By Andy Hoglund
February 20, 2021 at 11:34 PM EST
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Coneheads, welcome to your Saturday night safe space: SNL in Review

I'll level with you all: SNL should be one of the nimblest shows on TV. Or way more fluid than it appears. Let's put aside the daunting production logistics that go into every week (no small task) — after all, we are constantly reminded of the challenges, how it's a miracle the show goes to air at all, the boilerplate. Saturday Night *Live*, in theory, has the opportunity to do whatever it wants, week-to-week, in a way few shows do. Especially in today's streaming era. Yet we know that is not the case. 

In some ways, SNL is a victim of its own 45-year traditions. Look, I get it. By its very nature, in 2021, it must adhere to familiar pacing and rhythms that have been in place for decades. Yes, some — if not a lot — of that is out of necessity. I say all this as a preamble for mentioning tonight's host, Regé-Jean Page. He's one of those wonderful known unknowns. A rare X factor. An enigma wrapped inside of a riddle. Because outside his recent breakout role as Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings, in the Netflix period drama Bridgerton, very little is known about his sensibility, or presence, or knack for comedy. And that makes tonight's episode — disregarding any expectations about how he might gel with the cast — a bit of a thrill. 

Here's what I know: Bridgerton is like an erotic romance novel come to life. "I burn for you," is Page's big, iconic line. I will be curious if they work that into a short film parody, possibly with Chloe Fineman as Daphne. Otherwise, I am here for it.

I am joined tonight by former SNL cast member Jeff Richards, who is a Netflix junkie. His favorite show at the moment is Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel. "Because we've all stayed there at some point, in our minds." Join us, will you?

Cold Open

"Oops, You Did it Again!" "Hey, y'all!" Chloe Fineman opens with a killer Britney Spears impression. She is known for her upbeat Instagram these days and the word "conservatorship." She is sponsored by the Notes app. This is already top-notch, a hilarious premise. It reminds me of the "What Was I Thinking" sketch from 1990.

Her first guest is Ted Cruz (Aidy Bryant), looking like season 2 Kenny Powers. I think we knew the show was going to go here, but Fineman's impersonation is amazing. Spears scolds him for blaming his daughters, which gets a huge applause. And, folks, I love that we have this bizarre, skewering recurring political take without resorting to celebrity outsourcing. Next up is Pete Davidson with a not god-awful take on Governor Cuomo, who has been embroiled in a scandal over recent nursing home deaths. It's a serious subject — "the Disney thing" — so laughs are tough here.

Finally, Gina Carano (Cecily Strong) is up — she also despises Ted Cruz, a big bowl of soup. 

I cannot describe how well Fineman does here, totally inhabits Spears. 100/100 work.

Spears was previously impersonated by Sarah Michelle Gellar, Christina Ricci, Amy Poehler, Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Simpson, Rachel Dratch, and Noël Wells on the show. (Ranging from 1999-2013, tonight's cold open dedicated to her shows the impact of the new documentary, and her iconic Instagram posts.)

Monologue

Page comes out, and you can sense the energy from the fangirls in the crowd. He immediately leans into his sexy reputation. But is this his only personality trait? Aidy Bryant appears to be his personal SNL liaison — as does Ego Nwodim. They love his sex scenes. "My wish was rated R," says Bryant.

Page busts out his performance of "Unchained Melody." Then Chloe from "regular SNL" shows up as Daphne — called it. And boom, he nails the famous catchphrase too. The ladies sprint off the air to rewrite the show, and show his versatility. Not bad! He seems enthusiastic! Props to Bryant and Fineman for making it onto the main stage following the cold open — Bryant has gotten a lot of shine since her return. 

Bridgerton is narrated by the legend Julie Andrews. If Jeff Richards had an opportunity to pitch a Shonda Rhimes-produced show to Netflix, he would recommend they tap David Attenborough. The premise? "'The Great Backyard' — late-night Attenborough hopped up on caffeine in his underwear filming in his backyard on his smartphone, squirrels and various animals. Sold.

