Saturday Night Live
Don Cheadle has chops. He was in Traffic, he was Oscar-nominated for Hotel Rwanda. More importantly for those interested in high-stakes, high-pressure sketch comedy, Cheadle is funny. The man has a naturally dry delivery but he also gives great high-status madman — something that can be seen in the new coked-up Showtime series Black Monday and in little pet projects like Funny or Die’s batshit Captain Planet sketches. He’s a confident performer regardless of context, so predictably, he made his hosting debut look easy.
(As a reminder, we’re ranking these sketches in order of excellence.)
Don Cheadle Monologue
Right out of the gate, Cheadle lets is be known that he won an Avengers raffle to host SNL. He also tells Studio 8H that a “whole lot of people sorta know me,” and illustrates how fans try to remember who he is with a bit of “percussive recognition.” Cheadle can always tell what projects fans know best by the way in which they approach him. If they’re winking and slyly conspiratorial, it’s Boogie Nights. If they’re demure and respectful, it’s Hotel Rwanda. And of course, they all want pictures — including Leslie Jones. This intro is really one of the best moments of the night for Cheadle, who delivers a series of precise and evocative physical bits in a flash.
Extreme Baking Championship
For this reality competition, four contestants bake cakes in the likeness of favorite cartoon characters. Most of them, sadly, are terrible bakers. Chantal (Jones) made Olaf the Snowman look like melted ice cream with googly eyes; Jimmy’s (Cheadle) featureless wad of blue dough barely resembles Cookie Monster; Ralph (Kyle Mooney) depicts Yoda holding what might be a lightsaber but what he proudly identifies as Yoda’s “famous penis.” The only person with talent is Sandy (Heidi Gardner), who makes a handsome SpongeBob cake that the judges promptly ignore. Why pay attention when the Cookie Monster abomination comes to life and begs to be put out of its misery? In playing on the gap between best-laid plans and painful reality, this funhouse version of a reality show is a silly success.
Michael Che and Colin Jost start in on Trump’s declaration of a national emergency, pegging his trippy explication of legal issues as what happens when “School House Rock has a stroke.” Jost examines the changing rhetoric about the wall, from “Build that Wall,” to “Finish the Wall,” to, presumably, “The Wall Was Inside Us the Whole Time.” Che just wants to see the wall, as a committed expression of a terrible idea, and posits that a wall simply addresses the symptom and not the disease. (It’s a powerful argument, worth the brief flirtation with clapter.) Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi (Alex Moffat and Kate McKinnon) show up and agree to refrain from gloating about their successful wall negotiations. Of course, they can’t help themselves, talking sarcastically about Trump’s negotiating prowess and giving Pelosi’s now-patented ironic clap. The performances are worthwhile, but there’s not much to the occasion.
In Update’s second half, Jost talks about the idea that the sirens on American ambulances may soon ape those high-low sirens of Europe … “So you can spend your ride in the ambulance pretending you have universal health care.” Then Beck Bennett comes on as Jules, the whimsical free spirit “who sees things a little differently.” He can’t help but differentiate himself from the kids who played football, preferring instead to “gather yarn for a puppet’s wig.” He wants the Oscar to go to a smashed lightning bug which continues to glow, and to ask those on the red carpet not what they’re wearing, but who they are being. The character is still fun, but it doesn’t have quite as much to it this time. Mikey Day comes on as centenarian Mort Fellner. Ostensibly, he’s there to talk about the great achievements of fellow humans over 100 years old, but mostly, they’re just dying right and left. It’s a funny idea, but it just doesn’t hit quite right.
Family Feud: Oscar Nominees
Steve Harvey (Kenan Thompson) gamely corrals a bunch of unruly actors in an attempt to get through a session of the Feud. Film vets Spike Lee (Cheadle), Glenn Close (McKinnon), Sam Elliott (Bennett), and the forgotten Brit Olivia Coleman (Cecily Strong) face off against newbies Lady Gaga (Melissa Villaseñor), Bradley Cooper (Mooney), Rami Malek (Pete Davidson), and Mahershala Ali (Chris Redd). When asked to name “Something You Do When You Want to Look Sexy,” contestants alternate between weird answers and just griping about their lives. There are several good moments in the Feud’s usual parade of impressions, but one particular highlight is McKinnon’s over-the-top dramatic monologues as Close.
