By Andy Hoglund
February 01, 2020 at 11:52 PM EST
NBC
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Welcome back, my fellow Coneheads, to SNL in Review. Tonight’s host is the defensive end for the Houston Texans, J.J. Watt. You’ve got to tip your hat to our show overlords on the timing here: this Saturday Night Live episode is going live less than 24 hours from the start of Super Bowl LIV. I am curious whether that will be a potential sketch hook!

Episodes hosted by athletes tend to be a mixed bag for the show, historically. Performing live is not everyone’s strong suit, which in turn forces the show’s writers and cast to lean on hackier conceits. (Cough, paging Deion Sanders.) However, in the era of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jason Momoa, and John Cena, musclebound sports figures have displayed a knack for comedy, so it’s more than possible Watt will bring a similar flair. (No one wants to relive a Yankee Wives-type sketch premise again, after all.)

I am joined today by former SNL cast member, Gary Kroeger, who says: “I love when athletes host because the expectation is low in terms of being funny and I think the writers up their game to accommodate them with clever use..  Some of my favorite shows, as a viewer, were athletes. Peyton Manning and Michael Jordan come to mind.”

Some of you will recall Watt has some comedy bona fides already: he appeared as Coach Craig in the 2016 Mila Kunis comedy, Bad Moms.

Watt is the first NFL star to host SNL since Eli Manning in 2012. And previously, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning hosted during the aughts, so Watt is the first non-quarterback to be tapped in some time. Other NFL luminaries to host include John Madden, Fran Tarkenton, Joe Montana, Walter Payton, and… O.J. Simpson.

So, buckle up sports fans – here’s the kickoff. Live from [wherever you watching, ya’ll], let’s DO THIS!

Cold Open

SNL returns to the impeachment! “The trial you wish had happened” speaks to how anti-climatic proceedings have been. The show — like some Americans — view this as half wish fulfillment half entertainment.

First off, Mikey Day’s John Roberts is immediately replaced with Kenan Thompson’s Judge Mathis. Between Beck Bennett as Mitch McConnell, and Kate McKinnon as Lindsey Graham, these cartoonish Southern accents are out of control. (And the less we talk about Kyle Mooney mugging as Joe Pesci, the better. Just bring back Jim Breuer FFS. WOOF.)

Pete Davidson pops up — after being noticeably MIA last week — as Hunter Biden. He’s serviceable. Less recognizable? Cecily Strong as John Bolton; Strong was announced as the star of a new Amazon show this week. How much longer will she be on the show? She could pull a Shrill and stick around, given it’s an election year. #HM

And of course, Alec Baldwin returns as his hacky Trump. Lots of bad stuff to parse here, friends. I can’t — it’s like an MSNBC Mad Lib.

Monologue

Watt comes out with one-liners about his upbringing, and football family. Watching him posture as a stand-up is a little like Robert Deniro’s broken Jake La Motta at the end of Raging Bull. Not exactly inspired so far tonight, folks. I guess it’s refreshing to see a low concept monologue once in a while.  Makes you wonder: Why did the show tap him to host?

Frozen II Outtakes

“Anna, Olaf, I’m gay,” says McKinnon as Frozen’s Elsa, cutting through the subtext and Twitter theories.

Strong shows up to sing a Disney parody — this could be a pilot for her new musical show, eh? Watt only seems slightly embarrassed to sing something called “Big and Woke.” Day pops in as an inappropriate Olaf. It is funny to see the song call out Thompson’s shoehorned diversity hire, though.

Robbie

Bennett is a college football coach; Chris Redd is a Radio/Rudy-style aspiring player on the practice squad. His teammates make a principled stand on his behalf — since he has heart — until Watt, a true competitor, cuts the fantasy down. “He sucks at football!”

This is a well-observed commentary on that kind of movie. Robbie does not know the plays, and — as Thompson’s janitor points out — in D1 passion does not count for anything. Ability matters at that level!

Father/Son Sex Talk

Mooney has caught his parents having sex, so his dad (Watt) decides to put it in unnecessary context. A little TMI! Aidy Bryant also joins as the matriarch, talking about how she “turned daddy out.” Watt references Mr. Miyagi in this sketch. Following the My Cousin Vinny call out in the cold open, this is a very Ralph Macchio heavy episode.

