Did Octavia Spencer’s ‘SNL’ Episode Have the Best Cold Open Ever?
Since Saturday Night Live’s last episode, a lot has happened – Oscar drama, Russia drama, Obama drama – so it was anyone’s guess how they’d address it all, in a season that seems to get more political each week. This episode was, thankfully, Trump-free, but that didn’t stop it from getting some major digs in, from the breathtakingly apt Jeff Sessions / Forrest Gump comparison, to Father John Misty’s charged performance (more on that later), to the running gag of the camera cutting to Kate McKinnon’s Kellyanne kneeling, like a moody tween, all over the studio:
Those moments carried an otherwise okay episode, full of sketches that seemed half-finished, but there were for sure some shining moments…
Jeff Sessions Gump Cold Open
…like this cold open, possibly my favorite of all time, in which Jeff Sessions and Forrest Gump are so obviously and naturally the same person, the only thing keeping McKinnon from having a perfect Hanks in her pocket is the hair. “I’m the Attourney General of the whole United States,” he brags to his bench-mate (Jones), before offering her a chocolate: “I always say life is like a box of chocolates – there sure are a lot of brown ones in there!”
He shows off a photo of his pal Kellyanne and tells a nice businessman (Kyle Mooney) he had nothing to do with Russia, then immediately blurts to the next person he sees (Aidy Bryant): “I talked to the Russians. Twice!” Eventually, Putin stops by for a quick clandestine meeting, and host Octavia Spencer pops in to gift Sessions a suspect chocolate pie (The Help reference!)
Truly, this cold open is a perfectly aimed parody, positioning two ridiculous characters together for a very satisfying payoff – one that will surely piss a lot of people off, though weirdly, we haven’t heard Trump weigh in yet.
Octavia Spencer is excited to be here, even if everyone’s still complimenting the Hidden Figures actress’ performance in “Hidden Fences.” Spencer laughs off the fact that everyone’s confusing movies just because they have black people in them – in fact, she’s making the best of it by producing her own new film, Hidden Fence Light, sure to be one of next year’s several Best Picture winners.
TBD Movie Trailer
SNL does Hollywood a solid in putting together this trailer for Courage, Compassion, Country: The TBD Story – the inevitable epic film that will tell the tale of the man (or, hey, WOMAN maybe?) who stood up to Trump and changed the course of history. Sure, this hasn’t happened yet, but it has to…right? Someone? Anyone? TBD?
Bonus points to viewers who caught co-head writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider’s names in the credits for the fictional film, along with director Paul Briganti.
Drug Company Hearing
When a drug company’s new meds start to sound a little too familiar to a former employee (Spencer), she enlists the help of an arbitrator (Bennett) to claim creative credit. As Merck reps (Vanessa Bayer, Alex Moffatt) insist it’s all coincidence, she introduces her daughter, Seasonique (Sasheer Zamata), her former coworker, Lunesta (Leslie Jones), and a few of their friends – like little baby Nicorette, which, actually, would at least be a cute name for a pet.
Girl at a Bar
Cecily Strong is every Girl at a Bar in this cautionary tale about loudly feminist men and the super creeps who lurk just beneath their “Future Is Female” tees.
Zoo-opolis Voice Actors
In a sketch that was surely built to show off new featured player Melissa Villasenor’s wide range of characters, a trio of voice actors (Villasenor, Moffatt, and Spencer) stand in for celebrities at a Zoo-opolis read. An exasperated engineer (Kenan Thompson) takes them through it, cueing up characters for them to knock out, like a bumbling bee voiced by Hugh Grant (which Moffatt tackles admirably). Villasenor runs through Jennifer Lopez, Kristen Wiig, Kathy Griffin, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Owen Wilson, and, adorably, Kate McKinnon.
The hustler becomes the hustled in this story from the streets, where a confident young man (Pete Davidson) finds himself scammed by an even more confident old man (Thompson), who makes his own rules when it comes to chess.