Wedding Venue Ad
Way out in Queens, “right where the taxis go to sleep,” Cosmo and Olympia Spakadukis (McKinnon and Aidy Bryant) invite all parties to host a wedding at the Regal Promenade Pavilion. They’ve got everything a good bridal party needs: Windows, lightbulbs, “chairs wearing a dress like a beautiful lady,” the world’s youngest valets, carpet on every surface imaginable. Olympia will even “slap my daughter in front of your family, no extra charge.” One guy (Cheadle) plays the chef, the cameraman, and the DJ. Great specifics and performances sell this kooky bit, which does a good job of invoking these weird, outer-borough locations. They exist.
This panel show considers the big issues facing Lincoln High School freshman, including who’s asking who to Winter Formal, what caused that big outbreak of cold sores, and whatever tea earth sciences teacher Mr. Paul (Cheadle) wants to spill. There’s also time to hear from Rap Battle Club (Redd and Bryant) and the school nurse (Jones), who reports that every single member of the JV wrestling team has ringworm. “There’s a reason I don’t work at Chipotle. I spill all the beans,” Mr. Paul says, before launching into a confession about weed edibles sure to get him fired. As with previous incarnations of “Fresh Takes,” characters are negligible but there are a few nice observations about the social dynamics of high school.
This ad parody takes the idea of a roach infestation one step further. Where Raid depicts nasty animated roaches making themselves cozy in various areas of the home, here the roaches (Cheadle, Mooney, and Redd) are “practically part of the family.” They stink up the bathroom, play poker, and begin an affair with the lady of the house (Gardner). Eventually, the man watching his house go downhill (Mikey Day) threatens the nastiest roach of all with Roach-Ex. The roach insults this guy’s manhood, putting the spray can against his eye, saying, “If you’re gonna spray me, spray me.” The standoff gives this parody an unusual finish, a twist that makes it something more than just a quick hit.
Trump Press Conference Cold Open
The president (Alec Baldwin) steps in front of a podium to declare a national emergency to get his border wall. In short, his argument is “wall makes safe.” Trump explains potential legal ramifications, aping the strange sing-song delivery he used in real life, which ends when he admits that he’s ready for his “personal hell of playing president” to “finally be over.” He then takes some questions from reporters and points out new Attorney General William Barr (Bennett) — a man who he gives about “three months tops.” Baldwin’s on autopilot at this point, and while the sketch looks to address all headlines relating to immigration, there aren’t any profound, new takes.
It’s Valentine’s Day, or thereabouts, and all amorous couples will be looking for a little romantic interlude. One possible impediment: a dog who sits at the foot of the bed, staring awkwardly up at its owner, fearing that one person is “attacking” the other or generally freaking out. The solution is a pup tent in the shape of a pup, big enough to accommodate people having sex. That way, couples get their privacy and any household canines will feel like they have “a new friend.” Why not “throw your dog and yourself a bone?” It’s simple, but it identifies a very real problem and it’s worth the one big visual gag.
Nelson (Bennett) and his buddy Rick (Day) stop into their favorite scrappy roadhouse to enjoy terrible banter with bartender Darla (Gardner) and down a few. It’s the kind of place where when some guy (Cheadle) bumps into Nelson, it is on. Nelson requests his favorite fighting song get played on the jukebox, but “Lollipop” by Mika comes on instead. The guys find it too fun and too irresistible. They can’t switch the music, and they can’t fight, so they start swaying a bit. The guy accuses Nelson of dancing, but he’s just “moving his body to the rhythm.” Soon the whole bar is on its feet, bursting into a big, choreographed routine. The joke is entirely in the premise, so there’s some physical comedy but not a lot of surprises.
Cheadle got to indulge some quirky characters, but the writers sadly did not deliver any high-status madmen. Though he never really indulges his comedic superpower, Cheadle handles himself with grace and aplomb; it says something that his solo moment onstage is one of the bright spots of the night. The political material again bats around the headlines of the day without ever going for the jugular, but there are silly sketches enough to forget this fact. Next week will be dark, but John Mulaney returns as host on March 2 — his second time in two years — as we await more of the former writer’s unaired, but epic, sketch ideas.