Saturday Night Live
Nobody gets into SNL’s Five-Timers Club without chops… and Scarlett Johansson has been proving hers since her first go back in 2006. She plays well in straight parodies (e.g. Marvel’s ostensibly girl friendly Black Widow movie), goes big with goofy accents (e.g. selling marble columns or chandeliers alongside Fred Armisen), and is happy to chew the scenery on cue. This time, she’s back to nudge the home audience toward the latest high-tech Hollywood whitewash Ghost in the Shell and a gender-swapped spin on Very Bad Things from delightful duo Paul Downs and Lucia Aniello, Rough Night. And, presumably, have ol’ Tom Hanks usher her behind the velvet ropes.
Alien Attack Cold Open
The only thing scarier than current news headlines under Trump are the unknown headlines of the future. With that in mind, the SNL writers imagine a fun and frightening Independence Day scenario, involving hostile aliens from a far-off planet, and then plop the commander-in-chief Trump (Alec Baldwin, still, for now … ) into the middle of it. His big solution for fighting a telepathic race of aliens flying in invisible ships is “coal,” and when he finds out the state of California has been vaporized, he wants the record to reflect that he won the popular vote. Then he tells a bunch of frightened soldiers that the warlike aliens aren’t so bad, leaving one of them to wonder, “Does he have business ties on Zorblatt 9?” It’s great fun, and while it doesn’t tackle this week’s headlines, it’s much more frightening.
Eh, well, there’s no T. Hanks indoctrination into the special realm of the Five-Timers, but ScarJo does receive a memorial jacket and a song that sounds suspiciously like Subway’s Five-Dollar Footlong jingle. The rest of the intro, Johansson screens a highlight reel of her former appearances — purportedly made by Kenan Thompson, and primarily featuring Thompson — and talks about the Oscars with first-time attendee Kate McKinnon. It’s not remarkable, but it’s light and does what it’s supposed to do.
When introducing a remote segment taking place at the Denver Zoo, the hosts of Good Day Denver (Cecily Strong and Bobby Moynihan) mention that their interview subject is an animal pornographer. The animal photographer Danny Bangs (Mikey Day) and his interviewer (Johansson) soldier on. No matter how (feebly) the hosts try to correct their mistake, the lower thirds keep taking the photographer’s quotes out of context, informing viewers that he “started with amateur stuff online” and that he “finished on a zebra.” Of course, the website name dannybangsanimals.com is entirely on him. It’s as puerile as that, but it’s pitched well-enough to give some giggles.
This ad touts two new reality shows side-by-side: One features young, gay guys on Fire Island and another stars lesbians just one beach away. While the dudes party and hook up, the ladies care for their new infants and sing Annie Lennox as they drink wine around the dinner table. The lesbians’ big traumas include whether or not they’re being properly seen by one another and how loud a neighbor’s jazz can play after 9 p.m. The winning package is short and sweet, deftly playing on clichés in gay life and how they appear in frivolous TV at the same time.
In front of a panel of eager investors, a trio of researchers present the results of a long project: a helmet that translates a dog’s thoughts into words. The first subject, a dour-looking pug belonging to one of the researchers (Johansson), starts talking right away. He introduces himself, says he likes the park, his leash, and Donald Trump. While Max the dog purports to be something other than a “xenophobic racist,” he nevertheless kicks dirt on the “liberal snowflakes” and doesn’t want to see his “tax dollars go to an illegal.” Yes, the experiment is a success, but it makes one of the project’s sponsors want to shoot little Max. The sharp writing and incredibly cute dog make this one.
While on the set of a new Olive Garden ad, four smiling background actors are given notes by a gung-ho director (Bennett). What begin as simple requests to check out the restaurant and the menu become longer, weirder suggestions such as, “You’re about to pee yourself,” and “You just had a big ol’ orgasm.” Credit is due to Kenan Thompson, Leslie Jones, Mikey Day, and Johansson for their level of commitment and their mugging — Jones and Johansson for their ‘O’ faces, in particular. And now that SNL has these sketch-length ads embedded in the show, maybe we ought to celebrate the ones in which the writers really find a fun idea?
