'SNL' Review: Taraji P. Henson Almost Saves the Day

tarajiphensonsnlDespite all the criticisms I've made about SNL, I should say that I love this show. And not just what I considered the glory years of the series – the late 90s that I grew up with, or the late 70s that my parents grew up with, or the late 80s I discovered in college, or the late 2000s that inspired me to start reviewing it online – I've loved it even during the not-as-great seasons 39 and 40. Even at its worst, SNL remains a fascinating experiment in live TV sketch comedy, and if I'm going to spend a chunk of my week doing something, I want it to be a positive experience. I've never understood the hate-watchers, who tune in expecting a train wreck and tweet cruel insults to its cast members. Objectivity be damned… when SNL's funny, we all win.

So last weekend, as Taraji P. Henson's episode began, I crossed my fingers that this would be the night season 40 finally hit its stride. SNL has walked tall this spring with strong showings from Chris Hemsworth, Dwayne Johnson, and Michael Keaton (whose episode deserves more praise than I initially gave it), and Empire's multi-talented scene-stealer seemed like a safe bet. Sure enough, the first block came out guns blazing — a hilarious Hillary Clinton cold open, an impressive performance by Henson in the monologue, an amusing fake commercial. This was the SNL I tune in for! Curse broken!

But as the night wore on, SNL fell into the same traps the show always seems to suffer at the end of these three-week runs. The material lacked inspiration, clearly written by people who haven't slept in weeks: lots of celebrity impressions, less-funny versions of premises we've seen before, topical bits that didn't quite hit. Henson revealed herself as an energetic, dynamic host, but one prone to misreading a scene's comedic point of view (which, in fairness to the actress, often wasn't nailed down in the script to begin with). The night saw exciting cameos from alums Darrell Hammond and Billy Crystal, a killer performance by Kate McKinnon, and some pointed satire its back half, but everything in between struggled to stand out. SNL may be on more solid footing as Season 40 approaches its end, but this episode wasn't evidence of it… as much as superfans like me wanted it to be. READ MORE


'SNL' Review: Happy Easter, Michael Keaton!

snlmichaelkeatonThough they may look like natural sketch comedians, character actors give us peculiar episodes of SNL.

At least once per season in recent years comes an episode hosted by a thespian known less for his red-carpet appeal than for his eclectic body of work: Steve BuscemiEd Norton, and now, Michael Keaton. That seems like an ideal situation — fewer flavor-of-the-week celebrities, more actors with real talent — but more often than not, the combination of these artists' creative independence and SNL's hand-holding formula results in a bit of a disconnect. Norton was fun to watch in that epic Wes Anderson parody, and Buscemi was enjoyable as a creepy-looking football coach. But aside from those highlights, their episodes left us scratching our heads, with the hosts swinging hard with characters that (to borrow from JK Simmons, another beloved actor the show misfired with recently) weren't quite SNL's tempo.

That's not to say men like Michael Keaton can't be funny on the show – he was, very much so. SNL craves actors who can actually act. Alec Baldwin and Christopher Walken are SNL legends (though in Walken's case, much of the humor comes from watching the icon put his own goofy spin on the lines), and oddballs like Christoph Waltz and Jim Parsons proved nice fits for the show. But often, a classically trained actor is either a master of subtlety who plays to a camera inches away from his face, or a playhouse dynamo who draws hundreds of eyes in his direction — in other words, the reverse of what actors do on SNL, which requires them to slavishly hit their marks in a rigid multi-cam setup. SNL works best when the host isn't overthinking it… just ask those eggheads Thor and The Rock.

Michael Keaton is a truly gifted comedic actor, and that was clear last weekend. But he got his biggest laughs with the exact same "holiday weirdo" setup the writers handed to Ed Norton and Steve Buscemi at the ends of their episodes. Add that to the fact that the night contained an unusual shortage of material (8 sketches compared to last week's 11), along with Keaton's absence from the night's funniest sketch, and this episode was nowhere near the showcase of the chameleonic star of Batman, Beetlejuice, and Birdman that it should have been. READ MORE


'SNL' Review: Dwayne Johnson, Man for the Job

snldwaynejohnsonHere's a question I never thought I'd ask: does SNL need more men?

