A longtime improviser, groundbreaking sketch comedy writer, skilled standup, and award-winning actor, Aziz Ansari would have to try real hard not to shine on Saturday Night Live. And in his first hosting gig, he did not disappoint (despite getting stuck in a couple of sketches that might have tanked with a less adept leader).
Since his last standup special, 2015’s Live at Madison Square Garden, Ansari’s been busy working on his Netflix original series, Master of None, which he co-created, co-writes, directs, and stars in. The show’s first season earned an Emmy, a Critic’s Choice Award, and a quick renewal, and rightfully so; it’s a uniquely balanced, genre-blending series that’s as artful as it is absurd, framing off-the-wall anecdotes (many contributed by co-creator Harris Wittels) with heartache-y, soulful storylines (like unforgettable second ep “Parents,” exploring themes like immigration and aging and entitlement with unparalleled grace and wit). Also in 2015, Ansari released a collection of essays, Modern Romance, a well-crafted set that’s as philosophical as it is hilarious. So, this UCB-trained founding member of Human Giant, best known as aspiring / clueless biz kid Tom Haverford on Parks and Rec, has spent the past few years growing up, artistically speaking, devoting more time to writing and exploring than performing.
Which made his SNL appearance especially exciting – we haven’t heard new material from Ansari in awhile, and his extended monologue did NOT disappoint: one of his best recorded sets, and certainly one of SNL’s strongest standup monologues, it shows just how much Ansari’s evolved over the past few years.
Vladimir Putin Cold Open
But first: shirtless Vladimir Putin (Beck Bennett) celebrates his – er, Trump’s – big victory with some kind words for his new American friends.
In this special message, Putin (or “Pooty,” as we all know he prefers) promises that from now on, he’s got our backs (and he’s got glowing compliments from a typical Russian woman [McKinnon], who is definitely not reading a script, to prove it). And even though he’s not thrilled with the inauguration turnout, or Kellyanne Conway’s Paddington Bear-inspired outfit, he’s really looking forward to these next four years.
In the 9-ish minutes of this extended monologue, Ansari offers his take on Trump – calling him the Chris Brown of comedy, which is the Aziz-iest joke ever – but also, he confronts the very real and very scary rise of “this new, lower-case KKK movement that started – this kind of casual white supremacy,” with gentle but firm and funny but loving words. He speaks frankly about an issue that most people still don’t want to admit is real, and he doesn’t just confront it, he challenges it – not with insults or easy jokes, but with thoughtful takes on patriotism and hope.
Beat The Bookworm
GSN’s latest competition, “Beat the Bookworm,” seems impossible to win. How could average contestants, like unemployed Cindy from Phoenix (Vanessa Bayer), possibly beat a Bookworm (Ansari) who spent his entire childhood memorizing encyclopedias? Turns out there are some things you can’t learn in the library – like, stuff you learn from watching TV and playing video games.
La La Land Interrogation
Sure, if you tweet about not liking La La Land, a bunch of people will probably call you crazy – though at least you can shut your laptop and walk away, laughing at them for liking the twee-est movie ever made. But if agents DeMarco (Cecily Strong) and Santangelli (Bennett) catch you hating on the award-winning comedy…well, that’s a different story. These rom-com obsessed cops won’t hesitate to haul in anyone (like Ansari) who doesn’t agree that La La Land is a PERFECT film – and don’t even get them started on Westworld haters (like Kenan Thompson).
Kellyanne Conway “Chicago” Parody
When Jake Tapper (Bennett) snaps at Kellyanne Conway (Kate McKinnon) for, as usual, refusing to string words together in any comprehensible order, he wonders why the hell she’s even here – and she tells him, to the tune of Chicago hit “Roxie.” She might be right, the name on everybody’s lips will eventually be “Conway,” but probably not for the reasons she hopes.
More dancing Kate McKinnon, please.
The law offices of Lisa Broderick (McKinnon) and Jeremy Ganz (Bobby Moynihan) are here to serve you – well, one of them is, at least. Happy clients agree that Lisa’s timely and professional, but hearing their success stories makes one cement truck victim (Ansari) realize that morbidly diabetic, gun-obsessed Jeremy wasn’t as helpful as he could have been.
Jost and Che touch on the inauguration, the protests that followed, and Michelle Obama’s side eye, among other things.
Leslie Jones stops by to talk about the film Hidden Figures (and to confirm that it’s not The Help in space).
And in a special report from the front lines of the Friend Zone, Jake Rocheck (Mikey Day) tells us what it’s like to help his friend Shannon (Strong) move, and what it’s like to watch her and Che flirt right in front of him.
One man (Ansari) learns just how not turned on he can get when he tries to teach his wife (Melissa Villasenor) to talk dirty. Between Villasenor’s natural, comically Kermit-y speaking voice, her insistence on working a learning disability into her roleplaying, and the couple’s intensely awkward arm groping, it ends up being one very unsexy evening.
How far would you go to boost your Uber rating? In this Black Mirror-inspired sketch, a passenger (Ansari) and driver (Moynihan) massage sweaty feet and politely eat soup-soaked mints in a desperate effort to earn a coveted 5-star rating.
Move over, Rock-A-Fire Explosion, because two cops (Bennett and Thompson) just accidentally discovered an even creepier animatronic band. When they corner a criminal (Mooney) in an abandoned Pizza Town restaurant, they hit the lights and power up Peppy Ronnie (Ansari), a bouncing band leader backed by a mustachioed chef drummer (Moynihan), a guitarist playing a huge slice of pizza (Day), and a tomato-hued tambourine shaker (Aidy Bryant).
The band springs into action, swaying back and forth with stiff arms waving, singing about pizza and birthdays and telling cheesy jokes. The cops can’t figure out how to turn them off, but eventually, they don’t even want to because Peppy Ronnie’s got some legit catchy jams.
To Sir With Love
Strong and Sasheer Zamata close out the show with a heartfelt tribute to departing Pres. Barack Obama: a quietly sung rendition of 1967 soundtrack hit “To Sir, With Love” (Billboard put together a pretty extensive history of the song, in case you want to know everything about it). Not sure why Strong and Zamata were the only ones to represent here – maybe nobody else wanted to pitch in for the “World’s Greatest President” mug they offer Obama at the end.