When a boy of the Jewish faith hits age 13, he has a bar mitzvah to celebrate the transformation into manhood. Highly influential emo-rapper Drake, who is known to be Jewish, had the kind of year in 2013 that saw him go through a transformation of his own. He went from being one of the most famous, best-selling rappers of the moment to someone even more famous and best-selling, but with the kind of cultural cachet that results in Anchorman 2 cameos. Given that he might now also appear in more funny things in the future, last night’s Saturday Night Live hosting gig could be considered Drake’s comedic bar mitzvah. And just like a regular bar mitzvah — something we’ve actually seen footage of for Drake — it was endearing, awkward, and, at times, kind of tedious.
Comedy is not inherently made for winners. For every cocky Daniel Tosh type, there are legions of Louis C.K.s who thrive on self-deprecation. It is for this reason that someone who once described himself as “Last name ever, first name greatest” in a Sprite commercial that aired before his debut album was released might not be expected to deliver the chuckles. However, with the right material and the right level of engagement, anything is possible. Drake looked nervous in one or two sketches, and overcompensated with his generous reserves of charm and enthusiasm in other places, but overall he was eager to please and came out looking like a mensch.
News Dump of the Week
Seemingly unsure of which news event from the last couple of weeks to center the cold open around, the writers instead opt for the kitchen-sink approach of putting three embattled public figures on with Taran Killam’s Piers Morgan. Bobby Moynihan is up first as portly, recently disgraced authority figure Chris Christie, tying the whole Sopranos-like gangsterness of Jersey lore into #bridgegate. Next up, our host makes a rare appearance in the pre-credits sketch as newly suspended Yankee Supreme, Alex Rodriguez. It’s our first look at Drake and he’s already overdoing it. The problem is that A-Rod doesn’t really have any famous mannerisms that we all know, so there’s no accounting for Drake’s frequent weird mouth movements and lip-licks, as though the character had been mainlining novocaine. Luckily, batting cleanup is Kate McKinnon unveiling a Justin Bieber impression in a week that saw the now-retired pop singer caught egging someone’s house. (“I thought my neighbor was a chicken, so I was just returning his kids.”) McKinnon does Bieber as someone constantly making pleading, sincerity eyes, and it doesn’t matter whether we know this to be true about him — it seems natural, and it fits what we do know.
Bar Mitzvah of the Week
In what was easily the best monologue of the season, Drake amiably fills in the high points of his résumé for anyone watching who has only vaguely heard of the rapper. He shares his past as Degrassi’s Wheelchair Jimmy (a nickname detractors still use in hatchet job reviews), outs himself as a Canadian, and apologizes for coining the term “Yolo.” It’s only after revealing that he’s Jewish that things get really fun.
We flash back to the aforementioned bar mitzvah, where the two sides of Drake’s family are meeting for the first time. It’s kind of an SNL in-joke to have Vanessa Bayer as a bar mitzvah mom, using the same voice she does with her Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy, and there are some great beats about the clash between Jewish and black culture. (Also: Hi, brand-new cast member Sasheer Zamata!) The use of flashback is a much-needed disruption for this often-rote section of the show. When D.J. Mordechai Jones drops a beat and we finally do get a monologue song, it’s a concept rap about the moment, and it seems like the optimum result of getting a smart, skilled rapper in a room full of SNL writers.
Hip-Hop Hurricane of the Week
With Drake hosting, there was no way this episode wouldn’t have some hip-hop-themed sketches. In the first of these, VH1’s Hip-Hop Classics is doing a Before They Were Stars episode. It turns out that Drake isn’t the only emcee to have appeared as a series regular before exploding on the Billboard charts; the eternally angry Eminem (played by Killam) was once on Felicity. From here, the sketch turns into a parade of increasingly weird juxtapositions between musicians and famous sitcom characters, until Flavor Flav is narrating for Fred Savage on The Wonder Years. While the Disney show That’s So 2 Chainz was a personal highlight, this too-long sketch will be best remembered for the sublime lunacy of Drake playing Lil Wayne playing Urkel.
Nope-cy Grace of the Week
The recent pot legalization in Colorado is noted, like a ticking of the current-events box for what’s happened in the weeks since the last episode aired. Noël Wells’s inaugural outing as Nancy Grace is kind of a miss, especially since long-time viewers can compare it with Amy Poehler’s rendition of the Southern drama-monger. Kate McKinnon’s baker interviewee makes lucrative Cannabis Cookies and says things like “I’m Walter White and this is Baking Bad.” Next, Drake shows up in an on-theme green suit to play Katt Williams as someone who speaks like an effete Shakespearean actor — which is accurate, if not a barrel of laughs.
