“I’m generally not considered a very funny person,” Liev Schreiber told USA Today in advance of his first time hosting Saturday Night Live. And it’s true: As a dedicated thespian, Schreiber has spent his time in (serious) stage shows, playing (serious) supporting roles in films and starring in Showtime’s (very serious) Ray Donovan. While it’s not entirely clear why SNL is featuring Schreiber now, the seed may have been planted during Adam Driver’s first hosting gig in January 2016. Schreiber’s cameo during “Golden Globes” — in which he played the surrogate dad to two kids whose parents overindulged after winning the titular award — was perfectly understated. Though he may not be considered a very funny person, it was a funny bit. And on this week’s show, despite his dissembling, Schreiber is funny throughout.
(Again, we should mention these sketches are listed in best to worst order.)
1. Weekend Update
Colin Jost and Michael Che first consider the political landscape after the midterm elections. While Dems took the house, according to Jost, Trump still controls “the White House, the judiciary, the military, all media coverage, space, time and our ability to perceive reality.” Che loves the fact that Stacy Abrams is still in contention as the governor of Georgia against a white guy who supervised the election: “That’s like beating Lebron at home if he was also the ref.” After discussing how Trump revoked CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s press pass, a White House press intern (Cecily Strong) shows up to snatch Jost’s mic just like she did with Acosta. After a moment, the intern returns with a doctored video of Jost punching her out— echoing the altered clip Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted of Acosta this week. Strong shows great physical play in this bit, and her snappy tone is delightful.
The second half has jokes about Idris Elba and the Spice Girls Reunion Tour (sponsored by Old Spice), but it’s primarily about Pete Davidson’s apology to congressional candidate Dan Crenshaw. Last week, Davidson made a few jokes about Crenshaw’s eye and eye patch during his Update monologue, and not many people took kindly to it. “Left and right came together to agree on something: I’m a dick,” Davidson said. Then, the real Crenshaw came out to accept Davidson’s apology, get in a few digs himself, and invite viewers to thank vets over the weekend. It’s a heartfelt, lovely, and yes, funny coda to an ill-fated bit.
2. Jeff Sessions Farewell Cold Open
Recently fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions prepares to leave his office at the Department of Justice, and he’s incredibly sad. He somberly packs up his possessions, including his ironic award from the NAACP, the Bob Woodward book in which Trump calls him “mentally retarded,” and his Bible (“I justified a lot of bad things with this book”). Even visits from Sarah Huckabee Sanders (Aidy Bryant), Mike Pence (Beck Bennett), and Eric and Donald Jr. (Alex Moffat and Mikey Day) can’t cheer him up. “What did I do wrong?” Sessions wonders. “I put kids in cages, I said no to gays!” Sessions sings Adele’s Someone Like You to a picture of the president until Robert Mueller (Robert De Niro) shows up to give Sessions a special piece of TP from Trump’s shoe. The writing is good, but it’s McKinnon’s weird possum-y Sessions that shines.
When new next-door neighbors (Aidy Bryant and Kenan Thompson) come over the visit, a mother and father (Strong and Schreiber) call down their rambunctious boys Jared and Spencer (Bennett and Kyle Mooney). Wearing nothing but Looney Tunes T-shirts and briefs, the boys fight until dad is forced to spray them with the hose. (“You keep a hose in your house?” the neighbors ask.) Jared and Spencer continue to egg one another on, breaking dishes and shoving one another through a wall. Then Spencer finds out that he was an “accident,” and things get dark. Like “Inside SoCal,” this is a perfect framework in which to enjoy Bennett and Mooney’s friendship, and their commitment to the childlike bit gets just about everyone onstage giggling. Note to SNL writers: More hoses on set, ASAP.
4. Paranormal Occurrence
A pair of Paranormal Research Institute researchers (Mikey Day and Bryant) study three people after they were visited by ghosts at an old hotel. But one of the trio is Mrs. Rafferty (McKinnon), so things get hairy fast. Literally hairy, insofar as her apparition, Toby, takes her outside in her XL men’s No Fear nightshirt with her “fuzzy” and “scuzzy” clearly visible. Mrs. Rafferty’s compatriots (Schreiber and Strong) were asked to help fulfill their ghosts’ gentle final wishes, while Mrs. Rafferty was asked to pull an upper decker in the toilet of Toby’s ex. To illustrate, she straddles two chairs while getting her business up in her male pal’s face. The joy in this sketch, led by the playful McKinnon, hasn’t diminished. Plus, it’s worth it to hear Schreiber’s quiet, uncontrollable giggle.
This rap joint finds the Booty Kings (Chris Redd and Kenan Thompson) and Uncle Butt (Davidson) up in the club, surrounded by ladies and their derrieres. But as much as they much as they might want to “bite your booty like an apple” or “drink it like a Snapple,” they are gentlemen. They’re not going to grab, shake or do anything else to any proximate butt — not without its owner’s permission, at least. Though Uncle Butt is wearing a grill that renders him incomprehensible, the real Future and musical guest Lil Wayne show up to spit their own verses of respect. (The best rhyme belongs to Wayne: “Love that booty tender, never get aggressive / That booty got insurance, that booty got Progressive.”) Like the “Trees” sketch from earlier in the season, the beat is great, even if the conceit is a little limited.
