Two things were guaranteed about this weekend’s SNL: It would tear apart the town-hall presidential debate, and it would receive a new player in actress Emily Blunt. While her movie The Girl on the Train is still in theaters, Blunt made time to stop by 30 Rock and perform alongside musical guest Bruno Mars — who has been a charming all-in-one host himself. Most recognizable in the U.S. for roles in sci-fi movies like Edge of Tomorrow and Looper, Blunt has shown off her humorous side in films like The Devil Wears Prada. This bodes well for an evening of malfunctioning robots, demanding escorts, and nearly impenetrable accents.
Town Hall Cold Open
A playful revisit of the “second and worst-ever” presidential debate, this sketch hits all the big points: Trump’s accusations, Hill’s practiced choreography, and, of course, Ken Bone — who is wildly celebrated and quickly dismissed once Martha Raddatz (Cecily Strong) slyly asks, “You’re not going to turn out to be a weird little creep, are you?” Although the internet has dissected and evaluated every aspect of the debate, SNL’s writers bring a number of smart critiques into a tidy package. The skulking Trump becomes (an ultimately impotent) Jaws while Hillary gives a jaunty wave to Bill Clinton’s accusers. Alec Baldwin is settling into his meat-headed Trump, and Kate McKinnon continues to prove why her Hillary impression helped her win an Emmy. When asked to compliment the man who just said he’d put her in jail, she responds, light as a cloud, that he’s “generous — just last Friday, he handed me this election.”
Emily Blunt Monologue
This monologue seems designed to keep the audience members closest to the stage feeling at once loved and cursed. Blunt acknowledges with the approach of the election, spirits are low and in need of lifting. She sings “Get Happy” while handing out cookies and puppies — which, she says, are the audience’s responsibility for life. Pete Davidson, who gives massages to weary SNL fans in the house, gets on a guy in the chair and tells him, “I’m gonna start with the butt and work my way down.” By the time Blunt announces that many of the audience’s mothers are present and looking for hugs, many people do look genuinely surprised to see their moms appear.
Two execs (Mikey Day and Alex Moffat) hire escorts (Blunt and Leslie Jones), only to learn that the ladies of Elegant Evenings have very peculiar dos and don’ts. Blunt will only kiss using a few millimeters of her tongue, for instance, and requires extreme amounts of milk to make up for a Vitamin D deficiency. It’s not inspiring, but the sketch smartly lets the women bulldoze their buttoned-up employers, and Blunt and Jones seem to enjoy the big, ridiculous aspects of their characters. Indeed, it’s fun watching Jones explain how she will “ragdoll” her date.
This parody of the Beyoncé’s “Sorry” video is lovely, and though it has a fine idea behind it, the result is less than outright funny. This version is all of Trump’s women — Melania, Ivanka, Tiffany, Kellyanne, and Omarosa — grousing about having to take care of the Donald while he clearly doesn’t reciprocate. There aren’t a lot of surprises here, but a couple of nice ones show up late in the sketch: We get Mike Pence (Beck Bennett) curled in a ball, pouting that he’s only wanted when he’s not around, and once Trump arrives to address this gaggle of would-be mutineers, they all hop to it and do exactly as he says.
Film Festival Q&A
At this Ann Arbor Film Festival screening, an inscrutable short film plays before a moderator invites the production team onstage to answer questions. The entire audience, save one person, crowds the stage; the one remaining audience member (Vanessa Bayer) feels obligated to humor everyone and starts asking things about the film’s symbolism, the crew’s influences, and so on. The initial visual gag is great, and the first round of answers gets to the heart of things: In rapid succession, three of the filmmakers say it’s about the Holocaust, makeup, and “it’s also a comedy.” There are diminishing returns after this point, but the button at the end is a nice one.
This quick, wonderful parody attacks pandering advertisements that demean women even as they purport to empower them. The SNL ladies pose as a voice-over tosses around a bunch of adjectives like “gorgeous” and “confident.” Then, the name of the company reveals what it truly thinks about women: Chonk. (The v.o. gets uglier and uglier in its intonation of Chonk over the course of the ad.) Though it says size isn’t important, and they’re all queens and goddesses, Chonk isn’t making anyone feel good about themselves. In contrast, Chonk’s brand for men is called Normal Clothes, and guys happily buy the stuff without judgment.
