SNL Episode 9: Jamie Foxx Saves Everyone (Except Ne-Yo. No One Could Save Ne-Yo.)

I don’t know where this phrase came from, but along the lines of family nicknames for pacifiers and variations on spaghetti with leftovers in it, I grew up with the line “lose your bones.” It didn’t mean osteoporosis; that would have been sad. It was used as a sort of catchall for a mixture of punchy and silly feelings, like when you’re stuck in a stalled elevator and “Muskrat Love” comes on twice in a row, or when you’re eating dinner and you can hear someone’s dentures clicking and you look down and your slippery shrimp suddenly seems way too slippery and almost grotesque. You get the giggles against your will. In an SNL context it’s a pleasurable sensation: Stefon’s visits are bone thieves, and so was Louis C.K.’s “Last Call” and many of the assorted oddities (thanks, Twitter, for reminding me) of the past 38 seasons. I had big hopes for Jamie Foxx’s gig this past weekend, I really did. I wanted to hold on to my bones as they became long, white, quivery milkshakes; unfortunately, the first half of the show was a disappointment, and I was kind of considering calling in sleepy on this recap because things weren’t looking too good. It wasn’t Foxx’s fault, and I was actually impressed by the fact that he was featured so prominently (in “Weekend Update” and pre-recorded shorts as well as sketches): The fault lies somewhere between “Bitch, What’s the Answer?” and Mrs. Claus on “Update.” I know a lot of you liked Mrs. Claus, but I got stuck on “milkfarts” and my face got stuck like this. I’m glad I kept watching, though, because there were some good sketches late in the game (“Dylan McDermott or Dermot Mulroney,” Swarovski crystals hawked by hard-living former porn stars, and the bizarre Maine bayou courtroom hybrid). Plus Foxx as an angry Ding Dong (“you can call me Dong”). Djing Djong unchained!

The cold open this week featured a bullied-to-tears John Boehner (Hader) getting all sorts of cushy fiscal-cliff consolations from Obama (Pharoah), who feels sorry for him after he’s fallen prey to a variety of pranks from his fellow Republicans (including being invited to a pizza party at a warehouse and pelted with rotten eggs; having his milk thrown in the garbage; and being locked in the women’s washroom naked, having to cover his genitals and butt crack with his hands). Obama agrees to dissolve Social Security in exchange for raising taxes on “the top two Americans — just two people.” Hader’s face never disappoints me, but this segment would have been much better if we’d actually gotten to see any of the humiliations described. Trashmilk won’t jump off the page by itself.

Foxx’s monologue kicked off with some magical crowd-energy sourcing (finger flutters from the floor to the ceiling) and an introduction of himself as “Jamie Fidoxx.” From there, he went into a “How black is that?” routine: In Django Unchained, he plays a slave (“How black is that?”) wearing chains (“How whack is that?”), but when he’s unchained he saves his wife and “kill[s] all the white people in the movie; how great is that? And how black is that?” I don’t know, Beatrix Kiddo was pretty pale, but I’ll bite because you summoned my cheers with your fingers, Fidoxx. He sat down at the piano, predictably, and doodled around a little before singing himself a birthday song (he turns 45 on Thursday), borrowing “from the book of 2 Chainz: all I want / for my birthday is / a big-booty ho.” 2 Chainz popped by in some leather pants and a very nice hat to sing along before commercial. Foxx’s confidence is mesmerizing, and his experience with stand-up (once upon a time, Bill Clinton was “as close to a black president as we’re going to get”) and on In Living Color allowed him to be a lot looser than most of this season’s hosts, even when he flubbed a line or two.

Unfortunately, this same swagger made me temporarily place blame on Foxx for how much I hated “Bitch, What’s the Answer?” because of how well he was owning the dead-end material. As host Mookie Meeks, Foxx asked a trio of squares (Killam, Pedrad, and Moynihan) vague questions (“Who was the president?”) and snapped at them for their well-meaning responses, collectively (“both you bitches shut up”) or individually (“bitch’s brain must be broken from bitchin’ all day”). While watching this I thought, With few exceptions, I really hate SNL’s game show skits. I wish they’d cut it out. I was proven wrong later, by the way: I guess it’s impossible to make rules to govern the laws of the SNL universe. Except that this sketch is never allowed to recur. Ever. I’m not a fan of J-Pop America Fun-Time Now (OK, I do like Fred Armisen as the Japanese girlfriend), though I guess I could see how it could be another person’s “What Up With That?” Even Foxx’s high pigtails and “baby-dudu”’s didn’t make this one a winner for me. I cringed at the “my ninja” joke. Things improved a bit with “Tyler Perry Presents: Alex Cross,” with Foxx playing Perry as both Cross and Medea, split right down the middle: I thought Foxx gave a great performance in this one, with his “lort jesus”es and “helloooo”s, and maybe he was better than the sketch itself. I loved when Madea told Cross to look her in the eye and Foxx’s eyes duked it out over his nose.

And then there was Ne-Yo. I do not particularly care for “Let Me Love You,” and I don’t even think it’s worth trying to figure out why. Other people sum up their feelings on Ne-Yo and his performance with more ease: “i HATE this song “Let Me Love You”, I find the premise to be quite arrogant. What happens after she learns to love herself, Ne-Yo? Will she be too big for her britches?”; “I’ve been a Ne-Yo fan from the beginning, a huge fan.
And I can honestly say I’m so disappointed and feel like crying that’s how bad it hurts me,” and, most succinctly, “Ne-yo don’t push it. Go to next one.” Yes, there was dancing, but no, I didn’t really like it. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I knew that Usher would have done a flip, and where there are no flips, the dance is a wasteland, like a chip with no dip.

