Carey Mulligan shines in a mostly strong ‘Saturday Night Live’

Saturday Night Live
Carey Mulligan & Kid Cudi
April 10, 2021

Carey Mulligan is a very talented actress who has a list of notable film credits that goes back more than 15 years, and yet if you asked me to name two movies that she has been in, I’m afraid I would only be able to come up with the film for which she has recently been nominated an Oscar, A Promising Young Woman. Now, I’ve seen her in The Great Gatsby, and Drive, and Pride and Prejudice, and some of Shame, and did you know she was also in the classic Doctor Who episode “Blink?” BECAUSE SHE WAS. And I’m sure this is just a me problem, but for whatever damn reason, I just completely blanked on all of those roles.

I suspect this is the problem of a particular kind of actress, the ones who are so talented they completely disappear into their roles. And she even sort of alludes to this in her monologue, joking that people commonly mistake her for Michelle Williams (who is also one of the most talented actresses of her generation, for the record, it’s hardly an insult). On last night’s Saturday Night Live, Mulligan showed off this chameleon-like quality, playing everything from an actress in a lesbian period drama, to a spoiled Star Trek crew member, to a woman trapped in a nightmarish pharmaceutical ad. And for someone who is known for her dramatic chops, she demonstrated terrific comedic range in all of her sketches — even the duds. Let’s get Mulligan in some more comedies, guys (and I’m sure I’ll forget she was in those one day, too).

The cold open this week is a news broadcast from Minnesota featuring two Black anchors and two white anchors in which they discuss the Derek Chauvin murder case, all agreeing that Chauvin is guilty. However, where they disagree is in whether or not he will be convicted, with the Black anchors fully skeptical that justice will be served. After the white anchors share their patronizing thoughts about protesting and property damage, they discuss the tragic loss of “royalty,” who the Black anchors assume is DMX. “I was talking about the prince,” the white lady anchor clarifies, only to have her Black counterpart protest that “Girl, Prince been dead.” Genius.

The entire sketch is so adroit and manages to take an incredibly charged and profoundly sad topic — the George Floyd murder — and turn it into a clever bit about just how difficult conversations about race are in this country, even when all parties are ostensibly in agreement (mostly because white folks are still stubbornly ignorant about just how far apart we really are in terms of real racial justice). What is interesting to me is how Saturday Night Live has a long history of being able to discuss race in enlightening – and honest — ways that don’t make white people feel defensive. It’s a hard trick to pull off! My younger son was just showing us the classic Eddie Murphy, “White Like Me” sketch from nearly 40 years ago, having newly discovered it himself. And, y’all. It’s as relevant today as it was then.

And I know I’ve already talked too much about a five-minute-long sketch, but two more points: 1. Five minutes is all the show EVER needs to spend on a cold open and 2. this once again proves what has been repeatedly demonstrated in the second half of this season — it is possible to have a “political” cold open without featuring celebrities as politicians. DO YOU HEAR ME, LORNE?

Grade: A+ (very rare for a cold open)

Things I learned from Carey Mulligan’s monologue: people mistake her for Michelle Williams, which totally tracks, and she is married to the lead Mumford in Mumford & Sons. Also, she and the lead Mumford make a very charming couple.

Grade: B+

Doing a little bit of internet research, it appears that this is the fourth iteration of “What Is Wrong With This Picture?” a game show spoof in which a trio of incredibly stupid contestants are challenged to determine what is wrong with a particular picture. They give insane answers while host Kenan Thompson becomes increasingly exasperated. It is dumb, and primarily a showcase for Thompson, and I love it every single time.

Grade: A

A commercial for an Irritable Bowel Syndrome medicine, Tremfalta, turns very real when a mother suffering from the condition utterly destroys a bathroom at her son’s music recital, horrifying the janitor. The sketch is legitimately hilarious not just because it’s a spot-on spoof of pharmaceutical ads (How is “Tremfalta” not already a real medicine? My day-to-day is spent with a lot of pharma ads playing in the background, and if you had asked me if “Tremfalta” was an actual medicine on the market or not, I would have put actual cash money on the fact that it was.) but the sheer potty horror/humor here is amazing. I’m not anti-poop jokes, they just have to be funny. This one is funny.

