Taraji P. Henson Hosts SNL: Watch Video of the Best and Worst Sketches!

Our 25-day national nightmare is over.

Almost four weeks after the end of Empire‘s Season 1 finale, Taraji P. Henson (AKA She Who Absolutely Must Be Nominated for an Emmy in 2015) returned to the small screen to host a decidedly above-average episode of Saturday Night Live.

Yeah, a few skits didn’t quite live up to their promising concepts — I really wanted that Game of Thrones parody to be great… but the jokes played fairly obviously, and it didn’t give Henson much to do. Still, Cookie Lyon’s portrayer performed with robust energy and a decided lack of self-consciousness that elevated the material she was given.

Below, my picks for best and worst sketches:

BEST: CECILIA GIMENEZ ON WEEKEND UPDATE
Kate McKinnon (the night’s hardest-working cast member) brought back her Ecce Homo “painter” to weigh in on the controversial/hideous Lucille Ball sculpture in Celoron, N.Y. McKinnon’s Gimenez described with glee and admiration the statue’s “Paulie Walnuts” sideburns, serial-killer face and disturbing mouth (which says “I kill you! I kill you in your sleep!”) — and scored the night’s biggest laughs in the process.

BEST: HOME 2 TRAILER
Admittedly, SNL has had stronger movie-trailer parodies than this imagining of the animated hit filming a sequel with even greater hip-hop cred. But Henson’s take on Nicki Minaj proved brutally, beautifully accurate, and the last-second inclusion of crazy-creepy Die Antwoord provided a rare recent instance of the show risking going over some viewers’ heads in the glorious name of comedic specificity.

BEST: COOKIE LYON ON SESAME STREET
You had to figure SNL would play with a variation or two on Henson’s super-popular TV character’s name — but an Elmo fur coat and the recycling of the line “You need to stop rappin’ like you from the streets, ’cause you not about that life!” to Mr. Snuffleupagus were pretty genius. As for Cookie vs. Cookie Monster, the blue furry one never stood a chance, did he?

HONORABLE MENTION: HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON CAMPAIGN ANNOUNCEMENT
SNL‘s cold opens have been consistently woeful all season, so kudos to Kate McKinnon for opening the show with her unflinchingly ambitious, tight-jawed former Secretary of State attempting to film a social-media announcement of her intent to run for President. “Citizens!” she sternly declared, “you will elect me! I will be your leader!” Darrell Hammond returned unexpectedly as possible “First Dude” Bill Clinton, and from his “Did someone say ‘women everywhere’?” to his relief that ’90s telephones didn’t record video, he doubled the number of laughs in the segment.

WORST: OPENING MONOLOGUE
Henson fully committed to a Gospel jam about having “made it” in Hollywood (or, maybe more specifically, about finally being recognized by white people). Alas, though, the punch lines here were as leaden as an x-ray apron and left me wondering why the show so regularly foists musical numbers on its guest hosts when said efforts are so rarely memorable or LOL-worthy.

WORST: HLN TRIAL REPORT
Henson was left utterly adrift — without a single decent one-liner to which she could cling — in a sketch that found her as a prosecutor questioning a high-schooler (Pete Davidson) who sounded positively thrilled by his experience with statutory rape by a teacher twice his age. Not only was the writing on this one utterly lazy, but I wonder if Lorne Michaels & Co. would’ve ever, ever, ever tried to wring laughs out of a similar setup with a female victim and an older male educator. Nope, nothing about this sketch was clever enough to replace the adjective “deplorable” as the main way to describe it.

Your turn. What did you think of Taraji P. Henson’s SNL hosting gig? Take out poll below, then sound off in the comments!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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30 Comments
  1. powerturtle90sdudemon says:

    I thought it was pretty symbolic when Cookie/Taraji skinned Elmo before getting star billing on Sesame Street considering Elmo’s Ensemble Darkhorse status. But seriously, it’s Taraji P. HENSON. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for Taraji to go EVEN FURTHER and wiggle her way to the top of the Jim Henson Company?

