“Get pencils, bitches, ’cause we’re rewriting everything!”
Apologies to Bridgerton star Regé-Jean Page, but was this the horniest SNL audience in forever? Everyone’s new favorite Netflix sex duke made very good indeed on his surprising booking as host tonight, even when the show wasn’t going out of its way to generate audience whoops. The guy can get his own whoops, is what I’m saying, the accomplished British actor (the Roots remake, that other Shonda Rhimes show, The Merchant Of Venice alongside Jonathan Pryce, for crying out loud) taking to a refreshingly odd collection of writerly sketches that let him excel, with style.
Sure, there was one Bridgerton sketch near the end where, as himself (as the Duke of Hastings), Page just played straight man alongside Chloe Fineman’s Phoebe Dynevor/Daphne, as grips-turned-intimacy coordinators Pete Davidson and Mikey Day walked them through one of those frilly sex scenes everyone’s whooping about. Buried late in the show as that was, Pete and Mikey got some laughs as the deeply American, Zoom-certified Teamsters in exactly the wrong branch of the entertainment business, while Fineman and Page got to object a lot. (If you want lots of rude euphemisms for modesty garments and sex positions in broad, gravelly voices, then this is the sketch for you.)
But, for the rest of the night, Page, who was in every sketch but the cold open and Update, was the sort of unexpected pick that paid off in professionalism, stage awareness, and simple ease of talent. The monologue saw Aidy, Ego, and Chloe all taking turns swooning over the guy, but it’s not like you can blame them when he keeps turning to the camera to croon “Unchained Melody” at them. (Oh, Page can sing, too.) The show wasn’t exactly great—SNL continues the grand tradition of refusing to let a single joke go by unexplained—but Page and an energetic and ensemble feel (here’s to Ego Nwodim, Andrew Dismukes, and Chloe Fineman’s center-stage turns all night) kept things humming along with some energy and originality.
“The Job Interview” just kept piling up the absurdities without once calling attention to them, a true and blessedly welcome rarity on SNL these days. The premise could had been right down the middle—an on spec ad agency is very unsuccessfully pitching unwanted and terrible commercials to major brands. But this three-hander saw boss Beck Bennett, perspective new hire Page, and harried assistant Bowen Yang all simply existing within the framework of a truly funny and inspired little bizarro world. Indeed, the bad ads are the least interesting part of the filmed bit, although they get better once Page starts revealing he’s even crazier than the company that came up with various penis-themed advertisements. Still, it’s all the utterly straight-faced absurdities around the edges that make this thing hum, with Yang’s initial, surreptitiously passed Post-It to his boss (“We’re losing millions.”) escalating without explanation to ones reading, “They have your daughter,” and, finally, “Your mom is topless in the lobby.” (“She’s early,” notes Bennett, unsurprised.) There’s the unexpected standoff settled with concealed pool noodles, and, finally, the revelation that Page’s applicant is actually some sort of Bagger Vance-type “magical Negro” who disappears in a twinkling cloud, fedora and all. (“He took my hat,” complains a tearful Yang.) Committing to the bit without providing Cliff’s Notes isn’t something Saturday Night Live generally does this well, or this weirdly.
On the live front, the barroom singalong to Olivia Rodrigo’s “Driver’s License” was hardly a new idea—Don Cheadle starred in a pretty funny entry in the “tough guys in a bar getting into an unlikely song” genre a while ago, for one. (Apologies for the lack of link, but Mika’s streaming music rights were apparently too dear to keep it online. You’ll find it, you sneaky so-and-sos.) Here, literally every male cast member (plus Page, and Kate McKinnon as a mysteriously accented old man who’s a sucker for the song’s “bridge of our lives”) get a turn waxing rhapsodic about the 18-year-old singer’s paean to lost love (apparently on the set of High School Musical: The Series). Being an old man myself, this song was not yet on my antiquated radar, but, it’s always nice to know the younger writers are getting their stuff on their air. Anyway, the progression of the sketch goes from predictable reluctance of the pool-playing bros to admit they even know the soaring teen angst of Rodrigo’s song, to almost getting into fistfights over the in-depth comparisons of the young singer-songwriter’s lyrical journey to that of Taylor Swift or Billie Eilish. (“You got a problem?” “With you being purposely reductive? Yeah I got a problem!”) Cap it all off with a full-cast sing- and dance-off (with the first of Beck Bennett’s bravura dance moves of the night), and this whole thing was just giddy and joyful.
