Keegan-Michael is Key to a solid ‘Saturday Night Live’

Saturday Night Live
Keegan-Michael Key & Olivia Rodrigo
May 15, 2021

Keegan-Michael Key is no stranger to sketch comedy (unlike some recent hosts ~cough~). Before he co-starred in the brilliant Key & Peele, Key was a regular on Mad TV for six seasons. He’s a naturally funny, enthusiastic, and elastic actor with infectious energy. So whatever relatively few criticisms I have for this episode, they are not directed at Key, but instead are writing issues, and the failure of imagination for how to use such a talented comedian.

The cold open addresses the new mask rules outlined by the CDC, with Dr. Fauci and a team of actor-doctors acting out various scenarios people might find themselves facing, like flying or going to the store. The sketches obviously descend into absurdity — there’s a whole lot of horniness out there — but all in all, it’s fun and it’s kinda neat to see (almost) the entire cast be used in one bit.

Grade: A-

Keegan-Michael Key’s monologue, I’m disappointed to report, involves him singing, my very least favorite form of the monologue. While there have certainly been worse offenders in this particular category, the song is relatively short, so there’s that. And having Kenan come out to point out to people that they are two different people with different names, was illuminating (Are there really people out there who confuse the two? … White people, man.). But all in all, this feels like a missed opportunity with a true comedic talent.

Grade: B

In this sketch, prom receives the red carpet treatment, complete with gossipy commentary and fashion notes.

“What are you wearing?”


“Who is it by?”


I’m not mad at it.

Grade: A-

ESPN’s excellent documentary series, The Last Dance, told the story of Michael Jordan’s return to the NBA to win one last championship ring before retiring (and even if you don’t care for the sportsball, it’s worth your time if you haven’t seen it). The documentary highlighted just how competitive Jordan was, and his love of gambling, two things that are explored further in this “extended footage,” in which Jordan financially ruins his head of security after he had the misfortune of beating Jordan at a silly quarter game. While Key doesn’t do a particularly great Jordan impersonation, Holly Gardner is terrific and unexpectedly well-cast as his humiliated head of security (who really did look like this).

Grade: A

Key and Kenan Thompson are two security guards at The Muppet Show who become increasingly aggravated with Statler and Waldorf’s heckling. I don’t want to give away more about this sketch, but suffice it to say it’s the best of the night and one of the best of the season. Maybe I’m just a nostalgic Gen Xer, but boy howdy, I loved this one.

Grade: A++

I never know what to say about these recurring “Gemma” sketches, in which Cecily Strong’s British dingbat character’s male companion keeps insisting to other men that she’s super-hot and turning them on. Usually, the structure of the sketch is that Gemma and her boyfriend are having dinner with some other couple, but here, Gemma is a part of a musical duo? at a TGIFriday’s? where a man is celebrating his birthday on the same day he learned his wife had left him after getting her vaccine? There’s a lot of talk about hard-ons and blue balls, and if you find that funny, you’re in luck.

Grade: C

“Weekend Update” is fine, but maybe goes on too long — with the guests to the desk, the entire segment is over 15 minutes, and it felt like it. Still, there are some good zingers in there. “I never thought I would feel bad for Liz Cheney, and I was right.”

Grade: B+

Kate McKinnon is great as Liz Cheney, though the real joke of the bit is the pathetic list of Republicans who are willing to stand with her in her crusade against Former President Adderall, who she had once “loved like a straight sister.”

Grade: A+

New cast member Andrew Dismukes takes a stab at the Weekend Update desk with a story about watching Disney Channel with his Texas great-grandmother, “Old Mawmaw.” The audience doesn’t quite know what to make of his Texas-centric story, but as someone who happens to both be a Texan and who had a great-grandmother we called “Mawmaw,” I identified.

Grade: A

Finally, Bob Baffert, the trainer of the horse who won the Kentucky Derby and later tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, comes to the desk to defend himself. Beck Bennett captures Baffert’s smarminess, which is the entire joke here.

Grade: B

In a sketch that is not available on YouTube, I’m guessing for musical rights reasons, a trio of old Broadway stars pay homage to George Gershwin, but can’t remember the lyrics to “I’ve Got Rhythm.” That’s it. That’s the joke.

Grade: C

Between the prom sketch and this graduation bit, high school was apparently on the minds of the writers this week. Here, families cheer and comment on the graduates after being explicitly told not to by the principal. It’s a riff on race, socioeconomics, and culture, but it never punches down, and therefore manages to pull it off.

Grade: A

This is just a side note, but in the goodbyes, Key excitedly yells, “SEE YOU NEXT SEASON!” What is particularly funny about this is this is not the season finale — that’s next week. So unless he knows he is going to be invited to return next season …

Oh, and there were two sketches cut for time. One is markedly better than the other, but I will let you guess which is which — at least in my mind.


Final Grade: A-.

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

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