Rami Malek makes his hosting debut after starring in No Time to Die, the latest James Bond movie. I anticipate SNL playing with Rami’s weirdness (they played with his piercing stare in the teaser). However, Oscar winners like Malek typically bring a new dimension to SNL and surprise audiences with their range, often leading to very fun sketches. Also, no sketch ever suffers from good acting, and likely we’ll see Malek commit really hard without playing for laughs.
- NFL Press Conference Cold Open
- Rami Malek Monologue
- Bug Assembly
- Squid Game
- Prince Auditions
- Celeb School Game Show
- Young Thug: “Tick Tock”
- Weekend Update (A Proud Gay Oompa Loompa on Timothée Chalamet/Chris Redd on What’s Really Important/Hypnotist Linus Minus on Hypnosis)
- Mattress Store
- Young Thug: “More Than Anything”
NFL Press Conference Cold Open
The episode’s cold open is the NFL making a public comment about its recent scandal involving the emails of now-former Raiders head coach Jon Gruden. It’s another strong cold open. While I felt they danced around the Facebook scandal last week, here they really dig into the NFL (“He got on his knees and begged, and you know how much I hate seeing someone kneel”). I give them a lot of credit for that. Sketches about sports also have a higher degree of difficulty since not everyone is up-to-date on the latest sports scandal. SNL solves this by moving from character to character quickly while feeding information as quickly as possible, always finding something fun. Chris Redd coming on as Colin Kaepernick is a really fun moment.
Rami Malek Monologue
Similar to the first two weeks, Malek concentrates on letting off a short, solid monologue with no cast interruption. My initial reaction is that this is less screen time for the largest cast in SNL history, but they’re pulling it off. Rami sets up his episode nicely, focusing on how he’s typically a dramatic actor and that he even sympathizes with villains (“Freddie Krueger? Encouraging kids to dream.”).
Kenan and Heidi are hosting a school assembly with students presenting facts about bugs, though Daddy Long Legs, played by Bowen, quickly takes it over.
Bowen is hilarious here. “What does Daddy Long Legs eat? Boys. Boys. Boys.” My director’s eye can’t help but love how they staged this sketch. Even though Kenan is presenting on a podium, he’s positioned right next to Bowen. So we get laughs watching Kenan’s reaction even when Bowen is just simply walking back to his spot.
SNL’s digital sketch is an absolutely inspired send-up of Squid Game. Recounting Squid Game in a country song fits perfectly. The look on Rami’s face as he tries to convert Korean won is gold. Pete and Rami have terrific chemistry, and a movie starring these two would probably print money.
Chris, Ego, and Punkie are casting for the lead of the Prince movie, which is down to Rami Malek and Kenan Thompson as themselves. All the ingredients are here, with Kenan looking hilarious dressed as Prince. “Kenan, you’re in costume, but you look nothing like Prince.”
Celeb School Game Show
Kenan is the host of a game show called Celeb School. First thing’s first, Rami playing Pete and Pete playing Rami is hysterical. These two must know each other because their dueling impressions are tremendous.
Young Thug: “Tick Tock” and “More Than Anything”
Young Thug sings “Tick Tock.” My girlfriend says that’s Blink-182’s Travis Barker is on the drums and that she loves how nicely the band is featured around Young Thug.
Young Thug sings “More Than Anything.” Great job, no notes.
“Weekend Update” kicks off with Colin saying he won’t let bad climate news ruin a beautiful 80 degree October day. Che says he hopes Kyrie Irving does the right thing and buys a fake vaccination card. I like that SNL is having more fun with Che and Colin’s personas. This week Colin pulls up an email from Che where he gets called a “honky.” It’s a fun choice, and they both display good humor about it.
Che brings out Chris Redd to talk about current events. Chris wonders who drives blimps. “You ever see a fast blimp? No, because that is a missile.” We get a really fun moment when Che plays a clip of Chris saying “Black people can’t catch coronavirus” back in February 2020.
