Felicity Jones is best known for her film roles: blithely pointing at paintings alongside Tom Hanks in Inferno, dutifully holding the hand of physicist hubby Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, and, most recently, kicking ass as non-Jedi hero Jyn Erso in Rogue One. In other words, she hasn’t shown off her comic chops all that often, save for light romantic comedies like 2011’s Chalet Girl, but at the very least, her first SNL hosting promises to have some good Yoda and lightsaber gags. Plus, the staff has had a few weeks off. With so much Donald Trump news to consider, they’ll surely bring some fresh energy to 2017’s first episode.
Donald Trump Press Conference Cold Open
The president-elect (Alec Baldwin) begins a press conference by announcing he’ll answer the question on everybody’s mind: “Yes, this is real life,” he confirms. “This is really happening.” He adds, “On January 20, I, Donald J. Trump, will become the 45th president of the United States … and then two months later, Mike Pence will become the 46th.” There are a number of nice zingers in this open, involving everything from health care and nuclear war to Steve Harvey. The rest is a perfectly puerile consideration of Trump’s supposed Russian pee party with prostitutes. Here’s just a sample of the pun run: “I’m a major whiz at jobs. It’s a golden opportunity for me to make a big splash. You’re in? You’rein? Urine?” Make no mistake: The writers (and Baldwin) came to play tonight.
Felicity Jones Monologue
SNL packs all of its Star Wars jokes into Jones’s intro, as she considers the less-than-thrilling aspects of her Rogue One character. (“I didn’t get to use a lightsaber in the movie, but I did get to transfer a very large data file.”) Also, Tina Fey shows up as Princess Leia to give Jones hosting advice: “If Steven Seagal can do it, so can you.” Then, she offers Jones a wise warning: If the writers bring on Leslie Jones at the end of a sketch to act horny and angry, they’re out of ideas. There are several cute jokes in here, including a moment in which Fey tries to assuage Jones’s fears about reviews. “This show gets reviewed?” Jones asks. “Way too much,” Fey replies. Touché, Ms. Fey.
In this Bachelor parody, a succession of young, vapid bachelorettes try to win the heart of the Beard Hunk (Beck Bennett) as they boast about being the worst girl of any room they’re in and how they’re ready to give handjobs on-demand. Trashy reality shows like The Bachelor are a pretty big target, but given that this is a rapid series of stupid-smart quips, there are several weird and unexpected ones that make it worthwhile. When Beard Hunk asks about the relationship history for Kate McKinnon’s bachelorette, she confesses, “Well, I was married last year … to you.” There’s not a lot of new ground covered here, but the cast is enjoying itself and the writing is enjoyable.
Shondra & Malik
In this short film, Leslie Jones and Kenan Thompson play the titular round-the-way frenemies with a long history of antagonism. When Malik arrives on the block in his busted vehicle, he threatens Shondra with a gun, and she responds in kind. After the big warning, his blustery exit is marred when his car fails to start; eventually, he’s got to get the woman he’s been threatening under the hood to help him out. Then Shondra has chest pains and Malik must come to the rescue. It’s a well-played scenario, but there’s not far to go with just these little switcheroos and seemingly no stakes at all, despite the weaponry.
A 106-year-old arts patron named Albee Durberry (Mikey Day) goes out to the theater to see the premiere of a new play. As the play’s characters (Bennett and McKinnon) get serious about their marriage, Durberry and his nurse (Jones) deal with his ailing health. He can’t hear anything, splatters yogurt all over himself, and resists having his chair disinfected or his “medical stockings” removed. Gross-out gags are the focus here, and some are funny — most notably the final moment of Durberry’s bed-chair clunking across the crowded stage — but Day and Jones don’t really seem to be having all that much fun.