  2. Steven says:

    The Sesame Street sketch was obviously the best. Kate McKinnon’s Hillary is starting to rival Amy Poehler’s. But otherwise I was left disappointed in this episode. I’ve been a fan of Taraji for years and so wanted to like this episode, but every sketch felt like one bomb after another.

  3. Cher says:

    The writing for SNL is still terrible and has been for over a decade. They parade huge and amazingly talented stars on that show to leave them empty handed. I read the same type of tweets about the Rock and Keaton shows. They can’t even seem to make their own vets look good. I felt sorry for Curtain and Crystal failed to shine with their scripts. Too bad Henson isn’t more like Cookie and didn’t demand better scripts. But then she quickly would have been labeled a demanding Diva by the same press. She saved every skit, beginning with her awesome singing voice. But again this set up was always in place, those threatened by her record breaking success were waiting to pounce and pretend that White SNL never fails any of it’s guests. And when was they last time we have had such critical focus or reviews of an SNL episode? I hope she outs the motives behind this nonsense in her upcoming book!

  4. TV Gord says:

    I liked the cold open. It was great to see now-announcer Hammond back as Bill Clinton and Kate was very good exploiting the stereotypes about Hillary.

    I didn’t mind the opening monologue/musical number. The lyrics were pretty clever. Yes, the musical numbers don’t often work, but they sometimes do. And really, we did need an excuse to hear Taraji’s voice!

    I disagree about the HLN trial. The whole point was that there IS a double standard about boys who are victimized by statutory rape, compared to girls. Of course, the show wouldn’t switch it up, because the dynamic and public attitudes are completely different when it comes to adult men stat-raping girls. Boys who are stat-raped by women often have emotional problems, too, but you can’t escape the fact that those are sometimes mitigated by the high-fives the “victims” get from men and boys who don’t get it. It’s good fodder for the type of edgy comedy that has been sorely lacking on this show for far too long.

    The Home 2 trailer was okay, but I thought the Jim Parsons impersonation was a little too insulting. I really like Taran, but if he could do a better actual impression of Parsons, he wouldn’t need to fall back on too much of the gay stereotype.

    They went to the Cookie-type trough too often, but I can’t help but enjoy seeing Taraji cut loose after watching her being so reserved on Person of Interest for many years. The Sesame Street bit was well done and funny, and she totally saved the sub-par Connectatron.

    Billy Crystal was painful as the father of Jacob The Bar Mitzvah Boy (a character I always enjoyed!) on Weekend Update. Have some dignity, Billy. He was part of one of the best years of SNL (certainly the best of the non-Lorne years), but his timing is not what it used to be and he seems to have taken too many overacting lessons from his buddy, Rob Reiner. As a one-time big-fan, I wish he would just fade away gracefully (stick to talk shows…he’s still fairly funny there).

    I thought the Hollywood Game Night parody was funny and had some great lines. I actually laughed aloud once or twice (as jaded as I am).

    This is an above average episode overall. I hope Taraji makes it to the five-timers club (and beyond). Her comic timing is amazing (as we’ve seen on Empire).

    Weekend Update is improving. It’s still not completely there, but there are glimmers of hope. Right now, I just hope Colin and Michael can finish the season with some funny stuff under their belt…before being replaced at the desk next season.

    • Cyndi says:

      “Billy Crystal was painful as Jacob’s father” I thought that was the point. Jacob is awkward and sometimes painful to watch. I felt that Billy did a good impression of Vanessa Bayer’s Jacob. He got his sense of humor from his father. I enjoyed the bit.

      Hollywood Game Night was funny. It’s such a goofy show and the sketch did it justice. Loved Taraji’s Wanda Sykes. .

  5. Ray says:

    I like Taraji as a dramatic actress but I don’t think she has a future in comedy.very weak episode.

  6. B.P. says:

    The only redeeming quality of this episode was that there wasn’t a Kyle Mooney skit.

  7. Kevin says:

    These writers may be the worst in the history of TV let alone SNL. We all like to say SNL isn’t what it used to be, I’ve seen it in various forms of print since the early 80s, but holy cow it truly is awful this year!!!

  8. Dj says:

    I kind of saw The HLN TRIAL REPORT as them making fun of the huge double standard when it comes to things like that they just weren’t clever about it.

