The Best and Worst of Last Night’s ‘SNL’ with Lena Dunham

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One of the most talked-about women on television joins SNL this week. Lena Dunham’s enthusiasm and ingenuity are just what we need to lift us out of the dourness of last week’s catastrophe. Recently, SNL came up against its own controversy concerning the show’s lack of diversity, but will the writers re-enter the ring to comment on the storm of body-shaming and millennial feminist hatred that Dunham continues to face? Will this episode wind up being shades of her Girls character, Hannah Horvath, and nothing more? Find out, below.

The Best

“Obama Ukraine Address Cold Open”

President Obama holds a press conference to discuss the current Russia and Ukraine conflict. He’s struggled to communicate with Putin, so the President asks for a little help from a man who speaks the Russian leader’s language: Liam Neeson. The Taken actor parodies his tough-guy character, former U.S. Central Intelligence Agency operative Bryan Mills, telling Putin about his “very particular set of skills” — and it’s amazing. We then get a hilarious PR video of a burly, topless Obama riding a horse. This cold open is light years more entertaining (and topical!) than last week’s episode in its entirety. We’re off to a great start.

“Lena Dunham Monologue”

Lena Dunham acknowledges that the nudity on Girls is that show’s “thing,” similar to how the puffy shirt on Seinfeld was that series’ “thing.” She also lets us know that because of this, and the show’s graphic sex scenes, strangers tend to overshare about their sex lives. The real Girls controversy, such as the body shaming aimed at the actress, gets sidestepped once the jokes fixate on sex acts — which is a bummer.

“Ooh Child”

A group of people cruising in their car happily sing along to the Five Stairsteps’ “Ooh Child,” but Dunham awkwardly gets cut off every time the GPS interrupts with directions. Her frustrated facial expressions prevent the joke from feeling overplayed and overlong. The punch line, which I don’t want to spoil, is unexpected and makes this pre-recorded segment feel like a cinematic short.

“Scandal”

Dunham helps spoof the political thriller series Scandal and plays the newest gladiator (Olivia Pope’s team of hackers, investigators, and lawyers) at Olivia Pope & Associates, named Kelsey. Her character has a lot of questions about everyone’s superhuman abilities, but she’s full of praise for Team Pope. (It should be noted that Dunham is a real-life diehard for the series.) Biggest takeaway: now that Sasheer Zamata has joined the cast, we can actually enjoy something like a Scandal sketch on SNL, and that feels good.

“Biblical Movie”

If Girls took place in the Garden of Eden, it would look like this. The sketch tackles the Girls/Dunham talking points somewhat better (or perhaps the approach is funnier) than the monologue, including the nudity. We get some decent Adam and Shoshanna impressions, but Dunham’s Hannah-style verbal declarations in this biblical environment make this one a success.

“What Are You Even Doing”

It’s a “Girlfriend’s Talk Show” sketch for the younger crowd. Nasim Pedrad and Dunham are two girls who just hit puberty and want to talk about “flirting your way into a boy’s heart and mouth.” There’s a rare Kyle Mooney spotting, which reminds us that live comedy just doesn’t seem to be his strong suit. He’s a lot funnier in the digital shorts. Then Jon Hamm shows up, and I lost all focus. The cameo is not nearly as funny as Hamm’s greasy sax man Sergio, but it’s nice to see him all the same. P.S. Mad Men returns on April 13, thank goodness.

“Weekend Update: Vladimir Putin’s Best Friends from Growing Up & Matthew McConaughey”

Vladimir Putin’s best friends (hey there, Fred Armisen!) discuss their pal’s generosity and wit, but whisper gossip about the Russian ruler during their interview at the “Weekend Update” desk. We’ve seen these characters before. They were never the funniest of the bunch, so it’s strange that Armisen would make a big return for this. However, all of that is forgotten when Taran Killam’s Matthew McConaughey makes an appearance. I feel like Killam has been doing more impressions than usual in this episode, but clearly he saved the best for now. We get full-on bizarro McConaughey while he’s interviewed by a very wooden Colin Jost. Keep breathing, buddy.

“The Katt Williams Show”

When Brooks Wheelan is in a sketch, it feels like spotting a unicorn in the wild. He plays Jared Leto, a guest on Katt Williams’ talk show that focuses on “crazy white people most black people have never heard of.” Before we know it, he’s whisked away, and Dunham’s spread-eagle Liza Minnelli is there to take his seat. After such a dour episode last week, I just want to keep soaking up all of Dunham’s good energy. Taran Killam squeaks out one more impression, this time Harrison Ford (and his earring). Fans seemed to go nuts for Drake’s impression of Katt when he hosted the show in January, but Jay Pharoah does an excellent job here, too.

The Worst

“What’s Poppin’”

Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah’s characters (the ridiculously named LeGod Williams and Lil’ Taint Anthony) host an MTV2 segment about hip hop. The group performing on the show is composed of a bunch of white neo-hippies. Sadly, the funniest bits were too short — Aidy Bryant’s flautist lamenting the unplugging of her flute amp and Mike O’Brien’s rapper name, “Tim.”

“Jewelry Party”

Marisol (Cecily Strong giving her best Venezuelan accent a workout) is in love with a Men’s Rights activist (played by Mike O’Brien), but doesn’t actually understand what that means. There was some real gold to mine from this, but things fall apart. I desperately want more O’Brien on the show, but these sketches aren’t winning him any points with audiences.

Note: the “Will Smith” sketch would have won a spot as one of the worst of the evening, but due to music copyright the video isn’t online. It’s a Kyle Mooney/Beck Bennett digital short that finds two characters obsessing about email invites to a Will Smith concert. It’s not even passable as fun dad humor. Brooks Wheelan plays their exasperated friend, which means it must be the end times since we’ve seen the actor more than once tonight.