In the fall of 2017, Sterling K. Brown won his second Emmy for playing the weepy Randall Pearson in the NBC series This Is Us. (His work on the show has also won him a SAG Award, a Critics’ Choice Award, and a Golden Globe.) Lately, he’s been surprising audiences with his unexpected role in Black Panther. So, hosting SNL is only the latest feather in Brown’s cap. True, he’s not known as a king of comedy, but this means the writers should have free rein to parody This Is Us, Black Panther, or even The People V. O.J. Simpson as they see fit. If Brown is willing and able, SNL just might unlock the comedic possibilities in him that Hollywood has yet to see.
The Bachelor Finale Cold Open
This takes one of this week’s hot topics — the controversial finale of The Bachelor — and translates it to the political realm. Becca (Cecily Strong) faces her unsteady love interest Robert Mueller (Kate McKinnon), who admits that he may not have all he needs to nail Donald Trump with charges of collusion. Sure, he might be able to get Trump on obstruction, but this admission shatters all of Becca’s dreams. “That’s it,” Becca cries while wiping away tears, “He’s just going to be president?” Mueller can’t say, but he can follow her from room to room, linger outside the bathroom, and continue to dredge up new conversations to keep Becca in it a while longer. Even if this feels more like a slow acting exercise for Strong and McKinnon — who are absolutely up for it — give the writers credit for a smart idea.
Sterling K. Brown Monologue
Greeting the crowd, Brown mentions that This Is Us is the “saddest thing you can watch on TV other than the news.” He also admits that he is known for being somewhat sensitive, but swears he “won’t get overwhelmed” by hosting SNL. Unfortunately, he can’t stop fighting the tears off. Even remembering that Kenan Thompson came to him with a sketch idea about Siamese twins attached at the butt gets him misty. “You are ruining you for me,” says Leslie Jones, when she tells Brown that the show needs to get underway. This is a wonderful host monologue, leaning on what the audience already knows about Brown and exploiting that talent for laughs. Plus, his Kenan Thompson impression is pretty good.
Celebrity Family Feud: Oscar Edition
For this edition of the Feud, Steve Harvey (Kenan Thompson) welcomes the 2018 Oscar winners — Frances McDormand (McKinnon), Guillermo del Toro (Beck Bennett), Allison Janney (Heidi Gardner), and Jordan Peele (Chris Redd) — to battle Oscar losers — Common (Brown), Sally Hawkins (Melissa Villaseñor), Willem Dafoe (Moffat), and Timothée Chalamet (Pete Davidson). The Feud has no winners and losers, however, as everyone is too dumb and self-involved to get points on the board. In the flood of micro-impressions, McKinnon’s belligerent McDormand, Gardner’s smarmy Janney, and Moffat’s creepy Dafoe are worth mentioning. As a whole, though, it’s an easily skippable sketch.
This Is U.S.
A commercial parody for a show that’s very, very like This Is Us, save that it’s about the drama transpiring in the White House. Dr. Ben Carson (Brown) gets no respect, Sarah Huckabee Sanders (Bryant) can’t deal with the lies, and Jared Kushner (Davidson) needs to borrow cash from the UAE. Says an imaginary critic, “Like This is Us, but without the parts that feel good.” This is an astute and clever take on both the tropes of This Is Us and the current disturbances in the White House — plus Brown’s nasal, whiny Ben Carson is excellent.
Claire (Villaseñor) brings her beau Justin (Brown) home for dinner and to meet her parents, the Hendersons (Bennett and Bryant). All goes swimmingly, until mom mentions her favorite animated film is the latest Pixar movie Coco. After Justin loses his shit because Shrek is clearly a superior film, things go south. When dad does a Shrek impression, Justin tosses a drink into his face and says, “Keep his name out of your mouth, you dumb son of a bitch.” Then Claire spills the news that she and Justin are getting married … in a wedding officiated by Puss in Boots himself, Antonio Banderas. The set-up is more tantalizing than the execution here, but Brown really sells the absurd premise with an admirable emotional commitment.
Deep in the forest, a Sasquatch surprises a group of campers huddled around a fire. While Matt (Brown) calms everyone with knowledge of primates that he learned from Discovery Channel, Randy (Mikey Day) tries to fend off the strange advances of the beast. After shoving its fingers in Randy’s mouth, peeing on his hat, and generally beating the crap out of him, the Sasquatch traps Randy in a tent for some final indignities. I hate most crotch-kicking humor so I might be the wrong judge on this one, but there’s nothing creative about these physical bits. Also, it feels weirdly like a repurposed version of those “Messin’ with Sasquatch” beef jerky commercials. (Okay, if Jack Links paid for this one as subliminal advertising, kudos.)
