As a kid, I was a huge figure skating nerd (stay with me). I remember watching breathlessly when Nancy Kerrigan was set to host SNL. I was a fan of hers, but more so there was the anticipated delight of seeing her be funny, and act.
Of course, if you’ve seen that episode, or any other of the countless episodes where sports stars host, you’ll know that it’s a big, awkward leap from the field/ice/pool/octagon to Studio 8H. By those standards, Ronda Rousey’s turn as host of SNL last night was actually a notch above many (and about twelve notches above Nancy “Ice Queen” Kerrigan). She flubbed a few times, and live TV that doesn’t involve taking down (or being taken down by) an opponent does not come super naturally to her, but her charm and that big ol’ smile carried her through, as did the wise decision not to overload her with too many lines or weighty characters.
This episode was also notable for the fact that every New Yorker who was not in Studio 8H was at home, hiding from Superstorm Jonas and Governor Cuomo’s mandatory travel ban. How did the performers, audience, Selena Gomez’s dancers, the background extras, and everyone else get to the studio? How were they going to get to the after party or home? I’d actually really like to know — what special pull does Lorne have? Is Lorne Michaels above the law? Discuss!
Trump Endorsement Cold Open
Of course, we knew the show had to open with this — indeed, when Palin appeared to bebop and scat her way through a Trump endorsement earlier this week, the Twitterverse lit up with variations on “I hope Tina Fey’s available this weekend.” Ms. Fey does not disappoint, but there seemed to be little in the way of premise beyond “she’s crazy!” and some side commentary from Hammond-as-Trump in the execution of this one. “Look at her,” he says, “smart, legs, yelling, everything.” As in the past, using Palin’s real persona and words to underline the comedy of her, well, Palin-ness are the winner here. But this might have gone off more cleanly, and with bigger laughs, if Trump’s commentary was less House of Cards and more interior monologue. Still, the point is made: Crazy attracts crazy, and both of them think the other one is bonkers. Live from New York ...
Let’s all agree that that dress is damn fine, and that we’re all a little tickled when Rousey mentions her defeat by Holly Holm in a classy, sportsmanlike way, and then immediately shushes everyone and gets on with it. She’s so cool and badass, you guys!
Framing her monologue as a four-round fight is a fun premise for Rousey to be able to pivot from, and for Kenan Thompson as her coach to wrench some laughs. Add in a little McKinnon as Bieber (sadly, only the once, though I’d have paid good money to see her and Gomez in something), give the audience cake, and then bring Selena out to sing a little for you, and you’ve got a pretty decent monologue right there. Ronda is still getting used to the format, sure, and the audience seems a little light on the laughs (they might just be light in general, given the weather). Overall, not a bad start, Ms. Rousey.
Screen Guild Awards
SNL’s take on #OscarsSoWhite is this simple game sketch where the nominees for best actor at the fictional Screen Guild Awards are white men who barely appear in a series of films about the African American experience. Films like a Thurgood Marshall biopic and a dictator drama called All the Beasts of Africa offer nominees like “guy with camera” and “guy who walked by,” and while the nominees smile their way through, the real stars, in the rows behind simply glare. For extra points I’d have liked to see one of them win and thank all the Native Americans whose land they filmed on, or some similar condescension, but I’ll also take “And the winner is ... all the white guys.”
This digital short is about a bully who dares take on ... well, a teenage Ronda Rousey, basically. Beck Bennett is the cool guy in school, and he’s brought the new girl to the gym after hours in order to profess his love and share a romantic, candlelit dinner. But it’s really a trap where the school bully Kendra (Vanessa Bayer) and her crew (John Rudnitsky, Kate McKinnon, and Sasheer Zamata) are there to put the embarrassing moment of Rousey accidentally eating dog food on Periscope for all the school to see. Cue Rousey punching Bayer (or rather, Bayer’s fight stand in), and Bayer bouncing back in determined bully fashion, only to be taken down again ... and again ... and again, before Rousey leaves and Beck follows after her, only to be punched in the throat. A fun one that used the host’s strengths and Vanessa Bayer’s hilarious resilience to good effect.
PS: After that throat punch/stab, I can’t wait to see the new Roadhouse.
The Bachelor is easy to parody, but hard to parody well. SNL succeeds here by its contestant specifics, and the revolving door effect of women replacing each other, saying “Can I steal him for a sec,” to their competitors and “This is nice,” to their bland male bachelor. This sketch deserves credit for what is essentially a non-stop quote machine, all the way from “I want a man with the same body and penis as my dad,” to riding in a hot air balloon with the cast of Chicago Fire, to “I had to wear a damp bikini all week, and now it hurts when I pee,” to “You are literally the funniest person I know, and I know two Jews,” and on, and on. It’s a little too long in the offing, and should have ended with Sasheer as “the black one” who gets to stay one more week because of her sad past, instead of a cheap, Selena Gomez out, but the rest of the sketch makes up for it. My favorite of the week, and one that I would handily endorse to return, even if all the contestants are off making club appearances until they die.
One of these days, I’ll enjoy Weekend Update, I swear. But today is not that day. Opening with a joke about how you don’t want to be there, but your boss made you stay even though New York is shut down? Well, sir, that just reminds me: I don’t really want you there either.
