'SNL' Host Lena Dunham Upstages Special Guests Liam Neeson, Jon Hamm, and Fred Armisen

Lena Dunham, the 27-year-old Emmy-nominated writer, director, and star of the hit HBO television series Girls (isn’t it a little annoying/amazing how accomplished she is?), hosted SNL for the first time last night with musical guest The National. Dunham is hilarious on Girls, but Hannah, the show’s neurotic main character, is the only role I’ve ever seen her play. I was really excited to see how Dunham would handle moving from sketch to sketch and character to character. Would she respond to SNL’s scathing Girls parody from earlier this season? Would she mention her recent Vogue cover shoot controversy during her opening monologue? Would she get naked?? So many questions! And based on Dunham’s surprisingly funny promos for this week’s show, my expectations for her performance were pretty high.

Thankfully, she delivered. And yes, she did get naked. Dunham held her own in an episode that was chock-full of special guest appearances (Liam Neeson, Jon Hamm, and Fred Armisen all stopped by). You would never have guessed that this was her first time hosting — she seemed so comfortable and relaxed! Unsurprisingly, Dunham addressed the nudity and graphic sex scenes in Girls during her opening monologue, lamenting that complete strangers now feel comfortable telling her the most intimate details of their sex lives. Naturally, she was then interrupted by a stream of SNL cast members who just couldn’t wait to share their naughty stories with her. (Aidy Bryant killed it, confessing to publicly losing her virginity on a merry-go-round and then awkwardly doing a series of body rolls as she made her way off stage.) Even during the night’s less successful sketches, Dunham shined. She also pulled off a halfway decent Liza Minelli impression, so there's that!

Indie rock band The National performed two songs from their Grammy-nominated album, Trouble Will Find Me: “Graceless” and “I Need My Girl.” I’ve never seen The National perform live before (is that bad?), so I was unprepared for lead singer Matt Berninger’s strange on-stage antics. He spent 95 percent of “Graceless” with his eyes closed, clumsily slow dancing with the microphone stand like he was at a middle school mixer. Berninger did finally open his eyes for the final moments of the song, but only so that he could make eye contact with the audience while he screamed unintelligibly. Fortunately, the band’s performance of “I Need My Girl” was much more focused and engaging. Sadly, I don’t really think The National is for me, but hey! Different strokes for different folks, as they say.

Check out my rundown of last night’s Must Watch and Must Miss sketches below!

Must Watch

Ooh Child

So Taran Killam, Cecily Strong, Kenan Thompson, and Dunham are all in a car together. There’s tension in the air, but we don’t know why. Killam starts up the GPS on his phone, turns on The Five Stairsteps’ song “Ooh Child,” and the four actors set off for an unknown destination. The tension begins to dissipate as everybody starts singing along to the upbeat song, but every time Dunham tries to grab a little solo time, she’s interrupted by the robotic navigation voice from the GPS. Okay, so it happened once. No big deal! It was just a coincidence. But then it keeps happening — again and again. Dunham can’t get a word in edgewise! The song comes to a close just as the group arrives at their destination: a remote forest? And that’s when things take an unexpected turn. Suddenly, a bound and gagged Brooks Wheelan pops up from the floor of the back seat! Deadly serious, Strong says, “If a court won’t convict you, we will!” Killam responds, “I’ll get out and dig a hole.” Damn, somebody call Dick Wolf — that’s some Law & Order stuff right there! And is this foreshadowing? Is the rarely featured Wheelan getting the axe after this season? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Scandal

It’s about time SNL took on Shonda Rhimes’ ridiculous but entertaining television show Scandal. Badass leading lady Olivia Pope (Sasheer Zamata) is holding a meeting in her briefing room, barking orders at her staff at breakneck speed (as usual). Everyone’s keeping up except new team member Kelsey (Dunham), who has “literally a thousand” follow-up questions about her upcoming mission to Mexico, like: “Where in Mexico? What time’s my flight? Do I buy a plane ticket through JetBlue or some such?” Dunham is hysterical as Kelsey, who’s simply asking all the questions Scandal viewers wish they could ask, but Zamata is the highlight here as Pope. After a characteristically dramatic exchange with her on-again, off-again lover, the President of the United States (Killam), Pope looks as though she might explode from pleasure as the President gently caresses her cheek, her whole face twitching in a totally non-sexy way. I swear, if they gave Emmy Awards for extended sequences of lip-trembling ecstasy, Scandal’s real-life lead actress Kerry Washington would have, like, a million Emmy Awards by now.

Biblical Movie

I was waiting for a Girls sketch, but I wasn’t expecting one like this! Given the popularity of biblical films right now (Son of God, Noah), why not do a movie about the Garden of Eden starring Dunham as Eve and her Girls co-star Adam Driver as Adam? I mean, being naked all the time is kind of their thing, right? It’s good to see that Dunham knows how to poke fun at herself and her show. (The New York Times reviewer comments, “Even for Adam and Eve, there’s a lot of nudity.”) Vanessa Bayer does her best Shoshanna from Girls impression as the serpent that convinces Eve to eat an apple from the Tree of Knowledge. When God reprimands Eve, she responds, “Can you please not apple-shame me right now?” So good.

Must Miss

Jewelry Party

I think I can maybe see where the writers were going with this sketch, but things just never really came together. Dunham is hosting a jewelry party for her co-workers, and Marisol (Strong) brings her boyfriend Bruce along (Mike O’Brien). It’s eventually revealed that Bruce, the only man at the party, is a “men’s rights activist.” Bruce doesn’t want to talk about his job, but Dunham encourages him to elaborate. Marisol, who doesn’t seem to understand what Bruce does or why it’s bad for women, ends up spilling to the group that Bruce doesn’t believe in equal pay. He’s also helped shut down two Planned Parenthood locations! Yikes. I guess I just didn’t find the subject matter here all that funny. I’m all for lampooning the ridiculous ideals of so-called “men’s rights activists,” but there just weren’t many laughs. I was also offended that Marisol was portrayed as a totally clueless numbskull just because English wasn't her primary language. Somewhere between conception and execution, this sketch lost its way.

That’s all for this week! Unfortunately, there isn’t a new episode of SNL next week, but you can catch rapper Drake doing an awesome job of hosting if you missed it the first time around! Just be sure to check out my recap first so you know which sketches to watch and which ones to avoid.

Image: SNL/NBC