And since we’re on the subject, the new neighbors sketch, like much of the episode, steered wide of anything that might get in the way of some silly fun, the pre-meal prayer-off between a white suburban family and their new Black neighbors escalating only into elaborately musical one-upmanship. It wasn’t as successfully airy in its silliness as the aforementioned, but it was another big ensemble sketch, something that the show really needs with a cast this huge. (And hello to Punkie Johnson.) Plus, the sketch did end on a truly delightful Beck Bennett dance breakdown, complete with the worm, and, if there wasn’t much point to the bit than everyone goofing around, then that’s not always a bad thing.
I liked the sea shanty sketch (those are topical, as the unnecessary History crawl reminds us) better, but I was doing a Beck dancing connective tissue thing. Oh, wait, he dances here, too, in another huge cast number as Page’s captain welcome shy new sailor Dismukes to the S.S. Gillenpool. What with Dismukes in short pants and a little neckerchief, I thought we were in for some choppy gay panic at sea gags, but, instead and mercifully, the whole sketch turned on another silly concept carried out with musical aplomb. As Page led his roistering, carousing salts in a round of work songs, it quickly became clear to Dismukes’ newcomer that nobody on board really knows how this whole sailing thing works. Everyone takes turns singing lustily about their 80-month voyage (every leg goes through Alaska), the fact that they all need to have a lie-down after drinking seawater, that Kate McKinnon’s boatbuilder forgot to put in the below-decks entirely, and Yang noting that his finger-splinter will mean his head gets cut off. Musical guest Bad Bunny, of all people, got the biggest laughs, his navigator happily explaining that the ocean is “kind of all around,” so they’re fine. He also admits he’s not as creative as the other guys when it comes to crafting their sea-wives out of barrels, jellyfish, and blowholes, but a hand makes a fine ocean wife. Remember, me hearties, “Ho ho, the rain is bugs, and the meat is bugs, and the beer is bugs, and my friends are bugs, and I’ve been eating my friends!”
Ego Nwodim, as mentioned, got to anchor some more sketches tonight, a promising turn for her. And even if one was hosting another talk show, the bit was funny enough, as her host kept getting all flustered and such by the fact that guests One Night In Miami star Kingsely Ben-Adir (Page) and Judas And The Black Messiah’s Daniel Kaluuya (Chris Redd) are actually British. Nwodim’s funny (“We’re you British even when you made Get Out?,” she asks, incredulous), Page and Redd and charming as all get out, and the joke that Kenan’s Ice Cube pretends to jump on the secretly British leading man train at least gives Kenan some time to do his thing. (The biggest laugh is the unimpressed Nwodim introducing Cube’s latest movie, Are We There Yet And, If Not, Why? (premiering on “Hulu Atlanta.”) Pete Davidson gives a shout-out to Kenan’s new sitcom on Update, and we all wish Kenan well, of course. But the day that Kenan, in a bad beard and effortfully fake accent, no longer tries to convince everyone he’s from “Tickle Buckle Circle” and that his name’s actually “Coldie Squares” will be a bad one for us all. (Alex Moffat’s passable Hugh Grant Skypes in to let slip the fact that Coldie is actually telling the truth. Fuck The Bobbies.)
As far as music videos go, “Loco” isn’t the best or anything, but Ego and Pete Davidson are both engaging as a pair of quarantine-delusional shut-ins whose cabin fever has them imagining all sorts of fun, outside stuff. Ego’s a confident club player seducing Page, while Pete is absolutely sure he gets Tenet (“Yeah, they go back in time to save the future,” he shrugs), and nobody is actually going insane after completing every puzzle in the house and reaching the end of the internet. Nuh-uh. All fine here. Some good editing in this one, laying in just enough horror movie flashes and crazy eyes to get under the skin of anyone who’s been, just hypothetically, trapped in their house for a year.
It’s in keeping with my response to this episode’s whole vibe that I have nothing but goodwill toward whichever SNL writer took a look around and noted that the cast is packed with spindly white boys with alarmingly petite gams. Oh, “Mr. Chicken Legs Pageant,” I wish I could love you. Mikey Day, Andrew Dismukes, and Pete Davidson all, indeed, have long, storky legs, and the whole loopy idea that there would be a major televised beauty contest celebrating that fact could have gone places. I mean, there was Pete dressed up like Jack Skellington, high-stepping in blinding white stockings and all. Cecily had a few moments as the Hollywood trouper singing her guts out explaining the premise. Aidy’s final judge gave Pete’s gangly winner the ultimate prize, “the smallest little kiss.” And Page was entrusted with riding herd over this bunch of flamingos, his host playing it straight, but saddled with the curse of having to repeatedly point out the joke that Chloe Fineman’s “funny woman” co-host never has anything remotely funny to add. (See, that’s the joke, so I am explaining it now at length so that you might understand it completely and therefore find it humorous.) The better sketches didn’t do that. Learn from those and just be weird. We’ll catch up.
