By Adrienne Onofri
May 12, 2019 at 12:48 PM EDT
Will Heath/NBC
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Emma Thompson had never hosted Saturday Night Live before?

Not in 1993, when she won the Oscar and every other film award for Howard’s End? Not in 2003, when she stole Love Actually from her multitude of costars? Not in any of those years when she was amusing/terrifying us as Nanny McPhee or Sybill Trelawney? No, she had not. It apparently took her role in the upcoming Mindy Kaling-penned film Late Night (or was it her voice performance in the recent Missing Link?) to bring Thompson to Studio 8H. Unfortunately the beloved thespian—and, since November, Dame Commander of the British Empire — was given little to do. While she appeared in almost all the sketches, only a couple of them seemed to have been created just for her; her parts in the others could be described as “featured” or “ensemble.” Not making the most of this wonderful talent, however, was only one of the faults in a show notably lacking in laughs or clever skit ideas.

Cold Open

On Meet the Press, Chuck Todd (Kyle Mooney) runs down a long list of hypothetical scenarios—starting with Robert Mueller testifying that Trump committed obstruction of justice, and progressing (or deteriorating) to Trump gay-marrying the head of ISIS while wearing garments fashioned out of the original Constitution—and for every single one of them, Republican senators Mitch McConnell (Beck Bennett), Susan Collins (Cecily Strong) and Lindsay Graham (Kate McKinnon) find a way to defend Trump. The joke is how immovably yet incomprehensibly loyal they are to Trump. That might be funnier if it weren’t so true. After all, one of the hypothetical transgressions Todd/Mooney presents is, what if Trump published your cell phone number so you got harassed by strangers and received death threats—which, as Graham/McKinnon points out, Trump “actually did to me.” This has been a problem with SNL’s Trump-related humor all season long: what they depict as comically absurd doesn’t seem so different from real life. Yet instead of landing any solidly satirical jabs, the show just mocks the Republicans for behavior that they’re not even ashamed of. So this was a weak opener, impressive only for Strong’s impersonation of Collins’ quavery voice and accent (and feeble objections to Trump).

Monologue

For the Mother’s Day episode, Thompson enlisted a couple of guest moms, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, to teach Motherspeak 101 with her. They explained, for instance, that when your mother says, “I like that shirt!” she means, “I bought you that shirt!” This wasn’t hilarious—or particularly fresh—material, though I did like the regional-specific translations, when Fey imitated a Philadelphia mother, Poehler did the same for Boston, and Thompson let us in on the whole range of possible subtexts for “Splendid!,” British mums’ favorite expression: “I’m sad, I’m happy, how are you, you embarrass me, I’m crazy, you’re drunk…” They wrapped it all up by sending loving wishes to their own children, whom each woman mentioned by name.

Best Sketch

Emma Thompson is responsible for a number of iconic screen moments in her prolific career; she was bound to re-create one of them for an SNL bit. It didn’t occur till the last half-hour, and it may have been the only unpredictable and genuine, albeit off-color, humor in the whole episode: Beauty and the Beast, as presented by the Disney Channel and Growl, “the hookup site for gay bears.” In this version, the household objects that come to life aren’t a clock and candelabra but the equipment in the Beast’s basement gym (which he hits at least four times a week). So we got the amusing visuals of Kenan Thompson as a kettlebell, Melissa Villaseñor a barbell weight, Kyle Mooney a dumbbell, and Mikey Day as a Shake Weight. But the more upsetting reveal for Belle is Chafe (Pete Davidson), Mrs. Potts’ other son—a cup with fur, because the Beast’s his father. What else was the Beast supposed to do alone in a castle for eight years but have sex with a magical teapot with a sexy accent? After Belle storms off (“I can’t believe I fell for my kidnapper again!”), they reprise the title song…with new lyrics. “How would they even mate?/Strange, to say the least/Dong goes in the spout/Baby cup comes out/Teapot and the Beast.”

Only one other sketch—the first—was tailor-made for Thompson. She played Vivian Hargrave, a royal etiquette coach teaching Meghan Markle’s Compton cousin Shanté (Leslie Jones) how to behave so she could attend the new baby’s christening. While Mrs. Hargrave is all prim and refined in front of the Royals, behind closed doors she sucker-punches her pupil when she does things wrong. This got old fast, especially since SNL has previously done at least one sketch with the royals being uncouth when no one’s looking—plus, it was as much Jones’ skit as Thompson’s. The next segment, “The Perfect Mother,” in which Thompson played mother to Heidi Gardner as a frazzled new mom, turned out to be too similar to “Best Christmas Ever” from Matt Damon’s hosting gig in December. In both of them, flashbacks show a completely different reality from the one people are reminiscing about. The evening’s other sketches were “Cinema Classics,” “Chopped,” “Judge Court,” “Tracy” and “Wait a Second, That Shouldn’t Be There!”—all of them fake TV shows or parodies of real ones. This episode clearly was not one of the writers’ better efforts, joke- or idea-wise.

Weekend Update

Like I said, not one of the better efforts joke- or idea-wise. Assorted cracks about the Times exposé on Trump’s business losses, his latest MAGA rally, China tariffs, some Red Sox boycotting the White House visit, yada yada, plus some non-Trump topics, too—none of them memorable. The guests were “teen movie critic” Bailey (Gardner) and, from real life, Pete Davidson’s mother, Amy. Who’s also his roommate, but not like he’s a loser who lives in his mom’s house—they bought a house together. He remarked that bringing her on the show is her Mother’s Day gift, since, who knows, Jon Hamm could be single and watching. And guess who was later on stage with the cast for the sendoff? Hamm!

Musical Guest

With a lineup of stale sketches, it fell to the musical guests to inject some energy in the show, and Jonas Brothers did just that. They certainly seem happy to be back performing together! They sang two tracks from the forthcoming Happiness Begins: “Sucker” in the first half and then “Cool” when they returned later in the show. Yet just when you thought JoBros were only going to give you songs off the new album, they segued from “Cool” into 2008’s “Burnin’ Up.” The brothers also briefly appeared in the “Judge Court” skit, as defendants being sued by their landlord for occurrences that sounded suspiciously like a plot from their old sitcom.

Next Week Paul Rudd hosts the season finale, with DJ Khaled as musical guest.

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The original late-night comedy sketch show from the one and only Lorne Michaels.
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