabeth Banks (Thompson, Zamata, Pharoah, Banks)
“The only Jeopardy! that’s produced entirely in cash.” Instead of token black character, we get token white character, with Banks’ contestant offering cliches like “I don’t see color” and “I dated a black guy once.” If SNL just replaces Celebrity Jeopardy! with Black Jeopardy! for the foreseeable future, I’ll be okay with it. And damn, what an A+ Bill Cosby burn.
Weekend Update (Jost, Che, Davidson, Mooney)
Hey, now that Donald Trump is gone, they can make real jokes about Donald Trump! Resident youngster Pete Davidson drops by to discuss the failure in Houston to approve an ordinance that would allow transgender people to use the public restroom of their choice. I mean, it’s kind of depressing that his jokes are rooted in common sense thinking — not that it’s not funny (because it is!), but that this has to be a joke because people are still so dumb.
And we get our first Bruce Chandling appearance of the season! You notice this? You seen this? My favorite bad comedian ruminates on his favorite joke topic: women. Oh, Bruce, you poor, sweet, dumb, adorably sad bastard. Don’t ever change.
AND we get a visit from Olya for the first time in what feels like an eternity? Olya is absolutely Kate McKinnon’s best Update character, to the point that if she shows up as anyone else I am instantly disappointed. McKinnon’s Olya is on point tonight with a Britney Spears riff, jokes about her impoverished and desperate life, and a Hamilton reference. Hamilton has quickly become such an elitist cool kid name drop. I guess I should listen to this soundtrack or something already.
Young Ben Carson (Bennett, Banks, Zamata, Pharoah, Jones, Thompson)
Oh god, Jay Pharoah is perfect as a vaguely sociopathic, eerily sleepy-eyed young Ben Carson. And the best part is that they didn’t even have to really write jokes, since this is all insane stuff Ben Carson has totally said.
Walk-On Role (Zamata, Bennett, Moynihan, Banks, Pharoah, Bryant)
Moynihan effortlessly pulls off the specificity of a good-natured, middle-aged assistant principal who wins a charity auction bid to appear on a TV procedural, unaware that his one harmless line has been transformed into a feature part as a neighborhood pervert. It’s a good indicator of the consistency in quality this week that a middling sketch like this one is still pretty solid.
And just when I was wondering when we’d get another musical monologue, here it is, with Banks using her newfound directorial expertise to micro-manage the opening. While this is mostly just okay, as the majority of musical openings are, it’s still fun to watch Banks sing and dance to “Oh, What a Feeling,” plus we get a wardrobe change. And I’m a sucker for a wardrobe change.
So Ghetto (Bayer, Zamata, Banks, Strong, Pharoah)
Although it’s one of the weakest sketches of the night, it’s still quite enjoyable, taking a phrase that’s been repurposed for casual slang use and pointing it right back at its most ardent, oblivious users. A group of friends who use “ghetto” to describe the tacky, cheap, and superficially uncomfortable things in their lives are confronted with their thoughtless application of the word when their friend reveals that she’s actually living in the ghetto. It’s kind of hilarious to watch Strong complain about using a fork instead of chopsticks when her friend lives with a middle-aged drug dealer who can’t pay rent on time.
It’s a bit outdated in terms of social commentary (didn’t South Park do this with the repurposing of “gay” several years ago?), but as this kind of stuff on SNL goes, it’s fine.