James Franco/Nicki Minaj - SNL Review

Saturday Night Live
“James Franco/Nicki Minaj”
Season 40, Episode 8

Chad White, Rating: Three for the Price of Two

Cold Open: Kenan Thompson’s Al Sharpton returns with “Politics Nation.” Of course, the topic of conversation was the recent shootings. Jay Pharaoh joined in as a civil rights lawyer as did Bobby Moynihan as a Staten Island Police Spokesperson. This was the funnier of the cold opens (and possibly of the sketches tonight) with Thompson’s Sharpton continuing to be on point.

Monologue: As I write this insanely late review, The Interview is on Google Play, iTunes and other VOD services. All of the fuss behind the “scandal” of the movie has turned to be false if not unwarranted. Released to the common middling reviews common to Seth Rogen and James Franco’s careers, the film didn’t really seem to live up to the hype the recent Sony “hacks” created. And, of course, that became the theme of the monologue. A Rogen cameo introduced the idea of showing lewd photos of themselves before the hackers got to them. The ending of the monologue came to a bit of a surprise. Franco said that those creepy Instagrams from earlier this year were “hacks” themselves. Gross.

Front Nine: A timely “Peter Pan Live” spoof was the leading sketch. It’s not often the show begins with a live sketch but it’s a welcome addition. Cecily Strong played Peter Pan to keep with the female-playing-male centric jokes. Kyle Mooney, Beck Bennet and Kate McKinnon did their best as the kids. And the star of the sketch was Aidy Bryant’s Tonkerbell (half-sister to Tinkerbell; also half fly). Franco played Walken’s Hook with Kenan and Taran Killam as his henchmen. Bryant’s fly fairy was interesting as she was CGIed in like her live counterpart. Most, if not all, of the jokes were given to her crude character. It was rough but they got through the difficult sketch.

Then there was a Star Wars trailer spoof. Killam was Han Solo, Pharao was that new Storm Trooper, Moynihan was Lea, Franco was Obi Wan, and Thompson was Lando. This played out more like a series of sequences that were stitched together with no real story. It looked well done and direction was good. They worked from source material using jokes about the old actors, race and marriage.

An MTV reality/game show spoof called “Jingle Ballerz” followed hosted by Pete Davidson. It was a Christmas special with all of the famous teen idol stars including Rihanna (Sasheer Zamata); the Three Wise Men in the form of Eminem, Rif Raf, and Rick Ross (Killam, Franco and Kenan); Justin Bieber’s Joseph (Kate McKinnon); Beyonce’s  Mary Magdalen (Nicki Minaj); and Kanye’s Jesus Christ (Pharaoh). Using most of the cast here was essential and everything worked. Pharaoh’s Kanye is always a delight to see. Thompson’s Rick Ross hit right on the head. Even Minaj’s Beyonce was good, you know, for her. As an early Christmas sketch, this one did fairly well.

A Mike O’ Brien pretaped sketch called “Grow A Guy” came next starring Vanessa Bayer, Bennett, Zamata and Davidson. O’ Brien is in a hurry to find a friend when Bennett questions the situation. So he proceeds to do what the title says: he grows a guy. Franco fills in for the man baby that O’Brien has to teach how to do common man things. The ending is weirder than the sketch will let on.

To end out the first half of the episode, a sketch about a “Troll Bridge” warped the audience’s minds. Couple Mooney and Bryant were trying to cross a swamp when the troll (Franco) wouldn’t let them pass. Strong played his friend Kathy Ann, who was having trouble with her money so she moved in with him. It’s an Odd Couple moment but the two played off each other nicely. Strong was funny in her role and ushered the sketch along at a nice clip.

Weekend Update: Jokes about Staten Island and Eric Gardner came about. They were considered pleas more than they were jokes. Moynihan’s Anthony Crispino stopped by as did Relationship Expert Leslie Jones. This was one of the funnier Weekend Updates. Oh and there was an awkward goodbye between Nicki Minaj (who did a good Kim Kardashian) and Colin Jost.

Back Nine: A small town elects a child mayor. Franco plays the man that lost to the kid. There are Frozen jokes. It was so funny. Seriously, it’s one of the better sketches of the past few episodes. And it was super short.

Finally, the Former Porn Stars returned with Franco as “Captain Jack Swallow” and Rogen as “James Franco.” It’s a classic sketch with a nautical theme. How do these girls even keep getting these jobs?