Saturday Night Live recap: Childish Gambino outshines host Donald Glover
Donald Glover gives his auteur persona a rest and just has fun in his 'SNL' debut
Donald Glover can truly do it all.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the talented Solo actor gave a winning showcase in his first turn on Saturday Night Live, pulling double duty as both host and musical guest. He was funny, confident, game for almost anything, and unafraid to inject the storied sketch show with his unique, expectation-defying, and very specific sense of humor.
While I’d say his musical performances, which featured two new and very different songs, eclipsed anything he did in the sketches, I will admit that the best part of the episode was that his hosting duties reminded me of why we all fell in love with Glover in the first place. Since Atlanta’s first season, it’s felt like we’ve been uniquely focused on Glover the auteur, to the point where we’ve nearly forgotten this is the guy who got his start with Derrick Comedy, wrote the quintessential nerd rap song “Freaks and Geeks,” and played the lovably clueless jock Troy Barnes on Community. That feeling only escalated with the recent round of profiles during the lead-up to the (excellent) second season of Atlanta, and the fact that he gives such an interior performance on the show. However, watching SNL last night, it felt like Glover finally found a way to unify all his many sides and gave us a fuller sense of who he is, from his hyper-specific pop-culture interest (“’80s Music Video” and the short “Friendos”) to his sillier side (“Courtroom”). Sure, not every sketch was iconic, but it was great just to watch him have fun in public again.
Here are the highlights.
Cold Open: “Michael Cohen Wiretap”
SNL was determined to prove that more is actually more with this week’s cold open. Ben Stiller returned as the very anxious Michael Cohen, who was desperately trying to setup a conference call between Donald Trump (Alec Baldwin) and his inner circle to discuss the latest turn in the Stormy Daniels scandal, which was all being recorded by the FBI. What ensues was a tour of Trump’s cronies, featuring many surprising faces. Martin Short cameoed as Dr. Harold Bornstein; Scarlett Johansson returned to play Ivanka Trump and was joined by Jimmy Fallon, who delivered a high-pitched performance as her husband, Jared Kushner; and SNL cast members Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant, and Leslie Jones turned up as Melania Trump, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Omarosa. All of that was perfectly fine and gave us a few laughs.
As I watched the cold open, I was prepared to declare Kate McKinnon as the highlight because she debuted a Rudy Giuliani impression, proving that she can truly play anyone in the Trump administration; however, McKinnon was quickly overshadowed by a surprise appearance from the woman who is causing so many problems for the White House: porn star Stormy Daniels. I haven’t been the biggest fan of SNL’s recent political humor (I’m in the camp that very much dislikes Baldwin’s Trump impression), but I audibly gasped when Daniels first appeared on screen and proceeded to tell Baldwin’s Trump that she would drop all this if he resigned. SNL definitely deserves some applause for landing such a high-profile guest.
Glover started out the night with a joke about being Danny Glover’s father, calling back to when he first started out and many people thought he was related to the veteran actor. From there, he went on to reveal how great it was to be hosting SNL after auditioning for it twice, and we came to learn in the monologue that he’s still humorously bitter about it. The bulk of his very charming and self-deprecating monologue was dedicated to his multi-hyphenate status. Backed by a jazzy accompaniment in the key of D, as requested, Glover strolled around the studio crooning, “I really can do anything” as he failed at doing many things, including skateboarding, fixing a light, and playing the clarinet, and asking the cast members he encountered what they did for their audition, because he’s clearly still not over getting rejected.
Best sketch: “Friendos”
Glover’s love of Migos has been clear since the rap group’s cameo in Atlanta season 1 and the shoutout he gave them in his Golden Globes acceptance speech in 2017. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he found a way to do something unique with one of his passions. Starring Kenan Thompson, Glover, and Chris Redd as the Friendos, this hilarious sketch reveals that going to therapy with Dr. Angela Adelson (Strong) helps this Migos-like rap group “stay shinin’,” because sometimes rappers need help figuring out what’s at the core of an argument over whose idea it was to buy a dope ice-cream Lamborghini with suicide doors. What makes this sketch so fantastic is how specific it is. It would’ve been very easy to parody Migos’ rap style — which the sketch does as the Friendos celebrate their breakthrough and group-hug with some rapping — but this pretaped bit drills down even further and finds a funnier and more offbeat concept. In many ways, “Friendos” feels like natural progression from the bit Glover did on how corny old school hip-hop was in his 2013 Comedy Central special, Weirdo. (Also, I’ll admit that I was kind of moved watching the Friendos work through their insecurities and open up to each other).
