Elizabeth Banks Solidly Handled ‘SNL’ Hosting Duties for the First Time

elizabethbanks-snlFollowing the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday, Saturday Night Live had the task of putting on a live comedy show while the world grieves with France and tries to understand complicated and scary international political struggles.

On Friday, Late Show host Stephen Colbert had to break the news of the tragedy to his audience and, visibly shaken, delivered a heartfelt message of support. SNL followed suit and began the show with acknowledgment of the attacks before moving on to humor, a process that unfortunately has become standard for late night comedy shows when senseless tragedies occur.

After last week’s unforgettable Trumpsplosion, first-time host Elizabeth Banks did a good job cleansing the palate with a mix of leading sketches and supporting the cast. There weren’t any Hunger Games parodies, to my surprise, but we did get another fabulous music video from the ladies of SNL and saw the return of Black Jeopardy!, which just barely starts to make up for the trainwreck that was last week’s episode.

Paris Opening

In lieu of the usual political cold open, Cecily Strong took the stage to express sympathy and support for the people of Paris on behalf of SNL. She took the stage in a black dress and addressed the audience with brief but touching and heartfelt message, first in English, then in French: “Paris is the city of light. And here in New York City, we know that light will never go out. Our love and support is with everyone there tonight. We stand with you.”

Elizabeth Banks Monologue

Changing gears, Elizabeth Banks opened the show with a song-and-dance monologue that had no ties to current events. Her sunny personality helped the audience ease back into laughter mode as she explained how she’d caught the directing bug from doing Pitch Perfect 2, and broke into the song from Flashdance. The bit is simple; she simultaneously sings, dances and directs her performance while wearing an incredible gown (which appeared to be slightly harder to remove than they anticipated). It was just the sort of charming welcome the show needed in order to carry on.

Aron’s List

The ever-expanding “Uber economy” should continue to to give SNL fodder for sketches for some time, or at least twice in this episode. Peer-to-peer household and odd job services like Angie’s List and Task Rabbit get sent up in a commercial for Aron’s List, the site that promises 30% lower prices than its competitors because they hire exclusively from the American Registry Of Non-Violent (ARON) Sex Offenders. Vanessa Bayer plays what feels like a recurring character (the politely inconvenienced housewife) browsing lists of plumbers and handymen who have been convicted of such minor transgressions as streaking, statutory, and “penis pranks.”

Black Jeopardy

Finally! Ever since we saw Louis C.K. lose Black Jeopardy back in March 2014, people have been waiting for this instantly classic sketch to return. This time, host Darnell Hayes (Kenan Thompson) reveals the show is produced entirely in cash before introducing contestants Amir (Jay Pharoah), Keeley (Sasheer Zamata), and Allison (Elizabeth Banks), the latter of whom is admittedly white but, “dated a black guy once.” The vernacular category gags got even more detailed this time around, with gems like “What Had Happened Was,” “Who Try’na,” and “I Don’t Know You!” But the highlight was a subtle jab at Bill Cosby, which came in the form of Elizabeth Banks offering his name up for the clue, “After everything he did, he try’na act like he don’t owe us an explanation.” The correct answer was “Who is Tom Brady?”

First Got Horny 2 U

The women of SNL are basically the new Lonely Island, and I’m totally okay with that. Last week’s “Bad Girls” is still stuck in my head, and this ’90s boy band ballad from Infinity + 5 (Elizabeth Banks, Cecily Strong, Vanessa Bayer, Aidy Bryant, and Kate McKinnon) is just as relatable. If you’re a woman who was born in the 1980s, “First Got Horny 2 U” takes you on an embarrassing trip down memory lane to crushes on Carson Daly during his black nail polish phase and Taylor from Hanson (the latter of which might, um, spell something out for you like it did Kate McKinnon). At first you think it’s weird that Vanessa Bayer had a thing for The Menendez brothers, but Aidy Bryant sitting on her hands and scooting to Dinosaurs takes the cake.

High School Theatre Show

It’s hard to tell if this was a thinly veiled comment on certain comedians’ disdain for today’s ultra-P.C. college students, or just a byproduct of most the cast having probably grown up with culturally oblivious suburban theater kids who take themselves too seriously. Students played by Elizabeth Banks, Kyle Mooney, Taran Killam, Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon, and Beck Bennett put on a avant-garde performance that warns it “may cause extreme bouts of progress” but really just confuses the living crap out of the attending parents.

