Saturday Night Live recap: Harry Styles turns the lights up as host and musical guest
Welcome back to SNL in Review, fellow Coneheads! Season 45 rumbles on with tonight’s episode, hosted by another multihyphenate talent pulling double duty, Harry Styles. Because time is a flat circle, Styles is the latest pop superstar to be embraced by the show. Previously, he performed with One Direction in 2012, 2013, and 2014, popping up in various sketches alongside his groupmates.
In 2012, they played the children of Sofia Vergara in “The Manuel Ortiz Show.” In 2013, they performed “Afternoon Delight” with the cast of Anchorman during Paul Rudd’s opening monologue, then appeared in the Concert Line pre-tape. And in 2014, the group participated in Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong’s “Girlfriends Talk Show.” Styles later performed solo on April 15, 2017, hosted by Jimmy Fallon. Here’s his role in that episode’s Civil War sketch.
He’s also shown his dramatic acting chops, bringing a nefarious Mick Jagger-esque edge to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. (The Jagger comparison is apt, given Styles previously played the Rolling Stones frontman in a Celebrity Family Feud-inspired sketch on SNL.) But tonight’s hosting gig will surely be less informed by Jagger, and be more akin to when Justin Timberlake — another boy band leading man who shifted into solo projects/films — first hosted.
Style’s latest album, Fine Line, will be released next month. Given his passionate stans — who’ve apparently been attempting to line up outside 30 Rock all week — this may be the most popular SNL since at least BTS performed. The question is: Will he become another Timberlake, the latest in the proud tradition of pop princes hosting SNL… or — gulp — Bieber?
I’m joined tonight by former cast member Jeff Richards. Jeff was on SNL back in 2003 when Justin Timberlake made his hosting debut. “Justin was so natural on the show. He’d acted like he’d been there before,” he says, reflecting on Timberlake’s seamless transition to sketch comedy. “I just remember how naturally confident he was from the Monday meeting. No one ever worried about him.”
You don’t need to read tea leaves to know the odds are high for tonight’s cold open to focus on the recent public impeachment hearings. On a probability scale of 1 to 100, Jeff Richards says: “100.”
So let’s see if Bill Hader returns as the angry, craven Jim Jordan, shall we?
Sure enough, we launch into the impeachment hearings. Tapping into the public’s indifference, their spin is to make the hearings a real-time political soap opera. “Necessary to get people’s attention.”
Not a lot of laughs so far. Interestingly, they brought in Jon Hamm as Bill Taylor, but no Hader as Jim Jordan. Mikey Day gets the role this time. Kate McKinnon returns as Giulani, and Beck Bennett is back as the calculating, turtle-like Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. Birthday boy Pete Davidson pops up as Michael “Avocado.” (He attempts to make the joke be how he, a professional comic, doesn’t know who he’s impersonating. Premise does not really carry over.)
It’s possible the studio audience is not familiar enough with the impeachment players here to find it funny. The only real laughs are from seeing Heidi Gardner fall down. This goes on for awhile. But hey, at least Melissa Villaseñor brings back her AOC — and gets to kiss Jon Hamm!
Styles delivers his monologue with slow, steady monotone. Perhaps nervous? But listening to the cheers Style elicits from the crowd really sells the moment this guy’s having. And also: It’s a reminder how much SNL cultivates a tween audience. OK boomer :)
He makes a few millennial jokes, and acknowledges doubts about his musicianship. He even jokes about his former One Direction mates showing up. He lands one joke, though: “Everyone thinks everyone here does cocaine. They don’t! That’s why the show’s no good anymore!” Beat. “EXCEPT TONIGHT!”
This is low-key, low stakes, and muted.
Some of you little Coneheads may remember that Timberlake’s debut hosting gig featured the first-ever “Barry Gibbs Talk Show.” Jeff Richards appeared as Al Franken. Richards says, “I think [Steve] Higgins came up with it with Jimmy [Fallon], but not positive. It did great at the read-through. Everyone loved how silly it was.”
Styles plays Rob, a new intern at an office who recommends picking up a bunch of the new Popeye’s chicken sandwiches for lunch. This sends huge alarm bells for his black co-workers (Ego Nwodim and Kenan Thompson). SNL’s skits on race relations continue to do well.
“There’s not many things in this country where our people get first dibs,” Thompson says. “But the Popeye’s chicken sandwich is one of them.”
So, tonight seems to be aiming for amusing moments over big laughs. This song — about a cute woman, played by Aidy Bryant, and her dog, Doug — starts out sweet-natured and simple, until the major reveal: Joan is imagining her dog is actually Harry Styles. I especially love Style’s confession that he’s eaten underwear causing an expensive blockage in his intestine. This season is very preoccupied with dogs, isn’t it?
Styles and Gardner play a pregnant couple from Iceland, in the U.S. on lip-synching visas. Groomed on Instagram lingo, they unsettle the other couples (Ego Nwodim and Chris Redd, Mikey Day and Melissa Villaseñor), as well as the teacher (Aidy Bryant). It’s silly — a good chance to watch Styles goof off.
