Saturday Night Live
James McAvoy isn’t looking for laughs, generally speaking. Film roles such as Professor X (in X-Men: First Class) or WWII solider Robbie Turner (in Atonement) aren’t really built for comedy. That said, McAvoy is a ham. Watch any interview, especially those from casual UK chat shows; he’s happy to tromp right past innuendo in pursuit of the bawdy. For an SNL host, that’s a great start. McAvoy was asked to host thanks to Glass, the compound sequel to M. Night Shyamalan’s superhero and supervillain flicks Unbreakable and Split. Surely, playing more than 20 characters in Glass prepared him to throw caution to the wind at 30 Rock.
Tucker Carlson Tonight Cold Open
Tucker Carlson (Alex Moffat) looks to put a positive spin on the events of the last few days, including Trump’s decision to temporarily reopen the government (without border wall funding) and the arrest of Trump’s longtime associate Roger Stone. To help him do it, he calls on the help of the barking Jeanine Pirro (Cecily Strong), who affirms that federal workers were happy not to get paid and that she’d like to flush immigrants out of the U.S. like a twisted Marie Kondo. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross (Kate McKinnon) then tries to prove he’s not out of touch with working-class Americans, and Roger Stone (Steve Martin) decries the Mueller investigation after being arrested. At the end of the interview, Stone calls out “Pardon me!” not because Carlson mumbled but because Stone wants amnesty. Carlson and Fox remain pretty big targets, but there are some good jabs at Ross and Stone — and it’s always delightful to see Martin go big.
Despite having grown up in Compton, Leslie Jones celebrates her new neighborhood, the Upper East Side, in song. Among the features that Jones touts: escalators leading her to a subway car that doesn’t smell like pee, ordering salmon and broccoli at 2 a.m. on Seamless, and lining up for fresh bread from German baker Michael (McAvoy). While Jones is ready to hit Cafe Carlyle and other delights of the UES, across town, Kate McKinnon would rather just stay in with her cat and watch Netflix. The rhyme, beat, camera, and editing work are all great. Jones and McKinnon charm, as usual, and McAvoy’s German baker may change the way you see the words “Soul Cycle.”
This Bachelor parody involves Dolton (McAvoy) and a parade of vapid ladies (Aidy Bryant, McKinnon, Melissa Villaseñor, Heidi Gardner, Ego Nwodim) longing for his hand—or one of his other appendages. The ladies approach, use the magic words (“Can I steal him for a sec?”), let Dolton know that they “missed him,” and then talk about themselves. “I’m a content creator,” says one. “And the content is porn.” One is an anti-immigration Cuban emigre who would have “closed the door behind me,” if she could have. The most honest one tells him, “I don’t know what to say to you because I’ve never been myself even once.” When Dolton reveals that he’s not saving himself for marriage, just for the moment “the producers say, ‘Go,’ ” it is on. As with all of SNL’s Bachelor parodies, the playful absurdity gives the women lots of room to have fun and is just jammed full of hard jokes.
Update tackles the government shutdown in its first half, and Colin Jost guides the audience through a series of hypocritical Trump speeches in the style that would more befit The Daily Show. As Trump begs for the wall in any form, saying, “barriers, fencing or walls, whatever you want to call it,” Jost replies. “At this point, I’d just like to call it quits.” Of the shutdown ending in part because of difficulties at New York’s La Guardia airport, Jost says, “You know you’re failing as a president when you’ve somehow made La Guardia worse.” Michael Che celebrates Roger Stone’s arrest, as he’s been waiting for “old white dudes” to get “dragged out of their cribs like dope dealers.” Chris Redd comes on as rapper Soulja Boy, who is apparently running for president in 2020 despite not knowing much about politics. In fact, he’s more keyed into his knockoff video game console with games including “Fork-Knife” and “Reg Dread Recession.” Redd’s emphatic delivery is pretty irresistible.
The stray jokes in the second half take on the Vatican’s new prayer app, a blackface scandal at the University of Oklahoma, and the demise of the company that makes candy hearts for Valentine’s Day. Afterward, Cecily Strong emerges as the woman who’s always yelling outside of Michael Che’s window, Cathy Anne. In talking about Trump’s obsession with a border wall, Cathy Anne likens Trump to a crack addict — and addiction is a subject that Cathy Anne is happy to address. She believes the addiction hasn’t lost its hold on Trump, who will “lie to you, steal from your purse, and end up on the wrong side of a lot of glory holes.” Though the jokes are subservient to the physical aspect of Strong’s performance, it’s still an assured bit.
This parody takes on feel-good films in which committed teachers doggedly pursue their disadvantaged students in order to see them escape the hood. Mr. H. (McAvoy) rolls up on a bunch of kids in a dark alleyway so he talk to his student (Redd) into applying himself a little harder in school. While Mr. H. agrees that the kid is bright, and smart, he stops short of calling the student a genius. The kid’s S.A.T. score is only 880; he might bring it up with some studying, but they way things are, he needs a calculator in order to make change in a pretty simple drug deal. Also, did Mr. H. mention he’s also there to see if he could get some ‘shrooms for a bachelor party next week? It’s a great twist, watching the underprivileged kid buy into movie fantasies more than the teacher does, and it’s well executed.
