SNL: Sarah Silverman, Maroon 5 (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in October 2014.

It has been 20 years since Sarah Silverman was an “SNL” featured player for a single season.  In the past year, she had a stand-up special on HBO and guest starred on a few episodes of “Masters of Sex.”  This is all to say, she does not have any major projects at the moment, nor does she have that strong a connection to “SNL,” so there was no obvious reason for her to be hosting at this time.  The episode she hosted ended up having a similar vibe, insofar as most of the sketches did not have an immediate reason for existing.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, and it points to the show’s willingness so far in Season 40 to avoid relying on recurring material.  Ultimately, this episode was not cohesive enough to have any truly classic moments, but it was quietly encouraging, if you allow yourself to view the show with a generous spirit.  Let’s take a closer look at each of the sketches:

60 Minutes – There is a certain concept in improv and sketch comedy known as “game.”  It is the unusual thing about the scene that is built upon and explored as the scene progresses.  In this interview with the president courtesy of Steve Kroft, the game appeared to be ISIS members tweeting a series of tweets that inexplicably combined plans of jihad with more secular sentiments, such as an emoji of a ghost with an eyepatch or the hashtag #TheVoiceIsBack.  But that gag lasted only about a minute, while the rest of the sketch was a bunch of less fully-formed ideas. C+

Sarah Silverman’s Monologue – Common “SNL” monologue tropes were quickly inverted.  First, Sarah Silverman questioned the idea that it is crazy that any host of “SNL,” and in particular herself, would be hosting.  Then she referenced her time as a cast member on the show, and instead of letting that reference sit by itself, she actually interpolated it into her routine.  The part in the middle in which she sat on an audience member’s lap is hard to explain, though. B+

The Fault in Our Stars 2 – This faux-sequel could have perhaps instead been a parody of “Winter’s Tale,” another 2014 film about tragic love, but one which actually featured a love interest with a highly contagious disease.  But naturally a much more popular film was chosen as the framework for an ebola-challenged love story and as a showcase for Kenan Thompson’s Terrence Howard impression. (Because Terrence Howard is associated with teen love stories?) B-

Joan Rivers – Joan Rivers was probably a big influence on Sarah Silverman, so it is understandable that she was allowed to play her role in this tribute to the late great piece of work.  Why the lineup of celebrities she was roasting in heaven included Steve Jobs, Ben Franklin, and Freddie Mercury is less understandable.  At least Bobby Moynihan’s infectious laughter as Franklin gave this sketch plenty of flavor. B-

Whites – Vanessa Bayer has a knack for playing cheerful in the midst of something terribly offensive, which is why she was perfect for yelling a playful “hey” to the caveat of “even if they have to be girls” for the next four white presidents.  This wasn’t social satire so much as it was a short horror film based on obliviousness. B-

Forgotten TV Gems – Maybe “Supportive Women” was forgotten not because people couldn’t understand women being nice to each other, but because it was so boring.  Once the concept was established, the subversion of typical soap opera moments was too predictable in each scene.  At least the part with Kate McKinnon’s janitor was amusingly wacky, with her insistence of “Don’t give it a second thought” in response to an accidental gunshot.  Reese De’What’s confusion about women who are not pulling each other’s hair felt like it was supposed to be satirical, but it didn’t quite work that way. C

Maroon 5 – “Animals” – The “SNL” musical stage has a nasty reputation for crappy sound mixing, but there was a fair amount of vocal straining that was squarely on Adam Levine here.  It has been a while since Maroon 5 have had a hit song that was really unique musically, so whatever they pull off has to be on the strength of the performance, which was lacking at the start, but they did put together a satisfying climax. B-

Weekend Update – Michael continued to kill it with bizarre punchlines about Derek Jeter; in this case, he pointed out that “a legendary number 2” will follow eating the massive sandwich named after the Yankees shortstop.  Colin appeared to show some progress in actually utilizing his robotic persona with flatly delivered jokes such as, “He could face up to … Ebola.”  But he still has a ways to go before that is a fully formed persona.  Meanwhile, Che showed continued comfort in his anchor role, but he can still go further.  All, or at least most, of his jokes, should be casually gonzo ideas such as Jimmy Carter snorting peanut dust off a hooker’s ass.  The aside about words that cannot be said displayed decent interplay, though it is hard for the viewer to make a personal connection to this duo since Colin remains so devoid of personality. Colin and Michaels’ Grade: B-
Al Sharpton (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – Kenan Thompson’s continual appearances as Rev. Sharpton are based on one flub from a few years ago instead of Sharpton’s general actual character.  There are some people who are never going to be able to appreciate this unrealistic silliness, but for others (such as this reviewer), there is no other possible response but laughter to malapropisms such as “Ms. NBC” for MSNBC and “Pubis” for PBS. B+
Garage and Her – “SNL” is no stranger to finding humor in feminist musicians, but Garage and Her (pronounced “Ga-RAH-chay”) took the cake by stretching the concept of finding women in surprising places to its most absurd limit – the point at which “a plant can have a boob” and the entire population of a country is a single woman. B+

River Cruise – “SNL” has a weird thing for quirky regional live entertainment.  That weird thing tends to include on-stage breakdowns and uncomfortable confessionals (see also: the Dance of the Snowflakes sketch from last season’s John Goodman episode).  This performance of a trio of Tina Turner impressionists had a few decently amusing anecdotes, but it didn’t do much to justify this trendlet. C

Airport Drive Home – The conclusion of this sketch suggested that “SNL” had been tasked with utilizing Pizza Hut for some form of product placement, and this was what they came up with.  Such an ignominious beginning may actually be the noblest explanation for this bit, which, after a fairly promising start, became an absolute mess, what with Adam Levine being shoehorned in, and then leaving just as easily, to then only be killed by traffic, except not? B-

Poem – Good Neighbor’s bits have had a few moments of cruelty, but they haven’t relied on that negativity, instead creating strong foundations of optimism and resilience.  So it was a little jarring to see Beck Bennett relentlessly wailing on Kyle Mooney and treating him like a dog.  True, it was leavened by the lovely twinkling piano, but this short probably would have been better off by focusing more on the deep moments of connection between adversaries coming to the same mutual negative realization. B

Maroon 5 – “Maps” – The mix for Maroon 5’s second performance was even worse than the first one.  The instruments were really overwhelming the vocals.  That may or may not have been the band’s fault (knowing the “SNL” stage, they deserve a pass).  What does not deserve a pass is Adam Levine, whose vocal quality sounded fine, but his struggle to find a decent rhythm, not so much. C+

Vitamix – The final sketch of the night is usually home to the most bizarre material on the show, and while a $650 blender is somewhat bizarre, it doesn’t exactly come from the deepest depths of the subconscious.  Besides, this scene was more about the turn in which it was revealed that Vanessa Bayer’s character was not embarrassed about her expensive purchase as much as she was image-conscious and a little smug.  But that character detail still failed to answer the question, why would anyone want a $650 blender? C+

Some Bullet Points:
-“Loving this new show “Selfie on ABC.
-P.S. can you believe Israel is still a state?”
-“Thank you, thank you, Colin Jost.  Who tells the jokes?  Excuse me.  Colin Jost, who tells the jokes.”
-“And you’re her?” “No, I’m me.”
-“I quit my job in such a mean way, I said, ‘See ya later, f-words.’ Uh, the gay one.”
-The songs on the radio during the ride home with the cheating girlfriend are Rihanna’s “Unfaithful,” Hank Williams’ “Your Cheain’ Heart,” and a new ditty that goes, “You cheated on me, and then you gave me fudge.”