As we approach the end of Saturday Night Live’s 44th season, they’re pulling out the big guns with host Emma Stone and musical guest BTS, but some sketches hit more like a BB gun taking strange potshots.
It started strong, despite a different vibe, with a topical but less (blatantly) political cold open, flat-out blaming the anti-climactic and disappointing Mueller Report (as EW’s recap two weeks ago also claimed) for MSNBC’s return to “prison shows,” specifically “Lockup: Chino Correctional Facility.” As inmates Chris Redd, Kyle Mooney, and Kenan Thompson initiated a “crazy-off” about the violent crimes that landed them there, SNL MVP Kate McKinnon appeared as Lori Loughlin with the ultimate power play: that she “paid 500 grand to get my daughter into USC” as a communications major, also dropping the term “Influencer on Instagram” as the most terrifying job title, sending chills down Thompson’s spine. (Not sure exactly what communications students did to deserve that dig, but there you go.) But Loughlin isn’t the only badass in the cell, as Pete Davidson (accidentally shown in a premature shot) makes his official entrance as recently charged lawyer Michael Avenatti, who lists off several charges and threatens to run for president. But the ultimate ruffian in the cell is WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, portrayed by guest cameo Michael Keaton, who starred with Emma Stone in 2014’s Birdman, and channeled his Tim Burton-directed turn as Batman from 1989. The juvenile but funny line “Is there a bathroom around here, because I really have to take a WikiLeak” drew laughs, and Melissa Villaseñor made a strange appearance as Tekashi 6ix9ine.
Emma Stone appeared in a cute tailored jacket-top, short black mini, and super spikey heels to kick off her hosting duties with an opening monologue that started very sweet, as she acknowledged her mom and grandma in the audience and gave a shoutout to the legend Gilda Radner. Then she postured for the other SNL cast members to give her a unique 4th-time hosting experience with presents and specially-composed songs. It’s awkward, with McKinnon and Thompson approaching a Garth and Kat-style rendition of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry,” but McKinnon’s deer-in-the-headlights look is always worth the price of admission. Stone’s response thanking them for writing “an original song just for me” is adorable. She just as genuinely thanks Aidy Bryant for giving her a specially-engraved bracelet, straight from Bryant’s own wrist, that reads “Penicillin allergy.” Aw, how sweet. SNL’s reasons for Villaseñor to do more impressions sometimes feel contrived, but said impressions are always hysterical. Happily, she had a bigger role in this episode overall.
The sketches were hit and miss, starting off with a throwback to one they did the last time Stone hosted in 2016: Pete Davidson as a not-too-bright college student getting history advice from the posters on his wall, including Stone as a hypersexualized, objectified pinup girl who’s even less scholastically adept than Davidson’s student. The sketch has a few funny lines, from Mikey Day as rapper Li’l Percocet, Thompson and Ego Nwodim (underused on the show) as superheroes Black
Panther Puma and Jaguara, and Beck Bennett as “WME superstar Mad Dog Dugan,” as well as Stone’s hysterical delivery as Krissy Knox, “one of Maxim magazine’s 50 hottest girls from rural areas.” But as the bit went on, it became less funny and more insulting, with Stone jiggling her assets to prove how useless she was to Davidson’s already failing student.
The night’s standout sketch featured the main cast’s incredibly strong women portraying the “5 best friends with nothing in common” who host The View: Leslie Jones, funny and mostly staying in character as Whoopi Goldberg (“Talking toes: why so nasty?”); Cecily Strong as the insecure former Fox & Friends co-host Abby Huntsman; the always strong McKinnon as Joy Behar; Villaseñor’s awesome Republican Trump-basher Ana Navarro, Bryant as “the princess of Arizona” Meghan McCain; and eventually bringing out Stone as former View co-host and anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy. While all the women were funny—especially the Behar-McCain standoff and Whoopi chilling them in classic The Office-style with a water sprayer—the sketch moved into too real #FunnyNotFunny territory with McCarthy’s anti-vax rhetoric.
There’s a strange sexism pervading some of tonight’s sketches and causing this writer to wonder if there are any women left on the SNL writing team (there are, but they’re vastly outnumbered). Stone’s Krissy Knox practically proved the point they unclearly made in the night’s final digital short, “The Actress,” where Stone portrayed a thespian struggling to find depth in and make the most of a dearth of roles for women, as she plays the cheated-on wife in a gay porno. It was interesting, though short on laughs, more weird than anything else, and probably could have gone further to make their point (if that indeed was their point).
Making a stronger showing were the two remaining digital shorts: an ad for “Fashion Coward” (“It’s just Ann Taylor”), featuring clothes “that suggest the general idea of a person,” as well as “far mirrors,” and “mercy gas that knocks you out” when you take too long making a decision. While some jokes went a little over my head (what’s wrong with cruising with my parents?), many hit home.
Villaseñor showed a different side of herself in a featured video short where she rapped about embracing her identity through her nerdy hobbies, while Stone tried to escape the conversation—only for the tables to turn when Stone finally opened up, rapping about her hobbies. The song was fun, the message was cool (mostly), and it’s always entertaining seeing these women perform. It’s also great that they’re giving Villaseñor more to do.
Anchors and co-head writers Colin Jost and Michael Che went through a variety of excruciating topics both known and not-so-well known, including the Julian Assange arrest, video of Donald Trump lying about his knowledge of WikiLeaks (with Jost rhetorically asking the not-insignificant question “What is your deal in life? …since you brought it up.”), Trump’s threat to sanctuary cities, and Kirstjen Nielsen’s resignation—with an interesting recount of all the unfilled security positions in Trump’s cabinet. Plus, a story about dolphin sexual organs, and a gross McDonald’s joke. At least they got a laugh with their description that the upcoming Grease prequel Summer Nights will “explain why everyone in that high school was in their late 30s.”
Their guest correspondent segments were equally as painful, though Bryant’s 7th-grade tour guide Carrie Krum less so than Day and Heidi Gardner’s (who also needs more to do) Instagram couple Brie and Nico. Bryant is adorable, but her Carrie felt a bit like an attempt at replacing Stefon, which is too high a bar to reach, as much as Bryant is up for the task. Brie and Nico again went from cute to way too real as a couple whose relationship is much more volatile than they appear to be online. They became caricatures of the worst possible couple, alternating between sickly sweet and borderline abusive, not to mention insulting.
The hugely popular BTS made history as the first K-pop group to play SNL, and their fans were there. For. It. They gave two widely disparate-sounding performances. The first, their melodic soft-pop song “Boy with Luv,” and the second, the harder, more rap-influenced “Mic Drop.” Both showcased the band’s tightly choreographed, super high-energy, extremely entertaining performance style that gave each of its seven members a turn at center stage.
After a two-week break, SNL returns with alum Adam Sandler hosting for the first time, and adorable expert performer Shawn Mendes as musical guest.
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