Chadwick Boseman had played James Brown, Jackie Robinson, and Thurgood Marshall, but last February, nothing prepared the public for his biggest role yet: T’Challa, a.k.a. the king of Wakanda, a.k.a. Black Panther, a.k.a. the Herb-Swigging Dude with a Squad of Bald Battle Ladies. A glance at his résumé makes clear that Boseman hasn’t done much comedy, so SNL will undoubtedly make use of him as a straight man. He hosts just a month or so after Black Panther co-star Sterling K. Brown did his weepy best, and though there was a Black Panther parody in Brown’s episode, surely there’s room for another. I mean, no one has mentioned the care and feeding of the war rhino yet!
President Trump (Alec Baldwin) hosts Baltic leaders at the White House, but gets bored reading his prepared comments. “God, I want to riff so bad,” he mutters. Although Trump doesn’t go completely off the rails, he tosses off a few winners such as, “No one’s ever been tougher on Russia, including Hitler.” Reporters want to know about Stormy Daniels, his attacks on Amazon, and sending National Guard troops to the border. Finally, Trump confesses that he doesn’t care about any of it, and that his presidency is a “four-year cash grab” likely to earn him four more years in office. Other than this painful confession, the sketch (and Baldwin’s impression) is — yet again — little more than SNL jeering at Trump’s intelligence.
At the outset of his debut as an SNL host, Boseman is haunted by the idea that the best Black Panther sketches have already been done. One writer pitched him “Wake Up Wakanda!” and Leslie Jones pitched, “Black Panther has sex with Leslie Jones,” but none of the ideas befit a movie star whose film broke barriers (and the box office) for black actors and directors. Then Kenan Thompson struts onstage in a foam Panthro (of the Thundercats) costume, begging for a bit part in the next Black Panther. The entire monologue is nice and simple, plus Boseman gets in a nice jab when refusing calls to become the next president: “Why would I go from being a serious actor to doing reality TV?”
Even athletic, ambitious women sometimes need to remain chill out for a day or two. In this parody ad for “Pro-Chiller Leggings,” the runners run, the fighters fight, and everybody else chills out on the couch in a garment that “can be pants, pajamas, and a napkin.” While Heidi Gardner and Melissa Villaseñor sweat and suffer, Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant watch Vanderpump Rules and become “couch paninis.” The clichés of Nike ads are nicely exploited here, and the effects — including slo-mo shots of adjusted pillows and spilled sodas — are great.
Contestants Shanice (Jones) and Rashad (Chris Redd) face off against the Black Panther himself, T’Challa (Boseman), in categories including “Ah Hell Naw” and “Fid’na.” Being the honorable king that he is, T’Challa has trouble with the game. The reason the cable bill is in grandmama’s name is not because she is “the foundation of the family,” but because no one needs that on their credit when they’re “fid’na get a car.” Eventually, Jeopardy! host Darnell Hayes (Thompson) coaxes a great answer out of T’Challa while they’re discussing terrible potato salad made by white people. This edition is sly, smart and really funny. Kudos to Thompson for his excellent mugging.
Doctor Connolly (Boseman) of the Fertility Frontiers Project holds a news conference to announce an unbelievable achievement: His organization has implanted a womb into the body of a man, a man who is now pregnant. Though the preggo Dan Madsen (Mikey Day) is preparing for his C-section, the doctor says the baby will have to be delivered via his urethra. To conceive of this, members of the media are encouraged to imagine “a bowling ball going through a Twizzler,” and consider possible “tuliping.” (That bit is explained with a “Looney Tunes metaphor.”) The conceit of this one had big potential, but it’s mostly just talk about pain and “pee holes.”
The white ladies of SNL are all very excited about the week’s musical guest, Cardi B. Aidy Bryant, in particular, loves imagining herself as an “assertive and bold” person who just says what she wants. When Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney approach and ask whether the women are having “girl time,” Aidy claps back: “I’m a boss, you a worker, you goofy beeatch.” Later, she knocks Boseman down a peg and does her best to become Cardi B’s best friend. (That part doesn’t work out so well.) Bryant is so demure and charming, and it’s fun to watch her play nasty and high status here.
