Saturday Night Live
Before this week’s show started, Elon Musk had already won. This week alone, his SpaceX Starship launched and landed; dogecoin value was up; and, thanks to Lorne and the gang at NBC, Musk seemed like just another average industry titan hosting SNL. Despite Musk’s history of, say, giving questionable epidemiological advice and trolling his own baby with complete confidence, the gig surely convinced a wedge of the American public he’s just a cheeky one percenter in it for the lulz. Hell, he even solicited some sketch ideas on Twitter, and floated his own gems like “Woke James Bond.” And despite a tweet about testing out “just how live” SNL really is, ultimately Musk just wanted to seem dangerous and naughty.
Musk is no comic, as his cameos in TV (Big Bang Theory) and film (Iron Man 2) attest. He doesn’t need the attention. But like Steve Forbes, George Steinbrenner, and Donald Trump before him, Musk got on the 8H stage to tell a couple of self-deprecating jokes for an ego boost and some possible image rehabilitation among those who find his act as bad-boy scion of industry a bit grating. If you read any of the think pieces leading up to Musk’s hosting gig, or caught on to internal cast disagreements about his arrival, you already know that context is way more important than content here. If SNL just wanted people talking about it, that worked; sussing out the ratings stuff will have to wait.
As usual, this week’s sketches are presented here ranked from best to worst.
While there isn’t a sublime stretch during the initial segment of “Update,” there are a lot of good individual jokes. Colin Jost’s take on Donald Trump’s new blog and his gag about Evangelicals refusing the vaccine are both good; Michel Che’s joke about white people in space, and one about presidential wax figures, are also winning. Ego Nwodim comes on as Pauline, a “weary mother in her darkest hour,” which happens to be immediately following a family vacation to Disneyland. There are a few solid jokes here, e.g., Pauline’s self-worth measured against how many appetizers are bought for her, but this is really a subtle character portrait. Nwodim’s exasperation and exhaustion reward a second watch.
Though it doesn’t get a great response from the audience, Che delivers an incisive joke about potential firing squads in South Carolina; he then wins the crowd again with another smart jab about the January 6 insurrection. Jost’s bits about Goop and Universal Studios’ new ride are worthwhile, too. “Update” also packs in two more characters, the first being cryptocurrency expert Lloyd Ostertag (Musk), who tries and tries to explain crypto. What first feels like a dull ad for dogecoin becomes much more interesting when Ostertag confesses that, yeah, when it comes down to it, dogecoin is “a hustle.” Then Baby Yoda (Kyle Mooney) comes on in the wake of Star Wars Day to talk about his new MMA career. There was something fun about this character in its first appearance, but the cute-character-is-really-a-prick gag doesn’t have anything more to offer after several iterations.
Chad on Mars
At SpaceX ground control, Elon Musk and his support staff review a dire situation on Mars. One personal sacrifice is necessary to keep the rest of the Mars crew alive, and the man to make it all happen: the witless, monosyllabic Chad (Pete Davidson). While Chad remains his Zen self, the writers smartly up the stakes in this beat of the sketch. The best bit returns to the push and pull of a romantic relationship — in this case, with another astronaut played by musical guest Miley Cyrus — and Chad’s squeamishness about the possibility of fatherhood. There’s a gross-out surprise waiting at the end, but the funny stuff relies on what Chad does best: going with the flow, and taking off his pants from time to time.
This house party highlights the awkward, strange, and boring interactions that anyone might be privy to after a year of pandemic-induced relative isolation. In conversational pairs, Beck Bennett, Kate McKinnon, Chris Redd, Ego Nwodim, Heidi Gardner, and Musk try to remember how they know one another, what they’ve been doing with their time, and how to communicate in general. This one feels pretty true to life, down to the interior monologues (“Did I just say, ‘I’ve been going to dinner again’? Should I give him more details or should I die?”). Some of the dull repetitiveness of these conversations feels dull and repetitive, but there are some carefully observed moments here.
Gen Z Hospital
After beloved Bestie flips her Hellcat, her squad (Kate McKinnon, Bowen Yang, Heidi Gardner, Ego Nwodim, and Mikey Day) gathers in the hospital waiting room to get news from the doctor (Musk). The entire, painful ritual has been translated into some combination of AAVE, TikTok comments, and tidbits of everyday slang, e.g., the doctor’s bad news might be a little cringe, and things were sus, no cap, but he has to give them the tea. Regardless of accuracy, the big mess of the sketch is pretty fun. While some players, like Gardner, lean into the slouch of their characters, others like Yang deliver their lines with a playful dimension that really makes them sing. Here, the stilted nature of Musk’s delivery feeds into what already feels like a mouthful of words in a foreign tongue.
