To date, Jason Momoa is best known for playing roaring brutes, like Conan in the Conan the Barbarian reboot and Dothraki leader Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones. Though certainly harder to lean back and get that full-throttled yawp underwater, his starring role in Aquaman isn’t a big stretch from what’s already on his résumé. SNL? A bit more outside of Momoa’s comfort zone. Momoa made an endearing Instagram diary of his week at 30 Rock, though, and looked thrilled to be a part of it all. That energy carried him all the way through an otherwise uneven episode. Let’s run down the sketches of the night, ranked from best to worst.
1. First Impression
As Michael (Beck Bennett) and his girlfriend (Melissa Villaseñor) await the arrival of her parents, he nervously confesses really wants to impress them. She tries to assuage his fears and answers the door to her mom and dad (Heidi Gardner and Momoa). When she turns around, Michael is gone and his disembodied, impish voice calls out, “Bet you can’t find me.” He is, in fact, hiding, and dad gives the weirdo a run for his money — punching through walls and narrowly avoiding a trap that would have plopped a pie in his face. The family finally finds Michael in his underwear, greased with lard, trying to fit behind a bookshelf. He did it all in an attempt to avoid being “that guy.” This is such an off-kilter premise, and all the players hit the perfect pitch to make it all seem normal somehow.
2. Rudolph’s Big Night
In the stables at Santa’s workshop, the reindeer gather for their big night and razz Rudolph (Pete Davidson) as always. When overcast weather threatens to end Christmas, Santa (Momoa) realizes that Rudolph’s gleaming snout can guide the sleigh. Once Santa leaves the room, the gloves come off: Rudolph’s voice drops two octaves and he starts revenging himself of everyone who called him stoplight or maraschino cherry. Not only does he tell Cupid that he mounted Cupid’s wife, he makes Comet (Beck Bennett) suck his nose. When Santa sees this, Rudolph plays the victim and Santa can only take the seemingly rabid Comet out to pasture. The premise is really fun, though the best bits are the transitions to hardcore Rudolph rather than the gags that follow.
3. Weekend Update
After Robert Mueller’s explosive memos about Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort on Friday, and all of Trump’s related tweets, Update imagines the potential endgame of the investigation. Colin Jost focused on Trump’s vague “Totally clears the president. Thank you!” tweet while considering how many of Trump’s advisers had been indicted. “If all of Santa’s elves and all of Santa’s reindeer got busted by the Feds, you wouldn’t expect Santa to tweet, ‘Totally clear for Christmas!’” Trump also tweeted that his administration would be preparing a report to counter the Mueller probe, and Michael Che taunted, “You’d better hurry up, bud, because you only get one hour a day on that prison computer.” Next, Aidy Bryant comes on as Carrie Krum, a sixth grade travel expert. All of her recommendations are very, very specific: Columbus, Ohio, is great because “my cousin’s neighbors are boys,” and going to Dubuque means seeing her cousin Mitchell’s butt because he had to wear underwear in the hot tub. It’s the sort of lovable character you’d expect from Bryant.
Update’s second half takes on headlines including the controversy surrounding Kevin Hart’s homophobic tweets. Che said if Hart can’t host the Oscars, no black comic can: “The only black comic I know cleaner than Kevin Hart is booked for the next three to 10 years.” Over his shoulder, a picture of Bill Cosby pops up. Then, Jost considers a new form of bullfighting in China, in which the matadors confront angry bulls without swords: “That’s how many extra people they have.” Next, Che does his own feature about the value of bidets. Lots of water-up-the-butt jokes, but there are funny bits including Che’s comparison between using baby wipes and using a bidet. The former is eating wings with a knife and fork, the latter is like “putting the whole wing in your mouth and coming out with a clean bone.”
4. Trump Brothers Bedtime Cold Open
Though Donald Trump Jr. (Mikey Day) comes into to comfort his brother and read him a bit of The Night Before Christmas, Eric still can’t sleep. He fears there’s a boogeyman in the closet, and he’s proved right: It’s Robert Mueller (Robert De Niro). When Junior exits to talk to his lawyer, Mueller introduces himself as “your dad’s friend from work,” and tries to prepare the kid for what’s about to happen. Eric says that he heard Mueller is the worst thing that ever happened to Donald Trump, but Mueller replies, “Getting elected president was the worst thing that ever happened to your dad.” It’s more about liberal wish fulfillment than biting satire, but in a shift from many recent cold opens, this one happily settles into a scene rather than just parading in a series of characters.
5. An Extra Christmas Carol
In this retelling of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge (Day) awakens on Christmas morning to find one more ghost (Momoa) eager to make a presentation. The famous curmudgeon has transformed into a generous lover of his fellow man, so what more could he learn from an extra ghost? “Exactly, I’m oh so much more extra,” announces the ghost before launching into a sexy striptease and using Scrooge’s bed draperies as a prop. Scrooge still doesn’t get it. Even Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim (Alex Moffat and Kate McKinnon) seem to understand things. Tiny Tim even watches the scantily clad ghost grind on Scrooge’s bedpost and uses his dad’s new Christmas bonus to make it rain. Momoa’s exuberance and physicality, placed alongside that Victorian British remove, make this one oddly delightful.
