Nick Jonas is fine — but nothing more — in a hit-or-miss ‘Saturday Night Live’

Saturday Night Live
Nick Jonas
February 27, 2020

Nick Jonas has been on the 8H stage before: he and his brothers were a musical guest on SNL in 2009; and in 2016, he was a solo musical guest and was invited to participate in a couple of sketches. But last night was Nick Jonas’ first time hosting, and he was … fine. He wasn’t a natural who you could imagine joining the cast like some of his fellow superstar/pop star/former child star peers, notably Justin Timberlake and Drake. But he was fine. For me the big difference between Jonas and Timberlake and Drake is that Jonas seemed to be trying to maintain a modicum of dignity — he didn’t ham it up and didn’t seem willing to really allow himself to be the butt of the joke. He was fine! But in the end, Jonas was a supporting actor, not the comic lead.

As for the writing last night, it was hit-or-miss, but with a higher percentage of hit than miss, at least for me. (The Cockatoo helped, but more on that later.) It genuinely seems that the writers continue to feel the weight of the previous four years lift from their shoulders, and they are able to focus more surgically on political issues as demonstrated in this episode’s cold open. The show is going on a month-long hiatus — let’s hope the writers are able to keep this relatively strong streak going when they return.

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Regé-Jean Page heats up ‘Saturday Night Live’

Saturday Night Live
Regé-Jean Page & Bad Bunny
February 20, 2020

Though he had been in the cast of the Shonda Rhimes series For the People and the remake of Roots, not many people had taken notice of our host Regé-Jean Page until he starred in the Shondaland series Bridgerton on Netflix which only debuted in December. So it’s a little strange that someone whose name I had to look up when he was announced (and I say that as someone who writes about television every day and who binged Bridgerton), would be hosting Saturday Night Live already: Regé-Jean Page’s hardly a household name.

But it turns out Page is not only good at playing smoldering 19th-century counts in Regency-era London, he’s also a charming comedic actor who seemed to genuinely be enjoying himself on the live stage last night. Last night, Page demonstrated that he is a versatile actor, with great range and a bright future ahead of him. He will be a household name soon enough, I predict.

As for the episode itself, it was fine. There weren’t any sketches that really stood out — for good or bad. It just felt like the writers were coasting on some B-level material. But you know what? Sometimes that’s as much as any of us can give. After the week I’ve had, I’m inclined to cut people a break: so what if they didn’t knock it out of the park? They tried and they didn’t cut anyone’s power or water off in the process and they didn’t just say “fuck it” and got to the Cancun Ritz Carlton, and so I’m proud of everyone involved. Good job, kids.

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Regina King is the queen of ‘Saturday Night Live’

Saturday Night Live
Regina King & Nathaniel Rateliff
February 13, 2020

Best known for her dramatic roles playing strong, uncompromising women in series like Watchmen, The Leftovers, and American Crime, Regina King actually started her career in comedy, as one of the stars of the ’80s sitcom 227. So it should be no surprise that Ms. King, the best actress in the business right now, can do anything, including pull an episode of Saturday Night Live out of its mediocre doldrums. Regina King seemed to inspire the writers who gave her genuinely funny female-focused material to work with, and she shined, keeping pace with the cast. Of course, we shouldn’t have expected any less: the woman is a goddamned superhero.

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Dan Levy charms in a hit or miss ‘Saturday Night Live’

Saturday Night Live
Dan Levy & Phoebe Bridgers
February 6, 2020

I’d call Dan Levy a national treasure, but he’s Canadian, so technically we don’t have any claim to him. Still! We get to borrow him from time to time, including last night when he hosted Saturday Night Live for the first time. The creator of Schitt’s Creek was light, charming, and did the best with what he had to work with: which was a mixed bag. None of the sketches were terrible or offensive — so credit where credit is due, I guess — but a couple of them just didn’t land the way I think the writers hoped. Still, all in all, it was a competent episode helmed by a talented and enthusiastic host who I would love to see return to the 8H stage in the future.

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John Krasinski seals the first ‘Saturday Night Live’ of 2021 with a kiss

Saturday Night Live
John Krasinski & Machine Gun Kelly
January 30, 2020

After a six week break in which A LOT has happened in this country — insurrection, the inauguration of a new President, massive death, a vaccine rollout, and outbreaks of new strains —  Saturday Night Live finally returned with first-time host John Krasinski. And all in all, it was a solid, if not spectacular effort. Krasinski is charming and likable and after working on one of the most popular television comedies for nine seasons, he has plenty of experience with comic timing. He did just fine with his first time on the 8H stage.

As for the writing, contrary to what I was expecting, it almost seems that the writers’ room feels liberated by the removal of the former President. While it wasn’t a brilliant episode by any stretch, it did seem like the writers felt like they could tackle other current events, current events that would have otherwise been overshadowed by the cartoonish White House even just a month ago. I could be projecting, but with the exception of “Weekend Update,” this episode felt breezier to me, lighter. Eh, who knows, maybe it was just that the writers needed a good long vacation. And honestly, who doesn’t?

