Saturday Night Live
“Sometimes I can take myself too seriously,” Michael B. Jordan notes at the tail end of his Saturday Night Live monologue, and it’s refreshingly self-effacing to hear him put it into words. Jordan’s star persona isn’t necessarily the intensely self-serious Method actor (he doesn’t have Jared Leto vibes), but now that he mentions it, he hasn’t done much comedy apart from putting a charismatically funny spin on a few Black Panther lines and doing a walk-on gag in an otherwise horrible Space Jam sequel. (For these purposes, That Awkward Moment does not count as a comedy because it plays like someone trying to perform downtime in a Judd Apatow movie from memory.)
Instead, Jordan’s movie-star career can be divided into the films where his smoldering intensity gives way to some greater depth and/or warmth (Creed, Black Panther, Just Mercy) and the films where it hardens into killing-machine tedium (see Without Remorse). With his directorial debut, Creed III, approaching (and getting some long-lead promo with this SNL hosting gig), Jordan must figure that either way, he’s got the ripped-intensity thing covered. That explains why following a standard cast-swoons-for-hot-host monologue, he immediately jumps into the heavy facial distortion of a Sarah Sherman sketch. Looking over this season’s hosts, Jordan doesn’t pop out as the guy you’d expect to see stuffing spaghetti and soup into a vast, Jim Carrey–esque maw, which makes it all the more delightful when it happens.
So with old-fashioned star power comes an old-fashioned episode of SNL, with the majority of sketches aimed straight at throwing Michael B. Jordan in the middle of extremely silly situations, many of which could have easily appeared on a ’90s-era episode, whether in the blockbuster silliness of the Dana Carvey years, the character-heavy early Will Ferrell–Cheri Oteri days, or even the flailing of season 25. (Imagine a way more homophobic version of the video-game voiceover sketch with, like, Chis Farley and Jay Mohr.) That’s another way of saying not all of these sketches work and not just because any given SNL episode will include something that feels half-baked. Season 48 is still finding its way through a large cast, which can mean sometimes it takes a little too long to reveal what the game of the scene is and how to escalate it beyond “person interrupts.” This batch of sketches is way more about goofy behavior than incisive character details.
But that’s also fine! This feels like an episode that, to some extent, serves its host rather than the other way around. Sometimes that’s a novel and even borderline necessary function for the show; Michael B. Jordan has never done a good comedy, doesn’t seem to have one on the docket anytime soon, and is a big enough deal that he seems unlikely to become a five-timer anytime soon. Now, instead of grimly throwing on That Awkward Moment, Jordan fans who want to see him in another gear can pull up any number of sketches for a quick fix.
Here are some suggestions for where they might go first:
Roller Coaster Accident
The aforementioned kickoff sketch outfits Sarah Sherman in a mouth brace to simulate the human-cartoon effects of being trapped in a speeding rollercoaster for hours. Her look, and inability to speak clearly, bites a little from the forgotten Melissa McCarthy vehicle, The Boss. Mostly, though, it’s just a solidly executed bit of big, physical comedy that also seems designed to confirm the recent Vulture story implying that Sherman is officially an SNL breakout. It’s relatively tame by Sarah Squirm standards while also being the most gloriously goofy thing Michael B. Jordan has done in a decade.
Video Game Session
The world of voiceover is a low-key source of fascination for the SNL writers; it’s not quite as frequent a go-to as game shows, talk shows, or commercial sets, but it’s getting there. This variation on a performer not doing what the director asks — I guess writers will always have that anxiety to work through, huh? — winds up working especially well because of the half-twist where, rather than offending his acting partner’s sense of masculinity, Bowen Yang’s less traditional take on Street Fighter noises (light on grunting; heavy on positivity and cat noises) inspires his impressionable new buddy (Jordan) to move in his direction. The ending is predictable, but hey, it actually has one, which is not always the case!