Moving on. “Weekend Update” slipped in another Sandusky joke, which got a pretty juicy boo, so I hope that this will be the last time that happens. In a season that I think has featured some great Updates, this one wasn’t really cutting it. Aidy Bryant’s raunchy Mrs. Claus wasn’t the best use of her talents: I think the funniest line was that she was looking forward to “ripping through a box of Chardonnay like a hot knife through a snow man,” and that’s kind of bleak. I don’t know about Mrs. Claus watching porn while her husband (SANTA) is out because she’s disgusted that he doesn’t “manscape” his pubic hair. I mean, I do know. I know that I never wanted to know. And she stuck around for a good long while. Foxx as a Ding Dong in the wake of Hostess’s bankruptcy was better (thankfully, he didn’t get into Mr. Twinkie’s down-below), if only because he was flapping his giant white gloves around a lot. I also always enjoy a good dis tossed in the direction of the most disgusting snack cake in the world, the Snowball (“even homeless kids won’t eat a Snowball; I mean, the kids would rather eat broccoli and bok choy than a Snowball”).

At this point, we needed a miracle, and since it’s the season for miracles we were given one, in the form of “Dylan McDermott or Dermot Mulroney?” Hader played the host, coaxing his contestants (Pharoah, Thompson, and Foxx) into trying to guess which actor appeared in a series of photographs (“just a reminder to you at home: No one has ever won this game”). Dude, how long have we all been waiting for this sketch? A dozen years? After obliging Foxx’s request to repeat their names, Thompson asks for Hader to put a bigger space between them so “we know when the first name ends and the second name begins.” I thought this idea was executed perfectly, not to mention Dermot Mulroney’s cameo at the end (holding a photo of Dylan McDermott, for whom he’d started mistaking himself — “I’ve been sleeping with another man’s wife!”). Best guess for the Dermot Double: Rupert Everett. Next week: Djimon Hounsou or Chiwetel Ejiofor? I could play this game forever. And though I really wanted “Marcus Banks: Tree Pimp” to be a more direct rip-off of Iceberg Slim, it was strangely pleasant to watch, though not exactly gut-busting. Foxx’s Daddy Kidd, a “rival tree pimp,” was great (taking off his sunglasses, Kidd says, “Marcus, he cold mang, you know, he got a dark side — I never put my hands on a tree, but Marcus … ”). It was a sort of ambient sketch, even when Fred Armisen lowered a tree onto his lap in a parked car, like something you’d want playing at a very weird holiday party. Maybe because of the jazz.

Things got very strange after “Pimp Trees”: “Maine Justice” featured some of the craziest Sudeikis moments ever (he was dressed as the Honorable Colonel Sanders). At one point, his legs appeared to creep up behind him as he sat in his judge’s seat, taking on a floppy, flailing life of their own. The first half of this sketch was totally confusing: a landlord (Aidy Bryant), a Southern belle with fan in hand, was suing her tenant (Bobby Moynihan), an apparent Yankee, in a Twilight Zone court of law. “When the Saints Go Marching In” played over the title sequence (a map of Maine, with a “Maine Justice” header and footer, which was then chomped at by a cartoon alligator), and Foxx as the court deputy Jessup was almost unintelligible as he drawled about the humidity. I think this sketch suited Foxx more than it would have another host, because it required everyone involved to play every nonsensical beat huge in order for it to work. And it did, because when the twist was revealed (all but Moynihan are New Orleans transplants, having left after Hurricane Katrina and laissez les bon temps roulez in Maine), you realized just how riveted you’d been by something so unpredictable in a show that often serves up formulas (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Charlie Day as a boozy, overall-wearing congressman was a nice touch too. You get the feeling that it takes sort of a lot to make Foxx lose his shit, and Sudeikis forced him to bust up during this one. It could have been a train wreck, but I think this is one that I’ll remember for a while.

More Ne-Yo? OK-yo. The singer wore a raspberry fedora for the slow jam “She Is” and my viewing companion said, “I feel like I’m watching a performance on The Voice.” He did not mean this as a compliment.

For the fans of the 10-to-1, “Swarovski Crystals” was a notable example of what can be so great about these late-in-the-episode nuggets: Two former porn actresses (Bayer as Brookie and Strong as “I forget”) selling crystals while oversharing moments from their personal histories (“I lost part of my foot, it broke off in a butt,” being with eight guys at once “and I thought that was a pickle, but now it’s crystals,” being banged to death and then banged back to life), mispronouncing everything from “Swarovski” to “glitz.” Cecily Strong killed it, as always, and it was great to see Bayer not stuck in the ambiguously offensive prison of JPop America. Foxx, whose Sammy Stamina kept trying to find his entrance cue, finally landed between the two glittering ladies in his white vest to explain that he retired when he was forced to use condoms (after all, he has “integrity”) and is now joining them in selling “a shos — a sharky crystal [...] they cost less than diamonds, but they diamonds.” This sketch, and therefore the whole episode, closed with a jizz joke (“we’re covered in it! Luxury, that is”). Aren’t you glad you waited up? I am. Well, kind of: By the end, dripping in crystals and thinking of Zapp’s Maine Lobster flavored potato chips (DO IT, ZAPP’S), I got that silly elevator feeling. I had to tap my fingernails on the coffee table for what felt like an hour, but I got it. I thought this episode was a pickle, but maybe it was crystals.

Filed Under: Django Unchained, Late Night, NBC, Ne-Yo, SNL

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Tess Lynch is a contributing writer to Grantland.

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