“Is it a maybe, or is it a no?”
“I’m not an actor, I’m a [superhero goddess] movie star!”
Gal Gadot did her one Wonder Woman sketch toward the end of the evening, playing the not-yet superheroic Diana, blankly welcoming a pair of optimistic gay women (Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon) to the all-woman island paradise of Themyscira. It’s one of the funniest sketches on the second lackluster Saturday Night Live outing (out of two) this season, and Gadot, dutifully donning her armor, played the straight-woman. (Not a pun.) Planting a long, lingering, very committed kiss on the disappointed McKinnon (Amazons just don’t get sex), Gadot was a gamer, but she’s not a comedian. Like, at all. During the goodnight’s Gadot seemed happy to have hosted, and her subtitled opening monologue (expressing doubts about her decision to host to her family in Israel) was charmingly tongue-in-cheek. But Gadot is one of those movie stars whose booking is the big get, and not her facility with live sketch comedy, and, as the episode unfolded, it became clear pretty quickly that Gadot was best served as foil to the funny people.
She played a sexy Bosnian lady who didn’t realize she was on a blind date with O.J. Simpson (while Kenan Thompson was the funny one), a sexy Russian mirage tempting two guys comically dying of thirst in the desert (Kenan and Beck Bennett), and a sexy French-accented spy with an eyepatch whose internet ransom demands to three funny government types (Kenan, Alex Moffat, and new guy Luke Null) kept getting inadvertently hijacked by two funny cam-ladies (Cecily Strong and Aidy Bryant). She was a sexy Cinderella-esque princess who stands around in the terrible dress her funny mouse friends (Aidy, Kate, Kyle Mooney) have made for her out of “bags, rags, and chunks of dust.” Oh, in the ten-to-one sketch, she played a talk show host who read the unfunny riot act to a troubled teen (other new hire Heidi Gardner), the teen’s mom (Aidy), and Kenan’s bewildered faux boot camp drill sergeant. It’s not that Gadot’s not funny, necessarily. I genuinely, on the basis of what she was given to do tonight, would have no way to know.
Jost and Che were on, as they generally are when there’s a clear and immediate issue to latch onto. Tonight’s toughest and best jokes were about gun control and, in the wake of the unthinkably massive number of dead and wounded in Las Vegas this week, both anchors had a loose, “fuck it” confidence that made their jabs at gun fetishists, the NRA, and politicians doing the NRA’s bidding feel more raw than usual. Jost opened playing with the comic comparison of someone owning 46 guns (as apparently did Las Vegas mass murderer Stephen Paddock) and someone owning an identical number of cats. Noting that both are nuts, Jost marveled that at least the government will take the crazy cat person’s cats away. Che went even harder. Clearly delighting in pissing off gun enthusiasts everywhere, he called out the “delicate snowflakes” who can’t cope with anyone even discussing the issue. Co-opting internet trolls’ braying bully lingo is an iffy move, but Che plowed right on, using the statistics about the actual number of gun owners (22 per cent of Americans) and the tiny fraction of that number who stockpile more weaponry than the rest combined, to debunk the NRA talking points about America being synonymous with happy, open-carry bullet time. Like the “snowflake” thing, Che used the “gun owners are compensating for small penises” cliché as a setup for another joke (about offering a buyback program of penis enlargement for guns) whose unoriginality is overcome by the energizing contempt of Che’s delivery. (He also advised women gun owners to hang onto theirs, considering how deeply insecure men with newly enhanced penises would be likely to act.)
And he wasn’t done, laying out the hypocrisy that the most vocal proponents of the Second Amendment both are most likely to demand fealty to law enforcement and the military while at the same time hoarding military-grade hardware in case they have to shoot, um, police and soldiers. Again, not the first time someone’s pointed that paradox out, but this is Saturday Night Live, and, on a show often called out for mush-mouthed politics, boldness counts for quite a bit. The same goes for jokes about Donald Trump ending workplace protection for transgender people and requirements for employers to provide coverage for birth control, as Jost and Che each let ‘er rip with some decent jokes that got an added jolt from how fed up with all this Trump administration bullshit they seemed.
