Saturday Night Live recap: Ariana DeBose makes hosting debut
Fellow Coneheads, a new year is upon us. Welcome back to SNL in Review: 2022 edition. And as much as we try to escape what's coming, the closer it gets. No, that's not a reference to Kanye West's inevitable rap beef with Pete Davidson. In this case, two years in, I'm referring to our benevolent leaders at 30 Rock still struggling with how to navigate the impacts of the coronavirus. Late-night shows are retreating, theatrical shows are again being canceled. What is the right answer?
Case in point: Roddy Ricch was originally announced as the musical guest tonight, but canceled his appearance due to COVID-19 exposure. Jack Antonoff's Bleachers are filling in; he's already appeared as the musical guest on the show before alongside Lorde and as a member of fun.
I am joined tonight by former SNL cast member Gary Kroeger, who is grappling with these questions about what's appropriate in the time of COVID as he's currently directing a murder mystery: "The show must go on, but shows are a contract with the public and so public health must always be taken seriously, erring toward caution … We are observing masks, the cast is vaccinated and we have asked audience members who are not to observe distances. That comes with risks, but we are in a morally/politically/legally/socially charged time. We are trying to allow for choice while being respectful and cautious. It is a tough balancing act."
This week, host Ariana DeBose was nominated for a SAG award and is poised to get an Oscar nomination for her role in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story. She is the latest host in a long tradition of Oscar hopefuls using the show as part of their months-long awards campaign. Kroeger comments: "I've always thought that getting hosts hot off of a hit or to boost their profile for awards was more a thing of the current era. I know this will sound sort of pathetic, but my take on the hosts we got from 82 to 85 was whoever we could get. Keeping in mind that we could get just about anyone, but I rarely felt like the host was at their 'hottest' when we acquired them."
In other words, this should be a familiar episode amidst a deeply unfamiliar period for the show. That could yield interesting results — I am guessing we will see the return of recent dad JAJ's Biden, given the unfortunate week the President just had. Let's check it out.
James Austin Johnson is back, delivering a new message as President Joe Biden. "We're in the middle of a cold, dark winter," he says, painting a bleak picture. His advice to beat the pandemic? "Stop seeing Spider-Man!"
The rest of his time goes to questions. They are doubling down on the Spider-Man premise — hard. Which I am not angry about! It's specific and doesn't forcefully insert every cast member like a high school talent show. Initially, I assumed it was just a punchline, but they're running with it. "Spider-Man has his villains, I have Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema," quipped Johnson's Biden. Pretty inspired mix of pop culture and political satire, folks.
He could use Spider-Man to help with the Russia-Ukraine situation. Andrew Dismukes asks about the multi-verse, which is hilarious. Makes more sense than the current world! Johnson is killing it — you can see his Biden take getting more defined in real-time.
Pete Davidson appears as the "real" Biden; our universe is a joke caused by the Cubs winning the World Series.
DeBose comes out, joking West Side Story is based on 90 Day Fiance. She says that "[I]t is great to be here representing not only the Latino community as an Afro-Latina but also the Broadway community," during her Saturday Night Live opening monologue. She discusses how magical it is — when Kate McKinnon appears, dressed like she's a Verizon commercial spokeswoman. She mugs and they duet West Side Story songs. (I guess McKinnon appeared because Cecily Strong is off doing her Lily Tomlin show). The crowd seems a bit indifferent and I'm not sure whether anything here is even supposed to be funny. This is a "no" for me, guys.
It does feel like modern SNL is more musical theater-inclined than ever though, right? Kroeger says, "SNL uses music so long as there are cast members who are musical. And I think there always have been. I have noticed more focus on music in recent years and my assumption is that they are taking advantage of actors and writers who can make that happen. In my day Eddie was a singer, I could sing, so could Brad [Hall], Julia. Joe [Piscopo] did his share of singing with his impersonations. My personal coup was singing as the dentist Ira Needleman. I recall the writers being somewhat blown away that I could pull off a nerd-Springsteen."
"I think Ariana DeBose is the greatest," Kroeger adds. "She was phenomenal in Hamilton — which I've only seen as the recorded Disney+ presentation — and is Oscar-worthy in West Side Story."
Dougie McCormick (Johnson) is one of the only available players for the Kings. Everyone else has COVID.