Harry Styles and Mikey Day are co-pilots heading to San Francisco. They begin dirty-talking about Scooby-Doo, not realizing they’ve left their intercoms on. They continue to put their feet in their mouths, as the passengers grow increasingly alarmed. Day has the pilot’s cadence down. Also worth noting: Bryant and McKinnon are again partnered together — we don’t seem them working off Strong nearly as often. “Howwwwww-dy, folks!”
ANOTHER DOG SPOTTED, WHAT IS HAPPENING.
That’s The Game
Chris Redd and Kenan Thompson are rival drug dealers. Redd is pushing Thompson out, with one mistake: He has no clue who to sell to, or how to reach them. It’s a great showcase for Redd, who is at his best when he’s being comically intense. “Or maybe he’s in!” he snarls, realizing he’s way over his head. “DEAL!”
Harry Styles — “Lights Up”
Styles sings “Lights Up,” the first single off his upcoming sophomore solo album. Backed by a guitar, horn, and small chorus, it’s a simple, pleasant performance. Styles, interestingly, is dressed like one of the Osmonds.
It’s kind of wild tonight marks the fifth time Styles has performed on SNL. Feels like a lot for someone who is only 25!
Our heroes Jost and Che lay into impeachment. The studio audience sounds asleep. Maybe it’s a mistake to wait outside in 30-degree weather for days — dampens the laughter. They don’t even applaud when Che requests they back him up on his claim Hitler would prefer being friends with Jost over Stephen Miller. (Che cops to not watching the hearings, by the way. It’s like SNL wants it both ways — mock people’s indifference to Trump’s behavior, while also embodying the same indifference. Like Davidson claiming to not know how to pronounce Avenatti in the cold open. Some tension there.)
Kate McKinnon shows up again as messed-up baby Jeff Sessions, who recently announced he is running for Senate again. Sessions’ plea for Trump’s love, and Alabama’s support for his candidacy, seems to win people over. “I’ll bend over backwards for you Alabama, and bend over forwards for Donald Trump,” McKinnon-as-Sessions says. “I’ll go to bat for Alabama, and go to third base for Trump.”
Afterward, Kyle Mooney comes on to give commentary as Scooter Rineholdt, advocating for dairy milk. Asked by Che about non-dairy milk alternatives, he hollers, “I’d rather drink my own piss!” before dousing himself in milk.
The segment ends with a silent tribute to Rick Ludwin, the late-night executive who championed SNL for years. (And helped launch Seinfeld.) A true legend. This is a classy move.
What a faux pas! This sketch gives me professional anxiety. Styles plays a social media account executive who has screwed up at work. He’s been posting under Sara Lee’s IG account instead of his own. His obsessions include Nick Jonas — a nice in-joke — and “fashion twink”… a.k.a. Julio Torres! Styles does well, and this is a fun sketch for Cecily Strong and Bowen Yang.
This is also like an inversion of the Ken Instagram conceit from a little bit ago.
Baby Faye and Her Newsboys
An aged child star played by Cecily Strong is joined by Styles, Beck Bennett, and Mikey Day as her News Guys. At 45, Baby Faye comes out and nearly performs a split — major Molly Shannon vibes here, guys! The New Guys’ intro does her no favors, and soon she’s joined on stage by a deranged Aidy Bryant as her mother. This has a bizarre Baby Jane vibe to it, I’m here for it. When modern SNL gets strange, they may lose the audience, but they earn my love!
Harry Styles — “Watermelon Sugar”
Introduced by Jon Hamm, Styles — decked out in all red — performs “Watermelon Sugar,” the second song off Fine Line. This is a funky track, and reveals a more mature side to Styles as a performer, though I suspect it’s likely about drugs.
Styles and Chris Redd come out as an LMFAO-style duo paying tribute to a recently departed grandmother at her funeral. Their EDM halts with interjections of “Say Something,” ”Everybody Hurts,” and that Sarah McLachlan song, “Angel.” The family, naturally, is not thrilled. Styles eventually gets in his underwear, which the crowd seems to enjoy!
This reminds me of when Kenny Powers interrupted Shane Dog’s funeral during season 3 of Eastbound & Down.
There you have it! A slight, not especially inspired SNL that seemed to find a bit of momentum late in the episode. Styles was solid, but lacked any breakout moments like Timberlake once did. He distinguished himself more than Nick Lachey, I’ll give him that.
— Want more Jeff Richards impersonating SNL alumni? Check out his Collider deepfake roundtable where he plays Robert Downey Jr. It’s hilarious.
— What did YOU think of tonight’s show? Let me know in the comments, or vote here.
— I’m intrigued and impressed by the news Jenny Lewis is opening for Harry Styles on his upcoming tour. In college, there were few albums I loved more than Under the Blacklight.
— Was Chloe Fineman in this episode? I may have missed her!