Of course not, right? Only recently has SNL begun to shake off its "boys club" reputation, with a cast of seven men and six women (not counting the two male Weekend Update hosts), and a writers room still predominantly male. The current female lineup is more stacked and well-rounded than ever — there are few roles that Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant, Leslie Jones, Sasheer Zamata, or Vanessa Bayer can't handle, and I hope that deep field of female talent is here to stay. Considering how pathetic the gender ratio is throughout the late night landscape, and the way Hollywood reacted to a Ghostbusters reboot starring SNL ladies, true gender equality in the comedy world is still a long way off.

However, a new development has emerged in SNL's gender balance, in that many of this season's stronger episodes have featured a "guy's guy" host (Chris Pratt, Woody Harrelson, Chris Hemsworth, and now, Dwayne Johnson), while suitably funny female hosts (Sarah Silverman, Amy Adams, and Dakota Johnson) have struggled to stand out. While it's easy — and usually correct — to accuse viewers and critics of holding women to a tougher standard, in this case I wonder if the cast's masculinity shortage may help set the table for traditional alpha-males to steal the show. Of the men in the cast, only Taran Killam seems capable of playing the leading man, but even he tends to subvert that stereotype by going low status (see: "Brother 2 Brother," "Big Joe"). Kenan Thompson, Bobby Moynihan, and Jay Pharoah stick mostly to oddball roles and impressions, while Kyle Mooney, Beck Bennett, and Pete Davidson skew toward high-school and college-aged boys. The current guys all play to their strengths effectively, but SNL seemed less reliant on musclebound heroes like Starlord, Thor, and The Rock when it possessed everymen like Jason Sudeikis, Jimmy Fallon, or Will Ferrell.

Whatever the reason, Dwayne Johnson became the latest action star this season to hoist the show on his freakish shoulders and carry it across the finish line. In his fourth time hosting the show, Johnson once again leaned on his macho toughness, showing off a trademark bravado that kept the laughs coming with few lulls. While it rarely packed the satirical punch some of this season's finer hours have, this episode gave us the kind of raw, fast, and physical entertainment we love to see from the pro-wrestling and Furious 7 superstar. READ MORE


'SNL' Review: Walking Tall with Chris Hemsworth

snlchrishemsworthOne of the bigger frustrations for those of us following SNL's 40th season is that, despite the show's ongoing ups and downs, this current version of SNL is one we want to get behind. Kate McKinnon, Taran Killam, and Cecily Strong are as fun to watch and dominant in sketches as previous eras' stars were (regardless how rosey nostalgia has tinted alums like Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg), and the video segments are as sharply executed as they've ever been. What SNL has been lacking are an overall confidence in its assets and a consistent understanding of how to deploy them effectively.

The stronger episodes this season have featured east cast member putting his or her best foot forward. For example, JK Simmons' episode last month showcased Vanessa Bayer in a darkly nuanced commercial parody, Kate McKinnon as a skittish Ingrid Bergman, Bobby Moynihan as a dancing pushpin, and Taran Killam and Cecily Strong holding down Weekend Update with fan-favorite bits — a well-balanced use of each of their skill sets. By comparison, Dakota Johnson's recent episode seemed much more muddled, with the cast sweating through occasionally amusing but largely unmemorable setups — Cecily as Cathy Anne, Kyle as a Fifty Shades-obsessed child, Aidy with her arms in casts (again), Kenan as a Trekkie doctor — while the pre-taped videos stole the show. That's not to say producers can't afford to mix things up, but with fans still making up their minds on SNL in 2015, we need to see a cast that's comfortable in its own skin.

Perhaps that explains why I found last weekend's Chris Hemsworth episode so satisfying, despite a number of dud sketches on par with other weeks. A little Aussie swagger was just what SNL needed right now, with Kate, Taran, Cecily, and hell, even the Weekend Update guys, proving they can walk tall in a season too many have prematurely tuned out of. READ MORE


'SNL's Uneasy Relationship with Twitter and Online Critics

thedudleysLast November, SNL aired a mock promo for a hacky, whitewashed family sitcom called "The Dudleys." In the sketch, a voiceover explains the various lengths the show has gone to satisfy complaints on Twitter — "You tweeted, 'It's 2014, why can't any of The Dudleys be gay?' Well, we heard you loud and clear!" — with Woody Harrelson playing at various degrees of homosexuality before dialing it back up to a "gay 5." "The Dudleys" was a clever piece of satire in a great episode, but it also reflected a truth SNL's current cast and writers have been coming to terms with: they can't win on Twitter.