Grade: A+

Kate McKinnon plays a nerdy middle school-aged boy who finds himself suddenly alone with the popular girl in school, played by Carey Mulligan, and she seems interested in him. Nervous, “Josh” calls “his doctor” who is actually his best friend, as played by Aidy Bryant, for advice. It’s a sketch that relies heavily on McKinnon and Bryant’s chemistry and doesn’t give Mulligan much to do, a bit that won’t be remembered past the episode.

That said, I do have a theory about this sketch: Anne Beatts, one of the original female SNL writers, died this week. She explained in an interview that she believed she and the other female writers were brought on board to give the female cast members more to do than just be secretaries and background players, and in fact, two of the popular recurring characters that she created were the nerds played by Gilda Radner and Bill Murray. So I’m wondering if this sketch wasn’t something of a tribute to Beatts and her pioneering work on the show.

Grade: B-

You know that weird little flute in “Big Pimpin’?” How about the one in “Sure Shot” or “Mask Off?” This week’s rap song by Chris Redd, Pete Davidson, and Kid Cudi is an homage to that weird little flute that rappers can’t seem to resist. Also, Timothee Chalamet makes an appearance for no good goddamned reason.

Grade: B

“Weekend Update” returns to the Matt Gaetz trough because how can you resist? This week’s “Weekend Update” also features some decent shots at Dummy Jr. and President Biden, and I know I say this every week, but they seem to have really settled into a post-Trump groove.

Grade: A

Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen visit the Weekend Update desk to give a little taste of their podcast, and it turns out it’s incredibly boring. Here’s the problem with making fun of something that is boring: in an attempt to show how boring something is, you risk becoming boring yourself … which is exactly what happens here.

Grade: C+

A stripper who was involved in the Paul Pierce scandal comes to the “Weekend Update” desk to defend him. (For those of you not up to date: Paul Pierce, an ESPN analyst, was fired after a party he was at with some strippers was live-streamed on Instagram. That’s it. An adult man was at a party, there were strippers, he got fired. It seems like bullshit to me, but then I’m not Disney.) It seems like the joke comes more at her expense than his, and it feels misguided.

Grade: C+

Bowen Yang visits the “Weekend Update” desk as the iceberg that sank the Titanic to promote his new album, “Music,” but all Colin Jost wants to talk about is the Titanic thing (whose 109th anniversary is coming up this week).

“All anyone cares about are the 40 or 50 people who died.”

“It was 1,500 people.”

“WHY ARE YOU ATTACKING ME?!”

It’s a dumb conceit that ends up being hilarious because Bowen Yang is a star.

Grade: A

In this Star Trek spinoff, some of the random crew members are entitled rich kids who expect their opinions to be taken seriously and throw tantrums when they are not, howling that the entire ship is “toxic” and that they’ll throw themselves into space if they aren’t given apologies for imagined slights. As a Gen Xer, I’m not entirely clear if this is an attack on Millennials or Gen Zers, or some combination of both, so all I can say is, “Yes. This. All of this.”

Grade: B+

A spoof of lesbian period dramas, this trailer has everything: long rocky walks, wind, glances, two straight actresses who dare to not wear makeup. Perfection.

Grade: A+

In this revisit of a sketch they did when Pheobe Waller-Bridges was the host, a man off at war writes home to his wife, only to receive brief, unsatisfactory, and alarming letters back. And cocaine. She sends him a lot of cocaine.

Grade: B

OK, so for the children in the room, a long long long time ago, there used to be this thing called “pantyhose” which were these things made out of nylon that we women would wear to cover our legs. You know how we make fun of people in the 19th century and 20th century for being scandalized at seeing a woman’s ankle? We were still sorta like that as late as the 90s, but about a woman’s bare calf — but only if she were in work or formal attire, for reasons that no one can really explain. As you might have noticed, pantyhose have long gone out of style for many good reasons that plenty of people can explain.

ANYWAY, in this dud of a sketch, a pair of women from the L’Eggs company (which is an actual pantyhose brand whose product came in a large plastic egg) try to convince a group of teens to be brand ambassadors for their outdated product. All I can guess is that over Easter weekend, some writer looked at a plastic Easter egg and was like, “Hey, y’all remember L’Eggs? I wonder whatever happened to them …” and this mess was hatched.

Grade: C-

I’m including Kid Cudi’s performances this week, mostly because I thought his tribute to Kurt Cobain was lovely.

Final Grade: B+.


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

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