While last week’s Felicity Jones episode was a shining example of what SNL looks like at its most mediocre, this week’s Aziz Ansari episode offers a great illustration of how well the show can work when all the right elements come together.
For instance, this was a huge week in politics, and rather than shy away from it, they folded it into the show with a too-rare boldness. Now that Trump’s president, they eschewed their normal Alec Baldwin Twitter joke field goals, and went straight to a monologue from Vladimir Putin, new ruler of America. While the show’s lack of Baldwin’s Trump could be as simple as a scheduling issue, it also packed a feeling of “Well, the fun’s over. This guy’s in charge now.”
But politics felt harder during other parts of the show as well. While not all that funny, Kate McKinnon’s big prerecorded Kellyanne Conway song had a little teeth to it, as did Weekend Update (yet still in its increasingly weird way - I’m looking at you, Friend Zone bit).
And then there was Aziz Ansari’s monologue, which was almost totally political. Unlike Dave Chappele’s post election monologue, Ansari’s approach felt far more joke-based and lacked an overall morose tone, yet in that humor, still managed to address our fear, anxiety and anger. This strikes me as a fruitful way to bring these questions into the living rooms of non-deplorable who, for whatever reason, nevertheless voted for Trump.
Ansari was great beyond just his monologue though, bringing confidence to all his sketches and good chemistry with the rest of the cast. A lot of these were run of the mill ideas simply made better with performance. “Beat the Bookworm”, the dirty talk sketch and the lawyer commercial are all pretty typical SNL constructions that could have failed miserably with a different host.
And while the filler sketches were great, of course the standouts were even better. As someone who also only liked La La Land (and Westworld for that matter) I loved the interrogation sketch. The awkward melancholy of short “Five Stars” totally won me over with its instantly deflating conclusion and, on the sillier side, I adored the absurd “Pizza Town” sketch, which struck me as a kind of unofficial sequel to Peter Dinklage’s amazing “Space Pants”.
This was a solid episode from beginning to end, a rare thing to say about Saturday Night Live. They may have returned from vacation a little rusty, but in the span of a week, they shook that all off and really killed it.