The Best and Worst of Last Night’s ‘SNL’ with James Franco

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It’s been about five years since James Franco hosted SNL — and a few long months since we saw him in one of the show’s best sketches, “Monster Pals.” He shared the stage last night with a performer who easily stole the spotlight, Nicki Minaj. We’re ready to sign the petition that gets her back as host after a fun appearance in several sketches throughout the evening. Franco’s acting prowess and ability to swing from serious to dick and fart humor makes him perfect for the show (we hope he finds a happy place somewhere in the middle, though). The former Freaks and Geeks star just completed filming that SNL documentary, which we were lukewarm about — but we all know he’s a better actor than filmmaker, probably. See how he made out last night, below.

The Best

“Politics Nation Cold Open”

Kenan Thompson’s malaprop-prone Al Sharpton digs into a discussion on police brutality. Thankfully SNL didn’t ignore the atrocities of the past few weeks.

“James Franco Monologue”

Where James Franco wanders, buddy Seth Rogen is sure to follow. The boys tackle the Sony leaks and show us some of their embarrassing cell phone photos. Franco also references his sleazy convo with a teenager on Instagram — which apparently the world has forgiven him for and no longer needs to be discussed.

“Peter Pan Live!”

This marks the return of Aidy Bryant’s sassy Tonkerbell — Tinkerbell’s half sister who is “half fly and half fairy.” Love me some Lil’ Baby Aidy, but the routine becomes a little grating. Franco’s Christopher Walken impression is pretty great.

“Star Wars Teaser”

Depressing and full of cheap laughs. Kenan Thompson’s wimpy Lando Calrissian made me laugh more than should be allowed. Place your bets on how many sketches we’ll get about Star Wars leading up to the new film’s release in 2015.

“Jingle Ballerz Special”

Welcome to the hip hop nativity, featuring Rihanna (I’m feeling a serious lack of Sasheer Zamata in this episode), Eminem, Kanye, Justin Bieber, and a host other fun impressions. Nicki Minaj joins the crew — and she’s great. Thankfully it was just a warm up, leading to several other A+ appearances during the evening.

“Weekend Update”

It looks like the writers chose to wait for the “Weekend Update” segment to really get into the Garner trial and police brutality problem in a serious manner — and thank you for that. We jump away from the discussion immediately to Bobby Moynihan’s Anthony Crispino to soften things up again. Relationship expert and new cast member favorite Leslie Jones discusses pot and online dating — but mushrooms are bad (she talked to Harriet Tubman for two hours while tripping). Jones is the only time that talking head Colin Jost seems to spring to life, so maybe we need to get those two together more often. Minaj is back as Kim Kardashian, talking about the misunderstanding behind her Paper Magazine photo shoot. She’s totally charming, and it’s great to see more of her personality on display.

https://dailymotion.com/video/x2byvzg

“Jeremy’s Brain”

This little gem appeared out of left field, giving us more Minaj (I think she’s making a strong case that she deserves a hosting spot in the future, because her comedic timing is natural and on point), Savage Garden and ‘N Sync references, and random quotes from movies. I did not expect to like this one so much, so hurray for small surprises.

The Worst

“Grow-A-Guy”

I am a huge Mike O’Brien fan, so I was sad to learn he wouldn’t be with the cast this season — though he remains a writer on the series. His short films are usually fantastic (see: the unexpected beauty and pathos in “Monster Pals”), but “Grow-A-Guy” wanders aimlessly and takes far too long to get to the point. It has that dose of O’Brien melancholy that normally elevates the sketch into quiet philosophical territory, but this one doesn’t quite cut it.

“Magic Bridge”

Apart from the Kyle Mooney and Franco kiss, no thanks. I spent most of the time wondering if I liked CunThursday better than C U Next Tuesday.

“Kid Mayor”

I don’t know, but there’s a lot of Franco screaming.

“Porn Stars with James Franco and Seth Rogen”

Can we dump this one for good, please? What used to be fun, bizarre, and hilariously dirty has crossed a delicate line. It’s not that the jokes are outright filthy now, it’s that the finesse is gone and the sketches feel like a bunch of kids saying bad words for the first time.

Musical Guest: Nicki Minaj

There are no performance clips available yet. I’ll update if they post online.