‘SNL’ returns with digs at Isis, Giuliani, ‘Birdman’ and #TheDress

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After four weeks away to celebrate its 40th anniversary, “Saturday Night Live” roared back this weekend with an extra-topical episode spinning off many of the week’s hot talkers.

Rudy Giuliani took a hit, as did the dress that launched a thousand tweets. But what riled some viewers were a few moments when decapitating terrorists were the punchline.

Host Dakota Johnson starred in the most agitating of the bits, as a young woman leaving the car driven by her choked-up dad (Taran Killam). But instead of heading to college, she climbed into a pickup packed with bearded gunmen. “Dad,” she said reassuringly, “it’s just Isis.”

It was a funny lift of a coming-of-age TV cliche and not the first time “SNL” has goofed on America’s scariest enemy, but it sure touched some nerves.


Later, on Weekend Update, Isis was blamed for distracting America with that dress of uncertain colors and accused of gentrifying like Brooklyn.

The show’s most effective satire came in the opening scene, blending the week’s imprudent remarks by Rudolph Giuliani (Killam) with its best picture Oscar winner. Twisting into his Michael Keaton face, Killam marched through the catacombs taking abuse from an Emma Stone-esque young women (Johnson) and a winged alter ego (Beck Bennett) recalling his 9/11 glory days. The ego and hammy instincts of the ex-mayor and former “SNL” host dovetailed nicely with the movie’s themes of maintaining integrity and struggling for relevance.

As viewers of Fox’s short-lived and lamented sitcom “Ben & Kate” know, Johnson knows her way around funny, and she was a low-key but witty presence on “SNL,” her current “Fifty Shades of Grey” stardom a recurring gag. Her real-life parents Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson joked from the audience that they were afraid she’d get naked again, and a scene about net neutrality mostly died until Johnson’s dippy blogger got slapped and responded, “Harder!”

A youthful host came in handy for the week’s funniest scene, an assemblage of interns (Johnson, Cicely Strong and Bobby Moynihan) who refused to fix problems but kept whining about them with variations of “literally,” “don’t even” and “I just can’t.” The millennials’ main target: a co-worker (Aidy Bryant) whose broken arms prevented her from closing a window.

While the pretaped segments from directors Matt and Oz (“Back Home Baller,” “Office Christmas Party”) have been highlights of recent seasons, their punchy rhythms are so effective that sometimes they’re all that carries a scene. Such was the case with this week’s clip, where no one said anything funny but just the impact of Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” punctuating someone’s brash remark (“I want you to give me the WHOLE cookie”) seemed to suffice.

As is usually the case these days, Weekend Update was loaded with visitors, the good news being Kate McKinnon’s trash-talking Ruth Bader Ginsburg and a decidedly non-humble set of apologies from Jay Pharaoh’s Kanye West. The bad news is that we’re now apparently obliged to endure regular interruptions by the nonsensical Riblet (Bobby Moynihan).

Next week, the hammer of Thor descends as Chris Hemsworth hosts for the first time and the Zac Brown Band makes its “SNL” debut.

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