Saturday Night Live
Add up Daniel Kaluuya’s biggest film roles to date, and he wouldn’t seem to be a comedian. Whether it’s his Oscar-nominated portrayal of Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah, his unlikely fugitive in outlaw road-trip drama Queen & Slim, or his bamboozled boyfriend in Jordan Peele’s horror smash Get Out, Kaluuya plays against outsize antagonists with simmering intensity. But in the latter two films, and nearly everything else he does, there are quiet and carefully crafted comic moments. Plus, he’s been on a number of British sketch shows, so he knows something of the genre’s rhythms. It was up to the SNL writers to determine how best to use Kaluuya’s understated precision, and in the end, they did okay. While some sketches left him without much to do, and others just don’t have quite enough material to explore, a few standouts — such as “Proud Parents” — gave Kaluuya a solid framework to work in some equally solid jokes.
As usual, this week’s sketches are presented here ranked from best to worst.
A lot of this week’s Update is dedicated to Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, and his attempts to duck accusations of sex trafficking. Colin Jost makes an excellent point about the QAnon followers who defended Gaetz: Halting child predation is ostensibly their reason for being, and yet they’re saying, “I need more evidence.” For his part, Michael Che has a nice moment goading President Biden to cancel student debt via executive order. The first guests are Smokery Farms meat mavens Wylene and Vaneta Starkie (Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon), who again try to convince customers the animals they serve deserved to die. In addition to articulating some recognizable faux pas, the genuinely wet, stinky basket of meat draws a lot of Bryant and McKinnon’s attention. The very real reaction, combined with the writing, is great.
As there are two more featured guests, two small packets of jokes are delivered before each one. A jab about pay disparity in sports gets a groan, but Che is not wrong about the sense that the system will always reward men. There’s an entertaining joke about Spirit Airlines trying to keep up with another airline’s virus-killing robot, too. The first arrival is Alex Moffat’s Guy Who Just Bought a Boat, who talks sex and dating after the vaccine. With this recurring character, Moffat has really mastered the combination of pacing, rhymes, and wordplay. The melodic delivery of lines like “Take her down to Javitz Center for the jab-and-enter with your Johnson & Johnson” are perfectly icky, but very funny. The second guests are Jeff and Hattie Dealy (Mikey Day, Heidi Gardner), a couple that’s also a May-December romance. While the bit is a lot of time just mulling young Jeff’s suspicious motives, watching Gardner’s ancient Hattie demand custard is pretty enjoyable.
Families gather after dinner to catch up about their children’s respective collegiate accomplishments. While two of the parents (Ego Nwodim, Kaluuya) praise young Nick (Andrew Dismukes) for his sculpture, they lose their minds upon hearing their child David (Chris Redd) wants to become a poet. While this sort of parental disapproval is cliché, Nwodim and Kaluuya’s characters feel like specific people with particular methods of shaming their kid into submission. One of the most well-observed and ironic lines, “If there’s anything we’ve learned from the pandemic, it’s that the world needs more poets,” nearly gets an applause break. The end of the sketch is also incredibly well done; it’s not just a big, physical finish, but one accompanied by a sharp blackout line.
Vaccine Game Show
Doctor Tevin Jones (Kaluuya) hosts the game show Will You Take It?, which invites his own relatives (Kenan Thompson, Ego Nwodim, Chris Redd, Punkie Johnson) to win money if they take the COVID vaccine. While the recurring evocation of the Tuskegee experiment is a valid reason for hesitancy, other reasons (“I never get sick because I sleep in my socks.”) are a bit more far-fetched. This sketch feels very true-to-life, with a few nice twists. The flip from “I’ll take it when white people start taking it,” to “You can’t trust white people,” is especially fun. The writers effectively tap into Kaluuya’s abilities as a wry straight man here, and the supporting cast (and Thompson in particular) make their misguided characters feel nicely grounded.
One man’s birthday is ruined by the appearance of his half-brother (Kaluuya) and the half-brother’s wife (Cecily Strong), who make everyone suffer through their terrible spoken-word act. Strong and Kaluuya commit to these divorcing weirdos, and the writing does a nice job of communicating their idiosyncratic banter — including a playful section in which Aidy Bryant’s character unwittingly asks the players for an encore. This one is a bit wackier, and seems to confuse the audience at 8H a bit, but it’s well thought out and well-executed. It deserved better, but it’ll remain a testament to Kaluuya’s willingness to get a little goofy.
