Saturday Night Live
When an esteemed actor is invited to host SNL for the first time, there’s an implicit challenge. In the case of this week’s host — the multitalented Regina King — this challenge wasn’t hers alone. How do you best go about crafting sketches around a former teen actor who fought her way to incredible leading roles (Angela Abar in HBO’s reimagining of Watchmen) and directing gigs (including her latest, the buzzy ensemble film One Night in Miami)? What material rises to the level of an Oscar-winning dramatic actor whose comedy chops are apparent on everything from Friday to The Boondocks? Well, the SNL writers proved mostly up to the challenge this week, providing King with plenty of meaty parts that also allowed her to show off her comic energy and sense of timing. The episode’s overall inventive silliness is great, but while there aren’t any outright bombs, it does feel like every sketch has its own little issues for which even King can’t always compensate.
Second Impeachment Trial Cold Open
With Trump’s second impeachment (and second acquittal) dominating the news, this open checks in with relevant Republican senators and recounts activity on the part of Trump’s defense team. Alex Moffat, as Tucker Carlson, has a nice sense of the cadence and tone of the Fox host’s schtick. Kate McKinnon, always a solid Lindsey Graham, delivers the South Carolina senator as a gloating lickspittle; Aidy Bryant is more herself than Ted Cruz, but it’s nice to have her energy in the role regardless. The bits about Trump’s lawyers Bruce Castor (Mikey Day) and Michael van der Veen (Pete Davidson) feel obligatory, but the final moments about Mitch McConnell’s future attempts to reach across the aisle brings Republican hypocrisy back into focus.
Most people may be encouraged to exercise by motivational speeches and positive reinforcement, but this Peloton clone provides judgmental instructors primed to cut a rider down and make them ride “out of spite.” Given that there’s one idea here — an exercise program powered by nastiness — there is an incredible array of carefully crafted variations on the theme. The distinctions, made in order to appeal to different personality types, are also thoughtfully articulated. Ego Nwodim’s biker says, “I hate exercise, but I hate Sarah more,” and it’s hard to imagine that one of the infuriating techniques on display would not motivate an uninspired would-be athlete somehow. The entire package is well-shot, well-paced, and a great ensemble piece.
What’s Your Type?
In this dating game show, Kendra (Regina King) is courted by three “corny, awkward, douchey” white guys — which just so happens to be Kendra’s type. The fawning, overly woke dude (Kyle Mooney) and the cheesy, self-promoting musician (Alex Moffat) are well-identified types; neither can compare to the self-aware, jokey mess Mikey Day plays. Sure, the sketch identifies all of them as cringey, but Day’s rambling monologues really are squirm-inducing. While the show’s host (Cecily Strong) gets menopause early and the DJ (Ego Nwodim) combusts out of disgust, King does an incredible job of selling Kendra’s fetish. Her lusty purrs and creepy exclamations show off a great commitment to character.
’70s Green Room
Backstage before a big gig, ’70s disco queen Fliona (King) wants to ensure her manager (Bowen Yang) has met all of her very particular demands. Short answer: no. Long answer: no, no, no, no, no, and no. Showing off toned arms and a lot more in a low-cut disco ball of a dress, King brings glam and gravitas to her needy diva. The rest of the cast has fun fleshing out the showbiz caricatures — Yang and Aidy Bryant go broad while Kenan Thompson remains pretty measured, but all find ways to fit together. It’s a bit of a risk, relying on a rat-a-tat dialogue to power a sketch. Some of the pacing is off, and some lines get lost, but the wacky world-building wins out.
While the audience seems a bit unwilling to laugh at the impeachment trial, the first run of jokes about it do feel a little off. (“Dumb,” for instance, doesn’t feel like the best catchall descriptor for what happened.) It’s telling when the audience’s best reaction comes in response to a Photoshopped image of Colin Jost looking like Ice-T. Things get a little lighter when Kate McKinnon comes on as a witch named Stephanie Green — despite the subject being QAnon and baby eating. It starts off slow, but once the witch is openly wondering about how she can get involved with the great liberal cabal’s buffets and what dipping sauces are available, there’s a welcome cartoonish tenor to it.
