“Just trying to piece this together in real time, Wendy.”
During tonight’s goodnights, Kim Kardashian West thanked her family for being good sports. And, indeed, her monologue was a tumble of self-roasting Kardashian jokes, indicating that the influencer and her like-minded but not quite as successful clan had collectively decided to get ahead of the wave by allowing Kim to read out some of the Saturday Night Live writers’ moderately cutting one-liners. So why does it feel like it’s we Saturday Night Live viewers who were the real butts of the joke?
Kardashian West’s appearance as Season 47's second host included humblebrags, product placement, brand-forward family cameos aplenty, and the distinct feeling from the cast of a dogged obligation whenever Kardashian West was on the screen. (It was slightly better in a pre-tape about the host going clubbing with Ego Nwodim, Cecily Strong, and Punkie Johnson’s fellow middle aged moms, mainly because the premise gave writers an excuse to have the host fall immediately asleep throughout.)
In reviewing a Kim Kardashian West-hosted episode of SNL, I’m reminded of the gag in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt where socialite Jacqueline’s decidedly unplugged-from-pop-culture mom realizes to her dismay that she’s absorbed far more information about the Kardashian family than she ever imagined. Tonight, there were at least three other Kardashian-Jenners kicking around, with the studio audience dutifully popping in recognition, all hinting, like the monologue, about some hard-nosed backstage negotiating. The Kardashian brand is fame, and Kim represented the label with her customary diligence, dragging along mother and a few sisters into the lucrative limelight. She joked in the monologue that SNL’s measly viewership pales in comparison to the follower count of her heavily branded social media empire, and she’s right. The Kardashians don’t need Saturday Night Live. That Saturday Night Live appeared so willing to turn over a pivotal, early-season episode to a non-performer and her family/product suggests that SNL has no idea what it needs, either.
Look, Kardashian West was adequate as a host. She conspicuously read cue cards, but so did Owen Wilson last week. (And Pete Davidson all night tonight, for that matter.) And if Kardashian West’s stiffness left a human-shaped void for the actual performers to work with, well, so does essentially every athlete the show’s ever booked to host. I have no axe to grind with Kardashian West—her monologue made mention of her work in securing the release of the wrongly accused, and, as far as celebrity activism goes, that seems to be legit, so more power to her. And, unlike when the future president that Kardashian West successfully beseeched to free some innocent people hosted the show in 2015, there was nothing innately reprehensible about the booking here.
Kardashian jokes are as ubiquitous as the family itself, and just about as irrelevant. When you make the choice to monetize your life, you should at least be good at it, and Kardashian West is. There are reams of writing about the whole Kardashian phenomenon (the A.V. Club’s Megan Kirby recently did a perceptive retrospective on the host’s one-shot singing career, for example), and nobody’s here for that, necessarily. As a TV reviewer, I’ll just say that booking a blank non-performer necessitated a whole lot of protectively tailored material, and a whole lot of cameos, none of which made Saturday Night Live look especially essential to the pop culture landscape tonight, either.
The Best: As hard as the show worked to pump up the reality dating show sketch with, essentially, all the celebrity cameos in the world, I’m going to with the lotto drawing sketch for the top spot. It had Kardashian West, sure, but placing her as one of the local newscast’s two lottery-drawers—whose ping-pong ball numbers get increasingly bizarre and alarming—blankness was called for. Cecily Strong, as the other, made stark the difference between being blank and playing blank for laughs. It’s just a funny concept, well doled out with each successively absurdist ball, the escalation going from blank balls and the Milwaukee Bucks logo to, eventually, the ingredients of a meatball sub and the various bloody parts of the unfortunate worker sent in to fix the balls’ feeder system. Plus, Kenan and Aidy were there as anchors (Kenan Thompson can wring more laughs with a look than most performers can eke out with a monologue), and the sketch was peppered with the sort of absurdist asides that fill out a one-joke sketch into something more substantially funny. We’re never clued in to why Chris Redd’s sports guy doesn’t have all the night’s sports, with him only complaining, “They won’t tell me the scores!” And I liked how Aidy’s workshopped news logo, “News: It’s what happened recently” is eventually adopted for the official sign-off. Not a howler, certainly, but a weird, funny idea carried off with aplomb. (Cecily’s Ronda breathlessly announcing, “Tonight’s jackpot is money!,” was low-key genius.)
The Worst: Well, getting the absolute worst sketch out of the way right off the bat is one way to go, I guess. The Aladdin thing saw Pete and Kardashian West vying for worst cue card-reader (Kardashian West wins, but not by as much as you’d think), while the entire sketch being built around a series of very ordinary dick jokes sent the whole enterprise crashing to earth. Ugh, I can only assume that being crammed into blue paint and a muscle suit to grant Davidson’s insecure Aladdin a bigger penis will be one of those memories Bowen Yang will look back on as “paying your dues.” (It’s his only appearance all night, apart from a cut-for-time sketch.) Cecily and Kenan swoop in to steal the sketch away with sheer professionalism for a few moments, but otherwise this was just dire all around, one of those sketches centered on assuring an image-conscious host that she is, in fact, extremely pretty, with no other real reason to exist. If there’s a worse, more soul-deadening exit line than, “Oh no, he didn’t give me balls!,” then I can’t think of it. Congrats!