The correspondent pieces were both old favorites who did their jobs. Kate McKinnon’s Supreme Court Justice and wee dynamo Ruth Bader Ginsburg is always welcome, McKinnon having conceived of the ancient and formidable Ginsburg as a gyrating insult comic. It works, letting McKinnon-as-Ginsburg dish dirt on real-world targets (like ultra-conservative new justice Neil Gorsuch and Republican gerrymandering), taking a victory lap for each of her patented “Gins-burns” with an increasingly weird, silly, and giggle-inducing dance. Kate McKinnon doesn’t really have a weakness in her game, and Ginsburg is a character she’s got honed to a fine satirically silly edge. There are about a handful of recurring Update characters who can withstand the test of “getting repeated until my eyes glaze over the moment they show up yet again,” and McKinnon’s RBG is one of them.
Pete Davidson came back as his best role—Pete Davidson—here using his time to talk seriously about his own recently diagnosed depression and give advice for those similarly afflicted, before segueing into a guilt-tripping plea for more airtime. Davidson hasn’t progressed much as a sketch actor, but he’s a great Pete, and his blatant manipulations here give him a chance to do some fine deadpan anti-comic beats, as he complains about not getting his sketches on, admits that his sketches are terrible because they sound like they’re written by a really depressed guy, and then caps off the joke by claiming “Lorne said that!”
On the one hand, it should be a point in SNL’s favor that this episode featured a number of sketches that were more about weird premises than crowd-pleasing impressions or recurring characters. On the other, said sketches were uniformly pretty ordinary, although pleasantly so.
Kenan and Beck Bennett were funny as the NatGeo cameramen lost in the desert, as were Mikey Day and Kyle Mooney as Bennett’s unfortunate mirage, consisting of the two actual guys who work at the Jamba Juice near his work. Gadot played Kenan’s fantasy mirage with the sexy lemonade stand, but the only laugh she was involved in was when she migrated to the happy Bennett’s mirage, only to be shooed away by the Jamba Juice guys. (“You cannot be behind the counter!”)
The mouse sketch is essentially a redressed version of those naughty Christmas elf sketches, with the tiny, prosthetic-pussed Aidy Bryant, Kyle Mooney, and Kate McKinnon substituting passive-aggressive hurt feelings for the elves’ kinky shenanigans. Gadot was... there, but the mice had their moments, with McKinnon telling off the ungrateful Gadot for not appreciating their hard work, exclaiming, “We only live for a year. We basically gave you our twenties.” Unsurprisingly, Kate McKinnon does a pretty great mouse voice.
And while not precisely lining up, there was a similar vibe in the spy sketch to the vastly superior surveillance sketch from last year’s Chris Pine episode, as the three G-Men in the surveillance van found themselves here being sucked in more and more to the weird, inexplicable, but strangely alluring world of webcam fetish workers Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong. Moffat’s dead serious delivery of the line “Bootycall41 must have some sort of crunch fetish and he’s willing to pay for it,” as he loses the mission in his wonderment at just what’s going on with those pickles in that apartment is funny stuff. And when Ms. Vixen and Kay accidentally receive the $40 million fee intended for Gadot’s spy, the crowd cheered in appreciation. They work hard.
The subtraction of some commercials in favor of product placement has produced some content that’s either the result of some lax oversight on the PR level or of ad execs taking the “any publicity is good publicity” thing to heart. Tonight, if the very real Safelight AutoGlass people are cool with their service technicians being portrayed as sleazebags who deliberately smash customers’ windshields so they can hit on their underage daughters, then, well, more power to them. Regardless, Back Bennet remains one of the best pure actors on the show, and his bald, goateed creep is a genuinely funny character.
