Saturday Night Live recap: Chadwick Boseman
The actor spoofed T'Challa, musical guest Cardi B revealed her pregnancy, and more
With Black Panther still going strong at the box office, star Chadwick Boseman took the stage at Saturday Night Live this weekend, accompanied by music from Cardi B. Whenever a non-comedian hosts, the best hope is that they’re game enough to produce at least a few good sketches, and hopefully one based on their most famous persona. Boseman certainly managed that. However, in his monologue he called out SNL for waiting so long to have him on, noting that all the good ideas for Black Panther-related sketches had likely been used up by now. That came across at certain points of the show which seemed to be running on fumes, although there were still fun moments.
I’ve been noting my problem with Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump impression for a while, but now it seems like even Baldwin himself is getting tired of it. The actor reprised his political impression for this week’s cold open, a sketch designed to once again mock Trump’s affection for Russian President Vladimir Putin. At a press conference alongside Baltic leaders, Baldwin’s Trump struggled to stay on script and couldn’t resist congratulating Putin on his recent re-election. He was even less prepared for a volley of reporters’ questions, which read like a checklist of recent Trump news cycles: Stormy Daniels, Jeff Bezos, the National Guard being deployed to the Mexican border. While trying to justify the last one, Baldwin’s Trump began ranting about “caravans full of immigrants” that Kate McKinnon’s Lithuanian leader recognized as nothing more than the plot description of Mad Max: Fury Road. Reaching the end of his rope, Baldwin’s Trump admitted, “I don’t care about America, this whole presidency is just a four-year cash grab.” Appreciate the grim honesty, but not the fact that even Baldwin seems to be reaching the end of his rope with this impression.
Chadwick Boseman rightfully began his SNL monologue by noting how silly it was that he didn’t get the hosting gig until two months after Black Panther first hit theaters (although he and his fellow Wakandans will be returning to the big screen later this month for Avengers: Infinity War). That really speaks to how much Black Panther’s potential was underestimated by the powers that be in Hollywood and New York. It’s clear now that none of them expected Black Panther to break all the box-office records that it has, and now they’re struggling to play catch-up with this unique cultural phenomenon.
Even so, it’s nice that Boseman didn’t spend his entire monologue talking about T’Challa — partly because Kenan Thompson stormed the stage dressed as ThunderCats’ Panthro in order to remind him that he’s not the first “black space cat with spiky suspenders” to grace the screen. With a band behind him, Boseman couldn’t resist channeling James Brown, whom he memorably portrayed in the 2014 biopic Get On Up. Boseman busted a genuine move on stage.
Best Sketch: “Black Jeopardy”
Chadwick Boseman only channeled Black Panther’s T’Challa for one sketch this week, but he made it count. I love SNL’s willingness to satirize superheroes for their inattention to poor people (remember Chance the Rapper’s Batman sketch?), and the latest version of Black Jeopardy made another amazing joke out of that, with T’Challa answering a question from the “Aw Hell Naw” category about how to talk to police. As both a superhero and a king, T’Challa professes his respect for law enforcement and says he would help the police track down a suspected robber. Thompson’s response? “I don’t think you have spent much time in America.” But even T’Challa knows you shouldn’t trust a white woman’s unseasoned potato salad.
Best Short: “Aidy B”
Given that Cardi B will soon be joining Jimmy Fallon as a guest cohost of The Tonight Show, it really seems like she probably could’ve handled SNL hosting duties as well as the music. She only popped up in one short, but it was a memorable one. Aidy Bryant, playing a realistic version of herself, gets so empowered by Cardi B’s music that she starts acting like “Aidy B,” bringing the rapper’s badass swagger straight to the SNL offices and even telling Boseman to get lost. Ultimately, though, the imitation can’t compare to the real thing. When Aidy finally gets to talk to Cardi B face-to-face, the rapper is unimpressed by her overeager imitator.
Best Musical Moment: “Be Careful”
Naturally, Cardi B used her first SNL musical slot to play her world-conquering single “Bodak Yellow.” Cardi’s fun-loving spirit came through in that performance, but it was her second song choice — “Be Careful,” off her just-released debut album, Invasion of Privacy — that really brought the house down. The song is about infidelity in relationships, and Cardi’s performance was emotional and raw. Things really reached a cathartic climax when a camera pan revealed Cardi’s baby bump, her pregnancy newly visible against a tight white dress.
Man, Weekend Update is really struggling right now. The recent Bill Hader-hosted episode only drove this point home; bringing back Stefon really emphasized how much the current iteration of the franchise is lacking in memorable characters. This week, for instance, Colin Jost and Michael Che spoke with Alex Moffat’s robotic Mark Zuckerberg and Heidi Gardner playing Angel, a.k.a. Every Boxer’s Girlfriend From Every Movie About Boxing Ever. Moffat zeroed in on the funniest aspects of Zuckerberg’s persona (that he seems like the kind of person who would remind himself to make eye contact with people), but there’s not a whole lot to work with there. Angel had a funny line about Meghan Markle (“You think you’re marrying a prince on a white horse; that’s what I thought, until my prince rode in on a white stretcher!”), but given the absolutism of her character description, I can’t be the only one disappointed she didn’t seem to incorporate Tessa Thompson’s Bianca character from Creed — which is, after all, the best boxing movie of the last few years.
Worst Sketch: “Magic Mirror”
One sketch found Boseman busting out a new impression, as he channeled R. Kelly for a strange sequence set at Disneyland. When Cecily Strong and Melissa Villasenor approach a magical mirror at the amusement park, they see princesses like Rapunzel and Elsa in their reflection. But when Leslie Jones tries it, she only gets Boseman’s R. Kelly, who starts gyrating and making weird gestures with popcorn. Jones mentions right away that “the last place he needs to be is Disneyland,” but the sketch still treats Kelly’s overly sexual aura as a joke. It’s disappointing that our culture seems capable of only treating Kelly’s alleged sexual misconduct as nothing more than a punchline.
Cast MVP: Kenan Thompson
Fifteen seasons, baby! Thompson not only bragged about his SNL longevity during Boseman’s monologue, he also applied that experience to the rest of the episode. With so much recent cast turnover, SNL is currently lacking for memorable characters, giving extra importance to the likes of Thompson’s Black Jeopardy host, Darnell Haynes, who led Boseman through the best sketch of his episode. Thompson is always rock-steady on the show, and it’s nice when he can step up like this and demonstrate why they still need him around.
Former SNL writer (and Stefon co-creator) John Mulaney takes the spotlight with his first hosting turn on April 14. Mulaney will be accompanied by Jack White as the musical guest.