The stray jokes in the latter part of Update fare better than the first, including an unfortunately accurate bit about gender-reveal parties and a cutting line about the new name for Aunt Jemima. Then Lauren Holt comes on in her first Update feature as dating coach Mackenzie Taylor-Joy. She immediately gets dumped by text message, and it’s clear where things are heading. It’s great to see Holt get a bit more screen time, and her bursts of false enthusiasm provide some nice punctuation, but the character earns more pathos than laughs. Later, Beck Bennett wheels on as Drunk Tom Brady. While the writing takes a back seat to the boasting, Bennett sells his nice, chipper drunk who is only briefly haunted by moments of crippling self-consciousness.
This filmed piece is a take on hostage negotiations in cop shows, with the bullhorn and the scary criminal and the weed gummies. At least, that’s the circumstances with which this negotiator (Regina King) is dealing. The running gag — involving two anthropomorphic weed gummies (Pete Davidson, Aidy Bryant) singing a taunting tune — provides a nice foundation for the cop’s psychedelic trip. As the hallucinations get stranger and less connected to the negotiator’s life, King does a great job of grounding the insanity. Without her playing the intermediary between satanic Marge Simpson and the viewer, it would all be too much.
During a school assembly, a visiting feminist theater ensemble gives a family-friendly version of their usual show. This means one thing: changing every anatomical reference from “vagina” to “elbow.” While the comedy is all based on this simple substitution, there’s just the right amount of silliness to it; and the different takes on the material from the three different ladies (Regina King, Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant) keeps it moving. It’ll hit anyone who has seen The Vagina Monologues (or, alternately, been to a few coffeehouse open mics), but even without the reference points, it’s fun to hear talk of hairy elbows that get glazed like donuts. Additionally, there’s a cutting little remark from the school principal about parents being okay with penis-related content that feels sadly accurate.
Regina King Monologue
“If you’re Black, you probably know me from being in some of your favorite movies,” says King at the top of her monologue. “If you’re white, you probably know me from Watchmen, or this monologue right now.” This cleverly frames things for viewers before Kenan Thompson shows up, in full DMC gear, to play King’s hype man. Beyond the overzealous hype-man bit, there are a lot of great jokes that don’t quite get their due with the audience at 8H; in particular, the advice from a weird Lorne Michaels, King’s method for dealing with fame, and a throwaway bit about One Night in Miami are all notably good. Meanwhile, King establishes her rhythm while appearing anything but nervous.
A bunch of suburban girlfriends gather to give their friend Trish (Aidy Bryant) gifts. Well, one particular sort of gift: novelty signs about drinking that imply Trish is an alcoholic. There is a ubiquity to these cloying signs worth noting, and the sketch nicely pushes their subtext to the foreground. The signs feature some particularly nasty barbs, including the declaration, “My sponsor thinks I’m in bed right now.” That said, it’s a lot of signs, and crowding all the punchlines onto props means there’s a little disconnect. The characters don’t feel all that important to one another, and all the shuffling of bags and signs seems to trip Bryant up a bit, too.
In reaction to the inescapable headlines and potential lawsuit, this ad features a family law firm (Kenan Thompson, Regina King) promising to take down the hair-ruining gorillas behind Gorilla Glue. This one is bound to be a favorite of the week, simply because it points out the absurdity behind the real-world lawsuit. There are good details, e.g., the line that insists “every day, as many as one people fall victim” to the tragic product swap. The wigs — in particular the waggling wand atop King’s head — are also pretty hypnotic. As a whole, though, it feels a bit too easy. While there may not be all that much to say on the subject, as far as the satire goes, it doesn’t take much to call something stupid and walk.
The writers really gave King room to show off her incredible combination of talents this week. Her acting chops are clear in her investment in her characters, whether she’s going big, as in “What’s Your Type?,” or keeping things steady, as with “The Negotiator.” There’s a comfort and gravity apparent in her bigger roles that most hosts can’t quite find, and it helps smooth over some of the episode’s rougher patches.
SNL has added two more shows to the calendar, so next week the host will be Bridgerton bae Regé-Jean Page, with musical guest Bad Bunny.
More Saturday Night Live
- Tim Robinson Describes the Coffin Flop They Couldn’t Film
- Jim Belushi Has Always Been an Outsider
- Tim Robinson Is Sorry for Yelling