Actors Spotlight

Page is Kingsley Ben-Adir from One Night in Miami. Ego Nwodim's host cannot believe he is British. Chris Redd is Daniel Kaluuya — they look nothing alike, which is hilarious. "Were you British when you made Get Out?" she howls. Kenan Thompson returns as Ice Cube — he is trying to do the accent. He wants that Oscar buzz! They encourage him just to be himself. Lots of silly gibberish.

Hugh Grant (Alex Moffat) shows up and recognizes him. Goofy fun that ends way too abruptly. I wish they could flesh out these sorts of ideas more.

"Loco" – Ego Nwodim

Another slamdunk showcase for Ego. I love the spotlight for her and Heidi tonight. Ego is out at the club, a bad bitch, dressed to the T. Except not, she's actually home alone going insane. Davidson and Bad Bunny also contribute verses — this is a really funny and cute capturing of us going stir crazy. Ego and Chloe are doing very well tonight.

Drivers License

The bittersweet "Drivers License" by Olivia Rodrigo is playing on the jukebox at a neighborhood pool hall. All the guys don't want to admit it, but it's an undeniable jam. 

They're manly men, but they all love it. It's Billie Eilish meets Taylor. "It's pure, that's for sure," says Mikey Day, crying. Props to the camera work, which captures Day standing on the pool table, belting the song at the top of his lungs. See, this is a good example of a smart premise giving an excuse for the cast members to sing together — justified by the characters, and the sharp Pitchfork-influenced writing. Who among us has not had similar discussions about earworm pop songs — it's why sites like SXN80 and Passion of the Weiss exist. 

Is this the greatest musical medley set in a pool hall since Tom Cruise danced to "Werewolves of London"? I say emphatically, yes. 

Not sure why a bearded, mugging Kate McKinnon was needed in this one, but it almost works. 

Mr. Chicken Legs Pageant

The crowd is really into tonight's show. Troy Duggins (Page) and Minnie Marko (Fineman) are hosting the competition for the skinniest male legs in America. Mikey Day appears as Chris Michael Donohue, a magician who unveils his "eighth-grade girl" legs. This is creepy, but I appreciate the strange specificity here. "Don't believe me just watch!" shouts Andrew Dismukes, committed. 

Todd Doddley (Davidson) has Jack Skellington legs, which "haunts" Page. He is awarded the winner by Aidy Bryant — his prize is the smallest little kiss. 

Cecily Strong sings. In. Every. Episode. Take a shot. 

The Job Interview

Mr. Foster Jr. (Beck Bennett) is leading an in-person job interview. He meets with Page — Foster's company makes ad campaigns on spec. Bowen Yang gives both men Dadaist notes throughout the interview. Surreal race to the bottom. They're dueling with noodles at one point. Inspired.

Bad Bunny ft. Rosalía — "La Noche de Anoche"

Rosalía joins Bunny for the slow burn reggaeton "La Noche De Anoche," released as the fourth single off his album, El Último Tour Del Mundo. This may be the first non-English song to be performed on SNL since BTS. I recall Shakira and Alejandro Sanz sang "La Tortura" during the December 10th, 2005 show. And Queen Ida — but not a ton of precedent. This is pretty cool either way, a nice performance. 

Jeff Richards wonders what makes a bunny "bad." "Not following through with plans and promises?"

Weekend Update

Colin Jost and Michael Che take their licks on Ted Cruz. Pretty brutal stuff — the outrage is real. Jost even returns to it, calling Cruz a #simp later in the segment. Ouch. 

Relationship expert Pete Davidson comes out to discuss Valentine's Day during the pandemic. He announces he is moving out of his house after watching the Britney Spears documentary, and realizing his mother could make a case to claim his finances. He compares SNL and his mom: "No matter what I do, I'm never asked to leave… they're both old and noticeably fatigued." Pretty funny monologue — and Pete has gone back to the peroxide hair? Big Time Adolescence sequel incoming when?!