In some ways, social media has been more blessing than curse for SNL, allowing for instant mass sharing of episode highlights, with clips like "The Dudleys" potentially reaching millions more viewers the following day. Even the finger-wagging online campaigns have resulted in net gains for show. In 2009, Betty White was asked to host an episode after a Facebook group called "Betty White to Host SNL (please?)!" reached nearly 500,000 members. Four years later, the show's "diversity crisis" eventually led to the show hiring three black women and — indirectly, perhaps — its promotion of writer Michael Che to Weekend Update host. READ MORE


'SNL' Review: Business as Usual with Dakota Johnson

Two weeks ago, SNL's 40th anniversary reminded us what we love about this show. The routine scrutiny fell silent at the images that once captured each generation: the classic setups like "Celebrity Jeopardy," "Nick the Lounge Singer," and "Wayne's World"; the tongue-in-cheek smugness of regulars like Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin; the moments when endearing nobodies became stars before our eyes. We can complain that SNL lacks originality, but our hearts long for the familiarity we used to have, for the days when we'd pray for Chris Farley to crash into a scene or the TV Funhouse dog to drag the show away or Tina Fey to do the news.

As SNL falls back into business as usual, it's clear the show misses this familiarity too. Talented as they are, the current cast rarely produces the thrill we require to build anticipation and stay invested — not because they aren't as good as previous casts, but because they still haven't won over their generation of viewers. No one during the week says to themselves, "I can't wait to see Colin Jost do Weekend Update!" …other than Colin Jost, perhaps. This episode, with Fifty Shades of Grey's Dakota Johnson emceeing, featured several cast members each struggling to break through this apathy in their own ways, to varying degrees of success. And still, none of these live moments reached the comedic heights of the episode's isolated video segments, which are more the product of bold execution by writers and directors than a creatively gelled cast that functions in sync.

This chronic disconnect will be SNL's biggest hurdle as season 40 attempts to top (or at least, not topple) a towering legacy. READ MORE


'SNL 40' Review: The Stars Come Home

After 40 years, Saturday Night Live may be the only remaining "watercooler comedy" that everyone still has something to say about. Whether it's "The first five years were the best," or "Bring back Victoria Jackson!" (just kidding, no one says that), we all have our opinions on what is or isn't funny on the show… not just us nerdy online reviewers. SNL is, after all, one of the only shows we grew up with that's still on the air – those of us under 40 haven't lived in a world without it — and we each have a personal connection to the first incarnation of it that spoke to us. For me, it was Will Ferrell and Darrell Hammond in the "Celebrity Jeopardy" sketches. For others, it was Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin as the "wild and crazy guys!" For at least one of you out there, it was Victoria Jackson's hilarious handstands.

With that nostalgia for our era sometimes comes an indifference to others. I'll sincerely giggle at Stefon losing it at "Sidney Applebaum," but I struggle to whip up anything more than appreciative nods when the Church Lady sighs, "Well, isn't that special?" Don't get me wrong — Dana Carvey is my hero, and as someone who writes about SNL a lot, I understand the comedic greatness of the iconic routines and characters from the show's first two decades. But they didn't belong to me. Wayne Campbell and Buh-Weet were the inside jokes at a party I was too young for. I knew them better as Austin Powers and Professor Klump, and those younger than me know them as Shrek and Donkey. (I know, ugh.) Older viewers exhibit this bias as well, bragging that Richard Pryor's "Word Association" would never air on today's SNL, while bemoaning the show's descent into the mainstream and over-dependence on low-hanging fruit gags to go viral online.

But last night, that generational rivalry disappeared. SNL's 40th anniversary, a three-and-a-half-hour telecast (seriously, has NBC just given Lorne Michaels keys to the building at this point?) showed an extended family united in the tradition they were once part of, celebrating each other on stage, in retrospective footage, and in star-packed revivals of classic sketches. It was an SNL nerd's wet dream, and as Stefon would say, this had everything. "Celebrity Jeopardy." "Wayne's World." Jane, Amy, and Tina hosting Weekend Update. Melissa as "Motivational Speaker Matt Foley." Martin and Maya throwing to "Nick the Lounge Singer" and "Choppin' Broccoli." Eddie returning to a standing ovation.

