Harry Styles’ SNL appearances before tonight have proven — if not his chops — his self-assured camera-readiness. (And, if he didn’t feel confident on his own, the unhinged squeals from adolescents and horny adults would give him all the reinforcement he needed.) Previously, our man Hazza hammed it up with One Direction, and later returned as musical guest with a few bit parts. The thing that probably convinced Lorne Michael & Co. to bring him on was the Mick Jagger he did as part of a Family Feud sketch; while it was energetic, it also carried this winking self-consciousness of a man doing an impression who really wanted you to know he was doing an impression. Thankfully, in Styles’s first gig as host and musical guest, he shed some of that pride and dove right in.
As usual, this week’s sketches are presented here in order from best to worst.
Days of Our Impeachment Cold Open
In order to get the attention of the American people, the impeachment hearings are transformed into a quasi-soap opera. Adam Schiff (Alex Moffat) and Jim Jordan (Mikey Day) spar, Janet Yavonovitch (Cecily Strong) and Bill Taylor (Jon Hamm) dramatically deliver their testimony as a bystander (Heidi Gardner) faints at every Latin phrase. Rudy Giuliani (Kate McKinnon), Gordon Sondland (Kyle Mooney), Michael Avenatti (Pete Davidson), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Melissa Villaseñor), and Myles Garrett (Kenan Thompson), the Steelers player who hit the Browns quarterback on the head with his own helmet, all show up to encourage the chaos. The premise is well-imagined, and there’s a fun idea in the framework, but the sketch doesn’t quite find the balance between its standard news summation and the soap. Of course, every red-blooded American wants to watch Jon Hamm be handsome and comedy-savvy. His part doesn’t stand out, and the sketch’s best moment — for its sheer unpredictability alone — is Thompson’s walk-on.
At cruising altitude, two pilots (Day and Styles) make an announcement to the passengers and then start talking about which woman in Scooby-Doo turns them on the most. The passengers (Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon, Kenan Thompson, Ego Nwodim) hear that — as well as the pilots talking about visiting a bar before the flight, taking lots of medication, and forgetting where the plane’s supposed to land — and prepare for doom. Day and Styles have a lot of fun with this one, playfully leaning into the smooth, reassuring tone of those updates “from the flight deck.” The bits from the passengers’ side don’t add much to the melee, but the pilots keep the thing aloft. Also, more brief, imagined sex scenes involving silly impressions of Shaggy and Scooby Doo, please.
Two Sara Lee corporate-communications heads (Cecily Strong and Bowen Yang) bring their employee Dylan (Styles) in to talk about his management of the corporate Instagram account. The brand has been commenting on pics of Nick Jonas (“Wreck me daddy”; “Destroy me king”), going on about the emotional aftermath of threesomes, and wondering why guys “freak out when I ask them to spit in my mouth.” The specifics really sell this sketch, which, going by tone and his presence as a “random fashion twink,” was probably written in part by Julio Torres. This feels like the best kind of paid sketch a brand can hope for: A weird character implicates himself rather than take jabs at the brand, while the company’s name and products get splashed everywhere — including, for some reason, a plateful of stray white bread on the middle of the conference room table? If it’s Torres and Yang behind this, it’s highly possible they have an unlikely Sara Lee obsession.
Rob (Styles), the new intern at the company, volunteers to pick up lunch for the rest of his officemates. His idea: grabbing chicken sandwiches from Popeyes. While some people (Heidi Gardner, Melissa Villaseñor) love the idea, the black folks (Kenan Thompson, Ego Nwodim, Chris Redd) are a bit concerned. It’s worse when the kid mentions he doesn’t mind yelling at cashiers, the shop is on Fredrick Douglass Boulevard, and he’s going to wear his long coat and big backpack. It’s nice to have enough writers of color on the staff that smart sketches like this, which feel like general PSAs for white people, recur regularly. Styles gives good oblivious dork, and Nwodim and Thompson add one more to their string of notable team-up moments this fall. And while the premise is great, it does feel like it might be pushed further, that there’s another beat of the sketch hiding somewhere.
Janelle (Aidy Bryant) welcomes pregnant mothers-to-be and their spouses to the “safe space” of birthing class. While most couples struggle with the rigors of pregnancy, bleach-blonde Icelandic couple Disa and Magnus (Heidi Gardner and Styles) are healthy, horny and feeling great. To stay fit, Disa does exercises that look like slo-mo twerking, while Magnus snowboards and senses that “the sky’s the limit on dadding.” Meanwhile, the infuriated Americans prepare to kill the oddball interlopers. With impenetrable accents and lots of appeals to “my girls” and “my dudes,” Gardner and Styles exhibit a nice give-and-take. The sketch hits its peak during Styles’ long stretches of verbiage, played for maximum playful weirdness.
With this simple little ditty arranged for toy piano, Joan (Aidy Bryant) tells of her new love: her chihuahua, Doug. Doug is her boyfriend now, though they just kiss — they do not have sex. She likes to imagine what it would be like if Doug became human and capable of speech; when she does, Doug takes on the shape of Harry Styles. Doug-the-Human is terrified of vacuums but loves Joan with all his heart. Bryant brings her coy charms to this bit, and the light, sweet tone of it all is endearing. Set and costume designers find a way not just to match the tenor of the song, but expound on the world it creates. While there isn’t any sort of new perspective articulated in the sketch, it’s a welcome change of pace.