We have to talk about Pete Davidson. In that the guy is becoming a dedicated, committed, and, yeah, versatile sketch performer. Sure, his best moments tonight were, as usual, as himself on Update. Pete ragging on Pete is always his best look, and the joke that he had to stop watching the Britney Spears documentary with his mom so she doesn’t get any ideas about conservatorship was great stuff. Reporting in about his Staten Island life of unwise tattoos (he’s removing some of his ink which, he says, makes him look like “a toddler went to prison”), and life with his perpetually beleaguered mother (both she and SNL are “really old and noticeably fatigued”), Davidson is more assured than ever onscreen. And, again, not just as Pete Davidson. Seriously—see below.
Jost and Che breezed through the political stuff along with the rest of the show this week. Still no repeat sighting of Alex Moffat’s Joe Biden anywhere, and the simmering white supremacist fascist uprising, post-coup will apparently only get aired out on TV when it happens. (Watch for the big Trump return at CPAC next week, kids, and watch your backs.) Of course, the fact that human being liked by the fewest people in the country, Ted Cruz (R-TX/Cancun) did something monumentally stupid and typical of him this week was right there, and Jost and Che spent plenty of time kicking that seditious horse. None of their jokes were funnier than the meme-parade after Cruz fled his frozen and disaster-declared home state for a Mexican vacation during a pandemic, left his dog behind in a freezing, empty house, got ratted out by his neighbors, and then blamed the whole, totally-Teddy debacle on his own children, but they gave it a shot. (Oh, Democratic lawmakers like Beto O’Rourke (D, unelected-TX) and AOC (D-NY) are actually helping Texans if you want to join them.)
Che, as is his way, went for one, big, sure-fire controversial laugh when, reporting on Israel’s boast of its 50 percent vaccination rate, he noted, “I’m gonna guess it’s the Jewish half.” Sure to be either actually or deliberately misunderstood while making people uncomfortable about a genuine issue nobody really wants to touch (the status of Palestinians in Israel in this case). That’s Che.
Heidi Gardner tried out another character for her Update highlight reel, and while not her finest, dedicated food bank volunteer Jessie Raunch was another of the episode’s out-there premises that I appreciated. With Che trying desperately to listen to his guest’s earnest plea about helping the food-insecure only to be distracted by the fact that the chipper do-gooder is 100 percent wearing all Freddy Krueger gear, Gardner kept building up a character, as is her way. It never quite got there as a characterization, but Gardner made the whole thing funny enough, eventually revealing that, yes, she is also wearing a razor-glove (it’s for pulled pork, you guys), and finally responding to Che’s interruptions by threatening to straight-up murder him. Remember to wear a mask, everybody.
Wait, for the second week in a row there wasn’t one recurring sketch, returning character, or rehashed premise? I don’t know if that’s a record, but it’s goddamned delightful.
I thought we were gonna go completely politics-free from the look of the cold open. Of course, that did seem to indicate that we were heading back to the relevant-again Britney Spears-bashing of old, but the talk show sketch hosted by Chloe Fineman’s solidly resilient Spears jumped on the train of acknowledging that people (including SNL) were pretty shitty to the troubled young Spears when she was going through some stuff. I’ll leave it to others to delve deeper into that, but, while Fineman’s dippy Britney wasn’t exactly a flattering portrayal, it did place the newsworthy media reckoning into some perspective. Mainly, though, the sketch was about recently disgraced jackasses (Cruz, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, Gina Carano) being given a second chance to apologize. Like the Kate McKinnon bit from a few episodes back, it’s SNL trying to find novel ways to liven up the four-year dead zone of the political cold open, and it works here mainly on the strength of performance.
Leading the way in that department is—Pete Davidson’s Cuomo. As mentioned, I have to give it up to Pete. He’s not a Bill Hader-style chameleon or anything, but the onetime stoner kid brother of SNL has recommitted himself to becoming a better sketch performer, and his suitably dour and constitutionally thuggish Cuomo might be his best impression yet. Again, it’s more about attitude and commitment than vocal verisimilitude, but it’s potent, and funny, as his Cuomo (a punching bag all Update as well) takes the blame (which the real governor has emphatically not) for deliberately fudging CVOD death rates to make himself look good. (How are all you “Cuomosexuals” feeling about your boy these days?) All bluster and stewed, resentful remorse, Davidson’s Cuomo finds a tone and sticks to it, and it’s pretty great.