Update comes out swinging this week, taking on the Stormy Daniels controversy, Robert Mueller’s investigation, and Donald Trump’s impending meeting with Kim Jong-un. Trump, Michael Che says, is “Twitter crazy,” while Kim Jong-un is “crazy crazy.” That is, “one guy trolls Oprah online and one guy murdered his uncle with a cannon.” Jost can’t believe “we’re putting our lives in the hands of the only two guys connected on Dennis Rodman’s LinkedIn page.” Eric and Donald Trump Jr. (Alex Moffat and Mikey Day) come on to defend their dad’s behavior. While it’s still fun watching Eric ape his big brother and get blown away by everyday objects, that sideshow is now the entire focus of the bit.
The jokes in the second half aren’t as noteworthy, but there’s a fun one about McDonald’s turning its iconic M upside down for National Women’s Day: “Not to be outdone, In-n-Out Burger changed it’s name to Adequate Foreplay.” Then Jost and Che get a visit from meteorologist Dawn Lazarus (a visiting Vanessa Bayer), who talks about the big storms on the East Coast. Of course, she’s nervous, so her chirpy weather analysis sounds a little more like, “This year’s got temps in the simple dibits,” and “Absolutely dump after dump, wow!” It’s the same gag as in the past, but Bayer is such a natural for the forcefully cheery role, it still works just as well.
Black Panther Deleted Scene
In the dream realm of Djalia, Black Panther protagonist T’Challa (Redd) meets up with his long-dead great, great grandfather T’Kana (Brown) to talk through his anxieties. In addition to other long-dead ancestors, there’s also Uncle M’Butu (Thompson), a guy who’s just grilling cheeseburgers and wondering, “Where’s the weed at?” M’Butu obviously sticks out: While everyone else has a panther for a spirit animal, he’s got a warthog. He’s also a little low on cash, so he’s hoping T’Challa might spot him some vibranium. If M’Butu represents a family’s genial dirtbag uncle, there’s still some ground for this sketch to cover here. That said, Thompson reaction to a bite of frozen hamburger — and watching the cast react to him — is a delight.
During a check-up, Dr. Hodges (Brown) asks Sean (Bennett) about his smoking, drinking, and sexual activity. The doctor is surprised to hear the young man is at it seven or eight times a week with the same partner, and unprotected, no less. (“Oh, damn! You up in it, that’s dope.”) He’s also surprised to hear that Sean feels no love for the woman in question — that can’t be the same guy who walked in the door, the “confident man who bangs it down raw dog.” After the doc uses a stethoscope to listen to Sean’s heart and discovers he has been hurt before, the scene quickly devolves into the dramatic realizations and frenzied activity of the end of your favorite rom-com. It’s quick, to the point, and terribly gross in an enjoyable way.
When a female actor (Gardner) refuses to stay on-set while a male actor (Brown) does his close-up, a blonde, Southern script reader (Strong) steps in to read the actresses’ lines, but refuses to say curse words because of her “promise to God.” This means all of the lines sound something like, “I’m going to shoot you again, you dumb fudge, bang bang bang, ha ha ha.” This does not make it easy for the actor to focus, but the film’s director (Mooney) is convinced everything looks great. As the script reader cries things like, “You’re going to miss this A and the best pair of T’s that you ever TF’ed,” the actor nearly walks off the set.
Rock vs. Rap
Goateed, metal-loving Chris Fitzpatrick (Mooney) takes to the streets of New York City to confirm that rock is better than rap. In his brief man-on-the-street interviews, he asks passersby how they feel rock is trying to “change the world,” and if “something feels kinda off” about rap. Surprise, most of the white people dig rock, and he can’t make sense of anyone who not only loves rap but can explain why. By the end of the sketch, Chris decides to fuse rock and rap because he believes no one has ever done it before. Though there’s no great gestalt here, but Mooney excels at these live interviews, so there are some fun moments of clueless white people agreeing with the clueless white guy.
Dying Mrs. Gomez
Michael (Brown) rushes to the deathbed of Mrs. Gomez (Villaseñor), who needs to tell him something. “I never made it as a wise man,” Mrs. Gomez says, and as she carries on speaking, she sounds more and more like the lyrics to Nickelback’s “This Is How You Remind Me.” When she flatlines, Michael steps in to tell Mrs. Gomez’s daughter and the paramedics how much the old lady rocked. Soon enough, he has the entire room head-banging to the Nickelback jam. Mrs. Gomez even comes back from the dead to sing one last chorus. It’s an incredibly silly sketch with a big crescendo during which all the players commit in a way that’s worth watching.
As a first-time host, Sterling K. Brown did a remarkable job. Silliness was in the air for the writers this week, while Brown grounded all of his characters with very solid acting skills — and for the most part, that combination worked well. The This Is Us parody killed, and the Black Panther parody was buoyed by a mischievous energy. The cold open was a mixed bag, but Update bounced back well after a relatively toothless week. Next week, SNLbrings Bill Hader back to host.