While Carey Mulligan’s filmography is almost entirely wrenching, dramatic roles — e.g., An Education, Wildlife, Mudbound, Suffragette, The Great Gatsby, et al. — this year’s Promising Young Woman is something of a comedy despite its darkness, so her Oscar-nominated turn in that film put her on the short list for SNL hosts during this awards season. While it’s still a leap to the realm of sketch comedy, Mulligan’s public persona has a natural lightness to it, and she’s gone along with plenty of goofy little projects (e.g., the New Yawk–centric short she made with Vogue in 2015). Unlike a lot of dramatic actors hosting SNL, the writers gave Mulligan plenty of room to play and she made good use of it. The show even made space for musical guest Kid Cudi to get in on the comedy, and they threw in a cameo for Timothée Chalamet, too.
As usual, this week’s sketches are presented here ranked from best to worst.
After finishing their school project, teenage Chrissy (Mulligan) flirts with her nerdy work partner, Josh (Kate McKinnon), on her papasan. Panicked, Josh calls his friend Jason (Aidy Bryant) to talk him through the courtship and mating rituals. From the stilted, formal speech pattern to the generally awkward body language, McKinnon’s subtle character work kills it here. Bryant’s support work, which mirrors many of McKinnon’s choices, is also essential. And specifics including a jellyfish fact and a gecko in a less-than-ideal habitat really help to sell Josh and Jason’s specific sort of dorkiness. It’s not a flashy sketch, but it’s an excellent character portrait that makes for one of the night’s best.
The first chunk of “Update” begins again with embattled congressman Matt Gaetz, and though it’s less effective than it was last week, Colin Jost doesn’t linger on it. Michael Che has a nice joke about Mitch McConnell and Georgia’s new voter-restriction laws, and Jost’s comparison of Joe Biden to Clint Eastwood feels strangely apt. It’s fine, not fantastic. Then Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen (Chris Redd and Beck Bennett) come on to discuss their Renegades podcast. Both Redd and Bennett do justice to their real-world counterparts, and while the premise of the bit is a little dull, they flesh it out well.
As this is another big “Update,” two small runs of jokes are matched with two guest appearances. Between the dick jokes and shots at Days Inn, the hosts don’t have a lot of noteworthy zingers. There’s a fun one about why Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants spinoff was canceled, but not much more. Punkie Johnson comes on as Pineapple, one of the strippers in the Instagram Live video that got ESPN analyst Paul Pierce fired. While it’s great to see Johnson get some time in the spotlight, and a nice impulse to humanize these twerking-class ladies, the bit relies more on stripper clichés than it does character. In contrast, the final guest is Bowen Yang, as the iceberg that sank the Titanic. Catty, defensive, and emo, Yang gives a pitch-perfect version of a celebrity on an apology tour, deflecting questions about their questionable behavior to the end. The character, carefully crafted imagery, and costume are all incredible.
The War in Words: Bertie & Mary
This iteration of the wartime letter-writing sketch finds Bertie (Mikey Day) sending correspondence to his beloved Mary (Mulligan) from the Atlantic during WWII. While he expresses the standard soldier’s concerns about loneliness and fear, she slowly proves that she is a terrible wife and more than likely a criminal. Though the sketch has probably had half a dozen incarnations, when counting bits from Maya & Marty, the conceit still works. Mulligan delivers her little misdirections with a wry smile, as Day grows increasingly exasperated with her inexplicable behavior and the unrequested vials of cocaine.
Minnesota News Cold Open
This newscast finds two white anchors (Kate McKinnon, Alex Moffat) exchanging talking points with two Black anchors (Ego Nwodim, Kenan Thompson) as they discuss the Derek Chauvin murder trial. Modeled after the memorable 2019 newscaster sketch “Mid-Day News,” it contrasts the white anchors’ optimism about justice and the judicial process against the realism of the Black anchors who have “seen this movie before.” While the structure is not as crystalline as it was in “Mid-Day News,” it’s more about the tone than it is specifics. Thompson and Nwodim do well with the same friendly yet dismissive tack, and Chris Redd brings some necessary relief in the form of his misbehaving weatherman.
Lesbian Period Drama
In the tradition of Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Ammonite, Lesbian Period Film stars two actors (Heidi Gardner, Mulligan) in a quiet, tension-filled two hours that may or may not lead to a serious sex scene. Even though there aren’t all that many films to cite, this parody teases out an incredible number of clichés that show up in this sort of period piece — how limited the dialogue, how sad the flirting. Gardner and Mulligan milk the freighted glances and brief skin contact for all they’re worth, and Kate McKinnon’s drop-in as the overly familiar ex brings in a new energy that carries through to the end.
