SNL: The Weeknd, Amy Schumer, Kate McKinnon (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in October 2015.

“Saturday Night Live” in 2015 continues its search for an identity, as the second episode of Season 41 is the latest in a long line of recent outings with almost no recurring segments. This state of affairs would seem to allow someone with such a well-developed comedic style like Amy Schumer to come in and bend the episode to her will. But it does not always work out that way. Besides, while Amy has an identifiable voice, she does not have much in the way of recurring characters, generally preferring to play variations of herself. She gets to do to that to a certain extent in her “SNL” hosting debut, but “SNL” is still “SNL,” so everyone has to play characters, for better or for worse.

Fox and Friends – This “political” gabfest is one of “SNL’s” few current reliable go-to opening sketches. This edition does not say anything too unique about Jason Chaffetz’ bid for Speaker of the House or Congress’ attempts to defund Planned Parenthood. But it does not have to when Bobby Moynihan’s Brian Kilmeade is delivering plenty of malapropisms, like wondering why they don’t let every House member speak or identifying Newt Gingrich as “the man who stole Christmas.” His interpretation of the Pizza Rat footage as the purported Planned Parenthood video is one for the ages. B

Amy Schumer’s Monologue – Amy’s takes on women in Hollywood, bathing her baby niece, and interactions with Bradley Cooper typify her relatable style in which she casually razzes on herself. It is a weird trick in which she displays confidence by detailing all the confidence she lacks. Obviously she is doing something right if Rocket Raccoon wants her company, but Impostor Syndrome is real, y’all. No matter how awesome someone is, they can still be reduced to hilariously unintelligible piles of mush. B

Delta Flight – It is hard to sustain the energy in a sketch that goes big right away. It helps if the crazy moment is unexpected and if the aftermath does not follow a typical script. A flight attendant slipping out the emergency exit is quite the boom, and if she survives the ordeal, all bets are off for how her reaction will go. Screaming, “I swallowed so much air!” and attempting to continue the Spice Girls parody can be cathartic in that context. The other attendant slipping out the door as well is an obvious build, but not so obvious is her eschewing chastising the first attendant for closing the door on her and instead posing the query, “Was I out there for a full year?!” B+

Hot for Teacher 8 (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – This parody of a prototypical porn scene is a prime example of a sketch successfully withholding information until the right moment. The fact that Aidy Bryant’s actual student character is not met with a response from the team behind the camera questions the nature of this situation’s reality. Is someone who is not supposed to be on the shoot interrupting the porn actors, or is an interrupting character part of the porn scene? The former lacks the expected response, while the latter is way too grody to be real. The ultimate reveals – even though they explain everything – do not quite make sense, but at least there are plenty of great puns (oral exam, getting a 68 up to a 69, FU Rams) along the way. B+

Guns – The first of several gun-related bits of the night is this commercial in the style of those “reminding you what’s really important in life” ads. “SNL’s” history with firearm-related humor dates back to its very first episode, but this is perhaps the weariest it has ever been. That first sketch – “Show Us Your Guns” – was matter-of-fact, and cheeky; this edition is matter-of-fact, and in-your-face. B

The Weeknd ft. Nicki Minaj – “The Hills” – As he demonstrated with his featured appearance during Ariana Grande’s “SNL” gig last season, The Weeknd does well when he has someone to play off of (and stage-flirt with). So Nicki Minaj’s surprise cameo adds a notable wrinkle, but the supremely introspective “The Hills” might work better as a strictly solo performance. But there is no reason to complain about The Weeknd making sure to include the Amharic outro. B