Air Traffic Control
Members of Kylie Jenner’s brand integration team (Mikey Day and Heidi Gardner) are flying in a tiny plane somewhere over Scotland when bad turbulence knocks their pilot unconscious. A hapless guy sits at the controls and contacts Scottish air traffic controllers (McKinnon, McAvoy) who try to talk him down. Already panicky, the guy is entirely put off by the Scottish accent, even when they tell him to take “a deep breeth.” “Your accent is very thick,” says the helpless guy. “Is it possible to not do that?” Another member of Kylie’s team (Kenan Thompson) arrives to help out, but a request to look out of a window sounds like something about eating at Wendy’s. Eventually, the plane flies outside of Scottish air space and Kylie’s team gets an earful from someone in Welsh air traffic control (Beck Bennett). It’s over the top, but fun.
New Orleans Vacation
Four friends (Thompson, Bryant, Bennett, and Villaseñor) await the arrival of Deirdre (Gardner) and Reynolds (McAvoy), who have just returned from a trip to New Orleans—or as they call it, “N’awlins.” After being there for just two days, the travelers are talking about jazz and crawdads and “shuffling down Bourbon Street.” It’s a bit much for everyone else, including one guy (Thompson) who actually grew up in Louisiana. Eventually, Deirdre and Reynolds describe what they feel is an authentic “voodoo ceremony,” which is really just them getting mugged and beaten by their assailants. For anyone with annoying friends, or with annoying friends of friends — which must be everyone — this silly bit will hit home.
A Super Bowl party is interrupted as young brothers Jared (Bennett) and Spencer (Kyle Mooney) come downstairs to introduce themselves to guests. As the boys fight, show off, and fight some more, their stepdad (McAvoy) sprays them with a hose and blasts them with a leaf blower to curb their misbehavior. After the TV gets broken and Jared tortures Spencer with a terrible family secret, the kids have to make up with “10 apology kisses.” All the while, two pairs of neighbors (Day and Villaseñor, Bryant and Thompson) look on in horror. There’s something lost in this, the second edition of this sketch. It isn’t just that it follows the same beats as it did the first time, it’s that lines, actions, and gestures feel almost exactly the same —minus the spontaneity and surprise of the first go-round.
I Love My Dog
In the latest joint from Chris Redd and Pete Davidson (and Kenan Thompson), the boys show love to their loyal bitches; that is, their pomeranians and pugs. Even though dogs might require their owners to take Claritin and clean poop off of the rug, it’s worth it. Their DJ Mark (McAvoy) gets even more hyped, threatening to shoot dead anyone who doesn’t respect his canine companion. Meanwhile, ladies led by Ego Nwodim get grossed out by guys kissing their dogs and swear by the joys of pet bunnies. This feels like a video inspired by one pun, and it doesn’t have any of the underlying cleverness or social commentary of this team’s previous raps.
Return to Narnia
The magical wardrobe that previously transported the Pevensie kids to Narnia now sits in an Airbnb, which is how Christine (Strong) arrives at the door of the faun Mr. Tumnus (McAvoy). It wasn’t an accident, however; Christine and her pals Tovah (Bryant) and Rebeccas (McKinnon) all feel thrilled and very strangely aroused by this nonthreatening mythical creature that is equal parts “man, animal, scarf, and flute music.” Rebeccas is forward enough to say, “I want to put my thumnus in your bumnus,” but it turns out that Edmund (Moffat) is Tumnus’ partner. The gaggle of “lazy Hermione” types is disappointed, but still they set out to find another fictional character to suit their particular fancies: Neville Longbottom. Even if the sketch isn’t a runaway winner, the writers certainly articulate a particular dorky kink well.
For this sketch-length commercial about commercials, a focus group evaluates a Charmin Super Bowl ad. A dumb guy (Mooney) wonders whether the animated bears are actors; a pseudo intellectual (Thompson) hopes a smart bear will make ladies’ “panties steam”; a self-conscious millennial (McKinnon) wonders why the bears are white; an outspoken wild card (McAvoy) reimagines the commercial as something more disturbing and with a lot more sex. As this happens, the focus group leader (Bryant) tries to keep things from spinning out of control. Yeah, it feels like sponsored content — though Charmin has assured us it is not — but at the least McAvoy delivers his character’s mad fantasies with verve.
James McAvoy Monologue
McAvoy’s introductory monologue aims to get a few things straight. He’s wearing a kilt because he’s Scottish and his “calves are shredded.” Though he is often recognized for films including Star Wars and Trainspotting, that is actually the other Scottish actor, Ewan McGregor. And finally, Scottish people are responsible for the invention of the telephone, the television, and the deep-fried Mars bar. While there’s nothing remarkable in the monologue, it gets the job done. Also, McAvoy earns a point with the audience for simply acknowledging that he screws up a line.
Tonight’s show is steady, if not inspired. There’s a solid movie parody, Leslie Jones’s solo joint endears, and the writers prove that a standard Bachelor format can work with enough good jokes. There is a cut-off in quality, however, and those sketches below the line just don’t have much to give. McAvoy remains a bright light throughout, however. He brings life to a nice range of personalities in the sketches and delivers many highly competent accents, to boot. Who knows, maybe someday he’ll look for laughs on the big screen. The next live SNL is not until February 9, with host and musical guest Halsey.
This post has been updated to clarify that the “Charmin” sketch was not a paid advertisement.