Mikey Day is Linus Minus with Kenan as his volunteer Roy. Under hypnosis, Keenan immediately pisses himself. Mikey is a lot of fun as Linus Minus is struggling with Kenan. We keep making discoveries, as Kenan reveals he’s in love with Zendaya but thinks Linus killed her. By finding new reasons for Kenan to get upset, the sketch stays sharp.
Rami and Aidy are shopping for a mattress and are approached by salesman Bowen. Aidy and Rami have excellent dramatic moments, but the sketch could have used another dimension to push it over the top. More on this later.
Cecily and Daniel Craig are excited to see a singer named Angelo, played by Aristotle, at a restaurant. This is a character Aristotle did at New Faces, and it’s a riot. After a few bit parts, Aristotle gets to display his full comedic chops.
Rami soon joins as a dancer, and now we’re rolling. It’s a shame it took until the end of the night to see the Iranian Aristotle and Egyptian Rami paired together, but it was a lovely ribbon on a solid night for Rami.
Mattress Store: Aidy and Rami trying out mattresses by playing out dramatic arguments is a strong premise, but they give Bowen so little to do as the straight man that the sketch never surprises us. A straight man in a sketch isn’t just there to find things weird. They can serve many roles, from moving the plot along to providing context to just wrangling the unusual character.
Compare this to the “Car Shoppers” sketch with Ben Affleck. While Josh and Laura are also an unusual couple, they gave Ben a fun character, and he moves the sketch along by showing off different parts of the car. Josh and Laura derail it every time by devolving into dirty sex talk.
In “Mattress Store,” instead of Rami and Aidy just moving to the second mattress themselves, it’d be ideal if Bowen tells them to try the second mattress and explains why it’s different. “That was a soft-top; this one is a little more firm.” Now we can see how a firmer mattress influences Aidy and Ramy’s arguments. As funny as they are, we don’t want to keep seeing the same thing throughout the sketch. We need to see the sketch evolve so they stay ahead of the audience.
Bug Assembly: The only issue is in a sketch like this; you really want to heighten the presentations by having the students take out props or display a diorama, only to be thrown off the rails by Daddy Long Legs. Asking two students to improvise a scene feels like, “ok let’s see something funny,” which puts way too much pressure on your fun character.
Prince Auditions: We never really land on a strong premise. We later learn more about what the Prince movie is about, but we needed more of that earlier. If the film is a Jordan Peele horror movie about racism, then let’s see Kenan and Rami read for it. Daniel Craig’s entrance is a nice surprise, but it doesn’t hit.
Celebrity School Game Show: I again find the impressions strong, but the sketch itself is lacking. Firstly, it takes forever to introduce everyone. They’d be better served by introducing the characters when they’re asked a question. We also need something a little more from the game show itself. Just asking celebrities questions is too simple of a show idea for the characters to play, so it ends up being just about impressions.
Angelo: My biggest issue with this sketch is Daniel Craig. He’s just not fun as a straight man and keeps overplaying his lines. Also, bringing back your surprise celebrity guest to straight man a sketch is an awkward fit. Reacting to an unusual thing isn’t something anybody can do, and SNL would have been better off assigning that role to somebody like Kyle.
Bowen is my MVP for this episode. He wasn’t activated the first two weeks, but they leaned on him and played to his strengths here. Hired as a writer in season 44, Bowen immediately moved up to featured player in season 45 and now repertory player in season 47. At this rate, he’ll be president of NBC by season 50. My favorite thing about watching Bowen perform is he consistently makes choices. There’s a risk of naturally funny performers floating through sketches, but we always know how Bowen feels, and he hits all his beats hard.
Overall, this was a solid episode. Rami showed strong commitment, and his acting really shined. SNL thrives off of these types of hosts. It reminds me of how funny Christopher Walken was every time he was on. While I think they built off their first two episodes, I’m still waiting for the moment where they uncork a couple of breakout live sketches. I sense the writers are still feeling their way around, and they have the extra burden of rotating the mammoth cast to fit everybody in. But I think once they settle, we’ll see SNL take risks necessary to produce a classic episode.