Steve Urkel Reboot
Ego Nwodim as Laura Winslow needs to happen — and love Kenan reprising as Reginald VelJohnson, he is great! I actually think they could've done more with this premise, pushed it a bit further. Instead, it ends up being more of a traditional Family Matters spoof.
Dress Rentals - Formal Emporium
Davidson and Sarah Sherman are a married couple offering their son Donovan (Dismukes) as a potential date for high school girls renting dresses from their shop. I love the surprise attention on Donovan and his white lips and "soupy" swamp ass.
This feels like a 10 to 1 they slipped in after the Paul Rudd episode. But I love the energy, mainstreaming Sherman's weirdness — and Davidson actually does a commendable job, likely spoofing the kinds of local commercials he saw growing up in Staten Island. Excellent casting all around, with fun, accurate references to Breaking Bad and "Get Low." Well done.
Spectrum News - Eric Adams press conference
Redd with a buoyant performance as a "swaggering," "Paul Bunyan hands" Eric Adams, New York City's new mayor. This could instantly become a recurring character. I love the energy and the conceit — "I'm just playing unless you like that."
Honesty, this could've been the cold open — it's the same kind of press conference. (I wish they would bring back Dismukes' 'nerdy' reporter.) "He will kick your ass," assures his press secretary DeBose. What I love about this is that it's all attitude, no make-up. Just Redd with a specific "saucy" take on Adams. SNL has a long history of spoofing New York politicians, this hits on that tradition.
Also, I am a fan of Redd calling out "weird Eminem" Bowen Yang. "I do not like chaos."
Bleachers - How Dare You Want More
Thiscos-play/ode to Bruce Springsteen was debuted on The Tonight Show last show — it is off Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night and follows "Stop Making This Hurt," which arrived in May.
Kroeger appreciates Jack and the Bleachers, especially the sense of humor in their music videos, but this isn't for him. He "liked We Are Young … But it's just not my music. There is no occasion that I would put it on my personal playlist."
Antonoff, a mega-producer for female pop stars, is overexposed, in my opinion — but this is pretty fun and catchy.
Jost and Che tackle the voting rights bill. "No one wants to hear Ted Cruz say 'for shizzle', " says Jost, in an instant GIF. He also raps. Yikes!
Elmo appears to comment about his viral feud with Zoey's pet rock, Rocco. This is an interesting return to form for Chloe Fineman. Hijinks ensue when Rocco (a future host) shows up. You may recall season 40's "Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) Visits Sesame Street" sketch, which featured the actual Elmo.
Sound of Music
Maria (McKinnon) is "stretched quite thin" and can't be the neighbors' governess. DeBose appears to lead a group of children (Redd, Fineman, Sherman, Dismukes, Yang) and teaches them how to sing. She sings a spoof of "Do Re Mi," complete with references to Queen Latifah and The Simpsons — "D'oh!"
"Me, a kid who pees in the sink!" harmonizes Dismukes. Cherish him.
Kenan comes out as the stern dad, who loves Arby's. "Gravy fries, crispy fries!" Silly.
Bleachers — "Chinatown"
I can see why Antonoff's more of a pop producer these days, but this has a potent throwback 80s vibe. "Chinatown" approaches the unpolished, authentic air of those days, in any case.
"Chinatown" was one of the dual lead singles from Bleachers' third studio album — and talk about Springsteen nostalgia — the track actually features vocals from the Boss.
Fage Yogurt has sponsored today's sold-out free lecture — watch out how you pronounce that. DeBose and McKinnon are two professors, discussing ancient lesbian poetry. They read transcribed lyrics, with a potential modern spin. Turns out they're divorced — the crowd eats this sketch up!
It is New Year's Eve. James Austin Johnson and DeBose are working their salads, when Heidi Gardner, the manager, chides them. She keeps saying "lurr" at the end of every sentence. She has the perfect haircut for this character. Love this goofy riff, especially JAJ and Andrew Dismukes' cadence. (Dismukes crushed it this episode.)
— This was pretty lively! What did you all think? Vote here, or weigh in below!
— Thank you as always to Gary Kroeger! Go see his play! And check out his podcast. You can also peep him facing off against fellow SNL alum Jeff Richards on his show – two eras of SNL on one podcast! Must-watch.
Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more.
The original late-night comedy sketch show from the one and only Lorne Michaels.