Sure, everything ran long, the cameos were a bit much, the highlight reels were redundant, and all the jokes were inside baseball. But this wasn't a normal episode of SNL intended to please fair-weather viewers, or fit neatly into our "what hit" and "what missed" watercooler chats. It was a homecoming that we were lucky to peek in on. And as we've seen before on this show, something magical happens when the family comes home to make each other laugh for a change. READ MORE


'SNL' Review: Finding the Rhythm with J.K. Simmons

snljksimmonsFrom the very beginning, Saturday Night Live was considered "a writer's show." While other variety shows from SNL's early years, like SCTV and The Carol Burnett Show, were driven primarily by the actors (in the latter's case, the actors' intentional breaking), SNL's satirical voice was shaped largely by writers like Michael O'Donoghue, Al Franken, and Tom Davis, however famous their on-screen muses became. The show has gone through various love affairs with stock characters, but ultimately it remains controlled by its writers room, where first-years can pitch a sketch on Monday and see their scripts scrawled out on cue cards on Saturday, even if they don't showcase a cast member. In that regard, SNL stands out from the pack of sketch vehicles for character-actors like Key & Peele, Portlandia, and Kroll Show – it's a show where Robert Smigel can animate a cartoon with political soundbites as audio, or Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone can shoot a big-budget Lonely Island music video, or Mike O'Brien can star in his own "Mike O'Brien Picture." SNL celebrates good writing.

This season, with its ups and downs, has been a particularly creative one for the writers room. Recurring bits are down to about 20% of the lineup, compared to 25% in seasons 38 and 39, with the writers generating more original concepts to replace the star characters from the previous generation. It's easy for critics to point fingers at what they call "bad writing," but the reality is, SNL currently employs some of the sharpest comedy minds in the business. In particular, Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider tend to produce notably brilliant work every week (they wrote the scripts for "Totino's Superbowl Commercial," last week's "Wishing Boot," and "The Dudleys" and "Christmas Mass Spectacular" from earlier this season).

The downside to SNL being so writer-driven is that sometimes sketches reflect the room's mental exhaustion after a three-week stretch. Last weekend's episode, for example, found a capable host in J.K. Simmons, but the Oscar-nominee too often found himself with limited material. Perhaps my hopes were set too high by Christoph Waltz's 2013 episode — a triumphant night with another character actor finally getting his due — but I was a little surprised by the quality of the some of the sketches SNL placed its bets on in the first half. Nevertheless, there remained enough bright spots last weekend to give Simmons, and the writers, an episode they can hang their hats on. READ MORE


'SNL' Review: Blake Shelton Ain't From 'Round Here

blakesheltonsnlOne thing that's forgotten about the early years of SNL was how much it was a show that anyone could host. While hosts from the old days were more often handpicked from Lorne Michaels' rolodex of awesome comics, like Steve Martin or Buck Henry, the show also took risks with host bookings that it never would these days. An 80-year-old German immigrant woman who won an "Anyone Can Host" contest in 1977. An 8-year-old Drew Barrymore in 1982. Ron Reagan, son of the president, in 1986. SNL even dared to allow directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Quentin Tarantino to host once, even though they led to catastrophically bad episodes (Coppola "hosted" by directing the episode from the tech booth — an experiment that didn't really work).

Given this eclectic history, it's a little sad to think that hosting SNL has become a sacred privilege reserved for A-list movie stars and superstar alums of the show. The only bookings to make us do double-takes in recent memory have been famous athletes who can barely read cue cards and Betty White, a beloved sitcom veteran who got the gig by being old, apparently. More recently, the show has fallen into a frustrating pattern of musician-hosts pulling double duty and people NBC really wants us to pay attention to. Considering how crucial The Voice is to the network right now, Blake Shelton hosting SNL isn't any more surprising than Adam Levine doing it two years ago. Not much better, either.

