Like spring itself, an SNL hosted by Maya Rudolph is a natural mood booster. Maybe Lorne Michaels wanted to celebrate her double Emmy win — for playing Kamala Harris in SNL cold opens, and for voicing Connie the Hormone Monstress in Netflix’s Big Mouth — or maybe her goofy lightness just paralleled the hopes of a vaccine-filled season. As established during Rudolph’s first hosting gig in 2012, her SNL tenure was more about impressions and musical performances than recurring characters, so a Rudolph show will never be crowded with catchphrases. Given the Kamala Emmy, an appearance as the VP was inevitable, as was her returning to someone like Beyoncé. The supporting drop-ins from Martin Short, Tina Fey, and Rachel Dratch, though, were not foregone conclusions; neither was the rap cameo from musical guest Jack Harlow.
As usual, this week’s sketches are presented here ranked from best to worst.
This episode of the wing-eating web series features Beyoncé (Rudolph) sweating her wig off during her interview with host Sean Evans (Mikey Day). What starts with more than a little boasting from Bey ends with a meltdown that forces the Queen’s publicist and agent to shut the production down altogether. While the breakdown isn’t far off from what the show usually sees, watching Rudolph’s measured, high-status Beyoncé lose it is wonderful. From the dead-eyed stares to the muted pleading with her wig manager (Kenan Thompson), it’s a masterclass in controlled demolition. Some of the best lines, e.g., “Beyoncé’s head is wet,” are throwaways between the big hits. Day does well with Evans’ cadence, and the SNL writers get credit for nailing the tone of the original series.
While Colin Jost’s call for “current checks” on gun owners and point about “well-regulated” militias feel smart, the audience doesn’t really give it up until a denture joke from Michael Che. Che also hits with gags about relics of the Jim Crow era and Virginia becoming the first Southern state to abolish the death penalty. (“So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some white women to whistle at.”) The entire first half of Update builds some good momentum, up to and including an appearance from Cecily Strong as conspiracy theorist lawyer Sidney Powell. Strong’s characterizations, accent, and delivery are all on point, as she tries to convince Che that she’s insane enough not to be taken seriously. It’s all perfectly exemplified by one dubious look: Strong’s eyebrow cocked, her chin pulled into her neck and a strange smirk smeared across her face. It’s perfectly creepy.
Several of the disparate jokes in the second half of Update feel a little easy — a gag about Subway’s food and the sale of Jeffrey Epstein’s mansion, for instance. The best bit is a clever reconsideration of the Muppets, after Black Muppets showed up on Sesame Street to teach lessons about race. At the end of Update, Bowen Yang comes on as himself to talk about the rise in anti-Asian violence in the U.S., exemplified by the recent Atlanta shootings. There are some playful exaggerations of ideas that might be helpful for Asian-Americans grappling with this moment, but Yang confesses he’d rather not be doing the piece at all and simply encourages all concerned Americans to “do more.” It’s not often that SNL sidesteps funny for a simple, political message, but this is a worthy reason to do it.
Boomers Got the Vax
In this prerecorded ’90s-style rap video, a horde of baby boomers celebrate their access to the vaccines — and remind the unwashed, unvaccinated masses that they’ve been running the world since 1945. Complete with its “Mo Money Mo Problems” light tunnel (and direct reference to Biggie’s “Mo Money” verse), this bouncy throwback features a lot of nice little digs and a fair number of grandmas flipping off their grandkids. While punchlines should take priority, of course, Chris Redd deserves attention for making his flow as sharp as the jokes. The extreme Boomer gloating makes for fun rhymes all around, but the sketch neglects to touch on the fact that there’s a large contingent of this population that are simply unwilling to take any vaccine.
After a tough year, Kamala Harris (Rudolph) and her husband, Doug Emhoff (Martin Short), gather friends and foes for a “Unity Seder.” Ted Cruz (Aidy Bryant) brings Israeli flag cupcakes, Rafael Warnock (Kenan Thompson) brings Manischewitz, and Ella Emhoff (Chloe Fineman) brings her runway strut. Joe Biden (Alex Moffat) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Cecily Strong) show, too. The sketch is crammed with headlines and impressions, and there’s a lot of stage management here. Short’s handsy Emhoff is more a chance to bring back a bit of Maya & Marty than anything else, and that’s excuse enough. Given that Biden has spent so much less time on camera than Trump did, maybe it’s fitting that Moffat has yet to find his hook. The biggest surprise is the appearance of the knitwear fashionista Ella Emhoff, which is a nice gag for those who get it. With all the activity, it’s good the sketch has a calm center with Rudolph’s Kamala.
