After months of controversy and a set of not-so-secret secret emergency showcases, Saturday Night Live has chosen Sasheer Zamata to join the cast midseason as a Featured Player, making her the first black woman to be cast on the show since Maya Rudolph left in 2008. She is set to make her first appearance on the January 18 episode, alongside host and musical guest, Drake. While we're sure that almost immediately after she starts working at Rockefeller Plaza she'll be asked to play Michelle Obama, Beyonce, and Oprah Winfrey in rapid succession, we're really looking forward to seeing some of the original characters and sketches she will bring to the table. As an established writer, comedian and actress, a lot of her work is available online, including her web series, Pursuit of Sexiness, which has given us a glimpse at what's to come when she debuts on SNL.
In anticipation of her debut, we've taken a look at her original characters to try and determine where they would best fit in on Saturday Night Live, and which current cast members would work well opposite them.
Character: Thandie Snood, Host of "Fresh Findings"From: Her character reelHow It Would Work: Of all of the characters featured in Zamata's online videos, Thandie Snood feels the most ready to make the jump to Saturday Night Live. Firstly, she comes with a "talk show" premise already, and since the show has been relying more and more on talk and game show based sketches as of late, this could be a big advantage to helping Thandie Snood make it to air. In addition, the on-air breakdown that includes Thandie giving herself a pep-talk in the mirror and comparing a broken ukulele to the demise of her marriage make the character the right amount of odd to make it easy to expand the character into a longer sketch, resulting in a bigger freak out, or allowing other character the opportunity to react, both of which are things that SNL specializes in when it comes to developing sketches. Just add Kenan Thompson staring at Thandie with his signature wide-eyed confusion, and it could air right away.
Character: Jen at the GymFrom: Her character reelHow It Would Work: If Thandie was the most SNL-ready character that Zamata has in her arsenal, Jen at the Gym needs the most work to make it the viable focus of a sketch. However, the character's awkward nature and penchant for over-sharing mean that she could easily fit in with SNL's roster of weirdos and oddballs with a little bit of polishing. We could see Jen playing well off of another character or two, maybe as some sort of a double-act, or as the kind of character that pops up briefly for bit parts in sketches, just to add a bit of insanity to the proceedings. Think Triangle Sally meets Sally O' Malley.
Character: Sassy Mama Girlfriend, Host of "Watch Yo Mouth"From: Her writing reelHow It Would Work: There's no doubt that SNL will want to have at least one "sassy" character in their docket, so why not take Zamata's vegan cooking show host and find a way to work her into other sketches? While the cooking show featured in Zamata's reel is a great way to showcase the character, and features a great punchline about the side effects of cutting an onion, we see Sassy Mama Girlfriend hosting a character-based talk show. The best SNL talk shows have always revolved around some sort of outlandish, over-the-top host, like with "Bronx Beat" or the "Barry Gibb Talk Show," and we could see this character fitting in well amongst all of those other segments. It would also allow Zamata to keep the beats of sadness and frustration that are featured in the "Watch Yo Mouth" clip, but would also give her more time to explore them while giving Sassy Mama Girlfriend some characters to play off of. Consider it the perfect alternative to "Waking Up With Kimye."
Character: Melanie Mostnik, Host of "Morning After Meals"From: Her writing reelHow It Would Work: Both SNL and Zamata appear to be big fans of "host" characters, which would give her plenty of opportunities to come up with sketches that work with the tone of the show. But while Melanie would make a decent basis for a game show host, we love the premise of her hosting a cooking show in the kitchen of her one night stands, and think it would work perfectly as a filmed sketch, with Taran Killam or Brooks Wheelan playing the surprised guy. With the right amount of nervous energy on his part, and the right amount of annoyance and forced pleasantness on hers, we could easily see this fitting in on the show. SNL has been utilizing a lot of filmed sketches this season, with varying levels of success, but we think that "Morning After Meals" has an original enough premise that it would wind up being one of the better ones this season.
Character: N/A, "White Ad Executives Make Commercials for Black People"From: Her writing reelHow It Would Work: Zamata doesn't actually appear in this sketch, which is one of many commercial parodies that she has featured on her reels, but of all of them, it feels like it would work the best on SNL. Between the Morgan Freeman narration and the ridiculous acting, the sketch balances silliness with satire, which would make it a good fit for the commercial slot on the show. SNL has always been well-known for its commercial parodies, and Zamata's reel proves that she has experience writings ones that are snappy and memorable. Plus, her writing talent will help her establish herself on the show quickly, and would allow her voice from getting lost in bit parts and one-off characters. And since we're sure someone on that show has a Morgan Freeman impression ready to go, she won't have to waste any time when it comes to developing new commercials.