Weekend Update – The gun discussion continues with Colin and Michael, who interestingly enough do not make their position on the issue particularly obvious. It helps that they keep it (as) light (as they can), which keeps the focus on the comedy while still conveying the message that some change needs to happen. Also, the racial back-and-forth the two have established continues, with Colin protesting, “It’s not supposed to cut to me after that” in response to Che’s take on slave ownership and guns. Elsewhere, “The Weeknd Update” is admirably gonzo but does not amount to much. Michael and Colin’s Grade: B
Weekend Update: Solomon the Travel Correspondent – Jay Pharaoh debuts the well thought-out Solomon, the completely unreliable and compulsively dishonest travel reporter. His story falls apart like a house of cards, even the parts that seem necessary for him to even exist. B
Weekend Update: Mrs. Freda Santini – Kate McKinnon returns as Colin’s feisty neighbor, who is clever with her insults, but lacks the killer instinct to make her a truly unique McKinnon character. The details of her life are occasionally whimsically bizarre (her job is teaching, that is, she teaches a monkey how to steal), but her approach is a bit too blunt to have a truly meaningful impact. C+

Lincoln Assassination Reenactment – Even though it happened 150 years ago, it still feels like it is in bad taste to draw humor from the assassination of the 16th president. That insensitivity is not the problem with this sketch, though. It is a simple problem, really, one that plagues a lot of sketch comedy: it is too repetitive. The compulsion to improvise from the actress playing Mary Todd is kind of funny the first time it happens, and Amy Schumer is the right person to insist that John Wilkes Booth wants to bone her, but it does not really get any more funny each time she repeats it. C

Hands-Free Selfie Stick – The breeziness of this promo for the latest technological fix makes all of its gross implications more palatable. This is unabashedly scatological, but successfully so. Clenching your butt to take a picture may take some getting used to, but with a can-do attitude like Aidy Bryant’s or a winning smile like Amy Schumer’s, it sure looks worth it. Bonus points for the selfies with the nuns and the tourists wearing medical masks. B

Bakersfield Citizen Forum – From time to time, “SNL” falls back on this type of sketch, in which an assortment of weirdos has their say at some public event. It is the barest of concepts, but just enough to justify the randomness. The burden of the success falls on the individual characters, especially in this case, as Bakersfield’s city council does not appear to have much in the way of personality. Ultimately, this edition is just a series of citizens in search of a scene. They are all rather half-formed, hardly significant enough to support their own sketches, while together they could get away with their shortcomings if only there were at least one standout. C

The Weeknd – “Can’t Feel My Face” – Abel Tesfaye gets his dance moves on display for the most popular song of his career thus far. A lot of artists have gotten into the habit of incorporating elements from their music videos into their live acts. With The Weeknd, that strategy means transferring nothing more than what his legs do, which is kind of refreshing. (Admittedly it would have been difficult to set himself on fire.) B+

Baby Shower – Amy Schumer’s instinct to go as big as possible in her overreaction to a missing purse is sensible, but it has the unfortunate side effect of repeating the premise of the sketch over and over. The real attraction here is Cecily Strong, who never backs down from an opportunity to get deep into her characters. If her hysterical litany of all the items in her purpose does not bring a tear to your eye, then you need to check your empathy. B-

Notes & Quotes:
-Highlights from Fox and Friends’ corrections: “There is no emoji for ‘illegal immigrant.’” “Sneezing is not an effective form of birth control.” “The Black Market is not where African-Americans buy their produce.” “Charles Schulz didn’t die from a Peanuts allergy.” “King Cobras are not elected.”
-Che reports on a malpractice suit against Ben Carson from a patient who claims the doctor left a sponge in his brain, which sounds bad, but Che asks, “Can we really trust the word of a guy that has a sponge in his brain?”
-“In an effort to draw attention to Breast Cancer Awareness Month in Minnesota, more than 10,000 bras were hooked together and hung from a crane, while I do not want to know how Minnesota celebrates Black History Month.”
-“A new report says the best place in the world for retirees is Switzerland, while the worst place for retirees is still at the top of a staircase.”
-The baby shower sketch opens with this bizarre exchange: “How far along are you, Theresa? You look like you’re about to pop.” “We think 2 months, we haven’t been keeping count.” “What?” “We don’t really know how it works, and we don’t believe in doctors. We’re just kinda winging it.”