Party in Palm Springs
Another bravura piece of physical comedy has a fake-fireman stripper (Jordan) entertaining a small party of women (Sherman, Chloe Fineman, Ego Nwodim, and Punkie Johnson) until the mood gets ruined by his wife (Heidi Gardner), who’s been pregnant “a little over a year.” She’s not mad, though; she’s all too happy to join in on the fun while her Samsung Galaxy charges up. This is not a sophisticated sketch, but it’s mostly funny to see Gardner, queen of the outsized and weirdly accented character, do plenty of discomfiting baby-bump acting and nearly crack up Sarah Sherman by putting a firehose in her face.
King Brothers Toyota
Here’s a sketch that doesn’t feel quite so ’90s because it’s so easy to picture Will Forte doing something similar in the 2000s. James Austin Johnson and secret show MVP Andrew Dismukes play two brothers with a failing Toyota dealership, desperate for their overstock event to lure people away from the right lane of Exit 260 off Highway 8, where all the trendy restaurants like Raising Cane’s are causing major traffic snarls. The angry desperation, full of vengefully specific details like the name of the councilman allowing this traffic problem to perpetuate, really makes this one sing, and Jordan does a classic host-as-clutch-player walk-on as the salesman brought in to do what the King Brothers cannot: reveal secret sauce ingredients one at a time until the dealership’s demands are met. SNL recappers love to point out when certain tired formats get reused, so it’s only fair for me to point out that the format of janky local commercial that turns into a hyper-specific rant almost always slays me.
Andrew Dismukes, who logged a hell of a lot of screen time in this episode, gets a stern talking-to for his constant witnessing of Michael B. Jordan’s real-life pratfalls and his infuriating utterances of “you okay there, bud?” Shall we round out the past-cast comparisons by saying this sketch has the barely-affable, knowingly thin skin of Kyle Mooney all over it? Also: No shade to Please Don’t Destroy, the trio who have written some of the best sketches of the last few years (and may well have had a hand in this), but it’s fun to see a weirdo pretend-behind-the-scenes filmed piece that isn’t confined to a single office.
• Is Chloe Fineman, per her appearance in the monologue, really dating a “hot writer,” and, if so, is that supposed to be an SNL writer? Even if it’s a joke, maybe Jordan, who mentions his single status in the monologue, should look to the SNL staff rather than Raya; other movie stars like Scarlett Johansson and Emma Stone have married longtime SNL people.
• “Southwest Airlines: If it’s that important to you, just walk.” This and the insurance ad casting Mike Day as a victim of horror-toned cucking at the hands of Jake from State Farm (played by Jordan) split the one-person vote for which should make the top five sketches of the night, so neither of them got in. But they were both solid.
• Angel, the wife in every boxing movie played by Heidi Gardner, hasn’t been around for a while, in that way that cast members’ early “Weekend Update” characters often recede as their tenure increases. She returns, for what we can only assume is a happy ending, reuniting with her old flame (and her husband Tommy’s in-ring opponent/assailant) Adonis Creed.
• Not every Dismukes sketch of the night was a hit. Casting him as the leader of a male-confidence seminar whose prowess is quickly and easily dismantled seems like a good move, but the sketch only gets fitful laughs before petering out. This could have been replaced with one (1) Ego Nwodim–centric sketch, please and thank you.
• James Austin Johnson came on strong as an impressionist last year; this season, as the show mercifully eases up on its mostly underwhelming political sketches (at least that Merrick Garland bit was short), he’s had the chance to plug into more every-guy roles and usually nails them.
• Am I wrong, or has there been one recurring-character sketch this entire season so far? (Not counting “Weekend Update” characters or impressions.) David S. Pumpkins came back in the Jack Harlow episode, and apart from a conceptual revival in the Steve Martin–Martin Short episode (the holiday song that turns out to be animals in human guise), that might be it. This probably isn’t yet a record, but I’d bet it’s not too far off.