Weekend Update

Colin Jost and Michael Che continued their breezy streak on Weekend Update with another solid mix of political jokes, an extended back-and-forth bit (on that Yale professor’s Halloween email — a slightly stale but interesting story) and a diverse set of character guests. They appropriately kicked things off with a Trump joke aimed at his oddly threatening promise that if elected, everyone would be saying “Merry Christmas” again: “Not sure about that, but certain we will be saying ‘Jesus Christ’ a lot.” They also touched on Jeb Bush’s bizarre hypothetical about killing baby Hitler (Che: “Is that what this election has come down to? Which candidate would make the best time-traveling baby murderer?”) and we got to see a photo of Jost in high school when he had a JTT haircut.

Pete Davidson stopped by to bring some perspective to the issue of transgender discrimination in public bathrooms, mainly, why would someone go through all of that just to get a sneak peek at the opposite sex’s bathroom? He also takes away any mystique men might have about what goes on in women’s bathrooms. There aren’t any shirtless pillow fights, and instead it “looks like a man made out of toilet paper was murdered in there.” Kyle Mooney’s recurring Update character Comedian Bruce Chandling (also seen in this funny cut-for-time sketch) came by to ring in cuffing season and lament about he just doesn’t get women, nor does he understand high school girls either. And Kate McKinnon’s Olya Povlatsky wrapped things up with her take on the Russian track and field team getting caught doping (she operates on an “everybody cheats” philosophy) and shares what could be the world’s most depressing pick-up line.

The Adventures Of Young Ben Carson

As if this bizarre election hasn’t been fruitful enough, SNL was handed a gift when a story from Ben Carson’s 2009 memoir surfaced in which the eerily soft-spoken candidate claims he once lost his temper and tried to stab his friend back in Detroit in the ’60s. Thus, “The Adventures of Young Ben Carson” practically wrote itself. Kenan Thompson as “Black Jesus” tries to steer young Carson (Jay Pharoah) on the right path while subtitles attribute his head-scratching takes on evolution, the pyramids and Nazis to the real-life Ben Carson. Elizabeth Banks once again plays a supporting role, mostly to call out the fact that (real) Ben Carson claims his rage-filled knife attack was foiled by a belt buckle.

Walk-On Role

If you like watching Bobby Moynihan being made uncomfortable for an extended period of time, you’re going to love this sketch. Okay, maybe not love it. Personally, my mind kept drifting off thinking about whether or not there was a real show called The Bureau and what kind of person would pay $3,000 to say one line on a TV drama (even if they were painted as a pedophile).

Uber For Jen

This short from writer/former featured player Mike O’Brien was an excellent use of host Elizabeth Banks. To channel Stefon, their adorable adventure through the city as Uber driver and passenger has everything: drive-thru runs, a backseat baby delivery, violent hit-and-runs and more. Side note: I feel like SNL mentions Uber an average of three times an episode.

So Ghetto

It’s pretty clear that the last line of this 10-to-1 sketch, “Let’s stop saying that forever,” was the premise for the bit about the over/misuse of “ghetto” as an adjective, and that is definitely a fair point. It takes a little while to get there as Cecily Strong, Vanessa Bayer, and Sasheer Zamata talk about such #firstworldproblems as outdated public bathrooms, using a fork to eat Thai food and having to split the bill on a date, while Elizabeth Banks casually reveals that she’s been living in the actual ghetto, baby stairwell gangsters and all.

So shoot, what else?

  • Two weeks in a row now we’ve have a very different type of “Live from New York” sign-on, only this time it was more heartbreaking than funny.
  • Bobby Moynihan’s fake breathlessness at the end of the monologue = yes.
  • Thank you Infinity + 5 for reminding me how hilariously creepy us girls are at that age.
  • If you haven’t gone to a high school play and thought, “That was the worst moment of my entire life,” at least once…
  • “Living in a tent village under the highway” < “Living in a van down by the river.”
  • “Bernie Sanders looks like if the post office became a person” — Colin Jost
  • Elizabeth Banks’ line in the Uber short (“Neither one of us wants to give the other a bad rating”) made me laugh unexpectedly. Because do Uber ratings even matter?

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