Of course, my pet peeves over SNL's safe host bookings shouldn't take anything away from last weekend's admittedly satisfying and often surprising episode. Despite being a bit of a stranger in a strange land, Shelton was effectively cast in roles that exploited fans' perceptions of the country singer, as if producers followed to the tee the playbook for a successful show that they used for Woody Harrelson last fall. Compared to last week's uneven outing with Kevin Hart — who, to be fair, possesses far more nerve and comedic ability than Shelton does – the show seemed more comfortable allowing experienced cast members (specifically Bobby Moynihan) to carry the weight when needed, resulting in a showcase of this cast's talent in the middle of a season that will hopefully see more of it. READ MORE


'SNL' Review: A New Year with Kevin Hart

snlkevinhart2015A month ago, Chris Rock wrote an essay for the Hollywood Reporter about race in Hollywood, specifically mentioning a sketch he appeared in with Sasheer Zamata on SNL earlier this season as an example of normalization of black actors being able to do comedy without having to always represent the black community:

Twenty years ago when I was on Saturday Night Live, anything with black people on the show had to deal with race, and that sketch we did didn't have anything to do with race. That was the beauty: The sketch is funny because it's funny, and that's the progress. And there are black guys who are making it: Whatever Kevin Hart wants to do right now, he can do.

Indeed, Kevin Hart has exploded as a mainstream box office draw in recent years, starring in studio comedies like the Think Like A Man films, Ride Along, and now, The Wedding Ringer (aka that Hitch-like movie with the previews that are ruining "Uptown Funk" for everyone). Like Chris Rock, Kevin Hart appeared alongside the cast's black performers in bits that often had little, if anything, to do with race, suggesting a gradual normalization of diversity on the show. I've never been quite sure why black hosts tend to result in an uptick of screen time for black cast members — it's not like the hosts cast sketches, and Hart doesn't strike me as a comedian who is picky about what races he works with. But if it gets us away from an SNL trying to "represent" different minority groups and closer to an SNL trying to do different, interesting comedy, I'm all for it.

But despite Kevin Hart's Hollywood stardom, his chemistry with SNL has dwindled. Hart remains a sharp, charismatic performer whose bravado can carry him through the weakest bits, but this recent episode lacked the fun surprises – Quvenzhané Wallis as the new pope, the hilarious "Z-Shirt" commercial — that saved his first outing in 2013, leaving us with a series of mildly funny sketches that rarely went deep enough to score the big laughs. Even with a strong, well balanced cast, and an impressive commitment to special effects in sketches, SNL in 2015 appears to be every bit of the mixed bag with too many duds that it has been throughout Season 40. READ MORE


'SNL' Review: Amy Adams' Got Christmas Spirit

snlamyadamsLike anything else this time of year, it's hard not to come away from SNL in good spirits. Traditionally, the show's holiday episode provides an easy victory just in time for SNL's weary midseason mark, with returning stars like Jimmy Fallon or Martin Short bringing in the holiday cheer with some of the finest moments of the season. SNL is another one of those NYC-based festivities viewers tune into during the holidays, like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade or New Years' Eve coverage in Times Square. Whatever complaints you may have about SNL… it's not going to ruin Christmas.

Amy Adams isn't a proven SNL veteran like Fallon or Short — her only connection to the show is one unmemorable episode she hosted in 2008. Yet Adams nonetheless helmed a satisfying — albeit somewhat confusing — holiday special, banking largely on her well established musical charms and surprise cameos by beloved cast members. However, as welcome as the appearances by Mike Myers, Kristen Wiig, and Fred Armisen were, their bits often came out of nowhere, without any recognizable history with Adams or recent cultural relevancy to justify them. And after a half season that has been so on-point with its racial humor, this episode's attempts to explore the subject matter ranged from hypocritical at best to exploitative at worst. Still, despite a lackluster middle stretch and a few painful One Direction sightings, the night proved to be the hearty cup of eggnog SNL Christmas episodes are intended to be… only not as sweet as last week's Martin Freeman episode. READ MORE


'SNL' Review: James Franco Delivers in an Episode That Doesn't

JamesFrancoSNLLet's face it: over the 40 years SNL has been on the air, the majority of its sketches have not made us laugh. For every "Cowbell," there are a dozen forgotten flat-liners you'd never see on the "Best of Will Ferrell" DVD. At best, the show can hope for a 1:1 hit ratio. That's not meant as a knock against SNL, but as an acknowledgement of its difficulty level. By now, we've gone through enough behind-the-scenes documentaries and oral histories to appreciate the show's demanding six-day production period and the risks of live broadcasts. Regular viewers accept a mixed bag as par for the course.

