This was the finale episode for a very strange season of Saturday Night Live, in which, as the cast notes in the cold open, we experienced the end of the world, and yet they kept putting on shows. And it would appear they saved the best episode of the season for last. With a full, and full-throated, audience for the first time all season and hosted by the impossibly glamorous Anya Taylor-Joy who was able to show off her formidable comedy chops (seriously, go watch Emma), the show was fairly consistent and did not have a single sketch I felt deserved side-eye.
Instead, the episode played like a nostalgic and heartfelt goodbye to some of the show’s most famous cast members. It’s rumored that this is Cecily Strong’s last episode; Colin Jost has been making noise about wanting to leave after this season; and Pete Davidson all but said farewell on “Weekend Update.” It was also hard to miss Kate McKinnon holding back tears in the cold open while standing next to Strong, Kenan Thompson, and Aidy Bryant, the show’s four longest-tenured cast members. All four have outside projects that they’ve been working on of late, so it would not be shocking to see one or all of them fly out of the SNL nest this year. Still, they are easily the four strongest performers on the show, and it won’t be the same without them. If it is their final episode, I’m pleased it was such a good one.
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.
When it was announced a few weeks back that controversial billionaire industrialist and huckster Elon Musk was going to host Saturday Night Live, the general sentiment was “WHY?” and “HIM?” and “OH NO!” and “HAS SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE LOST ITS DAMN MIND?” A few cast members and writers registered their displeasure and Twitter wrung its hands, while Musk’s supporters and investors in his cryptocurrency, Dogecoin cheered, and the whole thing blew up into the exact controversy that Saturday Night Live‘s producers hoped it would become. They’d get their ratings from the rubberneckers; Musk would get to whitewash his reputation and promote Dogecoin, and everyone would win except for the viewers who (perhaps foolishly) expect a comedy show to be, you know, funny.
Many many many thousands of words have been written by manymanymany other better writers explaining why people were upset Musk hosted last night, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. Instead, I will just note as a person who has been writing about and reviewing this show for ten years now, this is the worst episode I’ve been forced to sit through, and I was here for the January Jones debacle. Musk, as most people noted when he was announced as the host, was not just not funny, he was so awkward that he made the audience feel awkward. The only sketches that worked at all were the ones in which he had a minimal presence. Musk was so terrible last night, that the cryptocurrency he sought to boost, actually lost value. A lot of value.
The whole thing was a hot disaster, and I hold out a shred, a sliver of hope that Saturday Night Live will learn from it and not invite other human garbage to host their show in the future — but in my heart of hearts, I know damn well that will never happen.
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).
Daniel Kaluuya isn’t exactly a household name here in the States, but after last night’s Saturday Night Live, I’m thinking he could be. The Get Out actor is handsome, charming and, it turns out, very funny. It’s always fun to see actors who are recognized for their serious roles be able to pull off comedy — and Kaluuya is a very recognized actor, having won a Golden Globe just this year, and been nominated for the second time by the Academy. Despite all that Serious Actor heft, Kaluuya was light on his feet last night, an engaging host who had great chemistry with the cast. Let’s hope he’ll be back.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.