When Peter Dinklage showed up on Weekend Update during a Melissa McCarthy–hosted SNL episode to play Peter Drunklage — that is, a soused alter ego who mimicked Bobby Moynihan’s popular Weekend Update character, Drunk Uncle — it was clear he had the chops to host the show himself. While best known as one of badasses on Game of Thrones, Dinklage has regularly popped up in comedy projects, e.g., the furious book publisher Miles Finch in Elf and one of Liz Lemon’s missed connections on 30 Rock. Dinklage’s SNL episode more than proves his capabilities in the sketch format.
While Dinklage is a natural, this is SNL, and the sketches will always be a little hit-and-miss. (Though one of the immediately nice things about this episode is that every sketch skips right over obvious jokes about the host’s height.) Within that pattern, and maybe because of his training as an actor, Dinklage delivers surprising emotional grounding for flimsy characters and sells his bits with more commitment and panache than most hosts are capable of mustering.
Cold Open: At This Hour
Given the week Trump had, from his comments about punishing women who obtained ostensibly illegal abortions to covering up for his violent campaign manager, a cold open on Trump was nearly inevitable. (Honestly, it might be inevitable from now until the election.) This one digs in a bit more than recent political bits by honing in on an all-too-recognizable personality: The Trump apologist. As CNN anchor Kate Bolduan (Kate McKinnon) confronts a Tea Party News Network representative (Cecily Strong) with a litany of baffling Trump deeds, the TPNN rep explains it all away. (“That is your actual answer?” “That is what I have picked, yes.”) Things reach a funny fever pitch in a cutaway to a Trump rally, where the Donald repeatedly punches a man even after finding out that man is a Trump supporter. Darrell Hammond doesn’t quite get enough screen time to justify his appearance, but Strong holds it down as a daffy Trumper: “You can’t break me, Kate, because I’m crazy and crazy don’t break.”
Peter Dinklage Monologue
Dinklage’s first appearance feels like a tossed off parcel of ideas to acknowledge obvious associations the audience has with him. George R.R. Martin (Bobby Moynihan) makes Dinklage tell jokes about Game of Thrones, while the monologue touches on some of the more obvious trappings of the HBO series — boobs, dragons, incest. Once all of these boxes are ticked, it’s over. Not that the monologue needs to be a great revelation, but with only a few scattered references to make it go, it’s not really worth doing. Okay, maybe it’s worth the moment of Leslie Jones dancing in a hokey dragon costume at the end.
Winnie the Pooh
Young A.A. Milne readers may have wondered how the idyllic, sweet world of Winnie the Pooh and his animal pals intersected with the real world, but none would have gone far enough to imagine this sketch. Pooh’s “cousin from far away,” Denny the Real, shows up to kick Pooh a little street knowledge. In addition to giving Pooh some pants — he shouldn’t go around “looking like a black guy in a porno trying to hide his gut” — Denny tries to convince Pooh to eat his friends and lay off the sweets because “Uncle Grier’s got that sugar.” Some jokes are too obvious, e.g., Eeyore needs Zoloft, but Jay Pharoah gives a solid performance as the street-smart hustler bear in the stunna shades.
Naked & Afraid, Celebrity Edition
Every time SNL lets Leslie Jones loose, it’s a win. This filmed piece, a parody of Discovery’s Naked and Afraid, features a celebrity edition of the survival show with two contestants: Dinklage and Jones. Unlike the timid Dinklage, Jones shows up naked (and unafraid). When Dinklage takes off his clothes, she barks, “You are packing! Noice!” Given a chance to bring one wilderness survival item, she packs hot sauce, and she squashes Dinklage at night when trying to spoon him. (This sketch is the only one with overt gags about body size in the episode, and here, the obvious disparity between them makes it feel entirely unforced.) Dinklage plays a fine, long-suffering straight man here, and wins on the premise that 21 days with Jones is “a feat no man has ever achieved.”