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Kristen Wiig comes home for a ‘Saturday Night Live’ Christmas

Saturday Night Live
Kristen Wiig & Dua Lipa
December 19, 2020

Kristen Wiig, one of Saturday Night Live‘s most successful female cast members, returned home for the annual Christmas episode. (And I had it in my head for some reason that it’s a tradition for a former cast member to host this particular episode. But going back 20 seasons, I learned it’s only happened a handful of times: Jimmy Fallon has hosted this episode twice; Tina Fey and Amy Poehler co-hosted one year; Eddie Murphy hosted this episode last year; and Martin Short hosted this episode a few years back — and that’s it. And now you know this worthless trivia, too.)

BUT AS I WAS SAYING: Wiig returned and was her Wiig-y self: funny, wacky, and game, clearly enjoying herself and the material. Which is why I’m sort of baffled as to why after the grading was done the episode ended up with such a relatively low grade. I don’t remember disliking this episode, but I suppose if you include enough mediocre material, it drags the entire average down.

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‘Saturday Night Live’ was one big Timothée Chala-meh

Saturday Night Live
Timothée Chalamet & Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
December 11, 2020

I don’t have any feelings one way or another about Timothée Chalamet. Looking over his IMDb, it seems I’ve only seen one movie where he has a big role, and though he was in Homeland, I have no memory of him, maybe because it was 8 years ago. The point being, I went into this episode of Saturday Night Live something of a blank slate at least where his performance was concerned.

And from what I can tell, the Saturday Night Live writers weren’t sure what to expect of him either. They filled the night with safe sketches, and implemented the buddy system, placing him literally shoulder-to-shoulder with Pete Davidson three separate times.

But honestly, they needn’t have worried. Chalamet was clearly enjoying himself, and though he’s not the most natural comic actor, he held his own, mostly through enthusiasm. And frankly, he did the best he could with the material he was given. I went to bed irritated with this episode, convinced it was terrible. I rewatched the episode in the cold light of morning and came away merely disappointed. It wasn’t terrible, it was just middling. Is it that the writers have already blown through whatever energy they had last week, or are they looking to be inspired by a host they know they can trust, like maybe Kristen Wiig next week? Let’s hope it’s the latter.

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Dave Chappelle returns to guide ‘Saturday Night Live’ through another post-election crisis

Saturday Night Live
Dave Chappelle & Foo Fighters
November 7, 2020

The first time Dave Chappelle hosted Saturday Night Live was four days after Donald Juniper Trump had been elected to the Presidency. It was a fraught moment for more than half of America, and Chappelle, a gleeful critic of White America and its deep-rooted racism, in the wake of this nation electing an unabashed racist, chose to take a moderating path, urging us to give Trump a chance.

Welp, we gave him four years, and now as Chappelle returns for only the second time to host, we as Americans have affirmatively declared the Trump experiment a failure. (Thank God.) As for Chappelle, he hasn’t changed his tone much: he still thinks we need to try to understand one another better, to give one another a chance, to not hate. And I will! Just as soon as Trump and his GOP loonies stop trying to burn down our faith in our democracy. Go ahead and book Chappelle for November 9, 2024, Lorne, and I’ll be happy to update us all on how that went.

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John Mulaney returns to save ‘Saturday Night Live’ for the second time in a year

Saturday Night Live
John Mulaney & The Strokes
October 31, 2020

It’s election eve and we’re all very tense, so having the charming and hilarious John Mulaney return to host Saturday Night Live right now is like a nice cup of cocoa and a warm blanket. But you know what is NOT PARTICULARLY COMFORTING RIGHT NOW: news that Dave Chappelle is hosting next week, the Saturday after Election Day. FUN FACT: Chappelle hosted the Saturday Night Live immediately following Election Day, 2016, SO. YOU KNOW. MAYBE NOT? MAYBE DON’T DO THIS, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE? And look, I know I’m just being superstitious and unreasonable. But counterpoint: NO. ABSOLUTELY NOT. FIND SOMEONE ELSE.

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Adele hosts the season’s strongest ‘Saturday Night Live’ so far. That’s not saying much.

Saturday Night Live
Adele & H.E.R.
October 24, 2020

Look. I’m not saying that last night’s Saturday Night Live was great or anything — it wasn’t. In fact, one sketch might have been the most offensive one they’ve done so far this season — although NBA Bubble Draft, “titty meat” and Bill Burr’s entire monologue are still giving it a run for its money. But overall, last night’s episode felt more like an episode from the beginning of last season: not knock down hilarious, but amusing and even clever at points. Host Adele’s energy was a large part of this: her enthusiasm was infectious, and she seemed to be having a genuinely great time. In fact, her energy rubbed off on the audience who seemed to be enjoying themselves more than they have in the past three episodes. That, or I’m deluding myself, so desperate I am for one … just one … SNL episode be half good already.

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