SNL Review November 17, 2018: Steve Carell/Ella Mai

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CREDIT: Will Heath/NBC

This post was originally published on News Cult in November 2018.

Love It

Space Thanksgiving – This sketch is more of an Almost Love It than a full-on Love It, as it starts out with some wonderfully surreal 10-to-1-style wackiness, but then it kind of just ends. It checks off much of the ingredients in the formula for brilliant comedic stupidity. Space setting? Check. Minor but significant pronunciation differences? Check. Hacky special effects? Check. It’s a recipe for me getting invested in discovering whether or not the Earth astronauts will attempt to save the cornels from the kern, and whether or not they really should. But then … they just keep on eating them and Space Thanksgiving continues forward like nothing happened. The weirdness will stick with me, but the lack of follow-through is disappointing.

Keep It

Friendsgiving – Let’s take a moment to acknowledge how this episode has a striking surplus of “sequel in spirit, if not quite in fact” sketches. Here we have the first of the two Thanksgiving dinner bits, along with the aforementioned Space Thanksgiving, which was also the second outer space sketch. And then there are the two notably similar sketches with Steve Carell as a struggling, clueless dad visiting his kids in the middle of the night (we’ll get to them). Anyway, Friendsgiving is of a piece with previous attempts in the history of comedy to compose an honest-to-God Thanksgiving song. It has flashes of excellence as everyone joins in on singing a tune that appears to be made up on the spot. It’s not quite layered or committed enough to reach classic status, but it’s fun while it lasts.

This is overall an underwhelming episode, but it’s mostly filled with “Keep It” sketches that are just amusing enough to keep me paying attention. That quality is perfectly represented by The Ingraham Angle cold opening, which does not have a particularly sharp or consistent point of view, but it does have a few funny lines thrown in (like how Judge Jeanine Pirro is “Pulitzer Prize-eligible”)…Steve Carell’s old Office-mates badger him throughout his Monologue, but it’s the actual audience member (or likely rather a writer playing a real audience member) who makes the biggest impression…Dad Steve Carell tells his kids they’re Going to Disney World, but his capacity for missing all the betrayal happening right under his nose is impressive…The Message from Jeff Bezos gets a decent-sized laugh out of me when it notes that The Art of the Deal is the “only book with four Chapter 11’s”…The RBG Rap isn’t offering a particularly fresh message from SNL or comedy in general, but it’s a message we’re always happy to have around…The NASA Television sketch is ostensibly about disturbingly frozen animals, but I appreciate it more for the dad jokes (“I Apollo-gize”) and a girl called Halley saying that her name is like both the comet and Eminem’s daughter…Michael and Colin have a decent night as usual, but the moment I most remember from this Update is that delayed camera switch at the top…Kenan’s LaVar Ball has certainly given me a memorable image by mentioning a grandma filling a shoe up with spit…The Grease-style ’50s Sleepover kind of feels like a direct sequel to the Going to Disney World sketch, and I kind of wish that Steve Carell and Aidy Bryant were in fact playing the same father-daughter pair as before. As it stands, I enjoy that the joke is more about Dad Steve spending a bizarre amount of time singing to a high school dropout than it is about anything creepy…GP Yass understands drag queen terminology, but it isn’t quite fully imbued with the spirit of drag.

Leave It

Denver Riggleman – So, apparently a Congressman-elect is into Bigfoot erotica  – good for him! But Mikey Day doing an impression of said Bigfoot enthusiast that merely consists of him reading a book  – I’m going to need a little bit more than that. Look, I appreciate the commitment, and the the illustrations are spot-on appropriate (are they the actual pics from Riggleman’s books?). But there’s not much of a comedic hook here besides “just goofing off.”

RV Life is too terrifying to be funny. But Heidi Gardner saying “Did you know that a dog can punch you?” is definitely worth a laugh.

Steve Carell

On a scale of hosts I’m surprised haven’t hosted more often than they have, I still feel that way about Steve Carell, but this episode doesn’t convince me that he needs to come back as soon as possible. He shows up and is perfectly reliable, like the professional comedian that he is, but he doesn’t notch any legendary performances to add to his career highlights. He plays several middle-aged dads, which makes sense for a number of reasons, and he also plays a few spacemen, which is kind of weird.

Ella Mai

On a scale of up-and-comers breaking big on the SNL stage, Ella Mai is somewhere in the middle. She certainly looks poised and has a look down, but her whole live performance isn’t quite blow-you-away level. That’s a high standard, so let me be clear that what I know of her so far is great, I would grade this appearance above-average, and I will happily be following the rest of her career. If her SNL performances haven’t won you over completely, watch the “Boo’d Up” music video and then keep listening to it over and over again. It’s one of the best songs of the year.

Letter Grades:

The Ingraham Angle – B-

Steve Carell’s Monologue – B

Going to Disney World – B-

A Message From Jeff Bezos – B-

Friendsgiving – B

RBG Rap – B-

Ella Mai performs “Boo’d Up” – B

Weekend Update
The Jokes – B-
Denver Riggleman – C
LaVar Ball – B-

’50s Sleepover – B

Ella Mai performs “Trip” – B

RV Life – C

Space Thanksgiving (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B(+)

GP Yass – B-