This season has served as evidence of that inconsistency. SNL has produced some real turds over the past eight episodes (I don't know why Chris Rock keeps bringing up his god-awful "Anniversary Couple" sketch), but it has also proven itself capable of 90-minute hilarity, effective topical commentary, perfect pre-taped pieces, and, as always, returning alum hosts reminding us how great the show can be. And if the writers could spin gold out of Woody Harrelson, one would assume they could do the same with a younger comedy star / stoner icon / three-time host like James Franco, who seemed every bit as game and even more familiar with the SNL process. (He directed a documentary about it, after all.) After a week packed with news Americans need to hear our comedians talk about, SNL was teed up for success last weekend.

And then, SNL turned up a bogey. Despite a few strong pieces in the episode's back stretch, on the whole the night sweated through its segments, relying on every hacky necessary evil in its playbook — forced celebrity cameos, random impression-based setups, pop culture pander, spineless political humor, recurring bits we're all pretty tired of seeing – with little fresh comedy to redeem them. I suppose it made sense to see Franco's second-half Seth Rogen join him on screen so often, even if it reeked of a pressure to promote their upcoming movie. But Nicki Minaj's three appearances were tougher to swallow, especially her excruciating Weekend Update bit covering a month-old Kim Kardashian story… one of many huh? moments during this uneven episode. READ MORE


'SNL' Review: A Step Back with Cameron Diaz

camerondiazsnlWell, that didn't last long.

Just one week after seemingly proclaiming its transitional era to be over, SNL reaffirmed viewers' perennial skepticism with an episode that made Woody Harrelson's excellent outing look like that much more of a fluke. Cameron Diaz's hosting gig wasn't quite the disaster the show is capable of, but it exhibited all the symptoms of a bland episode that no one will remember by the end of the season: a game-for-anything host that the writers didn't know what to do with (despite this being her fourth time), a dependence on watered-down recurring bits that the actors seem to love more than audiences do, and a general miscalculation by producers on how to use the show's various strengths to create a cohesive night of exciting sketch comedy.

Yes, inconsistency has been an issue throughout every one of the show's 40 seasons — even the ones we remember as being perfect. I still believe SNL possesses all the ingredients it needs to win us over again — a well rounded cast, vibrant writers, an excellent film unit — but Lorne Michaels is still figuring out the recipe (to borrow his metaphor). Whereas last week witnessed a show that clearly understood its strengths and strode confidently from sketch to sketch, this week felt like a series of nervous dice rolls that settled into a sad parade of stock characters that don't contain anywhere near the stamina that previous generations' crutches did.

Still, some of those dice rolls paid off. Still in transition or not, this SNL is at least willing to experiment. And that's something to be thankful for. READ MORE


'SNL' Review: A Season High with Woody Harrelson

woodyharrelsonsnlFor the past two years, many viewers have described SNL as being in a "transitional phase." This phase began with the departures of Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg in 2012, followed by Jason Sudeikis, Bill Hader, and Fred Armisen in 2013, then by Seth Meyers in early 2014. The old guard was clearing out, and their replacements didn't seem up to the task of continuing that golden era. And while not all of the episodes in this interim period have been bad — in fact, many have been quite good, and the hit-to-miss ratio has remained roughly the same — SNL seemed lost in the woods, with almost weekly PR crises, a dependence on returning alums, sagging ratings, and a vagueness as to how this era would redefine itself.

After last weekend, SNL's transitional era may finally be over.

Woody Harrelson's triumphant episode wasn't just a win — it was a bellwether win for the show. While most episodes take on a tentpole structure, with strong pieces holding up weaker ones, this episode was a full 90 minutes of clever writing and assured performances, from cold open to Weekend Update to the 10-to-1, all without a desperate reliance on recurring bits and pre-taped videos, or the tendency for live sketches to fall flat, or a returning alum host to carry the night. While Bill Hader's dazzling return last month worked largely because of the host's made-for-SNL talent, Woody Harrelson presented less of a guarantee, with a more limited range of comedic personae and a 25-year gap since his last appearance on the show. And yet, the staff made it work, smartly casting Harrelson in a mix of gruff authority figures and loopy substance abusers, while giving the likable goofball freedom to enjoy himself.

But more importantly, for the first time in season 40, SNL looked confident. Will that confidence still be there next week, with Cameron Diaz hosting? We'll see. But for now, it seems Lorne Michaels and his team have finally figured out how to make this generation of SNL shine. READ MORE