Moving ‘SNL’ Paris Tribute Is Tough Act to Follow, But Host Elizabeth Banks Shines (Video)

‘Hunger Games’ star gives her best as show recovers from last week’s Donald Trump debacle

Last Updated: November 15, 2015 @ 10:44 AM

“Saturday Night Live” hit the right notes in its cold open Saturday with a moving and simple tribute to Paris, one day after the terror attacks there that killed 129 people.

“Paris is the city of light,” cast member Cecily Strong said onstage. “And here in New York, we know that light will never go out. Our love and support is with everyone there tonight, we stand with you.”

Strong repeated the message in French before delivering the familiar line “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night.” The opening was simple, moving and absolutely appropriate.

It was also a tough act to follow for host Elizabeth Banks. When “SNL” returned to the air following 9/11, creator Lorne Michaels was joined onstage by Rudy Giuliani and a host of first responders. That tribute was powerful, but also had a joke as the kicker. (Michaels: “Can we be funny.” Giuliani: “Why start now?”) The gag, small as it was, signaled that, hey, this is a comedy show, so get ready to watch some comedy. Strong’s didn’t do that. That’s not a knock against the folks at the show who put it together on less than 24 hours notice. Just a reality.

So host Banks had a difficult job ahead of her when she took the stage. A gifted comic performer for whom an “SNL” gig was long overdue, she came out in an oversize gown and launched into a monologue that quickly and predictably referenced her role in the “Hunger Games” films. But it was her recent move into directing movies such as “Pitch Perfect 2” that was the crux of a segment, which started as a cute but not particularly funny riff on the idea of Banks as control freak and backseat director, then transitioned to one of the most dreaded staples in the long history of “SNL”: the musical monologue.

Banks was game and charming as she launched into “What a Feeling” from “Flashdance,” shouting orders at longtime “SNL” director Don Roy King from stage the whole time, but the bit felt like an idea settled on for lack of a better one.

The show thankfully picked up steam thereafter, veering often into welcome weirdness following the parade of horrors that was the previous week’s Donald Trump-hosted episode.

Banks shined in sketches such as “Black Jeopardy” and another in which she played a privileged New York woman brunching with her girlfriends who lets slip that, for inexplicable reasons, that she is living with a low-income family in government housing.

In another, digital short “Uber for Jen,” she takes an Uber ride that descends into mayhem as she and driver Mike O’Brien go to White Castle, apply for a home loan, kill a pedestrian, and finally deliver Bennett’s character’s wife’s baby in the back of the car.

“Weekend Update” anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che fared less well as Jost opened the segment with an extended bit mocking Trump.

“Trump says that if he became president, we’ll all be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” Jost said. “I don’t now about that, but we’ll all be saying ‘Jesus Christ’ a lot.” The bit felt like the show attempting to absolve itself for jumping into bed with Trump and his racist politics the week prior. The highlight of the segment was Kate McKinnon‘s appearance as recurring character Olya Povlatsky, a Russian villager, who described a three-piece bikini to Jost: “Is sexiest bikini in all of Russia. Is shirt, pants and big heavy coat.”

Musical guest Disclosure was fine enough, joined for one number by Lorde and for another by Sam Smith. The show was light on politics this week, a situation no-doubt influenced by the attacks Friday and by the lack of time to prepare a take on Saturday’s Democratic presidential debate. But Jay Pharoah killed in one of the night’s best sketches, “The Adventures of Young Ben Carson,” a parody of Carson’s bizarre recent accounts of a youth he claims was marked by violent outbursts.

At the show’s end, Banks wrapped things up with a call back to the cold open. “God bless Paris,” she said.

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