Britney Spears Talk Show Cold Open
Britney Spears (Chloe Fineman) returns with her talk show to pronounce the relative guilt or innocence of “social pariahs.” This week, it’s Lil Nas X (Chris Redd), Pepé Le Pew (Kate McKinnon), and Matt Gaetz (Pete Davidson). Though it’s still nice to have this pocket of unusual cold opens, this sketch feels slow and lacks the verve needed to kick off the show. Fineman’s Britney is on-point as usual, but she’s the anchor here; the shamed agitators don’t bring a lot of surprises with them. There are worthy specifics — e.g., Lil Nas X’s description of himself, Pepé’s description of his cut scene from the new Space Jam — but they aren’t enough to carry the sketch.
Viral Apology Video
As it was with David Dobrik and the Vlog Squad, this sketch finds Marky Monroe (Kyle Mooney) apologizing for past misdeeds and harmful stunts that hurt his Prank Posse pal JP (Kaluuya). And, as it was in life, Monroe’s apologies feel half-hearted and obligatory. He can’t even bring himself to say the second syllable of “sorry.” While some of the hard jokes work, the most cutting aspect of the sketch is its take on toxic YouTube culture — how easy it is for a content creator like Dobrik to move past ugly behavior, and how crocodile tears might cover up little more than concern for a Cinnabon sponsorship. It would be nice to see Kaluuya get a bigger slice of this sketch, but that said, it’s nice to see Mooney hold down a sketch that isn’t about his awkwardness.
Daniel Kaluuya Monologue
From his boisterous entrance, Kaluuya seems prepared to charm. He talks about his nationality, his heritage, and the Zoom error that kept him muted when he won the Golden Globe for Black Messiah. Several of the jokes, and in particular the one about the white people who left Britain to invent their own brands of racism abroad, feel not just smart but perfectly tailored for him. It’s short and sweet, and it ends with him giving thanks to his mom, God, and Kel Mitchell — Kenan Thompson’s comedy partner when he was a kid — because his earliest theatrical experience involved a script based on Kenan & Kel. Start to finish, Kaluuya’s energy sells it.
Now that they’ve been vaccinated, the brahs of Sigma Delta get ready to rent a place in Tahoe and get wild — though one mom-loving son (Kaluuya) hopes they’ll all invite their mothers along in honor of Mother’s Day. This one rides the same wave of bro sensitivity as recent sketches like “Drivers License” and “Auto Shop,” as the ostensible macho men slowly find themselves tenderhearted. Once the basic premise is hammered out, the moms become a foregone conclusion. The only move that heightens things is the addition of the moms; it’s a splashy visual that makes sense, but it doesn’t bring much of a payoff.
A young woman (Heidi Gardner) and her boyfriend (Kaluuya) finish dinner with her parents (Mikey Day, Kate McKinnon) and decide to play Scattergories. In protest, mom knocks dishes around, vacuums, and does everything she can to interrupt the game. It’s unfortunately not crystal clear why mom’s reaction is so big, and so sustained, until she unloads at the end. This leaves a bunch of unjustified distractions and the supporting characters with little to do other than try to play a game. If anyone in the cast is going to sell bits of business tied together like this, it’s McKinnon — but without a clear idea of the bug in mom’s butt, the biz feels hollow. SNL posted the rehearsal video, which works a little bit better than the live one did, but not by much.
When two strangers meet at the dog park, it’s all going great until Mark (Kaluuya) does his “dog voice,” which Jessica (Ego Nwodim) feels is not at all the way in which her dog talks. This is the nut of the sketch, but once the writers have found a couple laughs, it’s just about Americans misinterpreting a British accent. Without far to go, the sketch escalates into a tried-and-true sketch ender: an unnecessary bit of combat between Mark and another dog lover, Stephen (Andrew Dismukes). Maybe some adorable dog close-ups or even sillier voices would have shifted the focus, but as is, it remains a great observation without a compelling twist.
Whether it’s slow cue pick-up or jokes that didn’t land, there’s something a little off about the pacing of several sketches in tonight’s show. There are some slips in deciding which cameras were live, too, which contributes to the feeling of wonkiness. Kaluuya himself is excellent, bringing presence and precision to his parts — though more than the standard amount was left on the cutting-room floor. A pre-taped Vietnam War sketch, a creepy ode to Salt Bae, and a marketing pitch for Ty’s Beanie Babies in the tradition of “Sara Lee” all give Kaluuya more deserved stage time, and they’ve all got something to recommend them. In particular, the lonely lust of “Beanie Babies” deserved to be part of the live show. While SNL has yet to announce shows beyond next week, at least there’s host Carey Mulligan and musical guest Kid Cudi next Saturday.