Mid-January Progress Report of the Week
“Resolution Revolution” is the first digital short of the night, an ode to the speed with which our resolve to do better in the new year depletes. It’s also our best look so far at Zamata, even though all she gets to do is sing the hook. Taran Killam establishes the template, rapping for half a minute about his desire to get fit before quitting, hard, as soon as he sees donuts. Drake and Jay Pharoah have similar turns about drinking and sex toys respectively, with rapidly accelerated quit-rates. It’s a sketch that tips its hand early, but entices you back with an extended LARPing riff.
DILF of the Week
The entire female cast assembles for a sketch in which Drake plays a corny, mustachio’d dad who can’t resist popping into his tween daughter’s sleepover to crack jokes and embarrass her. Aidy Bryant finds her friend’s mustachio’d dad smoking hot, perhaps because he shares Drake’s famous love of sweaters. It’s an uneven sketch with a surreal turn that has Bryant having once been in a Vicodin coma for something like twelve years. It’s also the first time of the night where we’ve seen Drake play a character instead of impersonating a celebrity.
Gradual Guest of the Week
Nasim Pedrad nails her Arianna Huffington on “Weekend Update,” but the best bit here belongs to Bayer as Jacqueline Bisset. A lot of strange things happened during last Sunday’s Golden Globes broadcast, but the most uncomfortable for those of us watching live had everything to do with Bisset’s reaction to winning an award. It takes three separate vignettes for Bayer to replicate the awkwardly long walk the actress took to the stage, during which she stops to alternately hug and pet innocent bystanders, as well as comb her limp hair and standing-ovate in the wrong direction. There’s a bit of wish-fulfillment too, because in this version of events, Bissett is played off after her first emotionally overcome stammer, rather than after several.
Very Specific Setting of the Week
What ninties childhood was complete without the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular? For those of us who visited Disney’s MGM Studios in our youth, it no doubt struck a deep nostalgia chord to see a sketch in this very specific setting. Drake is working overtime as Dalton, the enthusiastic facilitator of the stunt show who makes one lucky visitor’s dreams of starring in a movie come true. In this instance, that privilege falls to Pedrad’s Rahat, a clueless tourist from Foreign who can only say, “I am Rahat.” Pedrad’s sly little smile as she does everything wrong is as restrained as Drake’s Dalton’s efforts to guide her through to a non-fiasco are busy. It’s amusing enough, but unlike Rahat, the sketch never really gets off the ground.
Poet Laureates of the Week
Bayer’s Miss Meadows was introduced in the Miley Cyrus episode as a poetry teacher with bangs like a blonde rip curl who tries to inspire a detention class. Here, she returns to invite students to recite poems about where they’d rather be. Aidy Bryant’s “Guess Who’s Ballin’?” competes for top honors with Kenan Thompson’s ode to a pants-less water-bed romp with Raven-Symoné, “Hell Yeah.” Much like last time, it all culminates in a poem about wanting to bone down with Miss Meadows herself, this time with Drake. It’s a fairly strong late-in-the-episode sketch, but seeing new cast members Mike O’Brien and John Milhiser be funny in brief bits here is a reminder of how little airtime they’ve been getting.
Second Helping of the Week
Another seeming one-off sketch from the apparently fruitful Miley Cyrus episode last fall returns, this one even more welcome than the one with the poetry teacher. The crew from Mornin’ Miami is back to film more promos for the week ahead, their spirit just as crushed as before. The collection of puns gleefully mocks the inanity of morning TV while the way the mugs come down in apathy-fueled unison embodies how some of us picture these chipper ciphers in their off-moments. Best of all again is the exuberance of Bobby Moynihan’s character each time he introduces himself as “B.F.” It’s half to do with the unlikeliness of those initials catching on as a nickname, and half from how excited he is to announce them.
Known Knowledge of the Week
Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney were in a sketch group together called Good Neighbor before starting on SNL this season, so they tend to pop up in fun little digital shorts from time to time. This one features Mooney perennially unimpressed with whatever tidbit Bennett has to share. The zippy pace and wild foray across planes of existence is a strong end to a show whose best bits took place when things got weird.