Saturday Night Live recap: Host Aubrey Plaza overcomes shaky start, reunites with Amy Poehler
Today, Saturday Night Live isn't at the center of the universe per se, but in an increasingly fragmented pop culture landscape, it's probably the closest we've got. Think about the lives tonight's episode alone touches — whether it's people watching live or scanning Sunday morning for water cooler fodder. The interesting brood devoted to sleeping outside (though that is changing!) to the Very Online dissecting the show's every move. For a show so committed to its own tradition and rhythms, there's an entire ecosystem absorbing the sketches and laughs flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup.
But it's 2023, and there's still so much SNL could do to reward the fandom. Maybe it's something like the "Anyone Can Host" contest or acknowledging the kinds of viral campaigns that got Betty White on the show. Or dare I invoke the infamous "Live From Mardi Gras" moment in time?
That brings us — in a roundabout way — to tonight's host, Aubrey Plaza. The White Lotus star (and former April Ludgate) once worked as an NBC page and bombed an audition for SNL at UBC early on in her career; she also worked on SNL as an intern in the design department back in 2004 and 2005 and appeared on the show's classic holiday episode hosted by Justin Timberlake as a background extra. It's a beautiful story, and the kind of underdog-to-cast member trajectory I wish the show would embrace more.
I am joined tonight by former SNL cast member Matthew Laurance, who is grieving the departure of Cecily Strong. (Aren't we all?) Regarding her leaving the cast, he says: "It's a huge hole. I cannot say enough about how much I love Cecily Strong. And as somebody who has been on Saturday Night Live but has also watched it since the very first George Carlin-hosted episode, the way I judge people on the show is: historically. To me, Cecily Strong and Kate McKinnon are geniuses with what they do. I don't use that word very often. They would have been incredible on any single cast of SNL. I was devastated when Kate McKinnon left, and I'm devastated Cecily Strong left. She was brilliant — sheer talent and versatility. I don't know how you replace that." Well said.
This recapper has been banging the drum for a minute regarding new blood finally being given a chance to shine at 8H. Well, we are here. It's SNL in Review time!
The Fox Sports broadcast team is introduced. That catchy theme sets the stage — this felt like a real post-game given the Eagles-Giants game only concluded minutes before.
Howie Long (Mikey Day) has the glasses so he is the smart one. Michael Strahan is played by Devon Walker (Jay Pharoah previously played the former Giants star). And Terry Bradshaw is played by Molly Kearney. They discuss how dangerous the game of football is. From the current cast, Laurance is a fan of Day. There are some technical hiccups here.
The controversial Congressman George Santos is introduced as a field correspondent. Bowen Yang plays Santos. (Curiously, former SNL star Jon Lovitz just played Santos on The Tonight Show this week.) He interrupts Pam Oliver (Ego Nwodim) fully in drag, claiming to have won the award for tightest tuck.
Overall a bit muted and awkward, inching toward a real premise.
Hosting SNL is a dream come true for Aubrey Plaza — and yes, she really means it! She notes people often mistake her for being weird and sarcastic because of her characters. There are a few gags about her fake family being in the audience.
She also notes that she hails from Delaware, and was voted the most famous person from the state — even beating Joe Biden. She says he was pissed, and then reveals a video he sent her, in which President Biden salutes Plaza's Delaware origins and not dying on The White Lotus — I think the crowd was unsure as to whether or not this was real!
She discusses her work on SNL back in the day, and offers to return to her page roots and take the audience on a tour, putting on one of those retro jackets. She was a "bad page," as evidenced when she fields a call from Paul McCartney. Another example is when Kenan Thompson appears — he ordered a Starbucks from her in 2004 and is still waiting for it.
Here's a fun surprise: Amy Poehler pops up on the tour! She last showed up on SNL in spring 2020. Plaza steals her wallet and departs before reuniting with the old set design team. She demands they bow before her. Overall, a bit disjointed — as she notes upfront, her persona can misdirect where the laughs are supposed to be, and makes it seem like she's nervous.
Laurance notes: "I think Aubrey Plaza is great, it's a great host choice. She's a really incredible actress. Before White Lotus, I was not too familiar with her. When I Googled her, I was really surprised with all she had done — Parks & Rec, and everything else. She's a helluva actress and that's why doing Saturday Night Live is perfect for her. People need to see that side again after White Lotus. This is going to be a real pleasant surprise.
Miss Universe competition
Miss Universe is brought to you by 80 for Brady. The contestants — judged on their looks — scream their responses. The actual competition happened last week. Tony Hawk and the Property Brothers are the judges. Indeed, the French model went viral for screeching.
Laurance has this to say about Kenan, who plays the host: "What I like most about him is every single character he does, he has that smirk on that face. Other people couldn't do that. He makes it work with every character he does, every one. It's a real talent."
Matthew Laurance is also a big fan of Heidi Gardner — she has a great moment here as Miss Belgium summarizing her favorite episode of Nip/Tuck.
The Black Lotus
This is a hilarious spoof of the most recent season of The White Lotus. The staff has no time for anyone's nonsense. Don't dare bring an attitude!
It is really funny watching the various characters and melodramatic situations get spoofed here. I especially loved seeing Sarah Sherman as Haley Lu Richardson. Fans of the series should dig this!
