SNL: Wiz Khalifa, Scarlett Johansson, Cecily Strong (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in May 2015.

In the time between her last and this (her fourth) hosting stint, Scarlett Johansson has had quite the career bump, carving out a niche of otherworldly, occasionally robotic, often kickass heroines. Still, she has never been that strong a fit for the demands of “SNL.” With this episode, she was more confident than ever, though not especially accomplished. But the cast and the concepts were better-than-average, with some routine-busting sketches providing the highlights.

Mayweather/Pacquiao Fight – The biggest match in decades has revealed the surprising number of people who are legitimate boxing fans. “SNL” cleverly latched onto that widespread fanaticism with this sketch that playfully conceded the show’s relevance on this particular night. Normally, admitting your own shortcomings is inadvisable, but that was overridden by such a strong commitment to the second-rate aesthetic. The narration acknowledging the obvious artifice here made the sketch fluid in a way unusual for “SNL.” B

Scarlett Johansson’s Monologue – Confusing the “baby” in Donna Summer’s cooing disco hit for an infant instead of a lover is a simple joke, and ScarJo’s serviceable execution with this gag was not enough to take it to the next level. Moreover, she does not have the airheaded reputation that would suggest she would make that mistake, nor did this monologue invent one. At least Kenan and Taran were amusing with their disturbed reactions. C

Right Side of the Bed – The first appearance of this sketch, in the Martin Freeman episode, seemed to imply that the husband half of this morning talk show hosting duo was a closeted gay man without ever actually directly acknowledging that. This edition actually brought that element to the fore, via ScarJo’s mint julep-mixing Jersey gal’s observations. This weirdly prompted affection between Taran and Cecily that only bolstered the case for Cory Chism’s heterosexuality, despite his flamboyance. So this sketch provided an interesting bit of dissonance, but its premise was still too thin to deserve the post-monologue slot. B-

Orioles Game – This report on the crowdless Orioles-White Sox game could have commented on how strange it was to play in front of an empty stadium, but it wisely avoided that approach, as the actual game already made that surrealism clear. But the decision to give announcers Jim Palmer and Frank Robinson foot-in-mouth disease was not necessarily the best idea either. While the racial and riot-based puns were amusing, they were possibly too discomforting and also a little strained. More successful were the goofy smaller moments like the hot dog guy smooching a frankfurter on the Kiss Cam. B-

Black Widow: Age of Me – This trailer for a theoretical Black Widow solo movie as a stereotypical rom-com was pointed regarding the film industry’s lingering sexism was pointed, but it was also a little on the nose. Luckily, the humor went further by being unexpectedly weird. There was no good reason to make Ultron the love interest, except for the fact that robot sex jokes are almost always funny. B+

Girlfriends Talk Show – Kyra and Morgan have one of the most inexplicable friendships of any two fictional characters ever. It is not like they are terrible friends so much as it seems so unlikely that they would have ever had a conversation with each other in the first place. Kyra is often casually cruel to Morgan, but she never displays any intention of ditching their companionship. In this discussion of prom on the eighth iteration of their show, there was nothing much new to the formula, but the continuation of that bizarre status quo was fascinating enough on its own. C+

Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth – “See You Again” – The revisionism of “Furious 7” has heightened the emotional weight and gravitas of every other entry in the Fast & Furious series, improving the entire franchise retroactively. This is encapsulated in its theme song, “See You Again,” in which Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth espouse the wonder of keeping the memories of loved ones alive. In their “SNL” rendition, they performed it with as much earnestness as it deserved (i.e., as much as possible). B+