The Rest: Okay, The Dream Guy was solid for what it was. That being a ringer-filled misdirection drawing attention away from Kardashian West’s inexplicably wooden performance as a reality show star. (I mean, if there were one role in her wheelhouse.) Chris Rock, Blake Griffin, John Cena, Jesse Williams, Chace Crawford, actual reality dating person Tyler Cameron, and Amy Schumer (as the show’s producer, who Kardashian West lures onstage as a surprise contestant) all vie for Kardashian West’s coveted love-tokens, alongside Kyle Mooney’s enthusiastically overmatched Zeke. There are some funny lines as Kardashian West’s bachelorette brings each person up for their reward. Griffin did something inexcusable at the show’s recent luau, but Kardashian gives him a pass, explaining, “But you’re a six-time NBA all-star, and that intrigues me.” Williams never spoke once to her in their time on the show, but Kardashian West similarly hands him a token since he is, “literally the most attractive human I have ever seen.” Cena likewise has all his personal and professional pluses enumerated, although, in handing him his reward, Kardashian West deadpans, “I don’t love that you have a wife.” (I know Dwayne Johnson is the wrestler-turned-actor gold standard, but dammit if Cena isn’t a fine, sly comedian.) And Zeke is the role Kyle was born to play, all his glad-handing and lisping puddy-tat impressions no match for his competition’s many, many upsides. The fact that the show’s losing players must hurl themselves into a fiery pit hints at the ground the reality dating genre is built upon. It’s a breezy little sketch (and a nice break from the played-out Hunks series of sketches), but having (does quick math) ten celebrity drop-bys tonight on a show with 21 full time cast members to work with is another indication that building a company is pretty far down on SNL’s priority list.
Saturday Night Live’s quest to unearth the next Lonely Island continues, as tonight saw the debut of a video from sketch troupe and SNL writers Please Don’t Destroy (Ben Marshall, John Higgins, and Martin Herlihy). And while their filmed piece (about unlikely companies getting into the hard seltzer game) didn’t destroy, precisely, it had some promisingly oddball energy. With the skeptical Higgins initially horrified at his officemates consuming seltzers from Jiffy Lube and JC Penney (including flavors like “Men’s Jackets” and “Belts and Ties”), the sketch branches off from the premise’s prop comedy into some winningly weird areas. (Herlihy’s dentist has his own seltzer line, while Higgins’ bewilderment is greeted with the others’ defensive, “Yeah, like, we don’t see what you see in your girlfriend.”) Getting an onscreen branding for your comedy group is a big deal on SNL, and, hey, The Lonely Island started out on the show with “Lettuce,” so maybe Please Don’t Destroy have a “Lazy Sunday” all cued up and ready to go. Good luck, fellas.
The Ladies Night pre-tape was a fine little showcase for Cecily, Punkie, and Ego. The joke that this rare night out for four once party-loving moms devolves into an early night filled with blisters, unintentional napping, noise complaints (“Is it me, or does Rihanna sound faster?”), and dairy-bingeing bathroom emergencies hasn’t got a twist to it, but the three actual comedians do fine work, and, again, Kardashian West is just repeatedly put to sleep. A pre-tape is often the saving grace for an inexperienced live performer, so the fact that the host was sent off to unconsciousness is sort of telling.
Speaking of, the body-switch pre-tape was simply lousy, functioning as one of two contractually obligated showcases for a couple more Kardashians. (Kris and, I want to say, Zeppo?) Aidy’s game, bless her, as a magic clock sees her refusing to give up the host’s ultra-famous, high-fashion lifestyle, while Kardashian West dons a comfy shirt and gives her best impression of what a normal human sounds like fielding joke pitches at 30 Rock. Apart from the internal logic of the sketch being all over the place (it’s not clear who’s in on the switch and who’s not), the appearance of a dressing room packed with actual Kardashians (both of whom are more wooden than the host, somehow) sinks whatever potential was there under the weight of mandatory recognition applause and glassy stares. Aidy is Aidy, and she gets laughs, fleeing photographers’ questions about her wardrobe (“Um, a bunch of clothes.”), and attempting to brush off the real Kim’s demand for a switch-back with an imperious, “Go back to Arizona, you stupid lizard-trash!”
Since we’re on the subject of glassy stares, stilted line readings, and pandering, the court reality show sketch saw Kim playing sister Kourtney in The People’s Kourt, settling all-Kardashian/Jenner family disputes for the cameras. I guess this is one of those “good sport” sketches Kim was talking about, as everybody either swapped family roles or sat still for some indifferent Kardashian impressions from Melissa Villaseñor, Chloe Fineman, and Heidi Gardner. (Chris Redd got to break out his solid Kanye for the occasion, which would approach “edgy” if every single Kardashian/West/Jenner joke tonight weren’t squeaky with scrubbed and negotiated writers room acquiescence.) “Ew, this is so cringe,” is one of Kim/Kourtney’s lines, and, yeah.
