Kerry Washington is the leader of a ring of gladiators on Scandal and she proved to be something of a gladiator herself during her Saturday Night Live hosting stint this past weekend, appearing in a whopping eight skits that called for almost as many wardrobe changes as she typically goes through on an episode her hit ABC series. So it's only appropriate that we're judging Washington's sketches like the emperors of Rome passed life-and-death judgment on their gladiators: with a simple Thumps Up or Thumbs Down.
Thumbs Up: "Cold Open"
The SNL writers seized the opportunity awarded by the too-rare appearance of a black female host to smartly address the show's lack of a black female cast member. Was it a little preachy? Absolutely, especially when the Reverend Al Sharpton showed up to awkwardly read his lines off the teleprompter. But it was nice to see Jay Pharoah's Barack Obama finally get to play off a Michelle (expect Kerry to reprise that role in the inevitable Obama biopic, coming our way in 2018) and Washington's brassy Oprah impression was AWESOMMMMME!
Thumbs Down: "Career Week Speaker"
We normally love Nasim Pedrad, which is why it was so painful watching her shout her way through this lame-brained send-up of motivational speakers. And after making a big deal about Washington's presence defying the usual SNL-host stereotypes, the writers promptly stuck her in the extremely stereotypical role of a disaffected, back-talking assistant.
Thumbs Up: "What Does My Girl Say"
Considering how quickly the show was all over "Gangnam Style" a few years back, it's surprising that it took them this long to take on the latest foreign music video craze. But boy, did they do right by "The Fox" even without any input from the Lonely Island trio. Clearly, Olivia Pope has herself a new ringtone.
Thumbs Down: "Cartoon Catchphrase"
We've got a cartoon catchphrase for this misfire that strands Washington in the Bill Hader role of the straight (wo)man game show host: "Ruh roh!"
Thumbs Up: "How's He Doing"
Diving into the subject of race with even more comic gusto than the cold open, this was by far the night's best live sketch, filled with one great zinger after another, whether it was at the expense of overenthusiastic Wire recappers or Pottery Barn aficionados. Can Washington come back on a monthly basis just to do this skit? Kenan Thompson hasn't been this dialed-in and hysterical in, like, five years.
Thumbs Down: "Miss Universe"
The good: No surprise appearance by Darrell Hammond's Donald Trump to send up the beauty pageant that he funds and probably writes off as a charity donation. The bad: Pretty much everything else. C'mon, SNL: your current crop of female comics is too good to waste on tripe like this.
Thumbs Up: "Date or Diss"
This skit probably would have been timelier if it had performed between 2005-2008 when MTV's extremely low-budget and exceedingly stupid dating show Next (a series we're only mildly ashamed to say we watched pretty much every episode of) was still on the air. But it's amusing skewering of the rampant cheapness and obvious fakeness that pervades much of the channel's reality programming is still on target. And we, for one, would love to see that "Hatfish" series they teased.
Thumbs Down: "Fall Carnival"
Somebody out there must love this recurring bit with Pharoah as the principal of a school that's apparently a war zone on par with Afghanistan, because they keep doing it over and over again. We'd rather see Denzel Washington back in the Returns/Exchanges Department, thanks.
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