Don Cheadle brought lots of enthusiasm to his first Saturday Night Live hosting gig, appearing in every sketch, both live and pre-taped, besides the cold open. Unfortunately, Cheadle’s game attitude was paired with a heaping helping of lackluster material, with most of the sketches never really finding a rhythm. There were a few that stood out, but overall, this was another mediocre outing for SNL. At least they kept it light on the political sketches, a nice change of pace from last week’s episode.
Musical guest Gary Clark Jr. also did fine work in his two performances. The guy plays a mean guitar.
Alec Baldwin was back yet again as Donald Trump to tackle the biggest political news of the week: Trump declaring a national emergency to force construction of his long-promised border wall. It was pretty dull stuff, limply lampooning the president’s Rose Garden speech announcing the state of emergency. Baldwin held forth at a podium, spouting lines like “Wall works, wall makes safe” and “I can has wall,” and waxing hopeful about the days when his “personal hell of playing president will finally be over” in true meta fashion. He then took questions from reporters, or more accurately, dodged their questions, calling reports that undocumented immigrants commit fewer crimes than U.S. citizens “faker than this emergency” and telling newly confirmed attorney general William Barr (Beck Bennett) to make up new stats on the spot. When the sketch ended, I found myself wondering, “Was that it?” That would turn out to be a recurring theme over the course of the night.
Cheadle started off strong with a quick but fun monologue. He got in some good quips (“I entered the Avengers host raffle, and I won!”) and a riff about people recognizing him on the street and asking for photos. The bit lost some steam when Leslie Jones came onstage to get her own photo with Cheadle (“Say, ‘Rwanda forever!'”), but it ended quickly after that.
A lot of the sketches had an absurdist bent tonight, which I usually tend to enjoy, but they didn’t quite hit the right mark in terms of absurdity. It was more like the writers went with the weirdest ideas they could think of in the hopes that weirdness alone would be funny. Case in point: the “Pound Puppy” short, an ad for a giant dog costume you can have sex in…you know, so your dog isn’t upset by watching you have sex. It’s an amusing image, I guess, but the bit falls flat because of the flimsiness of the premise. (Couldn’t you just…lock your dog out of the bedroom?)
And I genuinely didn’t know what to make of the “Extreme Baking” sketch. It started out as a flat one-joke bit — the contestants had to make cakes in the shape of famous cartoon characters and were terrible at it — before taking a hard left turn with the revelation that Cheadle’s Cookie Monster cake was so bad, it could talk. (And also vomit? Gross.) It was an utter mishmash, and it was terrible.
The standout sketch for me was the return of the “Fresh Takes” high school news show, which had the highest highs of any sketch tonight even if it, too, was kind of a mixed bag. Cheadle was fantastic as teacher “Mr. Paul,” appearing on a student-run news show to report on all the hottest teacher gossip with enthusiasm aplenty. (“Which teacher drives an Uber on the weekend? It will blow your mind! It will also make you sad.”) There were also a lot of amusing touches, including Kate McKinnon’s freshly out of braces student who couldn’t stop licking her teeth, and the running thread of the upcoming winter formal dance. (After McKinnon rejected Kyle Mooney’s invite to the dance, Cheadle breezily declared, “If I were that kid, I’d change schools!”) The sketch had its share of clunker jokes (a bit about the whole wrestling team having ringworm came out of nowhere) but the good moments were enough to save it, which was decidedly not the case with most of the other sketches.
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