Review: SNL ‘Scarlett Johansson and Wiz Khalifa’

So, apparently, there was this huge boxing match last night that aired somewhere around the live return of Saturday Night Live (even reportedly stealing some $10 million in box office dollars from The Avengers sequel). I know this because SNL dedicated its cold open to basically admit the fact that even its cast members were sneaking out between sketches to watch the fight. They attempted a sort of parody of the fight using Jay Pharaoh and Aidy Bryant to poorly stand in for the boxers. Clearly, this skit was not meant for me, but you’ll never convince me it was meant to be funny. Aside from Kate McKinnon’s brief appearance as Justin Bieber, which is apparently now written into her contract as a weekly requirement.

After taking nearly a month off, you’d think there would have been a better way to welcome back the celebrated 40-year-old show. But then I remembered, the show has been sucking donkey balls lately. Yes, that’s a technical term. Even worse, the episode completely wasted typically game Scarlett Johansson’s talents, putting her in one lame, unfocused skit after another save the exceptionally fantastic Marvel Black Widow parody.

Johansson’s monologue offered a comically erotic lullaby by the new mother, which is strange because – as attractive and sexy as she is – being a sex object has never been her particular strength nor goal. She radiates intelligence (which, itself, is incredibly sexy – see Her), and the monologue seemed ill-fitting for her.

“Right Side of the Bed” followed with husband and wife team Taran Killam (obviously gay) and Cecily Strong hosting their snappy Southern talk show. I actually love these skits because Killam and Strong completely knock this stuff out of the park. Killam, in particular, rattles off comic lines so fast you don’t have time to figure out what’s funny and what falls flat. Scarlett was tossed in with a wig and a Bronx accent for no real reason. I appreciated seeing her, but she wasn’t necessary. Killam and Strong had this one in the bag.

When the Baltimore Orioles-themed skit appeared, I held my breath. The central conceit involved the scheduling of a baseball game in the immediate aftermath of the Baltimore riots. The game, naturally, was unattended, and the hosts kept slipping up, referring to fires, beatings, and a strong police presence. With some really painful puns (“his negroes stronger every day”), it’s not that this skit was poorly intended – it’s just it wasn’t funny. Like, at all.

The pre-filmed Marvel Studios parody was, for me, the highlight of the entire episode. It referenced the kind of smart and intuitive writing that isn’t typically associated with SNL these days. Here, a Black Widow-specific film is imagined from “Marvel Studios and the writers of 27 Dresses.” Naturally, Black Widow is a bumbling New York girl who works at a fashion mag, has Thor as a gay best friend, and dates Ultron to a Pink and Kelly Clarkson soundtrack. Not only is the message completely on point (that Marvel has yet to take advantage of female-focused superhero films when it has such a robust catalogue to choose from), but it was also perfectly executed. As we’ve discussed on previous podcasts, the pre-filmed segments somehow usually end up being the best material by far. Is this Saturday Night still live? At any rate, this material was good enough to keep me coming back week after week.

Judging from the wild audience applause, the “Girlfriends” talk show with Cecily Strong and Aidy Bryant appears to be very popular. This outing was the usual stuff – Bryant plays the tragically unhip high school character and Strong plays the show’s amiably clueless and popular host. Scarlett Johansson was brought on board as a representative of the upcoming prom, recommending people not spend less than $1,500 on a prom dress. Average material on an average skit.

I’m all about giving credit where credit is due, so I’m going to stand back and praise much-maligned “Weekend Update” co-host Colin Jost. He presumably penned and delivered a fantastic joke about the Supreme Court gay marriage hearings, aligning comments made during the hearings to an old math problem. You’ll have to hear it to get the full joke. Also, Kate McKinnon made an appearance as Ruth Bader Ginsburg as well as Bobby Moynihan and Vanessa Bayer playing Samwell Tarly and the Wildling he protects from Game of Thrones.

Returning to skits, Taran Killam played a Museum of Natural History docent with an annoying long wig. Scarlett Johansson and Cecily Strong played two museum patrons who were obsessed with the world “random” and dinosaur poop. I totally did not understand this skit. Like, at all.

On to another pre-taped segment with Killam playing what appears to be a 70s-era motorcycle cop called “Blazer.” Blazer is punch-happy, and you think it’s a one-note joke until they pull back to reveal it’s actually a commentary on police brutality against African-American males. Because of that, I’m giving this one a pass despite not really laughing at it. It’s one of those well-intended but uncomfortably unfunny skits that only airs in the back half of the show.

Having a big night, Killam again returned as a Virgin airline pilot with Vanessa Bayer and Johansson as automated airline flight attendants. There are two running jokes here: Killam’s pilot makes sexist jokes over the loudspeaker and the robots malfunction. Bayer does the best with this material, perfecting the automated phone voice and jerky movements required for a robot flight attendant. Again, another bizarro skit, but it was nice to see Bayer finally used outside of the occasional appearance in someone else’s skit. Too bad the material wasn’t really up to her talents.

Aidy Bryant and Johansson close the episode with a skit about two faded hippie jingle writers auditioning for a Pampers commercial. Their jingles are wildly inappropriate orgies of death, misery, and desert heat. Another weird one. I giggled maybe once. It was late. I was tired. I’m easy at 1am. You know it’s a bad night when Colin Jost is a highlight.

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