6. Them Trumps
From the producers of Empire, this new show dares to ask, “What if Donald Trump were black?” Despite his bankruptcies, his affair with stripper Cinnamon Mercedes, and his many baby mamas, Darius Trump (Kenan Thompson) made it the Oval Office. With his family Malika (Leslie Jones), Darius Junior (Chris Redd) and L’vanka (Ego Nwodim), Darius contemplates the special prosecutor’s attempts to take him down. The bluster, the swagger, and the confidence all seem to be in place until Darius mentions the obvious — that he is black — and he immediately finds himself under arrest. It’s a short and funny gag powered by Thompson’s perfectly calibrated performance.
7. GE Big Boys
Now that women are the primary breadwinners in 50 percent of American homes, GE has launched a new line of household appliances to make men feel more manly as ever. Big Boy Home Appliances include a dishwasher with a 70-pound steel door, a six-foot-tall washing machine, and a riding vacuum cleaner with a stain-removing attachment that looks like a jackhammer. Though these gas-powered appliances got an F-minus Energy Star rating, the guys are satisfied. This funny twist on corporate gender placation hits just where it ought to, and gets a leg up with great production design.
8. Elf on the Shelf
Three Elf-on-the-Shelf elves (Melissa Villaseñor, Mikey Day and Momoa) inform Santa (Beck Bennett) about the kids they’ve been assigned to watch. While two of them have standard things to say about their kids’ attitudes toward household chores and eating vegetables, third elf Scrabby has a different tale. His 13-year-old kid “figured out he could do something with his body, and he won’t stop doing it.” Though it doesn’t strike Scrabby as neither naughty nor nice, he’d really love to be reassigned to a new kid. The fact that Santa thinks the kid misspelled “flashlight” on his Christmas list just seals the deal. This moment in which kids become too old for Christmas magic is an interesting one, but enjoyment of the sketch will vary based on the viewer’s relative delight in whack-off humor.
9. Sleigh Ride
As Gene and his girlfriend (Kenan Thompson and Leslie Jones) prepare for a romantic sleigh ride, they find their vehicle hijacked by an ostensible pal (Momoa) and his girlfriend Gemma (Cecily Strong). The two interlopers are excited that Gemma “got a brand new vagina today,” and can’t stop rocking the sleigh. The ruckus makes it hard for Gene and his lady to have a romantic moment, but before they can jump out of the sled, Gemma’s boyfriend does it first. Everyone left sings We Wish You a Merry Christmas. This one is all over the place, but Strong’s Gemma is such a great character, it’s worth just winding her up and letting her go.
10. Day of the Dorks
This ’80s parody of Revenge of the Nerds is basically skirting copyright infringement: Frat guys led by a stereotypical blonde dude (Day) contemplate how they’re going to get revenge on the dorks — who, against all odds, have ruined homecoming and nearly beaten Sigma Theta during Greek Week. Off to the side, cockeyed beast Beef (Momoa) hates dorks most of all, and grumbles his rage every time someone says the word “dorks.” As the blond dude tries to hatch a plan, Beef imagines murdering dorks and breaks all of the furniture. Though he is sent outside to cool off (and drink from the hose), he bursts through the wall to assault a turncoat dork (Kyle Mooney). Momoa makes the perfect Ogre, so the casting is right, but the sketch itself just hits the one note hard without heightening an interesting idea.
11. Jason Momoa Mo-Monologue
In hot pink pants and bare feet, Momoa takes center stage at 8H and announces, “I am so muscular to be hosting Saturday Night Live.” Though he wanted to move to New York to get cast on SNL, he “got sidetracked by a massively successful career.” Just holding onto his moment, he indulges in a song he wrote about holding onto his moment. He then fulfills Aidy Bryant’s request that he open a jar of pickles while looking into her eyes. Finally, he entertains a pitch from Leslie Jones, Kenan Thompson, and Chris Redd about adopting Parliament Funkadelic’s Aquaboogie as the Aquaman theme song. It’s a hodgepodge of gags, but Momoa’s enthusiasm shines through.
12. Khal Drogo’s Ghost Dojo
The Game of Thrones tribal leader co-hosts this talk show with Zerbo (Kenan Thompson), and welcomes the hundreds of characters who have been killed on GOT. Hodor (Beck Bennett) comes on to repeat his name over and over, the High Sparrow (Pete Davidson) talks about regretting long-term celibacy, and Brienne of Tarth (Heidi Gardner) sets Drogo straight about gender roles. Then the evil King Joffrey (Kate McKinnon) gets challenged by Olenna Tyrell (Aidy Bryant) and things get all Jerry Springer. It’s all a very flimsy framework to hold a bunch of GOT jokes, most of which don’t feel worth it.
Momoa’s apparent glee at being on SNL carries the night. Though the show seems tempted to trap guys like Momoa into playing lunkheads or beefcakes, Momoa goes all out in playing them — and the writers give him a good mix of things to do otherwise. Many of the lackluster sketches feel like the “Ghost Dojo” sketch — frail structures in which to stuff jokes — but the cold open and Update help steady things. With so many seasonal sketches, it’s hard to imagine next week’s episode with Matt Damon could get anymore Christmasy, but I’m guessing SNL will give it a shot.