Jessie Raunch (Heidi Gardner) from Community Horizons is on to discuss food insecurity. She is dressed like Freddy Krueger. Nice to see Gardner back at the Update desk; her original characters are a highlight in this era, and I wish they would be given their own sketches.

"I'm a part of kids' dreams!" she doubles down, not realizing she is exactly like out of A Nightmare on Elm Street. It was BBQ night so she is wearing the finger-knife gloves. "How sweet, fresh meat… I'm going to kill you, Michael." This is an old-school reference — sure Fred is an icon, but it's still a 37-year-old franchise. I think Gardner's other characters are fresher and more worthy of airtime, but this was still fun. 

Pete's stand-up and Gardner's original work are a solid recurring commentary duo in this iteration of Update. 

Sea Shanty

Page, Dismukes, Bennett, and the rest of the guys are pirates at sea. They are singing a shanty, yet another hat-tip to the TikTok generation tonight. Page is really impressing me tonight — great energy. 

Bad Bunny appears again — he has a very basic map. The singer previously appeared during the "SNL at Home" sketch, Big Papi Cooking Show, last April. If Jeff Richards could order and consume any food prepared by the former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, it would be "carrot cake." Mostly due to the bad bunny connection. 

Dismukes is scared they are all going to die. Kate McKinnon pops out to applause — she's getting the Kramer treatment. This one was well-executed but falls a little flat.

Let's Say Grace

A Southern white family invites their new Black neighbors. Charlie (Dismukes) gives a lackluster grace. Carl (Page) one-ups him. Nwodim shouts out the holy trinity of Destiny — Beyonce, Kelly, and, she guesses, Michelle.

The two families square off to show their passion for prayer — pretty funny and kind spoof of how two cultures approach their faith. Bernadette (Punkie Johnson) is the "big dog" — she cues up the sound system. They go full Kirk Franklin, causing everyone to dance. "G-O-D." I love Bennett doing the worm.

Jeff Richards is a fan of Punkie Johnson's work here. "She commits hard. Can't help but go where she wants to take you. Hilarious."

Bridgerton Intimacy Coordinator

"I burn for you, Daphne," Page says to Fineman, reprising her impression from the monologue. Her intimacy coordinator is out sick with COVID, so Day and Davidson get called in to supervise. They are into the idea that the two characters are brother and sister; Netflix is into dark stuff, after all. Her pasties are bright green, so they can greenscreen other people's nipples with CGI. 

The crowd roars with them in bed together. This felt a little dashed out and crass, especially since they tackled the show in the monologue. 

Bad Bunny — "Te Deseo lo Mejor"

The WWE 24/7 champ Bunny performs with his belt, pure swagger. A suitably rowdy reaction from the crowd. They're into it tonight.

The Grocery Rap

Three beastie boys (Kyle Mooney, Dismukes, Bennett) go to the grocery store to make a comedy rap video. Gardner and Page scold them. "Let us rap!" they insist, after being warned to wear COVID masks. They're taken to the manager's office and cry. This feels like a passing of the torch from Mooney to Dismukes. 

Final Thoughts

— I am very pleasantly surprised! Page was game, incredible energy especially early on. And Fineman and Nwodim's prominent roles suggest the show's future is here. What did you think? Sound off below or vote here

— Thank you to Jeff Richards again for his thoughts tonight! If Jeff had a vote, he would want to see Bill Burr host again soon. And Louie Anderson, who is appearing in Coming 2 America next month. Speaking of, check out Jeff's podcast, featuring Burr — Jeff plays Anderson. (Burr returned the favor, having Jeff guest on his Bill Bert show.) 

— Sad to see Melissa shafted again here. And Punkie and Lauren. ☹

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