Character: Male Stand-upFrom: Chioke Nassor's Storytime SeriesHow It Would Work: Zamata uses an obnoxious, aggressive male stand-up character when she is re-imagining an incident where she was flashed on the street from his perspective. He starts off the story loud and brash, full of confidence, and then, as his set goes on, he starts to become sad about the bad first impression he made, and the possible loss of a genuine connection. We could see this character working well as "one of the guys" in a sketch with Jay Pharoah, but the real similarity is with Kyle Mooney, whose Internet sketch group Good Neighbor features a surfer dude named Todd, who also has moments of genuine self-reflection and existential crisis. Mooney's digital sketches have been among the highlights of the new season, and we think that he and Zamata would work well together, creating weird situations and characters that feel the need to think back on their life choices. Together, they will be laughing and learning.
Character: Cashier; BaristaFrom: Inside Amy Shumer; Totally Biased with W. Kamau BellHow It Would Work: Both of these characters are smaller, side characters, who are more of the straight-men than many of Zamata's other characters. However, both show that she plays off of other people really well, which is always an asset in sketch comedy, and that she has the ability to make a quieter character just as memorable as one that is loud and over-the-top. As a featured player, it's likely that Zamata will have to play a similar role in many of the sketches she's in this season, and her annoyed cashier on Inside Amy Shumer proves that she will likely be able to keep from getting lost in all of the insanity that is coming her way. It also would make her a good counterpoint for someone like Kate McKinnon, who specializes in weirdos, as she wouldn't be bowled over the force of McKinnon's characters. Plus, her barista on Totally Biased will hopefully give her the basis for a lot of character whose oddity is scaled down, which would help balance out the structure of the show.
Saturday Night Live's current female MVP Kate McKinnon has already gained an incredible amount of respect for her scene-stealing characters on the late night show. One impersonation she really nails? Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. Hey, if you don't believe us, take the real Ellen DeGeneres' word for it:
The highest form of flattery you can get is from the person you're flattering by impersonating... isn't that how that old saying goes?
Ellen liked Kate's portrayal so much she had the comedian come on Ellen on Wednesday to reprise her impersonation, and things get... well, a little confusing. Watch the video below to see Kate impersonating Ellen, Ellen impersonating Kate impersonating Ellen, and Kate impersonating Ellen impersonating Kate impersonating Ellen and you get the idea:
See, we told you it gets confusing! But we bet you couldn't stop smiling the whole time you were watching, right?
Better step up your game, Alex on Happy Endings!
Follow Sydney on Twitter: @SydneyBucksbaum
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There's an allure to imperfection. With his latest drama Lawless director John Hillcoat taps directly into the side of human nature that draws us to it. Hillcoat finds it in Prohibition history a time when the regulations of alcohol consumption were subverted by most of the population; He finds it in the rural landscapes of Virginia: dingy raw and mesmerizing. And most importantly he finds it in his main character Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) the scrappy third brother of a moonshining family who is desperate to prove his worth. Jack forcefully injects himself into the family business only to discover there's an underbelly to the underbelly. Lawless is a beautiful film that's violent as hell striking in a way only unfiltered Americana could be.
Acting as the driver for his two outlaw brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) isn't enough for Jack. He's enticed by the power of the gangster figure and entranced by what moonshine money can buy. So like any fledgling entrepreneur Jack takes matters into his own hands. Recruiting crippled family friend/distillery mastermind Cricket (Dane DeHaan) the young whippersnapper sets out to brew his own batch sell it to top dog Floyd Banner and make the family rich. The plan works — but it puts the Bondurant boys in over their heads with a new threat: the corrupt law enforcers of Chicago.
Unlike many stories of crime life Lawless isn't about escalation. The movie drifts back and forth leisurely popping in moments like the beats of a great TV episode. One second the Bondurants could be talking shop with their female shopkeep Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). The next Forrest is beating the bloody pulp out of a cop blackmailing their operation. The plot isn't thick; Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave preferring to bask in the landscapes the quiet moments the haunting terror that comes with a life on the other side of the tracks. A feature film doesn't offer enough time for Lawless to build — it recalls cinema-level TV currently playing on outlets like HBO and AMC that have truly spoiled us — but what the duo accomplish is engrossing.
Accompanying the glowing visuals and Cave's knockout workout on the music side (a toe-tapping mix of spirituals bluegrass and the writer/musician's spine-tingling violin) are muted performances from some of Hollywood's rising stars. Despite LaBeouf's off-screen antics he lights up Lawless and nails the in-deep whippersnapper. His playful relationship with a local religious girl (Mia Wasikowska) solidifies him as a leading man but like everything in the movie you want more. Tom Hardy is one of the few performers who can "uurrr" and "mmmnerm" his way through a scene and come out on top. His greatest sparring partner isn't a hulking thug but Chastain who brings out the heart of the impenetrable beast. The real gem of Lawless is Guy Pearce as the Bondurant trio's biggest threat. Shaved eyebrows pristine city clothes and a temper like a rabid wolverine Pearce's Charlie Rakes is the most frightening villain of 2012. He viciously chews up every moment he's on screen. That's even before he starts drawing blood.
Lawless is the perfect movie for the late August haze — not quite the Oscary prestige picture or the summertime shoot-'em-up. It's drama that has its moonshine and swigs it too. Just don't drink too much.
A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.