The O.J sketch didn’t add anything special to SNL’s comic legacy concerning the recently released former Saturday Night Live host and unconvicted but consensus double murderer. But while Kenan’s no impressionist, he makes up for it with his old pro’s acting chops and underplaying, here having Simpson deflect his clueless blind date’s curiosity about why everyone’s either filming him on their phones, swearing at him, or giving him fist-bumps. Also, why he’s been given only a plastic steak knife. Sure, O.J.’s back in the news and thus the show is temporarily free from “that’s so 90s” criticism, but, apart from Thompson’s genial creepiness as he tries to trick a woman into not fleeing their date, there’s not a lot of meat on these comic bones.
And I’ll give the bottom spot to the ad for E!’s latest crop of Kardashian-centric reality programming just on general principles. That being said, Kate McKinnon’s terminally blasé supermodel pal (who is a real person, but, again, general principles) is unsurprisingly the best thing about the sketch.
We got RBG, Pete as Pete, and Pete as one of his more slyly successful recurring characters. The agreeably bored goofball he plays here not really getting into the Narnia/LOTR-esque fantasy kingdom behind his closet-vortex has been cluelessly lusted after by a bored housewife and a lustfully conflicted professor, always with the same monosyllabic willingness to do, like, whatever. Romanced here by Cecily Strong’s loquacious fairy queen and sent on a magical quest to save the kingdom and win her virtue, Davidson blankly agrees with whatever is asked of him, at least until he gets distracted and wanders back through the portal to play video games.Davidson’s guileless ding-dong in these sketches has a sort of holy fool’s grace to his pliable apathy, even as he calls a precious amulet “gay” and then simulates coitus with the mystical sword he’s gifted for his quest.
While Alec Baldwin’s blowhard Donald Trump took the night off, the fact that country singer Jason Aldean took home base in lieu of the now-traditional Trump cold open should serve to piss Trump off just as much. Playing a sadly timely version of the late Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” after a sincere call for unity (albeit a vaguely all-purpose one), Aldean, who was onstage when that asshole opened fire on a music festival crowd with his cache of murder-toys, has now spoken more eloquently and forcefully about the need for Americans to overcome their divisions than the supposed leader of the country has.
Apart from that, Update carried the political water tonight, and did so pretty well.
Who’s up for some plaintive falsetto crooning? Well Sam Smith has two numbers for you. Fun fact (although not for Smith): While Smith’s booking was announced before Tom Petty’s death, Smith has to be at least a bit miffed that Aldean’s opening cover of Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” is going to spike the internet search results for that time Smith got sued for ripping off that very song. That’s the sort of painful coincidence that will make you write some more moderately enjoyable heartfelt ballads.
Kate. It’s always Kate. I can’t imagine complaining about that.
Still, Aidy was right there with McKinnon every step of the way, so let’s call it a tie. Both shone in the Wonder Woman sketch, underplaying their growing disappointment amusingly as their shipwrecked lesbian friends (they tried dating once, and it did not go well) slowly come to realize that their hopes for a sapphic paradise among the Amazons isn’t going to pan out. Plus, hearing the characters repeatedly go out of their way to explain that there’s nothing wrong with the Amazons’ (to them) inexplicable asexuality was refreshingly mature for SNL.
The new people all got on camera, which is a good sign. Heidi Gardner had the biggest role of the night, her turn as a stereotypical troubled teen on the talk show sketch the sort of turn that a featured player hopes will act as a launching pad. This one didn’t quite get there, but sometimes, for a new player, face time is enough.
That was the talk show sketch. Which may (someone will have to check my non-existent research on this) be the one-millionth talk show sketch in SNL history. That would be less of a problem if it were in any way memorable.
- “This is Sarcasm Awareness Month. Cool.”
- “A recent study shows that half of Americans think that, in the future, having sex with a robot will be normal. While the other half are women.”
- Gadot announced in her monologue that, in addition to the all-U.S. live broadcast of SNL this season, her episode was the first Saturday Night Live to be broadcast live in Israel. Neat.
- If Leslie Jones is not in the next Wonder Woman movie, I know I’m not the only one who’ll be disappointed, right?
- Next week: Kumail Nanjiani hosts, with musical guest P!nk, who I am informed spells her name that way now.