Star Trek Spinoff
Though the Starcharter Andromeda is slowly being pulled into a black hole, young ensigns McKenna (Mulligan) and Zachary (Mikey Day) are losing their minds over criticism from their superiors. The sketch is less about Star Trek tropes than it is, as one older crew member puts it, “rich white kids” dealing with a “world that doesn’t revolve around them.” Mulligan really sells her overly sensitive drama queen, and Day’s worshipping yes-man helps, too. Down to the word choices about speaking truth and holding onto one’s power, it’s a playful poke at a certain sort of entitled young millennial/old zoomer. For all the drama in the sketch, though, it ends abruptly.
Weird Little Flute
In this pretaped music video, a few dudes (Chris Redd, Pete Davidson, and Kid Cudi) celebrate the “weird little flute” hooks in hip-hop songs. Not only this, but they obsessively incorporate flutes into their daily lives — from using flutes like Harry Potter wands to eating ramen with them. It’s a limited concept but a fun beat with a constantly evolving worldview. (Their arrival back into the real world, with the aggrieved employee of a music store (Mulligan), is a nice touch.) Hell, why not throw a sleeping grandma (Aidy Bryant) and a Timothée Chalamet cameo in there? Good on them for squeezing a lot out of a simple observation.
Two ladies (Aidy Bryant, Mulligan) crash an after-school meeting of the Beat Buddies, a bunch of freestyling 15-year-olds. After posing as kids themselves, the ladies reveal they’re ambassadors for L’eggs, and hope to convince the kids that pantyhose is cool. The weirdness of this one pegs it as the ten-to-one sketch, but then again, it articulates what has to be the current L’eggs conundrum — if, in fact, L’eggs is still a thing. Bryant and Mulligan have fun with the square ’80s ladies, and there’s a careful dissection of panty hose in general (e.g., wanting one’s legs to look like “sheer beige columns”). It’s a silly sketch, with a lot of leg modeling, but very winning in its way.
Carey Mulligan Monologue
Chatty and convivial, Mulligan talks about shopping in New York, quarantining with family, funneling her creative energies into bedtime stories, and being mistaken for Michelle Williams. Then her husband, Marcus Mumford of Mumford and Sons, offers to provide musical services at any time during the show. Mulligan’s cheery delivery is nice on its own, but her banter with Mumford turns the monologue into a genuine sketch. They’re charming together, and the word choices here — as when Mulligan is “alarmed” by her husband’s inability to read cues — are great.
What’s Wrong With This Picture
This recurring game-show sketch finds host Elliott Pants (Kenan Thompson) entertaining three dummies (Aidy Bryant, Chris Redd, and Mulligan) as they fail to identify obvious errors in a series of illustrations. In the sea of stupidity, the contestants do create some stories with fun details, e.g., a delivery-room doctor who won’t stop explaining WandaVision or a group of kids forced to compliment a scantily clad 60-year-old. Though Bryant, Redd, and Mulligan all make their idiots likable, the writing wouldn’t succeed without Thompson there to ground it. A lot of fans love these sketches, but admittedly, I rarely hook into anything revolving around stupid people saying stupid things.
IBS Medicine Ad
In this commercial parody, a woman at her son’s recital (Mulligan) is forced to head to the bathroom due to IBS issues. She exits and a fellow audience member hands her IBS medication Tremfalta, but the rest of the commercial is a distraught janitor (Kenan Thompson) and school administrator (Aidy Bryant) coming to terms with the bathroom disaster. In the end, it’s a shit joke, so there’s not a lot of surprises to be had. The innovation here is the writers stopping and starting the commercial as the extent of the bathroom disaster is revealed. There’s only so far the cycle of grievance and embarrassment can carry it, but lovers of scat comedy won’t mind.
From political sketches to character-driven pieces, from naturalistic scenes to absurd bits, this week’s show offers a true variety of sketches. Mulligan remains involved in much of it, and really gets the opportunity to chew the scenery here and there. Sketches such as “Star Trek Spinoff” and “L’Eggs” show that Mulligan is down to play, and surely made fans of the writers, too. While SNL hasn’t announced an episode for next week, it must be planning another short run of two or three before the end of the season in May.