Jost and Che cover Trump’s address, Sessions’ recently improved Google results, and how shitty Kellyanne’s job is:
100% would watch a feature-length buddy film starring Alex Moffatt and Mikey Day’s improbably lovable rich idiots, Eric and Donald Trump Jr., who visit Update to insist their father has nothing to do with their business. Well, Don Jr. insists, Eric gets a little cranky and needs a snack, but either way they get their message across:
And everyone’s favorite Newscaster of Tomorrow, Laura Parsons (Bayer), stops by to sing about elder abuse and hand jobs:
Working at a sticky bun stand shouldn’t be too hard, but for three trainees (Day, Villasenor, and Spencer), taking an order seems almost impossible. Despite upbeat instruction from managers Strong and Bennett, they can’t stop asking their first customer (Bayer) if she can eat, which is actually kind of creepy — but it’s okay, it’s just an airport food court, so they can be as crazy as they want!
Black History Month has come and gone, and you know what that means: time for all your friends who forgot it was Black History Month to make amends, like Strong does here by making a new black friend. When she introduces Joad (Spencer) to her BFFs, Strong hypes her as an unpredictable wild child – but maybe it’s hard to get too crazy in a prescription bra, because Joad seems more concerned with getting some solid bathroom time in than with seducing the bearded waiter.
In this very confusing sketch (that none of the cast members seemed to want to be in), a fired office worker returns bearing sugary gifts, hoping to sweeten his pissed off coworkers’ spirits. It turns out the ex-employee (Beck Bennett) had brought a gun to work, so chocolate gelato served with a song isn’t going to fix things. Apparently, this was almost twice as long in dress, and it killed, but they had to take out a lot of references to Bennett’s attempted rampage – probably a good move, but the sketch made no sense without it.
Little known fact: host Octavia Spencer is heir to the Spencer’s Gifts fortune. This is a true fact, and this sketch is documentary proof.
Okay gang, time to dive into these Father John Misty performances, because they were incredibly powerful and artistic and also, they inspired a lot of social media blowback from people who think it’s lame to rhyme “Taylor Swift” with “Oculus Rift” (it’s a fair point, but like, you’re really missing the bigger picture here). Misty is a controversial artist not necessarily because his lyrics are literally poems rallying against modern politics and culture, but because he’s the absolute epitome of Woke Hipsterdom, and so it’s pretty easy to dismiss his carefully styled facial hair and Johnny Cash fashion. He starts feuds with crystal shops, he created his own perfume (called “Innocence by Misty”), he takes shrooms and writes novels – look, I GET IT.
But despite all this, I fucking love Father John Misty, and his performance in this episode was magical in the literal sense. With his new Princess Bride-inspired ‘stache and patent leather ankle boots, he put on (arguably) the most political show SNL has ever seen (I’m only saying arguably because duh, Sinead, but I’m down to debate it).
Misty opened the show with a new song, “Total Entertainment Forever,” a pop culture-infused condemnation of pop-culture, but it was his second song of the night, current single “Pure Comedy,” that was a true performance piece:
“Pure Comedy” is an unapologetic attack on conservatism and liberal passivity. Structured like a lyric poem, it explores the cycle of life and our resistance to experience, capping harshly worded judgments with reminders of our shared mortality (one of Misty’s favorite topics). Pair the message with his delivery, his physicality, the way he moves the mic stand aside (like a true comic) and paces, punctuating his message with wild hands, falling to his knees and dancing feverishly – like an outlaw reverend, delivering his sermon in tongues – and this set is definitely something. All of this, obviously, makes it wildly inaccessible to a majority of casual listeners, and unbearable to critics who find Misty’s sincerity uncomfortable.
But at the end, he stops and holds his head in his hands and sighs, splitting the line: “The only thing that they request is something to numb the pain with / Until there’s nothing human left, just random matter suspended in the dark” – ending, almost defeatedly, to camera, “I hate to say it, but each other’s all we got.” That, my friends, is a message. Go back and re-watch that TBD movie trailer from earlier in the episode – it’s saying the exact same thing, but lightly, where Misty goes dark, attacking lack of action with a warning rather than a call for a hero. Fucking pay attention, is the point, do something, or else. It’s important that the show had Misty on at all, and that it’s trying to spread the same message, too – just in its own way, in much, much smaller doses.
ANYWAYS, another observation — there was barely any Bobby Moynihan this week, a huge bummer right after news that he may be off the show for good soon.
Hopefully he’ll be back next week, cause it’ll be a fun one: