The first Saturday Night Live of 2016 actually aired on Sunday morning due to the NFL game going into overtime and delaying broadcast on the East coast by about 45 minutes. However, host Adam Driver, fresh off of playing the moody Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, brought enough charm and skills to carry a solid episode, especially in the pre-taped portions. Plus, they conveniently had a sketch mocking the NFL on hand.
The episode as a whole fell back on several old standards, such as the GOP debate cold open, two familiar Weekend Update correspondents, and a second round of the “porn” sketch we first saw when Amy Schumer hosted earlier this season. Cecily Strong continues to emulate her last name as one of the most consistent players on the cast, once again using her pipes to bring a musical element to a sketch. On the other hand, we saw very little of newcomer Jon Rudnitsky and just about zero Sasheer Zamata this episode, and I’m still shocked that the latter hasn’t broken out her Michelle Obama once so far this season.
And now a recap of everything else that went down, including a touching David Bowie tribute by former cast member Fred Armisen. Next week, another first-time host: former UFC champion Ronda Rousey takes the stage with musical guest Selena Gomez.
Republican Debate Cold Open
With the help of Darrell Hammond as Donald Trump, the current cast has been strongly handling the 2016 election in terms of portraying the myriad candidates, but their satire of the GOP debates has started to feel almost redundant to the ridiculousness of the actual events themselves. This time around, Cecily Strong and Kyle Mooney portrayed moderators Maria Bartiromo (or, “Tony Romo,” per Trump) and Neil Cavuto from Thursday’s Fox Business debate. With Hammond handling Trump, Taran Killam was once again freed up to play Ted Cruz amidst the real-life candidates’ feud over citizenship and “New York values” (which are apparently just various plots from Seinfeld). Bobby Moynihan, Jay Pharoah, and Pete Davidson brought back their by-now standard Chris Christie, Dr. Ben Carson, and Marco Rubio impressions, respectively, and Trump hurled the same taunting “Jebra” jokes at Jeb Bush (Beck Bennett) that we saw last time. But seriously: how great would it be if they really did wrap up debates a la Showtime at the Apollo?
Adam Driver Monologue
The first-time SNL host’s monologue was nothing to write home about, but it did get some of the more obvious Star Wars jokes out of the way and allowed the cast’s resident Star Wars nerds Taran Killam and Bobby Moynihan a chance to geek out. Leslie Jones didn’t pop up much this episode, but continued to keep it real by hitting Adam Driver after admitting that she thought he was Minnie Driver. How long again until Ghostbusters comes out?
NFL Playoff Game
Comically bad effects and prop comedy almost always make an SNL sketch better (see: every sketch where someone vomits out of a tube up their sleeve). The footage of Pete Davidson as fourth-string Green Bay Packers quarterback Jared Schleff breaking his legs did all the work in this one. Al Michaels (Beck Bennett) and Cris Collinsworth (Adam Driver) played straight-er men while making a solid point about the NFL’s penchant for grisly injury clips – especially when they gratuitously replay them while trying to act sympathetic. Cecily Strong, Kenan Thompson, Bobby Moynihan and Jon Rudnitsky also make appearances in between the clips of Schleff’s legs snapping like glow sticks below the knee. Making it stick, the hosts acknowledged that “Somewhere, deep down, this is why you watch football.” Oof.
The first pre-taped sketch of the night was a definite highlight, and the perfect use of Driver’s emo Kylo Ren. Even if you’ve never seen an episode of Undercover Boss, Driver’s portrayal of Matt the radar technician as he interacts with his employees on Starkiller Base gets funnier as it becomes more and more obvious that it’s Ren. Specifically, when he uses the Force in a common area to make Stormtrooper Bobby Moynihan choke on his lunch for calling him a punk bitch. Taran Killam figures him out pretty quickly, while Leslie Jones yells at him because she just wants to go eat her muffin. Side note: they just don’t make enough “Sorry I killed your son” greeting cards, do they?
Sure to please the Internet’s never-ending thirst for modern variations on Disney princesses, this was probably the silliest concept of the night but was well-executed by Adam Driver as Aladdin and Cecily Strong as Jasmine. As soon as the latter had to say, “Some kind of fat bird just hit my mouth,” you knew you were in for a dangerously realistic reimagining of the magic carpet ride that every seven-year-old girl in 1992 wanted to go on someday. A rogue bomb, airplane excrement, and a horrifying descent almost ruin the date until Air Force members Beck Bennett and Leslie Jones interrupt their conversation about hard cookies to help the love birds land safely. And, just in case that didn’t ruin your childhood, Jasmine justifies kissing him anyway with a throaty, “But mama horny.”
America’s Funniest Cats
Just when you thought SNL had run out of talk show ideas, here comes America’s Funniest Cats, hosted by whiney cat video narrator Finn “Raynal-Beads” Reynolds (Adam Driver). His guests, French women Joelle LaRue (Cecily Strong) and Noelle LeSoup (Kate McKinnon), host a very different version of the show in their homeland (because, sure, why not?) called Comedies des Animaux. Footage of some popular cat videos get Finn’s voice over treatment (mostly LOL-speak and “Boi-oi-oi-yoing” sound effects) and then the ladies’, which is much more focused on suicide, “Death spasms,” and cremated cat spouses. I will say the bit reminded me a lot of YouTube series Henri Le Chat Noir, but Strong and McKinnon are awesome together and they should definitely team up more.
Similar to the debate cold open, the political jokes felt a bit stale during Update, especially considering how absurd the election discourse has been thus far. That said, Colin Jost and Michael Che are growing ever more comfortable in the groove they’ve come into this season, and each delivered funny extended bits in between disses aimed at step-dads, Shaq, and country music. I thought Che was going to have some strong points about #OscarsSoWhite, but instead he made the argument that porn (or, just movies people have actually seen) should be nominated, and gave a nod to his co-host’s movie Staten Island Summer. Jost’s best material centered around former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg possibly running as a third-party candidate or teaming up with Trump: “If we follow a black President from Chicago with a Jewish President from New York, the South will definitely secede again.”
Pete Davidson served as one of the guests, and while he’s normally introduced as the show’s Resident Young Person and takes on sillier topics, this time he took a more serious approach to discuss gun control, particularly the issue of mentally ill people carrying them. He candidly admitted having spent time in a mental institution as a kid (“Twice. So far.”) and said he wouldn’t even want to be able to own a gun himself because he’d “have to buy a new TV every time the Knicks lost.” Kudos to Davidson for turning his depression into something positive (not to mention reminding everyone how little security there is on buses. Yeesh.)
Rounding out Update was Vanessa Bayer’s child anchor character Laura Parsons, who once again chose the absolute worst news stories to report on with the energy of a middle school musical. The capture of El Chapo, the Oregon militia’s dildo problem, and a Glee star being arrested for child porn provided the fodder while Parsons came up with a surprisingly accurate description of cocaine (“A powder that makes your brain go, ‘I’m amazing!’”). And, what would the first SNL of 2016 be without at least one mention of Bill Cosby being charged? Check.
Classroom sketches always seem to be hit-or-miss, and this one seemed like something that maybe got a lot of laughs in the writers’ room but didn’t have enough time to fully come together on stage. Adam Driver and Cecily Strong teamed up again as speakers against teen social puppeteering, a.k.a gaslighting or otherwise manipulating peers for amusement. Their elaborate descriptions of “Vampiring” and “Honey I Shrunk The Kids-ing” are funny on their own – and there could have been more. Bobby Moynihan makes a pretty good 37-year-old civilian narc, but all in all this one was just sort of confusing and then it was over. On to the next one!
Fred Armisen Remembers David Bowie
In a surprise drop-in, Fred Armisen received raucous applause while he waited to quietly share a sweet memory of watching and being inspired by David Bowie’s SNL performances in 1979, when Armisen was just a kid. He also introduced a snippet of Bowie’s incredible performance of The Man Who Sold The World from that episode. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to air the entire song, but it was a nice reminder of Bowie’s legacy at the show and how he influenced today’s entertainers across mediums.
This. Was. Great. Using a simple awards-show-speech cliche as a jump-off point, this pre-recorded short escalated to both sweet and hilarious levels simultaneously and was particularly well-shot and edited. After winning a Golden Globe, two parents (Vanessa Bayer and Adam Driver) tell their two, sweet, little children (Kyle Mooney and Kate McKinnon) to go to bed. And that they do, unlike their parents, who show that after-party debauchery can include drinking, doing coke off of statuettes, and hooking up with Liev Schreiber after sneaking a peek at his penis in the men’s room. Please tell me this was based on at least one person’s night after the Globes (minus the child abandonment part).
Considering just how many variations of porn “professions” you could use in this concept first done on Amy Schumer’s episode, it’s no surprise that this has become a recurring sketch. This time, host Adam Driver plays the not-so-subtle Dr. Rockhard, and Beck Bennett serves as his horny jock patient who says things like, “Good point. I’m convinced. Let’s do sex.” Once again, Aidy Bryant wanders on set thinking she’s in an actual place of business and doesn’t catch on to lines like “I graduated best top in my class” as red flags. Despite the predictability, I’m a fan of this one for the cheesy porn puns alone. Just wait until Bryant’s character needs a plumber or a pizza delivery.
So Shoot, what else?