While the ’50s time capsule The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel may spend much of its time on cinematography and design elements, Rachel Brosnahan, as the titular comic, rightfully gives the show its beating heart. Midge Maisel’s routines may not be roaringly funny, but during those club sequences, Brosnahan’s gusto and charisma are highly evident. Her comedic chops may be even more apparent in her scenes with supporting players such as Alex Borstein and Tony Shalhoub. Those skills come in handy for Brosnahan’s SNL hosting debut, even if the show itself doesn’t provide her a lot of great material.
(As a reminder, we’re ranking these sketches in order of excellence.)
On this game show, millennial contestants Carrie (Brosnahan) and Dylan (Pete Davidson) compete for prizes including a mortgage and debt relief — you know, the stuff baby-boomers got for “being born at the right time.” To win, the struggling youngsters have to face complaining boomers without interrupting. A drunken “Parrot Head Boomer” (Cecily Strong) whines about kids eating avocado toast and watching movies on their phones; a “Collector Boomer” (Mooney) grouses about the tax rates on his many houses. The millennials cry out and lose their prizes as the Gen X game show host (Kenan Thompson) just “sits on the sidelines and watches the world burn.” This is all before one of the contestant’s dad shows up. This is the smartest sketch of the night; it’s perceptive, funny and the song Aidy Bryant sings to explain baby-boomers to the audience is delightful.
The first chunk of Update revolves around the shutdown, and Trump’s place at the center of it. His proposal to take care of “Dreamers” in exchange for billions to build the border wall, sounds to Colin Jost like a “hostage negotiation.” Michael Che addressed the BuzzFeed article Robert Mueller had to refute. He likens BuzzFeed to an aunt whose home is roach-infested, and who should only ever bring ice to Thanksgiving: “Y’all do memes and lists,” Che says, “Don’t go chasing waterfalls.” Kate McKinnon then comes on as Elizabeth Warren, who announced her 2020 presidential campaign bid this week. She talks about her Oklahoma childhood, being a “spry, naughty 69” compared to older candidates like Bernie Sanders, and apologizes for the DNA test she released to prove she is part Native American. On the question of likability, she compares herself to a prostate exam, saying that America “is long overdue for a finger up its caboose.” McKinnon charms, as usual.
Update’s second chunk talks about a lawyer leaving the Weinstein case (“He finally googled Harvey Weinstein”) and the differences between Instagram and Twitter. On the former, a picture of an egg received the most likes ever, and on the latter, an egg called Jost a “jag-ass queef weasel.” Pete Davidson appears, not to talk about his worrisome Instagram post in December, but to rip apart Clint Eastwood’s movie The Mule alongside John Mulaney. It’s a superhero movie, they argue, for 90-year-olds who dream they can do any job better than Mexicans, including smuggling drugs over the border. Also, the old man has two threesomes, which gives hope to other senior men. There is a quiet thread about mental health in here, though, and Mulaney’s message to Davidson echoes the sentiment of SNL fans: “You are loved by many, and we are glad you are okay.”
Deal or No Deal Cold Open
On this “Government Shutdown Edition” of Deal or No Deal, Steve Harvey (Thompson) fills in for Howie Mandel, who is out with Ebola. Trump (Alec Baldwin) considers deals to end the shutdown, offered by various senators and representatives including a quietly vindictive Nancy Pelosi (Kate McKinnon) and lackadaisical Chuck Schumer (Alex Moffat). With no real possibilities in sight, Trump looks to Mitch McConnell (Beck Bennett), Cory Booker (Chris Redd), Maxine Waters (Leslie Jones), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Melissa Villaseñor), Steve King (Mikey Day), even Cardi B (Ego Nwodim), to no avail. Then a Clemson athlete (Davidson) offers Trump a case of “hamberders,” and he’s happy. There’s nothing particularly incisive here, as usual, but the depiction of Pelosi is nicely done.
Talk show host and author Tabitha (Jones) introduces us to her New York Times best-selling book The Obedient Husband, which includes techniques she developed while being a life coach and dog trainer. It involves shaming her husband Craig (Thompson) like a dog whenever she finds him doing something such as having an unsupervised Super Bowl party. “What a mess,” Tabitha cries at the cowering Craig, whose face is covered in Cheeto dust. Tabitha invites fellow wives Lauren (Brosnahan) and Mary (Strong) onto the show to share “advanced” shaming techniques, such as holding up a sign with the husband’s infraction on it (“I hide meat in the couch”). Watching the hubbies (Day, Mooney, Bennett and especially Thompson) cower like guilty canines is incredibly fun.