6. House Hunters
On this edition of House Hunters, an intrepid couple in western Pennsylvania (Schreiber and Leslie Jones) searches for their new dream home. As they debate the various places they’ve visited, they recall specific promising or detrimental features. For every house that has room enough for his “man cave,” it might just have drawings of windows on the walls instead of actual windows, a toilet on the ceiling, or be haunted by Australian vampires. This sketch takes no time at all to get wonderfully weird and very specific with its details. Meanwhile, the leads’ carefully muted performances make all of the absurdity feel entirely natural.
7. Outside the Women’s Bathroom
The title says it all: Dave’s Outside the Women’s Bathroom. There, Dave (Schreiber) interviews ladies who have just exited the Trattoria Romano washroom. “How’d it go in there?” Dave wants to know, while the women he stops are confused, angry, or just grossed out. Dave’s concerned girlfriend Melissa (Heidi Gardner) gets concerned that Dave is going to be such a big shot after the pilot of this show gets picked up, he’ll leave her behind. “You’re meeting all these fresh, straight out of the bathroom women,” she sighs. But he reassures her, which makes her “so horny [she] could cry.” The restaurant’s manager (Thompson) asks the busboy (Davidson) to stop playing cameraman, and that’s that.
8. The Poddys
This award show, hosted by The Daily’s Michael Barbaro (Schreiber) and Serial’s Sarah Koenig (Strong), celebrates podcasts. Categories include: “Most Jarring Transition into a Sponsor” and “Best Nervous White Girl in a Place She Doesn’t Belong.” Of course, no podcast award ceremony would be complete without a quick visit from the “Godfather of podcasting,” Marc Maron (Moffat). Will the award for the “Most Unnecessary Podcast” go to the exhaustive recap of Alf in ASMR? Or The Rhamescast, in which Ving Rhames (Thompson) narrates whatever is happening outside of his window? While it’s more scattered observations and impressions than a compelling sketch, it makes some salient points about the clichés of the podcast world.
9. Invest Twins
Two investor brothers (Mikey Day and Alex Moffat) work together and have written their own book on the subject of investing. During their intro from Janet Loredo-Deekman (Strong), though, she accidentally refers to them as the “incest twins.” And during their on-site interview with Roland Brown (Schreiber), the lower third mistakenly identifies them as this terrible moniker. Without repeated references to finance, things that the brothers say (“I’d rather put it in family,” “Mom and Dad like to watch.”) seem a bit salacious. Soon, their little sister Jenny (Heidi Gardner) walks over to talk about not wanting to “blow it,” yet knowing she’s going to “take it on the chin.” Then Grandma Donohue (Kate McKinnon) shows up, saying, “I’m at my happiest when my family all comes together.” Yeah, it’s simple, sly, and a little gross.
10. Unity Song
Defying the extremes in the American electorate and every political analyst in the world, the SNL cast (including Bennett, Strong and Ego Nwodim) sings a song of forgetting our differences and coming together. The way they recommend we do it: Remember the things that everyone hates, regardless of what side of the aisle they’re on. Soft apples, warm public toilet seats, and people who stop everything so they can sneeze: Nobody likes ‘em, so there are clearly ways to remember our commonalities. The impulse behind the song is altruistic, but it’s more a catalog of annoying things than an emotional appeal. (Also, personal note to the people who hate the word ‘moist’ — try describing a piece of cake that you like without it.)
11. Liev Schreiber Monologue
Rather than asking Schreiber to do some boisterous song and dance, this monologue evaluates what he hopes people will take away from the evening. First off, though it has been a lifelong dream, he’s “a little surprised” to be hosting SNL. He reiterates that he’s not considered funny and believes the show will be about “managing expectations.” Historically, his only laughs came from failed attempts to pick up girls in college, but nowadays, it’s easy: He just tells them he’s a famous actor with money and a nice apartment. Then Schreiber takes a moment to thank viewers for voting in the midterms. This isn’t a highlight as far as comedy goes, but it’s nice to hear an honest evaluation of Schreiber’s state of mind.
With a charmingly humble approach, Liev Schreiber did excellent work almost in spite of himself. (Note to future hosts: Maybe downplay your abilities when showing up for the first time.) His carefully drawn characters, including that staid portrait of Michael Barbaro, earned him more laughs than anyone might have expected. The headlines will likely reflect Davidson’s apology to Crenshaw — and so be it, that bit had everything including an Ariana Grande ringtone that Crenshaw used to needle Davidson — but Schreiber was the big surprise throughout. Next week, SNL has a host who will surely be happy for the chance to be less-than-serious: Steve Carell.