A lot of the straightforward Update material doesn’t hit this week, which is clear from the studio audience’s slightly distant reaction. The first half is once again primarily Trump jokes, though the best ones take on Ken Bone’s online behaviors and Billy Bush. Another strong bit finds Michael Che defending the Trump supporters who Bill Clinton dismissed as “basic rednecks.” Che says he’d rather have this derided crowd at war than the liberal crowd: “If we have a war, I don’t want snarky liberals out there fighting for me. I want someone who dresses like John Cena, listens to Nickelback, and has never met an Asian.” McKinnon shows up as Russian peasant Olya Povlatsky, and though the long-suffering nihilist is a great character, she has had better showings. The best bit of writing here is Russia’s version of “Mambo No. 5,” which apparently features only one woman who gets torn to pieces by ravens.
After jokes about porn and bear sex, Michael Che and Colin Jost struggle to keep the audience. But the ever-cheery Laura Parsons (Vanessa Bayer) wheels in to save the day. Bayer’s children often have this manic, desperate quality to them, and it’s enjoyable to hear Parsons get disappointed by Ken Bone (“I liked him until he got on Reddit and talked about my favorite actress, Jennifer Lawrence. He said he liked her butt hole!”) Between Parsons, Povlatsky, and the jokes themselves, this one’s got some great, dark moments.
A Burger King drive-through gets a slew of weirdo visitors when a “pink Hummer limo filled with party people” arrives to order … something. As the looong car pulls forward, each window reveals a silly character with a name like Mr. Randy Candy, all of whom are part of an art collective called House of Terrific. The rhythm of the bit gets hijacked by the clunky mechanisms of the prop car, and it doesn’t help that each player seems to conjure an outré art world entirely different than the others.
This short film is something of a mood piece, inspired by the gaudy vessel sinks that sit unattached to their associated faucets. Blunt delivers a monologue from the perspective of an enormous, textured glass sink as it ponders existential questions such as, “Am I too much?” The sink wonders whether it’s “an answer to a question that no one asked,” and feels like “Zeus was christened in me.” It’s a quiet moment that surely many of us have had with these ugly things. As the sketch reminds us, no matter how ostensibly grand the bowl, people are still going to spit in it.
God love ’em, robots are born to malfunction. A poor product demonstrator (Bobby Moynihan) brings out Honda’s newest smart bots, Docimo (Day) and Docima (Blunt), but they screw up attempts to hand out mac-and-cheese balls and quesadillas. Docima harangues the humans she’s meant to serve, and Docimo flops on the floor until he’s beaten back to life by a technician (Leslie Jones). Not a lot of development here, but watching Blunt plow into McKinnon — and have McKinnon poised to break rather than breaking others up, for once — is fun. Jones hurling her robot into a wall is worthwhile, too.
The third in an ongoing series, this brief interstitial imagines Melania Trump as a mystified, whimsically ignorant inhabitant of Trump Tower. In this one, Melania (Strong) wonders whether she could switch places with her maid, so she could “see a bus,” among other things. Ultimately, she decides that forcing someone to “lie here under Donald” would be too cruel. These are worth watching as a unit, if you have two minutes. (Yes, you have two minutes.)
The Great British Bake Off
The niche U.K. import typically features well-behaved, upright, well-spoken bakers, so this sketch features Brielle and Paisley (Blunt and Strong) — noxious best friends from “the only town that voted unanimously for the Brexit,” and who met at the hospital getting their stomachs pumped. It’s mostly an excuse to let Blunt and Strong play with thick accents, though we also get a couple of playful exchanges. (“We bake just as well as we shag.” “Yeah, quick and lazy.”) There’s also a nice dig at the show itself, when the bakers learn there isn’t a cash prize: “The prize is the honor of being the best baker and being British.”
After a little kid complains about his mean hamsters, we see why: The hamsters, Alice and James (McKinnon and Bennett), are mud-slinging drunks like George and Martha from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The duo tortures a younger couple (Blunt and Moffat) while touting the refinement of pellet roast and recalling the time Alice ate their brood of children because she was hungry. Not likely to be a popular favorite, but for my money, the marriage of the innocent and the grotesque makes this the best sketch of the night.
All in all, Blunt is a generous host. She comes off as a great supporting character who can play it straight or get big and broad when necessary. Even so, a lot of this week’s live material suffers from thin or lackluster premises, and Update drags more than usual. On the positive side, the shortest pieces are all really solid, showing that sometimes less is more. Next week, when Tom Hanks hosts, the SNL team will no doubt bring its A-game.