Snatched! Vaxed! or Waxed! Cold Open
At spring break in Miami, Cece Vuvuzela (Rudolph) hosts this MTV game show, which lets single boys unafraid of Covid guess whether their prospective dates are “Snatched, Vaxed or Waxed.” (Spoiler: No one currently drowning in tequila and pepper spray is vaxed.) With so many dopey 20-somethings represented, it’s not the characterizations but the underlying critique — “We are so close to the end, let’s ruin it!” — that’s important here. The vapid (and, in this case, willfully stupid) MTV spring break crowd is a big target, so it’s nice to have a few more carefully crafted marks, e.g., Ego Nwodim’s character, who is actually not on break but going to Zoom school to become a therapist. It’s medicine delivered with a spoonful of sugar, and will likely be taken by exactly no one who needs it.
In this prerecorded Shining parody, Maya Rudolph slips into a fantastical realm within 8H, replete with mysterious bar, ghosts from SNL past, and creepy twins. Rudolph isn’t going crazy, it’s just that ostensible former SNL writer Gloria Zelwig (Tiny Fey), Rachel Dratch, and the SNL cook (Kenan Thompson) all want her to “shine.” It’s great to see Rudolph’s castmates and cohorts Dratch and Fey beat the buzzer, showing up in the final sketch of the night. Both bring some life to what could be a hammy parody and rote exercise in nostalgia. Kudos in particular for some of the quieter moments, including the Kevin Spacey joke that plays out at the top of the sketch.
2021 Barfly Awards
This awards show, presented by drunks to drunks, offers up statues for “Wildest Claim” and “Best Bar Hookup.” While the premise and the execution here are pretty simple, the particulars are great. It’s not easy to capture the stilted, discursive cadences of drunk speak, or execute it well, and this sketch does a pretty good job of both. Cecily Strong, a.k.a., Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation with at the Party, of course does a great drunk. Aidy Bryant and Maya Rudolph aren’t slouches, either. And Kate McKinnon wins points for a magical sort of prune-like old lady face. This is a smart idea, subtly executed in both the text and the performances, and the studio audience didn’t give this sketch its due.
This pre-taped rap finds Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen (Kate McKinnon) entertaining questions from a college classroom that devolve into a bunch of jibberish regarding NFTs. Using the beat from Eminem’s “Without Me,” Pete Davidson, Chris Redd, and Jack Harlow all drop verses that attempt to explain the latest crypto trend. Unlike last year’s “Stan” parody, there doesn’t seem to be much inspiration from the material here. While NFTs have been in the news a lot in the last couple of weeks, it feels more like Pete Davidson’s chance to do another Eminem parody while talking about twerking Thanos. And on that count, it’s fine, but the whole thing feels more like a Weird Al idea.
A choreography session for a new show is thrown into chaos when two rival choreographers (and former lovers) are tossed in the same rehearsal studio together. The lust and longing between Richard Purquest (Kenan Thompson) and Tanya Katank (Rudolph) is palpable; but their moves are far from saving Broadway. Really, this sketch is here so all of us can watch Thompson and Rudolph steal away to the corners of the room and play out their own romantic pas de deux. That part is fun, but all of the material getting in and out of these little moments feels a bit dull. In part, it feels like a timing issue, but the writing doesn’t quite sing, either.
Maya Rudolph Monologue
After talking about the hope inherent in vaccines, and her family, Rudolph invites the SNL “babies” (Andrew Dismukes, Punkie Johnson, and Lauren Holt) to hear some of her accumulated words of wisdom. From there, it’s silly nicknames and Rudolph confusing her time at SNL with The Breakfast Club. There are a number of smart jokes in here, and the audience’s muted response gives a clue about how they’ll respond to the rest of the show. While this is not their sketch, and they’re repeatedly told to shut up, the featured players all look a bit uncertain about how to play things. It isn’t until the Simple Minds sing-along that everyone seems to be on the same page.
With ease, confidence, and ongoing willingness to look ridiculous, Maya Rudolph delivered. While both of tonight’s big impressions were somewhat muted in scale, Rudolph showed just how much she can do with a glare or panicked glance. The most important political message of the evening came on a more serious note, during Update, but the SNL writers have had difficulty finding the right way to attack major political figures of late. It’s not often that the audience plays a role in how the show progresses, but this one did. For all their mugging for the camera during commercials, the audience didn’t feel all that connected to what was playing out onstage, remaining fairly quiet during some bits that deserved a bit more. Maybe next week the audience will be more responsive for Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya and musical guest St. Vincent.