Maya Rudolph will never escape ‘Saturday Night Live,’ and that’s just fine.

Saturday Night Live
Maya Rudolph & Jack Harlow
March 27, 2021

Saturday Night Live has been on hiatus for a month (a well-earned break, honestly) and I was a little worried the gears would be a little rusty when they returned this week. It was a fear that wasn’t entirely unfounded: the cold open was off, the monologue was off, the sketch that was clearly supposed to be the cold open but was so stiff and unfunny that they buried it mid-episode was waaay off. However, the show was helmed by a consummate professional, former cast member, and sketch legend, Maya Rudolph, who saved a number of bits and tried her very damnedest to salvage a few otherwise unsalvagable others (specifically those mentioned above).

That said, I don’t want to come off too harsh. Despite some weak spots, this episode was fairly solid and had bright spots that did not rely on a vet to prop them up. Notably, Bowen Yang’s heartfelt plea to stop anti-Asian hate, and a music video that reminds us that Boomers will always shove their way to the front of the line were bits that did not depend on Rudolph and I think were moments that we will remember long after this season ends. All in all, the positive outweighed the negative in this episode; a mixed bag if you will, which honestly is the best you can hope for in a variety show that is made up of 12-14 individual sketches an episode. Good job, kids.

“Snatched, Vaxed, or Waxed,” an MTV Spring Break in Miami game show, is our cold open this week, making fun of the halfwitted, unvaccinated 19-year-old jackasses who flocked to Florida last week to try to create a superspreader event. “We’re so close to the end! Let’s ruin it!” This definitely does not feel like a cold open, but rather a sketch that would come early in the night, maybe the first or second bit after the monologue. Weird. And not that funny.

Grade: B-

Maya Rudolph is a treasure, but this monologue, not so much. The entire joke is that she misremembers her time as a cast member on Saturday Night Live as the plot of The Breakfast Club? I don’t know what is happening here, except that they had a full month to come up with something better than this and they failed.

Grade: B

There is a YouTube series called “Hot Ones” in which some dude, Sean Evans, interviews celebrities while they eat a plate of increasingly spicy chicken wings. This is a real thing. In this sketch, Maya Rudolph as Queen Beyoncé is Evan’s guest. Being a proud Texan, Beyoncé skips the milder sauces and heads straight to the “Hitler’s Anus Roasted” and “Devil’s Diarheaa” options, which she is not prepared for. Maya Rudolph’s genius is on full display here, capturing both Beyoncé’s cool imperiousness and her hilarious struggle to not let any weakness show through.

Just a side note: Maya Rudolph debuted her Beyoncé some 16 years ago in her “Prince Show” sketch with Fred Armisen. And while in real life Beyoncé was certainly a huge star at that point, her character took a backseat to Armisen’s hilarious Prince, and she didn’t have much of a “character” of her own. (It was called “The Prince Show” after all.) So I’m thrilled to see this hilarious sketch built entirely around who Beyoncé has become as a megastar in her own right — it’s both a testimony of Beyoncé’s growth and a showcase of Rudolph’s impersonation and comedy skills. It’s as delicious as a plate of Devil’s Diarheaa hot wings.

Grade: A+

The Boomers are getting vaccines (and draining our inheritances and Social Security) and they want to rub it in our faces.

Grade: A+

During the Trump era, Saturday Night Live hit cultural relevancy (but not comedy) gold by casting celebrities to guest star as various characters in the circus that was our White House. One of the few guest stars I didn’t begrudge because she was just SO DAMN GOOD was Maya Rudolph as Kamala Harris. Rudolph captured Harris’s “I don’t give a fuck” sassiness during the early stages of the 2016 Presidential campaign, and it was a delight.

However, in this sketch in which Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff by way of Martin Short, hosts a Passover dinner for the likes of Ted Cruz, Marjorie Taylor-Greene, President Biden, Reverand Warnock, and her stepdaughter Ella, all that sassiness is gone, and Harris is a straight man to the shenanigans around her. And I do understand not wanting to reduce the first Black female Vice President to a sassy stereotype, but having her be a cool observer to the foolishness erupting around her feels passive and like a wasted opportunity. I mean, who among us doesn’t want to see Kamala Harris put that blobfish, Ted Cruz, in his place?

This was clearly written to be the cold open — just check out the weird ending which just falls off a cliff where the “LIVE FROM NEW YORK, IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE!” beat should have been. But it’s obvious the writers just never were able to break this sketch, to find the hook to make it funny, which is a shame because Kamala Harris was right there all along.

Grade: C+

Hey, do you know what NFTs are? Neither do I, even after watching this mildly amusing sketch in which Eminem raps at Janet Yellen about it.

Grade: B

Colin Jost lands some good — and stinging — jokes about gun control and Mitch McConnell in this week’s “Weekend Update,” and it’s beginning to feel like both Jost and Che are gaining their footing again after Trump’s departure (though one of the best jokes is at Trump’s expense). To be fair to them, it was a huge vacuum to fill.

Grade: A

Cecily Strong is an UNCANNY Sydney Powell in this “Weekend Update” bit, which should come as no surprise since unhinged drunk lunatics is Strong’s area of expertise.

Grade: A

In one of the highlights of the evening, Bowen Yang also makes a visit to the “Weekend Update” desk to talk about anti-Asian hate crimes, and he’s clearly angry, frustrated, sad, and scared, and yet through all that emotion, he also manages to still be funny and inspiring. Fuel up, indeed.

Grade: A+

Maya Rudolph and Kenan Thompson play feuding choreographers in this VERY Maya Rudolph and Kenan Thompson sketch. It’s not so much funny as it is carried entirely by their charm and magnetism and the fact that they clearly love performing specifically this particular brand of kooky characters together.

Grade: B

“The Barfly Awards,” in which barflies are given awards for “Wildest Claim” and “Most Bummer Detail,” is one of my favorite bits of the night, as much for the writing as for Rudolph and Strongs’ performances. Sure, it goes on a little too long, but I’m not mad at it.

Grade: A

The episode ends on a surreal note, a digital short in which with a little help from old castmates Tina Fey and Rachel Dratch, Maya Rudolph reflects on her inability to leave studio 8H, almost as if it has a Stanley Hotel-ish hold on her. As someone who loves both Maya Rudolph and The Shining, I found myself charmed by this otherwise weird little number.

Grade: A-

Oh, and someone named “Jack Harlow” performed with some backup from Adam Levine.

Final Grade: A-.

Saturday Night Live airs at 10:30/11:30 p.m. Saturdays on NBC.

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