Two Mattel execs (Thompson and Strong) oversee this branding meeting in which a trio of young hires (Brosnahan, Gardner, and Davidson) brainstorm captions for the Instagram account of Barbie’s beau Ken. Much like the first iteration of this sketch, the inexperienced staffers are as smart as the dolls they represent. One thinks Ken’s iPhone is a wallet, and can’t see things otherwise; one insists on painfully literal captions, such as “Ken is there”; one imagines a crazy plot in which Ken must expose Barbie’s past sins, some of which may be buried “under the Jacuzzi.” The execs lose their minds in the meantime. There are good ideas and clever lines here, though as a whole, it doesn’t land as well as you’d expect.
The Raunchiest Miss Rita
From the director of Gilmore Girls and producers from Def Comedy Jam comes The Raunchiest Miss Rita, a Marvelous Mrs. Maisel spinoff focusing on cleaning lady and budding comic Rita (Jones). Where Midge Maisel (Brosnahan) approaches coarse subject matter with at least a modicum of caution, Rita dives into “motherfuckers” like a motherfucker. Her dad (Mooney, doing an “even more exasperated” Tony Shalhoub) and agent (Bryant as Alex Borstein) can’t quite put Midge’s mind at ease. The big leap happens early on, comparing ’50s notions of profanity to today’s standards. This is mostly just one gag, but Jones’ energy is great.
Leave Me Alurn
Women who travel solo must face a lot of unwanted small talk initiated by pushy guys. This ad presents a solution: the Leave Me Alurn. It’s a fake urn that helps vacationing females freak out the males who impose themselves. When a guy sees the Leave Me Alurn, and assumes the woman is preparing to scatter a loved one’s ashes, he’ll take the hint and back off. This “conversation prophylactic” is also a portable phone charger and a water bottle. It’s a good solution to a real problem, though its a little less universal than a lot of SNL parodies.
Earthquake News Report
A Sacramento news anchor (McKinnon) and reporter (Mikey Day) deliver a broadcast about an earthquake that collapsed a Social Security office that handles legal name changes. Yep, that means a bruised “Mark Peanus” (Mooney) has to talk about how lucky he feels to have made it out alive. There’s also “Ty Neadick,” “Ivan Jerganov,” and “Keith K’Weaf.” (“We didn’t know he was inside, so when he came out it was a delightful surprise,” says another reporter of K’Weaf.) This sketch is one long joke about people with names such as “Holden Tudiks,” so it’s for lovers of really silly gags.
Rachel Brosnahan’s Monologue
After confirming that she is Mrs. Maisel, Brosnahan acknowledges that 2018 was not an easy year. So she and members of the SNL cast (Strong, Thompson, Bryant) start singing about the possibilities of 2019. Unfortunately, they can’t quite take their own advice and just “have fun.” Terrible things keep encroaching in their thoughts: the government shutdown, the teachers’ strike in California, the homemade synthetic opioid called krokodil. Though nothing will ever be as sunny as “Babies with glasses and free ice cream / Canceling plans and when dogs have dreams,” the show must go on. It’s a sweet little opener, if not all that funny.
In this parody of Gillette’s viral “The Best Men Can Be” ad, guys must be prevented from behaving not like bullies or sexist pigs, but like the Kool-Aid Man. Men and boys in red suits with red Kool-Aid mustaches must be kept from smashing through walls and calling out, “Oh yeah!” like the iconic ad from the ’80s. “We can’t laugh it off,” the voice over says, “We need to set a better example.” While it’s got some fun visuals, this sketch doesn’t quite track. When an ad is muddy and has trouble hitting its mark, the corresponding parody always has a bit of trouble, too.
It’s more than apparent that Saturday Night Live had a month off for the holidays. The cold open doesn’t exactly hit, which is unsurprising given SNL’s recent track record, but the jokes in Weekend Update are also clunky and a little flat. (The segment is really livened up by features from McKinnon, Davidson and Mulaney.) Rachel Brosnahan invests energy in her performances, and gives her characters a nice life, though she doesn’t have a lot of material that would distinguish her from any other supporting player. Looking back, self-contained sketches “Millennial Millions” and “Tabitha” will hold up, but probably not much more than that. Next week, SNL’s writers and players will have another chance as James McAvoy hosts.