Following in the footsteps of crime TV and movies about white people who have “very specific accents,” e.g., Boston or New York, here’s one for Pennsylvanians and fans of Wawa. In this parody of HBO’s Mare of Easttown, Kate McKinnon leads the cast of slightly bedraggled townies trying to solve the murder of one man’s “durdur.” It’s essentially crime-show tropes lined up alongside Philly clichés, delivered in the thickest accents the actors can muster. It’s beautifully shot, though, and some of the reviews (“Highly accurate. The writers clearly Googled.”) add a fun bit of outsider perspective. Feels like, as a whole, it could use a bit larger pool of shows to play on rather than just the HBO limited series of the moment.
Elon Musk Monologue
Musk’s monologue does its best to cover all the bases, noting his obsessions, his big plans for humanity, and his penchant for tweeting unnerving things. Also, Musk confesses that he’s got Asperger’s — a brave admission, though he isn’t the first host to have it, as he claims. (One of the original cast, Dan Aykroyd, has talked openly about his diagnosis, and has hosted, too.) The idea that he is “pretty good at running ‘Human’ in emulation mode,” is one that warns us of the awkwardness to follow. After touring his social-media misses, Musk says, “To anyone I’ve offended … I reinvented electric cars and I’m sending people to Mars on a rocket ship. Did you think I was also gonna be a chill, normal dude?” It gets cheers from his fans in the crowd, but his summation has more to do with his silly weed jokes than it does the things that genuinely harm people, e.g., illegal anti-union sentiments and pandemic misinformation. There’s an ugly O.J. Simpson thread, too, but then his mom, Maye, shows up to remind us, Hey, he was once a child, too.
Mother’s Day Message Cold Open
This unusual cold open is a Mother’s Day tribute: Musical guest Miley Cyrus sings a hopeful song, which is punctuated by jokes from the cast and their moms. Kate McKinnon does Mary Katherine Gallagher with her mom, Colin Jost warns his mom not to read from the mysterious cue cards provided by Michael Che, and Pete Davidson chides his mom for nearly missing the show after playing Madden with Timothée Chalamet. The entire cast is represented here, minus just a couple, so the stage is packed when it’s time to shout, “Live from New York …” It’s a lot sweeter than it is funny, but there are plenty of nice little moments, including Bowen Yang’s mom squirting Purell on the spot she kissed his cheek, and Kenan Thompson and his mom doing reaction shots together.
When Earl the bartender (Kyle Mooney) is shot by the Pearl River Gang, a rival group of guys (Beck Bennett, Alex Moffat, Kenan Thompson) and their weird pal Leron (Musk) plot revenge. Leron is in his own world, advocating not just underground sneak attacks, but inventing a currency and using rechargeable horses. While the sketch is the one that seems set to roast Musk, it’s more about an ingenious dreamer who is misunderstood in his own time. Most lines, including one in which Leron cops to an unhelpful resistance to mask-wearing, don’t have much bite.
After Mario dies in a go-kart accident, Wario (Musk) goes on trial. Wario’s lawyer (Mikey Day) has to fend off the attacks of Luigi (Kyle Mooney) and Princess Peach (Grimes) while claiming public perception is based on Italian-American stereotypes. The writing heavily relies on tidbits of Nintendo characters and sound effects, and then peppers in some talk of sexts and cocaine. The rhythm never quite clicks. Without a built-in excuse for Musk’s staccato line readings, the pace feels off, and Musk is definitely not going to deliver an over-the-top cartoon villain. (Grimes, it should be said, is a pretty decent melodramatic Peach.) Andrew Cuomo’s entrance is meant to clarify everything that has come before, somehow, but it all just ends up feeling muddier.
Iceland’s “number-one social-media star” Ooli (Chloe Fineman) and her sidekick Björn (Mikey Day) welcome celebrities who happen to make their way to Iceland, including Frances McDormand (Kate McKinnon) and Steve Buscemi (Pete Davidson). As good as Fineman is, the expansion of Ooli’s world doesn’t add much to her character. With the fish-out-of-water quality absent, she’s a cheery and slightly strange imp with an accent. There’s real possibility in the back-and-forth with her lovelorn producer Ragnarok, and Musk looks the part, but the lines fall flat. With his Buscemi, Davidson gets as close as he ever has to doing an impression, but it’s mostly bug-eyed twitching. McKinnon’s solid, though, as is Melissa Villaseñor as Björk.
So, the show wasn’t a disaster. The writers did well to play directly to Musk’s stilted delivery, writing characters that enjoyed the same sort of conversational awkwardness. Musk doesn’t come across like either an egoist or an apologist, though he does want some credit for being a big dreamer. And, interestingly, the segment that felt like an ad for dogecoin may have backfired: Dogecoin value took a dive after Musk joked that cryptocurrency was a “hustle” on “Update”; so, as some financial analysts predicted, the show may have determined the fate of Musk’s favored crypto. At least he still has cars and space. Next week, sketch-comedy giant Keegan-Michael Key hosts with musical guest (already beloved of sensitive SNL men) Olivia Rodrigo.