Let’s see: Palin is crazy, Trump is crazy, and his supporters are “crazy, window-lickin’ water heads” per Michael Che (sorry, what does this even mean?). And watch out, ladies, Weekend Update is coming for you, too! Hillary Clinton is Darth Vader! The Kardashians like to have sex! Women who like cats are always single! Look — if you’re going to visit joke territory like this, please bring something new to the table. These jokes are starting to sound like the comments section on a YouTube video.
Exceptions? A set of refreshing Oscar jokes, including “the Oscars ceremony is so long, white, and boring, it could get nominated for an Oscar,” and a better Brooklyn joke than last week, namely that Spike Lee is really pissed to see a movie called Brooklyn with no black people in it.
Leslie Jones stops by to talk about why she thinks she can get Leo DiCaprio (conclusion? laughgasm and ham sandwich) and Kenan stops by as Willie, the friendliest guy you know, who really seems to be Willie, the sad old black man down the street. I’ll say it: Update in its current iteration is the best argument going for diversifying the writers’ room in comedy. These jokes need punch up by a room of women and people of color, and stat.
Three’s a Crime
Speaking of things written by white men, there’s this courthouse sketch about a teenage boy (Pete Davidson) in a threesome relationship with two teachers (Rousey and Cecily Strong). A tough premise — imagine the reverse, with a female student and two male teachers — but I buy in when Davidson begins describing all of the ways he celebrated after bagging his two hot teachers. Props to Pete for explaining a GIF, that of a cartoon bird disappearing and leaving feathers behind, signifying his excitement to join his teachers for their rendezvous as soon as possible. Also notable: Strong and Rousey’s commiseration over their affection for Pete, and Pete’s assertion that after the encounter he, “felt like Forrest Gump running across America, when people start following him because he represents hope.” Basically, it was an iffy premise well-executed with an edge of danger — something you look forward to as an SNL viewer. Good job, Pete, or should I say, “my man,” like Denzel Washington says it?
Metro City Super Crew
It’s a well worn-sketch comedy premise, that of the superhero introductions. I began to feel not only that I had seen this sketch before, but that it was the worst version of this sketch that I had seen before. Essentially, a group of super heroes sent to save Metro City must all introduce themselves before one - Metallia (Rousey), who can bend metal — can destroy the robots who have come to take the city. Cue a succession of terrible superheroes, including Noodle Man (Pete), Fire Butt (Rudnitsky) and Leslie as someone who can fly, but only for 10 seconds twice a day. They get the bad guys, of course, but by then we’re all a little meh about the whole thing. Fire butt, indeed.
Another digital short, which SNL seems increasingly comfortable with these days, this one about a group of girls out on the town (Rousey, McKinnon, Aidy Bryant) who get approached by three dudes (Beck Bennett, Jay Pharoah, and Taran Killam) who, after aggressively hitting on them, begin rapping about their giant penises. All, that is, except Beck — who promises he’ll go down on you.
After I got over my initial skeevies at the aggressive approach on the part of Pharoah and Killam — which was so pushy that I thought we were getting set up for another sketch where Ronda punches people — I could relax a little. The big penis rap is pretty decent, particularly the line, “my penis is so black and big it’d be raised by Sandra Bullock,” but of course the focus is meant to be Beck and his small penis. It’s too bad the sketch drains its own goodwill at the end by having Beck’s character push Kate, an unnecessary move that is neither funny enough to justify it’s presence nor character-driven enough to be appropriate. Too bad.
City Council Meeting
A character cavalcade that shows off some of SNL’s best performers, this is a pleasant way to take us into the home stretch; I wish it was the ten-to-one sketch (more on that in a minute). We have Jan Krang (Aidy), “female, aged 47” who has in her possession a drone that tried to film down her top; Mrs. Dodd (Kate), an elderly Irish woman who gets high on Rockstar energy drink and creates havoc at the old folks home; MC Strategy (Kyle) a Dutch DJ who just wants to share his music with the town; Mary Bonham (Rousey) and her traveling oddities carnival which contains just one attraction: Todd, the Lost Baldwin; and finally, Pete, the kid whose drone Aidy confiscated, and the proprietor of DroneMILFS.com. It’s always a pleasure to watch SNL’s best character actors get a chance to stretch out, and this is no exception. A funny, weird, but specific bit that stays just long enough to be welcome.
What could have been a robust 10-to-1 premise — two guys in an office break room, who are invited to a party, gradually revealing that they’ve never been to a party before — instead reads as a sphincter-clenching misstep wherein two of SNL’s nicest guys are doing impressions of mentally handicapped people. Why was this choice made? The writing is good, and the specifics well executed (should we bring buckets? Dogs? Towels?). Rousey is just fine as the straight man, trying to invite the weird guys in the office to her party. But ... why the vocal choices? Haven’t you seen Tropic Thunder? I winced throughout.
An interesting choice to rerun this commercial parody, which the show has been accused of stealing. Also interesting because I find it to be one of the more blatantly sexist parodies they’ve done. Can’t men use Settl, too? I guess not — only women are so desperate to be married or attached that they’re choosing literally anyone over being alone. Haha! Hilarious!
An interesting week, to be sure. Rousey felt less essential and more like a fun visitor popping in to say hi, or to punch someone, occasionally. That’s not a bad thing — not every host needs to be heavily in the mix, in my opinion. A quieter (perhaps smaller) audience also contributes to a lower-key show overall.
Still, some fun moments throughout, and a fun blizzard time had by all. Extra points to the hosts photos, particularly the one of Rousey as Rosie the Riveter, and the one of her in the snow. See you next week!