Is Lena Dunham a one-trick pony, capable of only playing herself as she does on “Girls,” a simultaneously self-doubting and delusional Millennial caught between her own thwarted ambitions and hopeful optimism? That question was answered by her first “Saturday Night Live” hosting gig this past weekend, where she proved a nice ensemble player, capable of poking fun at her own image, but also willing to take a back seat and let others lead, much as she does on her own HBO show. See this week’s episode by way of Streampix.
There were moments of genius, for instance, the “Girl” skit, where she portrays a completely nude Eve to Taran Killam’s uncanny Adam Driver, and times in which she proved strained, a feminist sketch about a right-wing man at an all-girl jewelry party fell pretty flat.
Here’s a scorecard of her sketches:
Monologue: Dunman seemed positively giddy at being “SNL” host and offered her own key to staying composed. “You’re supposed to imagine the audience naked, or at least imagine that they haven’t seen you naked,” then complains about how “Girls” fans feel they have the right to walk up to her and share their sexual secrets (as Vanessa Bayer, Aidy Bryant and a bathrobe-wearing Bobby Moynihan do) before a neat turn turn by Kate McKinnon playing her sassy grandmother. “Only the cool girls went to third base and I was cool as hell. I was practically a third-base coach. Grade: B- The “SNL” cast interrupting the monologue bit is wearing thin at this point.
Ooh Child: Dunham plays a passenger in a car, who, while attempting to sing along to the Five Stairsteps song, keeps getting interrupted by the GPS voice breaking into the stream. Her increasing exasperation plays well, even if the skit seems to go on a little long. But the payoff, in which it’s revealed the four have kidnapped a man and are getting ready to dump the body, adds a Tarantino-esque twist to the enforced jollity. Grade: B For once, the long set-up bears fruit.
Scandal: Dunham shines as a ditsy associate who can’t get over the super-efficiency of the operation headed by Sasheer Zamata playing the Kerry Washington role to perfection. Lena once more uses one of her pet expressions, “Okay—I have, like a thousand follow-up questions,” to fine effect here. Her line about how Zamata’s Olivia, “a beautiful black woman who only wears tailored pants suits” should infiltrate the ball because “these are the fanciest clothes I own” and her amazement she’s involved with the President are both delivered with characteristic gusto. “I wish my dating problem was that my boyfriend’s the President,” she says. Grade: B Docked only because I haven’t watched “Scandal,” so I couldn’t get all the references.
What’s Poppin’: Jay Pharoah and Kenan Thompson are exasperated hosts of an MTV2 rap show introducing a folkie very white Beatnik group which includes Dunham, Bryant, Cecily Strong and Mike O’Brien, a new cast member desperately trying to make an impression. The real keys to this sketch are the frustrated expressions of Pharoah and Thompson, and their insistence that the group return the supply of Sprite they exhausted. Grade: B Dunham disappears into the framework in this one, which isn’t a bad thing.
Biblical Movie: “Girl” is a spot-on take-off of recent movies like “Son of God” and “Noah,” which pokes fun at her own show’s obsession with nudity. This is Dunham’s high point, appearing completely naked in the Garden of Eden except for pixilation. High marks to Killam for his over-the-top Driver and Vanessa Bayer for her hilarious snake with the head of Zoe Mamet’s Shoshanna Shapiro. Also, Lena’s Hannah-like conversations with God and the use of made-up critic’s quotes like A.O. Scott says, “Even for Adam and Eve, that’s a lot of nudity” or the Wall Street Journal: “If this is feminist, I’m confused.” Grade: A- “SNL” doing what it does best, a Mad magazine-like parody that hits home on several levels.
What Are You Even Doing? You’re Being Crazy: Yet another variation on the two giddy teenyboppers hosting a talk-show in their rec room, Dunham is pretty much overshadowed by partner Nasim Pedrad here, though she gamely tries to move forward. Unfortunately, they both take a back seat to yet another cameo by Jon Hamm, who wanders in wondering where the pizza is, following up Liam Neeson’s guest shot in the cold open playing his “Taken” character in a sketch about exacting revenge on Vladimir Putin. Highlight: Bobby Moynihan’s blow-dried sexy look as the video game addict older brother put in charge. Grade: B Dunham holds her own, which is better than not holding your own.
Jewelry Party: The evening’s most feminist sketch gave Lena a chance to air her views as Mike O’Brien proves moving as a men’s rights advocate forced to defend his position against a flock of females, headed by Cecily Strong’s head-scratching Sofia Vergara impression. Grade: C Except for O’Brien’s finely tuned meltdown, nothing else really registers.
The Katt Williams Show: Jay Pharoah pulls out his impression of the comic in this sketch about “crazy white people that black people don’t care about, and Dunham gets a chance to strut her stuff as Liza Minnelli in a not half-bad imitation. Killam does a nice Harrison Ford, but really shined with his “Weekend Update” take on Matthew McConaughey’s spacey musings. “Don’t congratulate me, congratulate the man who never existed… Who’s that? That’s me.” Grade: B Really just an excuse to wheel out some impressions, some good, some not-so-good.
Overall: Dunham was certainly game enough, and proved that her persona is strong enough to make a dent in a talented cast, but her range is limited to who she is. Hey, the same could be said for Woody Allen. Grade: B+ She was a really good sport.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.