The Princess and the Curse
This filmed piece finds a wicked witch (McKinnon) placing an unspecified curse on a baby — and 18 years later, as Princess Viola (Jones) entertains a suitor (Bennett), that curse rears its ugly head. No, the princess doesn’t turn into a toad or fall into a coma; she becomes 15 pounds heavier once night falls. When the prince finds out the weight doesn’t just fall on her butt and boobs, he’s disappointed. “I have a thing,” he says. “A thing until the end of time.” Then the witch returns to present the prince some options for breaking the spell. There’s only one idea here, and the sketch doesn’t go that far in exploring it.
Susan B. Anthony
At the end of a tour of Susan B. Anthony’s house, a group of young women actually reincarnate Anthony by holding hands and saying the feminist icon’s name three times. After an initial rush of excitement, the ladies are ready to grab a bite and head back to the city. The lonely and bewildered Susan B. continues sharing big ideas, but the ladies are over it; the more she asks about their phones and talks about her stove, the angrier and more distracted they become. The gist of it? Feminism has come a long way in 100 years, and this sketch illustrates how easily its foundations can be taken for granted.
In Update’s first half, the hosts talk not only about Trump’s press conference, but the looming Obamacare repeal and the presidential-cabinet-confirmation hearings. When Jost addresses Trump’s complaint about the unconfirmed dossier leak — ”Are we living in Nazi Germany?” — Jost replies, “Of course not. Nazi Germany at least had the guts to take on Russia.” Then, Pete Davidson arrives to give some of his first impressions about the cabinet appointees. While it’s just a series of riffs about what these people look like, there are some good ones. Who knew potential secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross is the spitting image of a Jeff Dunham puppet? Also, there’s a charming joke about Davidson being born in a Honda Civic (and subsequent apology to his mom).
After a dopey O.J. joke, Che earns enthusiastic cheers for his ruminations about the FBI reports on the Chicago police and the phrase “black-on-black crime.” Che says he doesn’t blame people for checking out when they think something is a race issue. “If I saw a headline that said, ‘White woman cuts off white man’s penis,’ I’d think, Damn, white people are crazy. But if you took race out of it and the headline said instead, ‘Fed up woman cuts off cheating man’s penis,’ I’d be like, Oh no, Colin, this affects all of us!” Finally, Beck Bennett comes on as a budding pop star who creates brief, unremarkable songs. It’s a tepid bit, in part because the songs don’t seem bad in any specific way, just generally shrug-inducing.
The cast and director of Hot Robot 3: Journey to Boob Mountain talk about how their film addresses the anxieties plaguing the world today. The film’s empty tropes become alleged triumphs: The hero makes a bong out of hamburger buns, and that somehow helps to reflect anger about the election. At one point, the director (Kyle Mooney) enthuses, “If we all harness our boob energy, who knows what we could accomplish?” Yes, there are lots of horny grandmas in this sketch, but it does hit on something notable: Surely, mediocre and self-important artists everywhere are currently working to make a connection between what they do and real-world anxiety about the incoming president.
The facilitators of the Hartford Pharmaceuticals getaway (Mikey Day and Sasheer Zamata) introduce a night of “jokeoke,” which just involves company members telling their favorite jokes. A table of women in the front (Strong, Jones, and Melissa Villaseñor) monopolize the mic, telling jokes they’ve written and then explaining why they’re funny. Print won’t do these gags justice, so just know they’re all about various human holes and how loose they are. They sound totally silly when coming from the mouths of Strong, Jones and Villaseñor, who each play the same sort of coy, tittering, otherwise straight-laced Accounts Receivable type. The sketch is worth it just to see the fun they’re having.
As Tina Fey warned Felicity Jones during her opening monologue: “If your first line in a sketch is, ‘Hey guys, I hope you don’t mind that I brought my friend Ray Ray,’ then you’re not the funny one.” This rule of thumb holds true for most of tonight’s show. Jones doesn’t get in the way of anything, but she doesn’t contribute all that much, either. It’s nice to see her getting in the spirit of play, as she does in the Corporate Retreat sketch, but she gets lost for long stretches when she’s playing against a big cast. A strong opening and a couple of intelligent sketches buoy the dull ones this week. Next Saturday, we’ll see what Aziz Ansari can do.