Saturday Night Live S39 Lena Dunham Recap

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Lena Dunham, the indie darling and writer/creator/director/star of HBO's Girls, hosted Saturday Night Live for the first time this week. Though Dunham is very funny in certain contexts, sketch comedy requires a very different skill set. To her credit, Dunham was game for anything and certainly seemed to be having a good time if a little out of her element. In most of the sketches, she got the usual guest host treatment, which required little more of her than to play straight man to one of the cast members as he or she took center stage.

This might have been the most air time featured player Brooks Wheelan has had all season, even if it was mostly bit parts. It's been good to see Mike O'Brien coming into his own as a performer over the last few weeks, but other cast members -- including Kate McKinnon and Noel Wells -- were barely visible, while others (John Milhiser) were altogether absent. Nice of Fred Armisen to come back for "Weekend Update," though -- just one of the episode's many surprise cameos.

Sketch Highlights
  • "Cold Open: Obama Ukraine Address" After mostly staying away for the last few weeks, SNL returned to the "political/current events" cold open this week with the usual ho-hum results. The big joke here is that Liam Neeson came out to do his tough guy Taken speech, but it wasn't given much of a comedic context -- he just did lines from Taken delivered to Vladimir Putin. There was a short montage video of Obama being awesome at the end that tried to salvage the sketch, but that didn't score any big laughs either. (Watch the "Cold Open: Obama Address" video)

  • "Lena Dunham Monologue" Dunham's monologue saw the host at her most relaxed for the episode, and she proved to be a good sport with the whole "host answers questions from the cast/audience plants" bit that SNL likes to do when not having the host sing during the monologue. It was unfortunate to see the writers reduce Dunham's hit HBO show Girls to being only about sex and nudity in more than one sketch this week, but I guess they have to try and find what's funny. (Watch the full "Lena Dunham Monologue" video)
  • "Ooh Child" The first of three video shorts this week saw Dunham doing a road trip singalong with three of the cast, only to be interrupted by the GPS every time she (and only she) started to sing. It was fine, and I liked the way Dunham was able to start and stop on command (though most of it was probably done in the editing), but then the sketch tried to have a pitch black punchline that didn't sit right. I'm typically a fan of that kind of left-field joke, this one bummed me out. Doesn't make it bad, just reminds us that even shades of comedy are subjective. (Watch the full "Ooh Child" video)
  • "Scandal" I don't watch Scandal, so I wasn't quite the audience for this sketch. It was funny enough (mostly thanks to Dunham's performance) that it could still play for non-fans, as long as you're at least somewhat versed in how ridiculous network dramas are these days. I know from interviews that Dunham is a die-hard fan of the series, so that made the sketch more fun to watch. Plus, Sasheer Zamata got to imitate some of Kerry Washington's crazy mouth acting, which was great (Watch the full "Scandal" video)
  • "What's Poppin'" I know I shouldn't have enjoyed this as much as I did, but everything about the fake rap group struck me funny from their early '90s Digable Planets wardrobe to their musical insistence that "This is an example of great rap." I also love that Mike O'Brien's rap name is "Tim." There was no punchline, of course, but forget it Jake it's SNLtown. (Watch the full "What's Poppin'" video)
  • "Biblical Movie" We all knew going into this episode that SNL would do a Girls parody, but unfortunately this sketch had nothing to say about the show except that Lena Dunham gets naked a lot. Vanessa Bayer's Soshanna impression was a welcome inclusion and SNL is always great at approximating the styles of other shows, but the only joke was the blurred out nudity. (Watch the full "Biblical Movie" video)
  • "What Are You Even Doing" There were things I liked in this sketch, like Nasim Pedrad's goofy awkwardness or the unexplained presence of Jon Hamm doing one of his requisite SNL drop-bys, but this just felt too much like other sketches the show has done in the past (like "Wake Up Wakefield" or the more recent "Girlfriends Talk Show") to really stand out. They're on to something with the way young people talk these days (he said shaking a broom from his porch), but the sketch felt half baked. (Watch the full "What Are You Even Doing" video)
  • "Jewelry Party" Speaking of half baked. There were several good things going on here, from the slow reveal of Mike O'Brien's identity as a "men's rights" activist to the female cast's disgust of his positions to Cecily Strong's very broad characterization, which probably should have been offensive but was so well played that it was funny. The problem was that while I want to give the show credit for not just resting on one idea -- this is the sketch where Cecily does the funny voice! -- it tried to do too many things in a short amount of time. Nothing was as well-served as it should have been. (Watch the full "Jewelry Party" video)
  • "The Katt Williams Show" Is it weird that SNL is doing an entire Katt Williams sketch just weeks after rapper Drake hosted and crushed a Katt Williams impression? Or that it seems like Jay Pharoah is really just doing Drake's impression? This sketch was unique because it called upon Lena Dunham to do a celebrity impression (she played Liza Minelli), which she was less suited to do than the rest of her sketches this week. Taran Killam's Harrison Ford was kind of funny, but the sketch was mostly lacking -- it was yet another talk show and built around a Katt Williams impression that wasn't super funny. And only bringing out Noel Wells (in what might have been her only appearance this episode?) to do her solid Lena Dunham impression at the end of the sketch was a missed opportunity -- she should have at least shared the stage with the host. I like seeing Jay Pharaoh carry his own sketch, but this was disappointing. (Watch the full "Katt Williams Show" video)

Original Air Date: 3/8/14

Host: Lena Dunham

Musical Guest: The National
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