The top of Update takes on the week in Trump: Calling in the national guard to play border patrol, tariffs on Chinese goods, and … the shape of the president’s junk. Michael Che prefers to avoid the looming trade war, saying, “If Canal Street has taught me anything, there’s nothing we have that the Chinese can’t just make themselves.” He also confirms that it was the right decision to edit out Stormy Daniels’ description of Trump’s genitalia. “Thank you,” he said. “I don’t want that image burned into my brain.” Then Mark Zuckerberg (Alex Moffat) stops by, defiant about Facebook’s misuse of private data, but Moffat’s vision of Zuckerberg as a yelping, socially inept tool is more noxious than funny.
The second half of Update has a few nice stand-alone jokes, including one from Colin Jost about the golfer Tony Finau, who sprained his ankle while celebrating a hole-in-one: “So, no, golfers are not athletes.” Afterward, Heidi Gardner returns as Angel, a.k.a. Every Boxer’s Girlfriend from Every Movie About Boxing Ever. This time, she’s giving the “Good News Report,” in which Che lobs topics at her — the impending royal wedding, a woman who gave $1 million to Washington parks — and she brings it back around to the cliches of boxing movies and the life of the beleaguered spouse. The canned format feels a little silly, but Gardner’s character is so good.
While certain attractions at the Magic Kingdom are geared toward kids, three adults (Jones, Strong, and Villaseñor) nevertheless come to the Magic Mirror to see their inner princesses. One of them sees Elsa, one sees Rapunzel, and the third sees … R. Kelly? He’s there, dancing lasciviously and saying mysterious things like, “I’m in there.” The Disney attendant (Bryant) tries to convince the ladies that it’s probably just a character named Shy Greg from Mulan, but it’s just too weird. Then R. Kelly (Boseman) starts stuffing popcorn into a bag. This seems to be one of those Mikey Day sketches about an inexplicable oddity, but picking R. Kelly in particular limits the imagination.
A stalwart crew of firemen (Thompson, Bennett, Redd and Strong) have to combat a difficult blaze, but it’s six o’clock, so it’s time for Daniels (Boseman) to punch out. The incredulous captain wants to know what could possibly be more important than putting out a dangerous fire; Daniels keeps things vague, telling his crew it’s a business pitch involving dogs and dolls. Is it baby dolls riding Lhasa Apsos? Sex dolls with dog faces? Daniels finally admits that it’s life-sized, look-alike dummies that dog owners can leave at home so their dogs don’t feel lonely. Does he know that these things already exist? This one gets lost somewhere between an odd premise, Boseman’s uncertain performance, and the writers’ notion of ambivalent firemen.
A quartet of diners at Oliver’s restaurant (McKinnon, Strong, Boseman, and Thompson) call the manager over so that they might lodge a complaint. That gripe begins as a jazzy little number about how good the food was, including that excellent fatoosh. After some prompting, the song addresses the hostess (Villaseñor), who had an attitude and didn’t smile when she seated them. The hostess herself explains she didn’t want to open her mouth because she lost teeth after totaling her Kia on the way to work. The quartet, impressed, gives her a pass. Musical numbers like this could always do with more rehearsal, but as it stands, it’s winningly silly and Boseman gets to do his best Louis Armstrong.
This board game, like the classic Life, involves some players having twins and some going to law school — but unlike Life, a player can pull the “Dreamer” card and face an extended board full of bureaucratic nonsense. A player might even be sent back to Honduras, no matter if they were only 6 months old when they left. Also, if there’s a presidential tweet damning DACA, there’s a good chance for the “Immigrant Court System Expansion Pack.” A catapult stands ready to eject any players who feel ready to quit. This is another very smart and poignant parody that effectively uses kids’ games to illustrate some terrible immigration issues.
After emerging from seeing Black Panther for the third time, two black moviegoers (Redd and Jones) are confronted by two dorky white guys (Bennett and Pete Davidson) doing the Wakanda salute. It doesn’t sit right with them — “it’s like indigestion, but racially” — nor does it make sense to another passerby (Boseman) who believes white people are “aliens who came to the Earth in sleep pods.” After some thought (and tense negotiations), the black folks decide that the Wakanda salute is “for everyone.” Still, the worst offender might be the white guys’ dorky stepdad (Thompson), who salutes while making a pun about the length of the bathroom line.
Chadwick Boseman makes for a solid SNL host, and the writers do a good job tailoring material to his persona. Black Jeopardy is especially wonderful, probably only second to the Tom Hanks edition. The commercial parodies are both excellent, and “The Game of Life: DACA Edition” feels sadly close to home. An entire sketch about childbirth via urethra and a fireman who says “squirt” don’t add much, and the general trend of bland, broad cold opens continues. Still, these missteps aren’t enough to keep down an otherwise clever showing.