This glossy ad turns the glamorous, alluring force that inspired her own scent into something a bit less than admirable. (Kind of hard to talk about it without ruining it, so anyone who hates spoilers should skip and click.) Because Ivanka Trump is not just beautiful or powerful, she’s Complicit. She’s “a feminist, an advocate, a champion for women … but like, how?”, and when she applies lipstick, it’s her father we see puckering up in the mirror. This bit does a nice job of skewering the elder Trump daughter, who hasn’t taken a lot of heat despite the fact that she positioned herself as a potentially progressive voice. And the specifics here, like Ivanka imagining she is Rose from Titanic when she’s really the Billy Zane character, are great.
With the cold open dedicated to a fictional future, Update gladly takes on the news of the week. Michael Che and Colin Jost tackle the new Republican health-care bill (“How bad does it have to be if Trump doesn’t want to put his name on it?”), the new travel ban (which is just “a bunch of brown color swatches”), and Trump surprising kids on a White House tour (“Nothing says, ‘My presidency is going well,’ like the screams of children.”) In an attempt to clear the air about the attorney general’s confirmation hearings, Al Franken and Jeff Sessions (Alex Moffat and Kate McKinnon) visit the set. Swearing on the Bible with a fake hand, announcing that he is either a lawyer or a liar, the puckish Sessions just won’t be pinned down. Both Moffat and McKinnon shine.
The second half sweeps up some scattered items, including a Day Without Women, OJ’s impending release from prison, and the portmanteau they want to designate the newly canoodling A-Rod and J.Lo. Then, in his “First Impressions” segment, a newly sober Pete Davidson arrives to talk about the people who have the unenviable job of defending Trump. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is “one of those sweet, Southern girls you marry, if you’re gay,” Paul Ryan got to be Speaker of the House when someone “waved a wand over a ventriloquist dummy,” and Sean Hannity “looks like a thumb, which explains why he’s so far up Trump’s ass.” Nothing brilliant, but Davidson always sells his material well.
Shud the Mermaid
When a pilot (Day) is shot down over the Pacific, he wakes to find he has been rescued by a merman (Bennett) and is being offered the hand of one of the merman’s daughters; two are lovely mermaids and one is a libidinous bottom feeder who is 85 percent blobfish. While sisters Oceana and Aquiticana offer adventures at sea, the blobfish Shud is “just in it for the babies” and having three-ways with her angler fish pal (Johansson). Cue the acquatic teabagging. This returning character feels like it ought to be an easy win for McKinnon, but the gross-out stuff just feels a bit overwrought and the brief moments of play between McKinnon and ScarJo aren’t enough to buoy the rest.
Shanice Goodwin, Ninja
Leslie Jones returns as the titular grown-ass, part-time assassin (and “cashier at Kohl’s”). When her mentor is held hostage by a gang of British thugs, she and a rival ninja Dominica (Johansson) set out to rescue him. Once the duo descends on the evildoers, it’s all lopped-off hands (“Damn, that’s nasty”) and Dominica kicking guys in the face, while Shanice wheels her frenemy around in an office chair. The gags here are much more fun to see than to describe, but suffice it to say that the visuals of Jones as a silent, invisible killing machine are even better executed here than they were the first time.
A Sketch for the Women
Because the ladies of SNL took the day off for Wednesday’s Day Without Women, they didn’t get any writing done. While Aidy Bryant and ScarJo praise Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney kindly for filling in and writing a politically relevant sketch for everyone to perform, it just so happens that Beck and Kyle gave themselves all the dialogue. While the guys go on about how women all have stories to tell but don’t have a voice in society, the ladies interject comments like, “Thank you for saying that.” The sketch doesn’t carry on too long, but the point is made and feels repetitive even just 90 seconds in.
At the funeral for a milquetoast, older white guy called David, his wife (Vanessa Bayer) finds out that her husband had a hobby she knew nothing about: cranking out bangin’ club tracks. David’s pals Dan and Didi (Thompson and Johansson) perform snatches of these hits, which address everything from sexual freedom to gay boys doing bumps in the bathroom. Also, there are a lot of lyrics about butts. Once the premise is laid out, there isn’t much surprising about the details that follow — but the performers enjoy the silliness of it, and that’s enough.
Johannson once again proves herself an adept and engaging host, not afraid to go big or look stupid. While there aren’t any mind-melting sketches waiting to go viral, when taken together, they’re an incredibly solid batch. And tonight’s show had a true variety: physical comedy, super-silly bits, political satire, musical numbers, gross-out gags — all that, and a sad little pug knocking a sci-fi helmet off of his head. There are a lot of smart ideas on display, and many of the less-smart ideas are delivered well-enough to distract from their blemishes. Not a bad way to become a Five-Timer.