Olay Eye Black Commercial

Watt was shy about his puffy eyes until his Brolay sponsorship. Jack Daniels meets gasoline! “Rip it and stick it!” This is mostly a laughless affair – the studio audience sounded genuinely horrified at the sight of Alex Moffat exfoliating his broken nose.

Luke Combs – “Lovin’ on You”

Luke Combs is a burly, throwback 90s-style country star. His appearance on SNL this week comes as the genre is at an inflection point. Several days earlier, living legend Loretta Lynn even claimed country music was “dead.” So the stakes may be a tad high. This has a great vibe though the music video for “Lovin’ on You” came out last summer! Little surprised he opened with it. I could see this song being featured on the Roadhouse soundtrack. Fun!

Weekend Update

Colin Jost kicks off a relatively subdued Update. Michael Che claims he’s a Republican now — he can’t be a Democrat and a Knicks fan. He can’t always lose! He also says Congress should have never pursued impeachment. (Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.) Jost — ever the good spot — expresses shock at Jared Kushner’s ’80s rich kid villain vibes, and compares their shared white entitlement.

Things perk up with the return of Bowen Yang’s Trade Daddy (AKA Chen Biao) – now he’s China’s Crisis Queen. This is his third appearance at the Update desk — a breath of fresh air. (“Wash your hands, our phones are covered in poop,” he advises.)

Ego Nwodim also appears as Dr. Angie Hynes. Instead of celebrating black American heroes, she calls out those who have wronged her. They’re “black and history to me.” Danitra Vance would’ve killed at this back in the day. There’s something here, definitely. I hope they let her grow — maybe give her a talk show segment like Nat X?

Two sperm jokes on Update tonight. Gross! This segment was abrupt tonight.

Pilot Hunk

SNL returns to The Bachelor parody, giving each one of the female cast members a chance to shine. “Sorry, can I steal him for a sec?” For someone with Watt’s range, he’s well cast here. “Hehe, I love that,” he deadpans, multiple times. Chloe Fineman’s twin is a strange highlight.

Madden 21 Voiceover

Watt is playing himself again, this time contributing to the latest Madden video game. I do like a sketch being built around a former SNL host — Madden, of course, appeared during the Eddie Murphy era. The video game version of JJ Watt makes a lot of mistakes! He increasingly says embarrassing and self-effacing things. His avatar is quite goofy. This feels like a Mikey Day script! And Ego is getting decent airtime tonight.

Food Dudes

Bennett and Mooney order late-night food, but do not want the shame of eating alone. The crowd is not on board, seemingly, but this is smart and silly.

Luke Combs –  “Beer Never Broke My Heart”

Another jam — and also an older track. This was Combs’s first single from his second studio album What You See Is What You Get. It reached No. 2 of the US Country chart. Combs looks like Action Bronson, but he’s got a fun presence. Combs is joining an impressive roster of country stars to perform on SNL: Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Tim McGraw, and Johnny Cash are among the genre’s musical guests.

My Fair Bigfoot

It’s London in the 19th century. A reformed Bigfoot (Watt) joins a high society dinner party. Watt looks like a close relative to Phil Hartman’s classic Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. (Well, the premise is Encino Man/Young Frankenstein…) This is a textbook 10-to-1, with goofy excrement innuendo.

Big Willie’s Pizza

This is a send-up of the typical porn cliche — the porn actresses seduce the pizza boy. The setting shifts to what happens next: Watt is reprimanded by his boss, Thompson. This has a good energy to it: a real story, but a lot of one-liners too. Hate to say it: this might be tonight’s highlight!

“Ya damn sicko!” hollers Thompson. “Damn phone!”

Final Thoughts

-In the goodnights, Watt is wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey, a classy tribute to the fallen superstar.

-Soo… what did you all think? If you have a free moment, weigh in below — or vote here!

-Thank you to Gary Kroeger for his time!

-Join me next week for RUPAUL! Should be a lot more fun!

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