Weekend Update – Michael and Colin were not shy in taking on the Baltimore riots. Their punchlines hit hard, but they were not especially clever. Also, they were too pessimistic (understandably so) to produce copious laughs. Surprisingly enough, Colin shown most brightly in the extended editorial side, with his “gay word problem” displaying more personality than the rest of his tenure behind the desk combined. Che, meanwhile, showed that his strongest suit is when he gets just a little weird, by noting that everyone is already obsessed with the new royal daughter’s weight. Michael and Colin’s Grade: B
Weekend Update: Ruth Bader Ginsburg – RBG is a bit of a cult hero. As a tiny 82-year-old who literally lays down the law, how could she not be? Kate McKinnon has taken that perception and absolutely run with it in her portrayal. Her insults and euphemisms are eternally on point. B+
Weekend Update: Samwell Tarly and Gilly – If you do not watch “Game of Thrones,” you would have been liable to think that Kristen Wiig was making a cameo when this pair were introduced. Instead, this commentary from the apparently only legitimate living couple on GoT was too inside-baseball and too one-note to really hit. C-
Weekend Update: Charles Barkley and Shaq – Kenan and Jay’s Sir Charles and Shaq Fu appearances tend to ramble on and on about nothing in particular, which is a solid formula for random nuggets like Shaq’s pronunciation of “po-ta-toes” and Charles granting Shaq power of attorney. But ultimately they fade away into nothing much worthwhile. Compare to that Kenan’s solo Barkley segments, which – while equally rambling – usually managed to revolve around a consistent topic. C+

Dinosaur Museum (BEST OF THE NIGHT) –Cecily and ScarJo’s characterization as every perfectly reasonable question as “random” was certainly maddening for the other characters, but it was so perfectly nonsensical as to be utterly charming. It was not mean-spirited in any way. In fact, it seemed clear that they meant to be endearing in their mischievousness. Whenever anyone became frustrated, they just declared how much they loved them. It was a very positive sketch that operated by its non-random, but in fact calculated, though certainly strange, logic. That “FourFiveSeconds” ending was certainly random, though. A-

Blazer – This vintage cop show pastiche started off as slick and well-produced but without much of a joke beyond “playing by his own rules” meaning “punching people.” So credit to the pacing that the reveal that Blazer was actually a very selective, very racist puncher played as both surprising and consistent. The further reveals that Blazer and his chief were recording themselves (thus the footage of the sketch) is the sort of form-breaking that “SNL” ought to employ more often. A-

Bionic Flight Attendants – This take on the latest first-class amenity offered by Virgin Airlines covered the typical material on service robots going haywire. It was a bit too underdeveloped, but at least Vanessa Bayer and ScarJo were well-suited to these roles. Meanwhile, Taran employed his Matthew McConaughey voice for his carelessly racist pilot. C+

Wiz Khalifa – “We Dem Boyz” – For his solo number, Wiz put together a very goofy performance for a very goofy song with fun and mostly innocuous lyrics (“We dem boyz/We make noise”). It was far from a major artistic accomplishment, but it was undeniably enjoyable to watch, thanks to Wiz having so much fun. B

Elite Advertising Agency – The last slot of the night ought to be dedicated to sketches that are as boldly experimental as this one was. It usually does go to something weird, but not always something quite so singular. A jingle-writing duo inspired by years of living in the desert is far from a concept connected to anything tangible. But Aidy Bryant was inspired by it, and inspired cast members are essential. B

Notes & Quotes:
-The “knee grows~Negroes” joke about Manny Machado apparently confused the Orioles slugger for African-American when he is in fact Dominican. But perhaps this goof was on purpose, considering that in the cold open, Aidy Bryant spoke Spanish in character as Manny Pacquiao, only to be informed that the boxer is Filipino.
-“During that time, Justin Bieber will be allowed in the ring, and he will do a very condescending dance in your direction.”
-The shot of the two officers on the Kiss Cam in the Orioles sketch quite progressively avoided any unnecessary weirdness over two men kissing.
-“Suck on that reality pop.”
-Justice Ginsburg: “I float like a butterfly, I sting like a bee, I clean myself like a fly.”
-“Let’s just say, people look at us, and winter’s not the only thing that’s coming.”
-Colin: “It was reported that students in a school district in Tennessee were served meat that was six years old, which raises the question: where’s Tyler?” (Audience laughs and gasps in shock) Michael: “Tyler’s not real.”
-“I think I’m gonna like you. I’m gonna sit by you later.”
-“Ooh, you’ve got a little bitch in you.” “I adore that.”
-There was a commercial for David Duchovny’s new show “Aquarius,” which had a color scheme similar enough to a certain racist cop sketch to be mistaken as part of this episode.
-“We accept personal checks and Sacajawea coins only.”