'SNL' recap: Lena Dunham is just a girl, standing in front of an audience, asking them to like her

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Image Credit: NBC

So, how did Lena Dunham do in her inaugural episode of Saturday Night Live? It depends who you’re asking.

Those who are generally into Dunham’s work were probably amused on the whole, even if they also wished Lena had broken out of her comfort zone a little more. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dunham played a bunch of girls — immature, fast-talking, hyperbole-happy variations on her HBO persona — and one serviceable Liza Minnelli.) But if you’re one of those people who can’t stand cable’s wunderkind — here I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume that dislike has nothing to do with Dunham’s looks – your feelings likely weren’t swayed by Lena’s SNL performance, since it hewed so closely to what she does weekly on Girls.

Since I’m in the former camp, I’ll give the episode a tempered thumbs up. While SNL‘s writers’ room is clearly still suffering from growing pains in the wake of Seth Meyers’s exit — someone has to, like, remind them that sketches are supposed to have jokes — last night’s show was, pound for pound, stronger than March 1′s Jim Parsons Experience. And it packed in a few  solid laughs, particularly in the night’s…

Best Sketch
Scandal can be surprisingly tough to parody — maybe because at this point, it’s basically a parody of itself. (Take, for example, Jimmy Kimmel’s Escandalo: hilarious, but barely more ridiculous than the thing it’s sending up.) Still, SNL managed to spoof TV’s most delightfully over-the-top series with a premise that felt both straightforward and clever: stick in a regular person newly recruited to be a Gladiator (Dunham, naturally), and simply have her react to everything that’s going on around her (“You talk so fast, and I have literally a thousand followup questions”). And while Sasheer Zamata’s Kerry Washington impression could use some work, the way she helplessly opened her mouth as Taran Killam’s President Fitz sensually stroked her face was pure gold. She is not a prize at the State Fair!!

Honorable Mention
It may not have skewered Dunham’s show as excellently as Blerta’s entrée into Girls, but “Biblical Movie” — which proposed a version of Adam and Eve starring Dunham as the world’s very first girl — packed in some of the night’s best one-liners. “I’m three days old! I don’t even have health insurance!”

Worst Sketch
Oy. You could probably write a good sketch about Men’s Rights activists, who are just as ridiculous as they sound; you could probably write a good sketch about a bunch of ladies gathered together for a “jewelry party,” in which one lady tries to convince her friends to buy her ugly necklaces; you could probably even write a good sketch about Cecily Strong speaking in a heavy Venezuelan accent. But dump those elements together, and you’ll get this confusing, rambling bit — which was dead on arrival, but kept lurching around, zombie-like, for five and a half minutes anyway.

Cameo Corner
We probably shouldn’t be surprised to see Fred Armisen stop by SNL, now that he’s a permanent fixture on Seth Meyers’s Late Night. Less predictable were the night’s two other (fairly random) cameos: Liam Neeson(s), responding to a call that Crimea “had been Taken,” and Jon Hamm, who dropped in evidently for two reasons: one, to subconsciously remind us that Mad Men returns April 13, and two, to make us realize that despite fairly frequent cameos, Hamm hasn’t hosted SNL since 2010. That’s insane! He has to be back later this season, right?

Best Musical Moment
My roommate, who is much cooler than me, says that “Graceless” was kind of a strange choice for The National’s SNL debut. I’ll take her word for it and add that the band seemed sort of low-energy, at least until they started rocking out in the second half of the song — but either way, this was better than their snoozier second performance.

The WTF Award
Is someone on SNL‘s writing staff a charter member of the Katt Williams fan club? That’s the only possible excuse for designing an entire sketch around a guy who hasn’t been pop culturally relevant in years — mere weeks after Drake did his own Williams impression during his SNL debut. Although I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on this bit, since it did give us the gift of Taran Killam’s growly Harrison Ford.

Best Evidence that SNL Should Retire Fake Talk Show Sketches
Last night brought us not only “The Katt Williams Show” and “What Are You Even Doing,” but also “What’s Poppin’,” which boasted a great Jay Pharoah character name (“Lil’ Taint Anthony”) but lil’ else. This format is even more tired than sketches about how crazy it is that Aidy Bryant might have sexual desires; even if SNL doesn’t ditch them altogether, the show should at least make an effort to limit faux talk shows to one per episode.

Cast MVP
Taran Killam was everywhere tonight, expertly impersonating everyone from Fitz and Ford to Adam Driver. But even if he hadn’t appeared in so many sketches, he’d still win this award for his spookily accurate Matthew McConaughey. In a perfect world, Killam’s take on the philosophical Oscar winner would be Update’s new Nicolas Cage. After all, they’re about equally likely to have sex with the Declaration of Independence.

Extras

- Someone needs to send out a search party for poor John Milhiser.

- I wasn’t totally on board with “Ooh Child” — an amusing pre-tape with a weirdly dark twist — but I do appreciate the effort.

- Two highlights from Dunham’s monologue, brought to you by Bobby Moynihan: “I’m just asking: Is this the right number of these? I feel like I have too many. Or maybe too few;” and Kate McKinnon: “In the 1940s, only cool girls went to third base. And I was cool as hell.”

- Sorry, “What Are You Even Doing” — you can try as hard as you want, but you’ll never be “Wake Up Wakefield.” Also: Those girls could use some help from flirting expert Rebecca LaRue.

- This week in “Huh, Okay Then, Good Neighbor“: “Isn’t it funny to repeat the word ‘email’?”

- Weekend Update Watch: Colin Jost, unsurprisingly, is still finding his footing. But Cecily Strong’s gotten pretty comfortable in her seat, which really helps her jokes land — especially that line about badass Pope Francis.

- True or false: Jay Pharoah and Drake wore the exact same Katt Williams wig.

- Dunham, bidding her goodbyes: “I wanna French kiss all of you!”

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