This sketch answers that eternal question, “Are those space pants you’re wearing?” That answer: Yer goddamn right. In the back room of a restaurant, some mobsters pull a gun on their delinquent debtors. Before things get violent, performer Jonathan Cummins — Dinklage in a blonde bob and silver vest — pops up to sing a silly song about his very starry britches. Again and again, the bargain-basement Devo tune and Dinklage’s robotic romping halt the gangland transaction. It would have been nice to see a sense of escalation at the gangster table, rather than a drop-in from Gwen Stefani … or better yet, another high-stakes activity the jam could interrupt. In any case, Dinklage sells it with verve, commitment and a surprising amount of polish.
In the grand tradition of sketches like Mr. Show’s “Toilet Restaurant,” the writers play with what’s permissible at hip eateries. Dinklage and his partner, played by Aidy Bryant, are hip New Yorkers showing their Ohio-based pals a night out in the Meatpacking District. In deference to the neighborhood’s seedy past, every table in the restaurant has a “glory hole” through which the waiter shoves varying sorts of phallic food for patrons to scarf. If you’ve ever yearned to see Peter Dinklage go to town on a huge pumpernickel dong covered in butter, your sketch has arrived. (In truth, Dinklage could go a little harder at his bread wang, but I quibble.) In the words of one of the Midwesterners, “I can’t remember anything other than what I’m looking at right now.”
Game of Thrones Sneak Peek
Much like the monologue, this filmed sketch feels like something SNL has to do in order to capitalize on Dinklage’s GOT connection, and because the audience expects it. As Dinklage and other stars give a sneak preview of GOT season six, Bobby Moynihan steals focus while in an awkward dragon costume. There are spit-takes, pants-pissing, crotch injuries due to wire work; it’s all pretty canned.
Trump dominates things up top before Michael Che and Colin Jost take down Hillary and Justin Trudeau’s yoga photo (“Why your aunt took her laptop into the bathroom.”). The chipper Pete Davidson steps in to ask how the court decided to award Hulk Hogan $140 million after Gawker published his erotic video — making him the “highest paid porn star by $130 million.” Kenan Thompson drops in to play Red Sox star David Ortiz, but it’s a lame pretext to play on Ortiz’s accent and it goes on way too long.
While Che and Jost will never be bubbly pals like Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler, the more they work together, the more their dynamic reveals itself. They’ve both got stand-up backgrounds, so it makes sense that they want to lean into subjects and feel out the audience rather than just make a quick joke and run. Che, in particular, stretches his legs — as he does here in a bit about the end of Obama’s presidency — and peppers in comments about how Jost’s jokes land. The Update these two are shaping may not be the rapid-fire explosion viewers have come to know, but it might be able to justify a new sort of rhythm.
This is a single sight gag stretched out to three minutes: A couple on a honeymoon in the Bahamas get a suite with an underwater “reef view” and see a dead body floating outside. Eh. Seems like a fun gross-out gag on paper that doesn’t execute all that well.
Any excuse to put Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant in drag, give them fake stubble, and let them ham it up is a good one. Unfortunately, though, this sketch never really pays off. In it, a traumatized couple describes an assault that took place during a trip to Denmark; the reenactment of the crime shows Bryant and McKinnon harassing the vacationers’ stand-ins while speaking with accents that can only be described as Swedish Muppet. Despite the protests of the real-life victims and the host of Vacation Nightmares, the reenactors keep chewing the scenery. Your enjoyment of the sketch will be directly proportional to how much you like hearing McKinnon and Bryant say “bitch,” — as in “You’re about to eat a knife, bitch.” My tolerance is pretty high and still, it didn’t quite get there for me.
Corporate Magic Show
At the Peterson Realty Company Retreat, a magician (Taran Killam) touches a nerve when he brings the company’s owner (Dinklage) onstage and pulls a string of handkerchiefs and a pair of “stinky” underwear from the boss’s pocket. Peterson becomes obsessed with the finer points of the joke, whether the magician intended to imply that Peterson had crapped himself and had “a loose log floating in his pants.” The writers have fun with Dinklage’s standard comic persona — stern, disapproving, but just over-the-top enough to let an audience know he’s having fun — and the scat logistics keep things interesting.
Dinklage is a great complement to the cast who plays well with others and seems game for whatever the goofy premise comes his way. The show itself starts out with stronger ideas and better follow-through in its first half, but the second half has a few nice moments. The show should earn Dinklage a return invite, if for nothing else than a rematch with a naked Jones.