Two dudes (Chris Redd and Styles) that call themselves DJ Casket (Twins) descend on the funeral of Betty Meyers in an attempt to hype up the crowd — colloquially known as mourners. “Rest in peace, bitch,” cries one of them as they unleash the beats and assure everyone that grandma is “smoking blunts in heaven.” As the shock of the mourners wears off, they start to enjoy the spectacle of dudes in sparkly Speedos turning “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M. into “Everybody Dance Now” by C+C Music Factory. The commitment to precision choreographed silliness is pretty high in this sketch, and Styles and Redd do well with material that needs a little shepherding.
That’s the Game
Two drug kingpins square off in a warehouse surrounded by the latest shipment of coke and assorted paraphernalia required to run an empire. Upstart Quan (Chris Redd) and his crew (Mikey Day and Styles) challenge the leadership of Dante (Thompson), but it becomes quickly clear that Quan doesn’t understand much about distribution. He also can’t differentiate heroin from coke, doesn’t know how much a brick is worth, and has no idea where to get “those little plastic baggies to put the drugs in.” And he’s not great with weapons, so threats are a little less than impressive. It’s nice to see a sketch that gives Redd room to really indulge his clueless madman, and the wide-eyed intensity that made his breakout role in Popstar such a revelation. Even with the sound off, watching Redd’s eyes and the subtle precision on his physical bits would make this one work.
Update’s first chunk talks impeachment and all that surrounds it, from the testimony of Marie Yovanovitch to Roger Stone’s indictment. There’s a fun bit that imagines how Google might respond if one asked to see naked photos of Donald Trump: “You take your nasty ass to Bing.” Every week, Jost creeps more and more toward the style and cadence of satirical news like The Daily Show, relying on clips, tweets, and goofy images of his target to make points. While certain moments of easy interplay between him and Che really work, as when they put each other on the spot, this week also shows how the segment can drag when they dwell on jokes that don’t work. Kate McKinnon comes on as Jeff Sessions, who is responding to the idea that his campaign ads to regain his Alabama Senate seat fawn over Trump. Sessions is unworried that Trump called him “Mr. Magoo, but fuglier,” and has given his balls to Trump. McKinnon’s Sessions is razor-sharp at this point, and she makes lines like “I’ll bend over backwards for you, Alabama, and bend over forwards for Mr. Trump,” sing.
The second segment considers the return of Colin Kaepernick, the world’s largest Starbucks, and a 360-degree infinity pool at the top of a hotel on which one can “fall to death playing Marco Polo.” Kyle Mooney comes on as Scooter Reinholt, the CEO of Dean Foods. As the head of the dairy conglomerate that declared bankruptcy this week, Reinholt is stressed. He’s madly chugging milk and spreading rumors about kids who have gone blind or turned to ISIS after drinking soy or nut beverages. Mooney, who often inhabits awkward men whose timing is a little off, does well supporting a character that’s more or less an average Joe under duress. Not every line is funny, but his energy carries the bit.
Harry Styles Monologue
Though Styles is happy to be hosting SNL, he is first and foremost a serious musician. He shouts out One Direction, even though he calls the fourth one Ringo, and professes his happiness at having been grown in a test tube by Simon Cowell. He also dishes some 30 Rock secrets: The Rockefeller Christmas tree is actually Jewish and the makeup department is so good, he’s actually Kate McKinnon. With this intro, it seems Styles demanded the Zach Galifianakis — some one-liners underscored by easy improvisations on the piano. Styles delivers his material better than might be expected, though he seems prouder of himself than the performance really warrants. At the least, yelps from overheated audience members are kept to a minimum after this intro.
Baby Faye and Her Newsboys
Vaudeville act Baby Faye and Her Newsboys has been slowly going downhill since the ’30s, when Faye (Cecily Strong) was 10 and she could play up her cuteness. Now that she is a 45-year-old “unwed, childless woman in toddler’s clothes,” it’s a lot less cute. Her newsboys (Beck Bennett, Mikey Day, Styles) have also aged, and they take a few shots at Faye now that she can’t do the splits and is a “worrisome drinker.” Faye’s wheelchair bound mother (Aidy Bryant) chastises her child, too, ushering in a Mama Rose-Gypsy Rose Lee dynamic. Stilted song-and-dance bits lead to showbiz arguments, and that’s that. Despite everyone’s best efforts, this one doesn’t quite hit — though the little arguments between Faye and her mama bring some life to it. And let’s please add the word “jackabating” to the lexicon.
While fans’ expectations for Styles were huge, his adept performances surely surprised some people. He had a lot to do, invested in both accents and characters, and played well with his many scene partners. Though there was certainly a degree of cool self-regard, Styles did take little risks that might have made him (gasp) look a bit foolish. With such a confident leap, it’s easy to imagine him as part of a future musical bro-fecta with Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon. The rest of the show has a nice variety of material, from the unabashed cuteness of “Joan Song” to the 10-to-1 blasphemy of “Funeral DJs,” and much of it is rock solid. Next week, Will Ferrell returns to take our minds off of impending family gatherings and impeachment proceedings for 90 minutes.