Aidy steals the show as her hair-braided, suntanned, colada-swigging Ted Cruz, SNL kicking things off by kicking sand in the Texas Republican’s shame-blushing face. God, there’s something almost admirable about someone so dedicated to being universally despised as is Cruz. Here, Aidy makes Cruz’s puzzled apologies feel like the cluelessness of genuine moral vacuity, explaining to Spears, “I’m bad at human stuff.” About sums it up, really. And, just to get back to the fact that, when faced with massive and understandable wrath from constituents unable to jet off to warmer climes, Ted Cruz looked directly into the cameras and said it was all his young daughters’ fault, Fineman’s Britney reclaimed her position by clapping rhythmically, “Maybe leave your daughters out of it, ’cause it could mess up with their heads.” Strong’s defensive Carano is solid, too, the fired and shunned by everyone but the dregs Mandalorian actress and person screaming “Cancel culture!” loudest at the moment daring Spears to explain just what’s so anti-Semitic about comparing conservatives to Jews under Nazi Germany. “Okay, congrats, you explained it,” Strong’s Carano blurts after Britney does so.
Look, there’s no Trump in the White House, no Trump on Twitter (and no Trump in the A.V. Club, for the most part), and this might be a bit of wishful decompression on SNL’s part. You know, a backlog of non-political sketches finally getting a chance, and/or a concerted effort from the show to see what else is out there for topical humor beyond trying to wring one more laugh out of Alec Baldwin making funny faces and essentially just reading out verbatim Trump quotes. And here’s to not letting our collective comedy guard down—there’s still plenty of dangerous right-wing horseshit festering out there. But tonight’s episode was lighter and more enjoyable than the show’s been in a good while.
Speaking of audience whooping, Bad Bunny (and first-number guest vocalist Rosalía, with her Frozen witch nails) generated their share, as did the solo Bad Bunny in his soulful second. As with Regé-Jean Page, I wasn’t overly familiar with BB going into tonight’s show, but came out the other side appreciating the effort. Plus, Bunny (Mr. Bunny?) was genuinely hilarious making a drop-in on the sea shanty sketch. (And he played a plant named Reggie.) The fact that he also crooned his second song while cradling the WWE 24-7 Championship belt he recently won (as noted in a commercial during the show) only added to tonight’s overall air of loopy fun. Sure the 24-7 title is just a vehicle for gimmick championship changes and celebrity cameos, but, hey, have you won it? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
As mentioned, Ego, Andrew, and Chloe all had big nights, all scoring repeatedly. Aidy was great (as Cruz and herself). And Pete was as good as he’s ever been. Then there’s Beck and his moves. Kate and Kenan—can’t go wrong there. Can’t discount Heidi Gardner, either. Bowen Yang was just popping all over the place. Man. I think Fineman edges the field simply for getting the star turn in the cold open, but this was a solid all-around show.
Punkie Johnson had one solid little role, which is more than Melissa Villaseñor got. Honestly, I didn’t see Melisssa at all.
At least we got a final sketch tonight. ( I was watching the clock nervously, as I’ve done all season.) And Kyle and Beck getting a last-spot filmed piece is always good for some singular offbeat laughs. As is often their métier, the guys (alongside a comfortably at-home Dismukes) combine unearned confidence, out-of-reach dreams of stardom, and affordable consumer electronics, as the guys’ attempt to film a “hardcore comedy-rap” at their local supermarket runs afoul of COVID protocols, and Page’s reasonable but no-nonsense store manager. Young men adopting poses they can’t pull off is a theme Bennett and Mooney do so well that I could only wish this were a little more substantive. Still, it was funny hearing the thwarted rappers blurting out excuses for why they should be allowed to rap about brand name goods maskless (“Bill Gates invented it to sell more computer games!”), collapsing amusingly into the trio’s tearful apologies—right before they go back to their dream, tasers be damned.
- Oh, one note to the nation’s closed caption people: I know you’ve got a hard job, especially typing out a live TV show for the benefit of our hearing-impaired fellow fans. But surely you can do better than this shit. It’s Spanish, not Klingon, And Bad Bunny is a major recording artist. Lots of people speak Spanish.
- Beck Bennett’s CEO of Mixed Martial Media: “So tell me, why do you think you’re M-M-M material? Sorry, I stuttered.”
- “I am strong and you are a pile of soup.”
- Aidy and Ego love Page’s entire body of work, especially Bridgerton, episode 5, 53 minutes in.
- “Pain can be creatively generative, man.” I can dig it.
- Next week: It’s all Nick Jonas, all the time.