Saturday Night Live recap: Maya Rudolph and her Beyoncé impression return
Ahoy, ahoy fellow Coneheads. Blossom by blossom the spring begins — and so does a new stretch of Saturday Night Live episodes! This batch kicks off with living legend, singer, voice actress extraordinaire Maya Rudolph returning to host. While her previous stint in the host chair was way back in season 37, Rudolph's turn as VP Kamala Harris practically turned her into a de facto cast member last fall. As discussed in a recent episode of the superlative SNL Stats podcast that makes tonight's show similar to the Alec Baldwin episode in 2017, following an avalanche of Trump cold open appearances. In other words, there may be a certain familiarity to the proceedings here. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it will lack that certain special itch, or je ne sais quoi, from when Adam Sandler or Eddie Murphy, returning cast members of that caliber, came back to 8H.
I am joined tonight by former SNL cast member Patrick Weathers. He says that the modern SNL has "got a very talented cast. The problems are always on writing with the show. It comes up, and it goes down. That's always a concern."
He's not wrong, but I have a sense we could be in for something special, at least in terms of tonight's cold open. Let's jump into the fray and see what Rudolph, and tonight's musical guest Jack Harlow have to offer!
It's Snatched, Vaxed, or Waxed! Maya Rudolph is Cece Vuvuzela, the Florida-based game show host: "We're so close to the end, let's ruin it!" It's always special when the host appears in the cold open. Kyle Mooney, Beck Bennett, and Chris Redd are the vacuous, partying contestants guessing which spring breaker has the COVID-19 vaccination.
Ordinarily, I applaud creative approaches tackling current events like this in the cold open. But this felt rushed and one-note.
Rudolph comes out and talks about her parents getting their vaccine. "Goodbye sweater weather, hello leather weather." She talks about her four kids, who are in attendance. As an elder statesman of Studio 8H, she summons the new cast members (Punkie Johnson, Andrew Dismukes, and Lauren Holt) to offer advice. It turns into an extended Breakfast Club riff; Punkie seems embarrassed to be up there. "We're all going to be alright."
Rudolph certainly sells this, I will give her that. "She's phenomenal, highly talented," asserts Patrick Weathers.
Weathers has his own advice for new cast members trying to make their mark: "When you're trying to get on air, and get something written for yourself and be successful, I can tell you of things I did that worked, and things that didn't. Seduce as many of the people to work with you on it as possible — the writers, people from the different camps that spring up. Get them to work with you, you will have more allies. If you pepper it around properly at the writers' meeting you have a good shot of getting it into dress, and on the air. But don't break anyone's kneecaps."
Celebrities answer questions while eating hot wings! Beyoncé (Rudolph) is guesting and this appearance may be beneath her. Beyoncé was one of Rudolph's recurring characters while she was on the show; the first appearances were during the "Prince Show" sketch and then the classic "Baby Blue Ivy" sketch. The Hitler wing is closing her throat. The Devil's Diarrhea scorpion sauce is also causing her trouble. "Oh damn! Kiss my ass!" she hollers. "This wing is wrecking me." Room temperature milk and water are being sprayed everywhere, as she rubs her eyes.
Boomers music video
This is a goofy riff on late '90s jiggy rap — Chris Redd's Puffy leads a team of baby boomers, selfishly taking all the vaccinations from younger generations. Melissa Villaseñor really kills the chorus here. Thompson's channels an elderly Biggie, which is bittersweet. And Nwodim's Edith is a scene-stealer.
A Kamala Harris Unity Seder
VP Harris is celebrating a new beginning. She introduces her husband co-host, Doug Emhoff (played by Martin Short). It is so excellent seeing season 10 cast member Short back on the show, especially since Rudolph worked with him on their own (ill-fated) variety show. Then again, the stunt casting is regrettable.
Their first guest is Aidy Bryant's Ted Cruz. He blames his daughters for scratching Doug's prius. Ella Emhoff is played by Chloe Fineman. Sprockets vibe here.
Joe Biden (Alex Moffat) shows up too. Short's line reading stumbles over his entrance. Biden's dog Major joins him and, shockingly, attacks Doug. The crowd is silent. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Cecily Strong) shows up as well. This is a mess. I am disappointed.
One thing of note: tonight's Kamala sketch was written by Rudolph's long-time collaborator and BFF Emily Spivey. Previously, she worked as a staff writer on SNL during Rudolph's tenure as a cast member; she was also the creator of the series Up All Night and Bless the Harts, both of which costarred Rudolph.
Patrick Weathers says that, as Harris, Rudolph "does an excellent job, one of the best impressions they've got on the show. She plays off of Biden and the relationship. I always thought, if they didn't win the election — actually I thought this when they were feuding during the debates — that they would make an excellent detective show. The seasoned old private eye and the upstart, younger female protege. There's maybe a little sexual energy between them but nothing that is acted on. Like Faye Dunaway and William Holden in Network."
Not sure Moffat's Biden quite works here. Weathers offers: "Phil Hartman did a really good job on Ronald Reagan. They did it juxtaposed to his public image, which was the kindly, soft-spoken, witty old grandfather. Then you see him behind the scenes and he's megalomaniacal and his whole staff is frightened of him. You might find some humor there, going beyond the public image of Joe Biden."