"Chloe [Fineman], boy is she good. When she did Jennifer Coolidge, it was hysterical," shares Laurance. And yes, Fineman crushes it. Laurance was not a big fan of the recent HBO series: "White Lotus, the first season. was really interesting. I was not a big fan of the second season. Obviously, it's really popular. I felt like in the first season there were comedic moments, the second season was too depressing to me! Everything about it I was like, 'Can we lighten up here, somebody?' It's listed as a comedy!"
Mikey Day and Plaza are a new couple getting introduced to the neighborhood by playing a friendly game of Taboo. They do really well — except their answers are very disturbing. She's a sociopath. The night they met she was on fire. Plaza does a hilarious impression of their demented daughter. Plaza and Day work well together. This is a familiar setup, but it's got a nice energy.
Sister Cecelia (Plaza) and Sister Clarence (Molly Kearney) are two nuns welcoming their students back to school on Monday via morning announcements. Cecelia recently had a near-death experience —she's touched. Dismukes pops up as a stammering student. They sing Lady Gaga. I know all of you probably will recall the Naughty Nuns on the Beach sketch from 1981, in which Robin Duke discovers her fellow nun (Mary Gross) got into the order from a multiple choice exam at Bob's Ecumenical College. Similar dynamic here!
Lots of Kearney this episode! "Sister, women be shoppin'!"
M3gan (Chloe Fineman) is a gay icon, and that's one of the main reasons the movie is blowing up at the box office. That's why there's going to be a sequel, which is even going to be even more gay. So M3gan 2.0 (Plaza) decides to play up the camp even more for the sequel. She hits up a gay club When Fineman's M3gan calls them "little homos," things get awkward. When Plaza cattily affirms it — "but seriously, you guys are little homos" — they cheer. If there's one thing gay men love, it's "unhinged plastic women."
Another cameo alert: Allison Williams, who stars in the movie, shows up to warn them. M3gan's a killer and she will kill you! They embrace Williams on the basis that she had an infamous sex scene with Ebon Moss-Bachrach on the HBO show Girls. I recall it well!
Sam Smith performs 'Unholy' featuring Kim Petras
Featuring Kim Petras, this is the second single from Smith's upcoming fourth studio album Gloria. It received a nomination for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance at the Grammys.
This is dancehall jam with a great, haunting beat. It's clear Smith is enjoying their costume! I like Petras' "Personal Hell" a little bit more, but that's okay!
Colin Jost jokes about George Santos. A lot. "Girl, not on my yacht party" he quips, commenting on Santos' fashion.
Michael Che jokes that Barack Obama's original birth certificate was finally found: in Joe Biden's house!
George Santos (Bowen Yang) shows up again! I like when characters transcend the Update/sketch barrier — especially within an episode! The show is having a feast on him, unsurprisingly. He keeps lying about Madonna calling him.
"But George I am gorgeous," Jost asserts, repressing a laugh. There's a savvy point here, distinguishing Santos' fun lies compared to Marjorie Taylor Green asserting 9/11 never happening.
The next guest is none other than April Ludgate herself! She is here to discuss local government and why young people should be civically involved. "Doing the bare minimum is doing your part," she says. With that: Leslie Knope returns! "Who knew there were cameras at SNL?" She used to watch Update back during the Seth Meyers era. Wink wink. She tells a joke. Just a reminder: In April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, NBC aired a special episode of Parks and Recreation, centering on Leslie trying to stay connected with residents of Pawnee during social distancing.
Vicky and Christine (Heidi Gardner and Plaza) are human spies — "butch ladies from Arizona" — who have infiltrated. "Whoa ,this is crazy!"
Sam Smith performs 'Gloria'
This hymn was released earlier this week. Fantastic choir — and I love seeing Sharon Stone included as part of the performance. Some of you will recall this 1999 remake of Gloria directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Stone. This performance was unique. Watch it! Lyrics include:
Be yourself so loud tonight (Mmm, so loud)
They'll hear you from the stars (They will hear you from)
Sparkling like dynamite (Sparkle)
If that is who you are (It's who you are)
A hymn for Gloria (For Gloria)
For Gloria, Gloria
Stone hosted the show way back in season 17 with musical guest Pearl Jam.
It's a commercial video shoot at a gay club for a medicine that treats HIV. Plaza is the director, but she just wants to finish her hot salad.
She gives notes to everyone. Jamal (Devon Walker) keeps clarifying that he is not gay, and only got HIV from a girl. He's not comfortable with the script and keeps concocting explanations for his nonchalant homophobia. Clearly, he's not mature enough to handle this role.
Nice spotlight on Walker here!
James Austin Johnson is a classic '40s private eye named Jack Rawley. Aubrey Plaza plays the femme fatale — she has that vibe, so this is fun casting. She's a black widow attracted to old men. Sharon Stone pops up here, playing Plaza's mother.
Plaza and Stone go back.
There's some obvious cue card usage here, which is understandable given the dense, specific dialogue. I like how specific this is though — with a great ending shot of Jack Rawley dying. And the Basic Instinct callback has me floored. How fun!
—Well, how did we feel about this one? Vote here or weigh in below.
—Hey you! Yeah you, come close — put your face up against the screen. Do you like SNL? I mean, REALLY like SNL? Well, check out this conversation I had alongside Jon Schneider of the Saturday Night Network and Mr. James Stephens with former show writer, talent coordinator, and extra Neil Levy! If you miss it, you will hate yourself!
—Mikey Day is (weirdly) coming into his own this season, years into his tenure. One clear example of what happens with the runway clear.
—So many cameos tonight. Too many? It started off a little shaky but I think Plaza got there.
—Thank you to Matthew Laurance for his thoughts this evening!
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