Review: SNL ‘Reese Witherspoon and Florence and the Machine’

Reese Witherspoon returned to Saturday Night Live to host for the first time since two weeks following the September 11 attacks. The stakes were noticeably lower here. So were the joke counts in this fairly terrible episode.

This week’s cold open offered the most recent menagerie of 2016 Republican Presidential candidates introduced in a raucous, hip-hop club style. Cecily Strong highlighted each major candidate using their most prominent characteristics or greatest controversial statements. For example, the bit about Rand Paul included many references to his support of legalized marijuana in certain cases. The individual pieces were amusing enough, but it was all build up and no payoff. I kept waiting for something great to come. Never did.

In honor of Mother’s Day, Reese’s monologue offered a sweet and fairly funny series of SNL cast members apologizing to their mother’s for past transgressions. The mothers got their revenge, though, by playing old footage of most cast members, the most touching of which was Pete Davidson at age 1 with his father’s voice instructing him to point to various body parts. Davidson’s father was an NYC firefighter who died in the 9/11 attacks, ironically linking him to host Witherspoon.

“Be Seen in L.A.” featured Reese and Cecily Strong hosting a new talk show paid for by Reese’s character’s plastic surgeon husband. The jokes were largely around the actresses bringing out a collection of young men over whom they drool and their misunderstanding of how basic equipment works. Strong has an argument off-screen on the phone with her assistant over adult diapers, and Witherspoon goes to the bathroom and farts. As lame as it sounds, the offscreen fart was the highlight of the skit, an oft-repeated joke that echoes way back to The Naked Gun series if not earlier.

Taran Killam finally showed up (does he not have a mother?) by hosting a D-level celebrity game show “Picture Perfect.” The gimmick here was that one team had standard items to draw (Gone Girl) while the other team had incredibly difficult and potentially offensive items (The Prophet Mohammed). The prize was $1 million, but if they lost, then the game show would subtract the same amount from their bank account. Witherspoon managed to guess Mohammed without anyone drawing a single line, and, as soon as she did, the clip ended. Again, it was a case of significant build up without a focused and legitimate payoff.

The first pre-recorded segment featured Witherspoon working in a greeting card company where all employees make fun of their nerdy boss, Mr. Westerberg. Most everyone made fun of the boss’s weird requests, but Beck Bennett slowly revealed a history of sexual offenses made by the boss. This was a fairly weird piece and was really only as funny as your tolerance for making fun of sex abuse. Not that you’re a bad person if you laughed at it of course. It was just very odd for me.

Weekend Update aired after a really tremendous set by Florence and the Machine. Here are the lowlights (including a funny jab at Floyd Mayweather and Cecily Strong’s Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation with at a Party, joined by the excellent Reese Witherspoon).

Aidy Bryant led the next skit which revisited a previously aired concept around a (kindly putting it) mediocre avante guard performance troop. The kids all think they’re delivering hard truths about politics and society, but it’s really just silly and uninspired. So was this skit. The first time I saw it. This time, it’s just repetitive, failing to add anything new to the mix. I’m curious if they just couldn’t find something better for Reese Witherspoon, a typically game actress with some comic chops given the right material, and just pulled this out from the archives.

A group of Southern women gossiped about their terrible lives over box wine in the next skit. The complaints involved Kate McKinnon hitting on her son on Tinder, Cecily Strong getting pranked at the sperm bank with the old bucket over the door full of sperm trick, and Leslie Jones’s pending amputated foot. The only thing that really made me laugh was Reese Witherspoon’s husband’s demonic possession. My favorite line: “I was trying to watch Castle, and the TV grew a mouth and called me a whore!” She delivered the material perfectly, and it really was the first time in the episode where I felt her truly come alive.

“Whitewater Kingdom” offered up Reese, Beck Bennett, and Kyle Mooney as teens working at a water park. The best thing I can say about this was that it was quick, but, honestly, there was absolutely nothing funny about this skit. There wasn’t even a slight audience polite giggle. It just involved the cast talking in So. Cal. surfer accents and breaking when a patron’s penis became lodged in a jet. Nothing funny here, folks, no matter how you spin it. I have no idea why this skit made it to air.

Finally, a glimmer of hope! Kate McKinnon returned with her bizarrely fantastic cat lady, complete with dozens of cat puns. If you’re not familiar with this patented insanity, McKinnon introduces kittens and says funny things about them (“This cat is a gift from God. At least, that’s what he told his cult” or the kitten who showed up on their front door step and informed them he’s a registered sex offender). She also engages in a suspect relationship with her female counterpart, this time Reese Witherspoon who, at one point, gently massaged McKinnon’s right nipple. Completely. Balls out. Crazy. And I loved it.

Update: Apparently this digital skit, Leslie Jones’s “Inner White Girl,” wasn’t good enough to air during the show. Guess what? It’s better than most of the show. Typical.

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