Runner-up: “A Kanye Place”
Kanye West’s recent Twitterstorm ends up getting quite a few people killed in this parody of A Quiet of Place. Glover, Bryant, Strong, Thompson, and Beck Bennett played a squad trying to quietly pass through a field without alerting the sound-sensitive monsters. Unfortunately, that task is made all the more difficult by West’s recent tweets, which everyone in the group couldn’t help but react to. Thompson is the first one who gets dragged away by the monsters when he yells, “Oh, come on!” after seeing West’s signed MAGA hat. However, the funniest bit was Bryant demanding confirmation that West actually released a song in which he raps “poopity scoop” before being dragged away too. The entire bit captured the truly WTF nature of West’s recent media storm, including his controversial TMZ interview. Sure, there are more important things to focus on (as Bennett reminds the group throughout), but this is just so mind-blowingly unusual that you can’t help but stop and stare.
Most Donald Glover sketch: “’80s Music Video”
The renaissance man with the Hollywood buzz once again showed off his idiosyncratic sense of humor in this parody of “The Rain,” Orin “Juice” Jones’ stalkery ’80s R&B song about betrayal. Here, the Community vet plays Raz P. Berry, a creepy R&B singer who tails a woman he believes is his cheating girlfriend and confronts her about her infidelity, revealing all the absurd and disgusting things he’s done to get his revenge (including showering himself in his urine because he knows she hates the smell and sticking her jewelry up his butt). While this bit reminded me of the old-school rap bit from Weirdo, it was also reminiscent of the Childish Gambino music video “Sober,” which draws on and subverts catcall-y R&B songs and music videos like Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.”
The mandatory Solo sketch : “Lando’s Summit”
“Where the hell are all the black people in space?” asks Glover’s Lando Calrissian in this pointed sketch, which confronts Star Wars’ diversity problem head-on. Lando holds a summit for all the black people in the galaxy, but unfortunately, only three other people show up. “Lots of lizard men wearing vests, just four black people, though,” says a smirking Glover. There were some hilarious lines (“I love alien girls because it’s always a surprise when their clothes come off”), and Thompson delivered a pretty spot-on impression of Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrara; however, it wasn’t as sharp as it could’ve been. But that’s a small complaint because I’ll take any chance to spend more time with Glover’s charming take on Lando.
Best musical moment: “Saturday,” by Childish Gambino
Childish Gambino, Glover’s musical alter ego, debuted two new songs last night: new block-party anthem “Saturday” and the Kanye West-reminiscent and very political “This Is America.” (Gambino also released a stunning and powerful new video to accompany the latter song midway through the show, which you can check out here.) I thought both performances were great and definitely elevated the entire episode, but my favorite was definitely “Saturday,” which was fun, joyful, and had irresistible Off the Wall vibe. Glover looked liked he was having the time of his life performing “Saturday” too, especially during the dance break. (Glover gave us yet another treat by having Zoë Kravitz and Daniel Kaluuya introduce his performances.)
Best “Weekend Update” punchline:
Michael Che on the recent developments in the Trump/Stormy Daniels scandal: “How did y’all land on $130,000? That’s such an oddly specific number. I asked Stormy to come on Update to explain it, but her agent said no because if she’s seen on camera with a black guy, her price goes down.”
Cast MVP: Kenan Thompson
As one of a few black cast members on SNL, Thompson appeared in almost every sketch of the night. So he deserves this award alone for putting in so much hard work. Also, as I mentioned before, I did love his impression of Saw Gerrera.
Amy Schumer hosts with musical guest Kacey Musgraves. You can probably expect a sketch or opening monologue that takes on I Feel Pretty’s critics.