This week’s Saturday Night Live got off to a clumsy start — with a cold open that used first-time host Kerry Washington‘s appearance to poke fun at the show’s long-standing dearth of black female cast members, and its subsequent inability to mine headline-grabbers like Michelle Obama, Oprah and Beyoncé for laughs.
The good news, however, was that while Washington never really got a chance to sink her comedic teeth into an impression of the First Lady (or the first lady of the struggling OWN network), she still managed to score a few laughs from the meta setup. And the Scandal star continued to utilize her gameness and versatility to help create one of the better SNL installments in recent memory (even if the second half lagged a little).
Below, my picks for Best and Worst Sketches:
BEST: HOW’S HE DOING?
Jay Pharoah and especially Washington showed flawless timing as African-American talk-show guests pledging unwavering support of President Obama. Washington’s burst of laughter after host Kenan Thompson asked if she’d wished she’d voted for Mitt Romney was absolutely priceless — as were her responses to scenarios in which Obama might abandon Christianity for a different religion (“Mazel Tov, Baruch!”). The riff on white people’s mail — “pre-approved credit cards and Pottery Barn catalogs,” fantasized Pharoah’s Ebony magazine writer — was terrific, too.
BEST: ANGELA MERKEL ON “WEEKEND UPDATE”
Kate McKinnon’s impression of the German Chancellor should serve as a template for all of SNL‘s political sketches. By imagining Merkel as a lonely, insecure woman whose true horror about an NSA wiretap was fear that the world would learn of her embarrassing Google searches (“Jason Segel no shirt”) and sad texts used current headlines as a launching pad into something far more fantastical and goofy, rather than the recent SNL norm of being shackled to reality.
HONORABLE MENTION: MISS UNIVERSE 2013
Aidy Bryant’s Miss Greenland fell flat, but McKinnon, Washington and Vanessa Bayer were all pretty spectacular as pageant contestants from Moldova, Uganda and Bolivia. Bayer’s Eastern European loon yelling to her children that it was 2 a.m. in their home country — “go to factory!” — was my favorite zinger, though co-host Nasim Pedrad being intro’d as “someone from the E! network” was hilarious, too.
WORST: BOOKER T. WASHINGTON HIGH SCHOOL CARNIVAL
Unfortunate evidence that Pharoah’s Principal Frye is a character of diminishing returns — and that his catchphrase (“attention teachers and students”) is already threadbare. Washington, though, did make me chuckle as a first-year teacher raging against her students for a dunking-booth experience turned ugly: “You turned your hose on a black lady! Know your history!”
WORST: COLD OPEN
OK, if I’m being entirely honest, Pedrad’s new motivational speaker, Heshy Farahat, was actually less funny. But the fact that SNL dressed Washington as Michelle Obama and Oprah without actually bothering to build a topical, funny sketch around either one of these cultural powerhouses exposes the general laziness and lack of edge among the show’s writing staff.