  9. Mr. Tran K says:

    I give the Taraji P. Henson episode of SNL a B. This was her first time hosting but wasn’t as good than Michael Keaton was last week and/or Dwayne Johnson the week before and she really gave it her best in some of the sketches that were great not to mention Cookie Monster from Sesame Street while others weren’t. We would’ve want to see a parody of Game of Thrones but who knows what the show would do next. Can’t wait until May 2nd when SNL returns with Scarlett Johansson back for her fourth time hosting the same number of times Dwayne Johnson was. Wish they should have booked James Spader as host because he plays Ultron in The Avengers sequel.

  10. AWESOME - Really? says:

    As of this entry the poll majority has an A rating (AWESOME) in the lead at 30%. I understand that comedy is subjective but if this ep is graded AWESOME by a majority of viewers, maybe it’s okay that it’s bad now.

    Yet ANOTHER opening monologue song? Lorne must be having a goofy bet with good friends Steve Martin, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon and Mick Jagger to see if they can go a whole season with one in every (or damn near every one it seems) episode.

    Every ep now feels like it’s written by high school boys.

    Remember when update jokes were kind of clever and smart? Now they’re just dumb jokes. (Imagine Seth Meyers reading ANY of the current batch? Or Tina Fey?

    Please bring in some writers over 25, SNL. If they’re all over 25 already, bring in some from somewhere else.

    It’s starting to get embarrassing.

  11. AnnieM says:

    Surprised that no one has mentioned how funny Taraji was as Wanda Sykes. :-D Agred on the GOT parody – should have been more to it, maybe a few extra GOT cast members. Also, while the QVC sketch was bleah (though accurate, I guess), was Kate MacKinnon supposed to be a sort of Judy Garland? I kind of got that impression.

    • dan says:

      The QVC sketch made no sense. It wasn’t funny either as a QVC parody or as a character-based sketch. The HLN trial skit was bland except for the one long line from Pete Davidson’s character about his nicknames. There were a few sketches in the last half hour of the show that were stronger (funnier) and should’ve been placed before Update including Game Night and Janelle’s Dance Party.

    • Kate was doing a semi-Judy Garland but not fully. The look and the mannerisms and tics, but not the voice.

  12. Melanie says:

    And now I’m going to google Die Antwoord.

  13. Steve says:

    After watching each show so far the writing is clearly the issue. Regardless of the host’s energy (Henson and The Rock) the material is not there. Weekend Update has gotten slightly better but Jost is still stiff while Che has improved. Any coincidence that Jost struggles as well as the show writing??? The cold opening was spot on and I like the Hammond cameo. The HLN skit was funny because yes like it or not there is a double standard and no one would find it funny if it were a teenage girl instead.

    Hopefully Lorne makes a writing change and replaces Jost in both spots next year.

  14. Dude says:

    Honestly, I kind of liked the HNL one but Taraji was utterly wasted.

  15. JK says:

    I don’t know what has changed with the writing staff, but these past 2 episodes were edgier than the show has been in years. I hope it gets better and better.

  16. Randi Neil says:

    TPH was head & shoulders above the material she was given. Only the Sesame Street sketch was worthy of her, and since the conceit was a no-brainer the bit practically wrote itself. Her Wanda Sykes was terrific, but the lines she was given to utter as Wanda were lame. Still, Ms. H made a formidable impression, and it is thrilling to watch a great talent come into her own.

  17. cyclone says:

    No, the WORST was the Mighty Morphin’ Power Ranger parody sketch at the end. By that time, Taraji was probably so tired cause she was flubbing her lines left and right, which is saying something considering she was sitting straight ahead and could read right off the cue cards. At least the “hot for teacher” sketch has some funny lines (all those nicknames at school) which I’m surprised considering Pete Davidson has no talent or comedic delivery.

  18. KC says:

    Terrible.

  19. OBXconsumer says:

    I really liked Empire and really enjoyed Taraji’s awesome performance in Empire, but alas, I am white so I suppose I am not welcome to enjoy the show.

  20. Samantha says:

    I think that she is great actress and hope she do more