Aubrey Plaza hosts a delightful ‘Parks and Rec’ reunion on ‘Saturday Night Live’

Saturday Night Live
Aubrey Plaza & Sam Smith
January 21, 2023

Aubrey Plaza is having a moment. After being best known for playing the dark and deadpan April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation, Plaza re-emerged last year as the dark and deadpan … and sexy Harper on The White Lotus. But it’s not that Plaza is typecast — she’s just playing Aubrey Plaza as evidenced by this old Today Show interview in which she discussed being a (very bad) NBC page in the early 2000s.

Yes, Plaza began her career as an NBC page (while also performing stand-up and improv at Upright Citizen’s Brigade) and even tried out for Saturday Night Live before landing the role of a lifetime on Parks and Recreation.

And so Saturday’s gig hosting SNL was a homecoming for Plaza, an opportunity to fulfill her dream of being on Saturday Night Live, and to reunite with her Parks and Rec co-star, boss and SNL alum, Amy Poehler. It was a celebration of Plaza’s growth, and (for the most part) the writers rose to the occasion, giving Plaza material that fit her dark and deadpan brand.

The cold open is the NFL-after show for Saturday’s Giants-Eagles game, except it’s really just an excuse to have Bowen Yang play George Santos. Who is the new Fox sideline reporter. Get it? Because he’s not a sports reporter?
Look, I get that George Santos is the funniest political story currently happening but 1. these jokes have been milked to death already, and 2. Santos shows up later in the show, so it’s not like this was the only opportunity to make fun of this weirdo. The cold open lasts 6:57 minutes and frankly is 7 minutes too long.

Grade: D

Aubrey Plaza’s monologue is pure, distilled Aubrey Plaza: After playing a video of President Joe Biden congratulating her for being the most famous person from Delaware, she relives her NBC page days by donning a jacket and giving a dismissive tour of Studio 8H, where she runs into one Amy Poehler.

Grade: A-

Next up is a bit set at the Miss Universe pageant, which I thought was going to be a set-up for the most amazing Miss Universe pageant costume ever:

But I was wrong! It actually is a reference to the recent Miss World pageant and this truly amazing moment that I have watched maybe 30 times:

I mean, that’s pretty much the entire joke, and to be honest, I’m not sure that having our Miss France screaming “FRAHAAAANCE” over and over again makes it much funnier. Oh, and there are some strange cameos at the judge’s table that I have no explanation for.

Grade: B

The Black Lotus has all of the decadence, all of the intrigue of The White Lotus, but because it is run by Black folks, it has “none of the foolishness.” This sketch is not only funny, but also a timely spoof that manages to be the perfect way to acknowledge the host’s most recent project.

Grade: A+

In this sketch which is clearly inspired by Aubrey Plaza’s Aubrey Plazaness, she plays one-half of a couple playing the game Taboo in which they reveal all sorts of horrifying facts about their lives. It’s solid.

Grade: A

In this bit, Aubrey Plaza is a nun who has an existential crisis after having a near-death experience. It’s brief. It’s fine.

Grade: B

So, M3GAN. The hit horror film has become something of a cult classic among the gay community, so the obvious must happen: a sequel catering to that specific audience. Thus: M3GAN 2.0, which is “Like Bros, but for gays.” Bonus points for the cameo. Annabelle could never.

Grade: A+

“Weekend Update” touches on George Santos, the Biden document scandal, that asshole Ron DeSantis, Nick Cannon having too many kids: you know, the usual. It’s fine.

Grade: B+

Fresh from the sidelines of the Giants-Eagles game, George Santos visits the desk claiming to be the scientist who discovered nuclear fusion. It’s more of the same Santos jokes that you’ve been hearing on late night all week.

Grade: B-

The “Weekend Update” desk is also visited by the dearly missed April Ludgate and Leslie Knope. It’s mostly a set-up to allow Amy Poehler to make some inside jokes about SNL, but you know what? I AM HERE FOR IT. GIVE ME A PARKS AND REC REBOOT. AND WHILE WE’RE AT IT, ANOTHER THREE SEASONS OF 30 ROCK.

Grade: A

I was going to write a whole long thing about how I saw the original Avatar and have no memory of it, but honestly? Who cares. Avatar is back and in this sketch, two “butch ladies from Arizona” infiltrate the Na’vi, but it’s fairly obvious who they are. I don’t know, maybe it’s funnier if you’ve seen the new Avatar sequel. Or if you remember the original one?

Grade: C

In this bit, the filming of an ad for an HIV drug is thrown off when one of the actors keeps changing his lines to insist that he’s not gay. It’s funny and unexpected the first time, but repetition doesn’t improve the joke.

Grade: B

I appreciate the urge to write a sketch in which Aubrey Plaza plays a 1940s film noir actress — she was born for it. But this bit, in which she plays a femme fatale that has a thing for old men … it falls flat. Even a cameo from Sharon Stone can’t save it. I hate to say it, but now that Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong have left SNL, maybe it’s time to retire the Old Movie bit for at least a minute or three?

Grade: C-

Final Grade: B+.

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

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