SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Aziz Ansari" Episode 1716 -- Pictured: Aziz Ansari as Dave during the "Five Stars" sketch on January 21st, 2017 -- (Photo by: Caroline De Quesada/NBC)

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE — “Aziz Ansari” Episode 1716 — Pictured: Aziz Ansari as Dave during the “Five Stars” sketch on January 21st, 2017 — (Photo by: Caroline De Quesada/NBC)

This review was originally posted on News Cult in January 2017.

Love It

Peppy Ronnie’s Pizza Party – This scene about a late-night arrest at a Chuck E. Cheese-style pizzeria is similar to last season’s “Space Pants,” insofar as a kitschy performance threatens to derail a criminal situation. This does not quite reach the stellar heights of Jonathan Comets, as the Peppy Ronnie’s crew is a lower-stakes distraction. But animatronic bands are hilarious enough on their own, and reactions from Kenan Thompson provide just the right sort of flavoring.

Aziz Ansari is a seasoned stand-up, which pretty much always guarantees a solid Monologue; I appreciate his advocacy for news reports of brown people eating nachos and changing scary-sounding Islam music to something Benny Hill-style… Bobby Moynihan’s Ganz, of Broderick & Ganz, is a kidney-less personal injury lawyer whose incompetence knows no bounds or predictability…The police Interrogation of a man who only kind of liked La La Land wins special recognition for clever comic exaggeration…Michael and Colin are on fire, post-Inauguration…Leslie Jones is more on topic than usual (despite Che’s hilarious “that was about Hidden Figures?” comment) as she examines where else African-American accomplishments are hidden and points out that the Predator is from space…Five Stars is an understated take on five-star culture, perhaps a response to a hysterical (though pointed) Black Mirror episode.

Keep It
Beat the Bookworm – A genius whose job it is to be more knowledgeable than every contestant of a particular game show should really brush up on his pop culture. Literature is not the only medium through which insight can be gleaned. It is 2017, after all, thus Aziz Ansari’s bookworm should know what’s what. Of course, that is the joke, so that logic problem is not necessarily also a comedic problem, but it can be an issue when that joke is explained too obviously at the start of the sketch. However, that does not ruin the hilarity of guesses like “too legit to jive,” “don’t go chasing nugs,” and “Michael Jackson, King of the Jews.”

SNL’s own Olya Povlatsky joins Vlad Puty in A Paid Message from the Russian Federation; she gets her fish pension, we get our broad lunacy…Jake Rocheck’s report from the Friend Zone is as reductive as that concept often is, but the details are colorful…Melissa Villasenor shines with her Owen Wilson and Wanda Sykes impressions as she and Aziz Ansari struggle with absurd, often alarming dirty talk during their scheduled Sunday Sex.

Leave It

To Sir with Love – It is times like these when I want to make clear that the segments I label “Leave It” are not necessarily bad or completely without merit. Rather, there is something fundamentally off or miscalculated that perhaps could have been corrected. Cecily Strong and Sasheer Zamata’s performance of the theme song from the 1959 Sidney Poitier/Lulu film as tribute to Obama is at first not comedic at all. Such total earnestness is odd when directed towards an outgoing president, even when it is as understandable in this case. The song concludes with a gift presentation, which brings up some awkwardness, and I wish there had been more of that. So, this wasn’t exactly bad, I just wish it had more room to make an impression.

Kellyanne Conway turns into Roxie Hart, and the idea that she did it all for the fame is well and good, but the actual performance is kind of bland.

Aziz Ansari
Aziz Ansari’s specialties are conversational stand-up and whiny supporting characters. In this episode, he gets to play both, as well as he we expect him to. Apparently he is also great as an animatronic rock star – who knew? He kind of fades into the background a bit, but not in the way that hurts the show. That is an underrated quality in a host, but a valuable one nonetheless.

Big Sean
In his first number, “Bounce Back,” the erstwhile Sean Michael Leonard Anderson talks about taking “an L” the night before. In a New York state of mind, it sounds like he is talking about a subway ride, but as a Michigander, that L probably refers to “loss.” Either way, it is an endearing lyric. Big Sean strikes me as the sort of rapper whose rhymes are decent but who needs a really killer beat to take it to the next level, and those beats for his two songs here are not particularly special. Perhaps those more deeply steeped in hip-hip might be able to appreciate something that I am missing, so I will defer to them, but for now I must be honest about the lack that I notice.

Letter Grades:
A Paid Message from the Russian Federation – B
Aziz Ansari’s Monologue (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B+
Beat the Bookworm – B
Interrogation – B+
Conway – C+
Broderick & Ganz – B+
Big Sean performs “Bounce Back” – B-

Weekend Update
The Jokes – B+
Leslie Jones – B+
Jake Rocheck, Live from the Friend Zone – B-

Sunday Sex – B
Five Stars – B+
Peppy Ronnie’s Pizza Town – B+
Big Sean performs “Sunday Morning Jetpack” – B-