"Without Me" spoof
Okay, guilty: I love Eminem. For better or worse. And look, I was all in on the holiday "Stan" parody, Stu, that Pete quarterbacked. But spoofing "Without Me" in 2021, with Janet Yellen (Kate McKinnon) and NFTs? Not sure it tracks. Jack Harlow shows up with "a rapping part" — channeling Will Hunting. Just seems like the show is trying to recapture that previously successful spoof, as they tend to do, with diminishing returns. Still, whatever keeps The Eminem Show relevant in today's chaos, I'm for it. Also: I like the Fat Jerry subliminal.
Jack Harlow - medley
Harlow kicks off his performance with "Tyler Herro," then the Tik Tok anthem "What's Poppin." Harlow's appearance tonight got some boost due to Chet Hanks' curious call-out in a controversial Instagram post this week.
Patrick Weathers weighs in: "Rap is a lot of fun. When I was first in New York, the Mudd Club was a punk club. An alternative to the uptown disco thing. We did crazy things here; I had a band at one point with Peter Aykroyd on bass and John Belushi on drums. It was called the Easter Monks. We did shows with Run DMC, when they were starting out. So I was around a lot of the early rap stuff. I like a lot of it. Kentucky rap is a different take… it gets to be a little monotonous when a genre dominates but that is fine."
"This week kind of felt like Biden on those stairs," opens Colin Jost, before calling on more background checks for gun owners, especially the toxic extremely online ones playing Call of Duty. This is a brutal segment on Biden. (To be fair, Trump also gets his share of hits.)
Sidney Powell (Strong) shows up to defend herself on her allegations of voter fraud. She claims she is not guilty of libel or slander. This almost works if just to see Strong gobble like a turkey and babble about Kraken.
Next up: Bowen Yan, who Jost introduces as the "Asian cast member." He goes over the utmost concerns of Asian Americans during these fraught times… according to him! Lesbian characters in Sailor Moon, Brooklyn Paneras. He is grappling with serious issues of "class, gender, imperialism." He is a comedian with no answers but implores people to do more. This is a moving, delicate piece.
The Return of Broadway
Kent Sublette penned this one. Thompson and Rudolph are dueling choreographers, former lovers battling over the chance to lead a dance session. "I need to be with you like food on a plate!" They must resolve their differences if the show is to go on.
"This is bad right?" Lauren Holt exclaims. Yes! It is! Pop the hip, point the toe!
2021 Barfly Awards
The cast gets to play drunk! I hate to shout out the Joe Rogan Experience, but Jim Breuer was just on discussing how, in his time on the show, Lorne Michaels dissuaded sketches about drunkenness. In this case, it just feels a little mean? These are people who need help! Maya kills it in her role though.
Jack Harlow - "Same Guy"
Adam Levine provides vocals on this one. He hosted back in 2013, and has made a number of cameos and musical appearances over the years, especially as a member of Maroon 5.
Here is the official audio for "Same Guy." The bro rap vibes are exceptionally strong here; like the kind of stuff Lil Dickey has his tongue in cheek about. And the crowd sounds noticeably more into it following the commercial break. I wonder if they'd been primed, given how muted they were throughout this episode.
Patrick Weathers has put out three albums, and is working on a new project right now for this summer. With tonight's performance, I asked him what he would like the show to do musically. "Saturday Night Live filled in a time slot that really didn't exist when it first came on the air. And it's never really had anything compete against it. So even in its darkest hour — when I may've been there — it still won the ratings and won the day. Even when the ensemble or writing has fallen short, the music is always up there. They always get the greatest, most current trendy music guests.
Here's what I think they should do: There is a show where they have classic guests on, The Marty Stuart Show. He brings people out of the woodwork you have not thought about in years, they have these timeless hits. Some of them come out and they're better than ever. He does it with a small band and very true to the record. I think it would be interesting to have people on like that from time to time. They'd likely never agree with me, as it's not what would sell commercials to the present audience. What about someone like Johnny Rivers to come on as musical guest and do "Poor Side of Town" or "Secret Agent Man"? Why not?
I had an idea years ago about holographic performances, bringing back some of those famous musical personalities from the past and have them perform 360 live... Not thinking of it as a gimmick, just think it would be interesting to see."
Andrew Dismukes, wearing an NBC page uniform, lets Rudolph know her car is ready. She strolls around the hallways, reminiscing. "Sum 41, that's when music was music." Suddenly, the show sucks her into its memories, a la the hotel from The Shining. Tina Fey appears as a fictitious original female writer, Gloria. Thompson performs a spot-on Scatman Crothers. Kristen Wiig's Gilly is there as twins. And Rachel Dratch is naked in a tub.
The short ends with Rudolph in a photo of the original cast — spooky and brilliant way to wrap this up. Wish they had maintained this tone throughout the episode. Backstage SNL is always a fun space for the show - sad and meta. I am floored with this one. Instant classic.
(Is it possible Rudolph's husband Paul Thomas Anderson had a hand in this? heh.)
-A lackluster, awkward episode. The timing was consistently off and the crowd did not seem to know what to make of it. Just me? Let me know! Vote here.
-Thank you to Patrick Weathers for his thoughts. Check out his new music in the coming months.
-Jack Harlow touching Martin Short in the goodnight is surreal. 2021!