Is anybody really surprised that Colin Jost was a Harvard classmate of Mark Zuckerberg? Jost’s switcheroo joke about wishing he could sit down the Facebook founder (and current democracy-underminer) and have a serious talk about getting in on the ground floor is funny because, well, I could see it. I’ll save my real harping on how little substance there is to Jost and Michael Che’s Update once the Republican Party’s ongoing attempt to really destroy American democracy kicks into higher gear, and just say that the pair are still reliably funny together. A great Update joke is all about economy, and I was here for Jost’s joke about the finally-recognized Indigenous People’s Day being muscled off to “a worse day” by competing Columbus Day. Similarly, Che’s punchline about the latest asshole to vandalize New York’s George Floyd statue (“Police are searching for the suspect, and are planning to serve him with a job application”) slips a sharp uppercut in right to the ribs.
Jost and Che are never more comfortably pointed than when sticking it to each other, or themselves. Making yourself part of the joke is a long Weekend Update tradition, and, tonight, a joke about an elderly female Nazi being released from a German prison saw Che naming her as Jost’s grandmother, while Che noted a rueful, “It’s been nice working here, it really has,” after a joke about Fox’s 25th anniversary. (“They celebrated their birthday the same way I do, by paying some white women to say some nasty stuff.”) The duo’s winking banter is always on the brink of obnoxiousness, but it’s usually intentional, at least, and tonight it was funny.
Alex Moffat brought back film reviewer and hallucinogen enthusiast Terry Fink, touting his micro-dosing habit for allowing him to see literally every recent release. It’s a good bit, Fink’s glib, Shalit-esque reviewer’s patter segueing seamlessly into his evaluation of the oft-horrifying things his LSD-soaked brain saw along the way. (Plus, drugs or not, calling the Paw Patrol movie “a pawdorable ode to fascism” is right on the money.) Moffat’s got a good line in smiling media types with barely concealed dark sides going, and Fink’s unintentionally revelatory description of No Time To Die’s third-act swerve into sadomasochistic drama involving his dad’s belt and a 50-foot nun was delivered with the same blandly smirking confidence. There’s a moment Moffat pauses just a beat longer than you think he will, as he tries to get back on track from yet another unpleasant acid memory, that’s as funny as anything else on the show tonight.
Heidi Gardner debuted Update correspondent and mental wellness life coach Kelly Party, another of her exceptionally realized little character sketches. Here, while ostensibly assessing Che’s life goals, Party’s manic faith in her theme song’s go-for-it enthusiasm sees her brushing past Che’s understandable dissatisfaction. “Michael Che sucks tonight and I love it!,” she exclaims after Che explains that “dominating Update” and taking all the jokes really isn’t going to work for him. Not Gardner’s best—and we don’t really need to see Kelly Party again—but she’s so good at imbuing a one-joke character with merely hinted-at layers that Update remains her best showcase.
Terry Fink was it. It’s early in the season for repeats, and, frankly, this cast hasn’t had much opportunity to plant many flags as far as indelible characters go. Recurring bits are SNL’s lifeblood (or crutch, depending on which medical metaphor you lean toward), but with the established stars taking increased amounts of time off and so, so many new people in front of and behind the camera, it’s time to elbow some future greatest hits into the mix.
I guess the cold open counts as “political”? I mean, there’s a Senate hearing (on the Facebook whistleblower testifying that the world’s most popular social media site is a cancer on democracy and sanity). And there are some political impressions. (Cecily Strong’s Dianne Feinstein being the most committed, Aidy’s Ted Cruz getting the biggest audience response.) But the entire joke (apart from SNL’s continued, sketchy line in “right-wing Republican is secretly gay” humor, courtesy of James Auston Johnson’s coy Lindsey Graham), is that the entire Senate is collectively too old to truly understand what that darned computer-box does.
Is that a joke? Sure, by the dictionary definition. And the undeniable fact of the halls of government being stuffed with increasingly out-of-touch, elderly white people entrenched in their sinecures by corporate funds and the two-party system isn’t a fruitless vein to mine, comedically speaking. But, apart from Strong’s Feinstein listing off all the things that have to be dealt with before coming down on Facebook’s deleterious and insidious influence on our tottering democracy (the debt ceiling, infrastructure, prosecuting the January 6 insurrectionists, preventing Trump from claiming executive privilege he no longer has), this was just a lot of mediocre old person jokes, mixed with a dash of wobbly closeted-gay-bashing. I know the cold open has been parceled out for this sort of thing, but it’s okay to change things up if this is the best you’ve got for the week.
Former host Halsey vied with the host for most outlandish outfit tonight. And while I appreciated the musical guest’s B-movie sci-fi space catsuit and upside-down ball gown, I have to give the edge to Kardashian West. Mainly because she came out for the monologue looking like she was the Andy Serkis of a world where pink-screen was industry standard and later emerged wearing a different pink onesie that looked for all the world like the first one had molted. Oh, the music—Halsey’s two numbers were emotive and showy. I liked them fine, and bringing out Lindsey Buckingham for the stripped down and pretty “Darling” was a nice surprise. (I mean, he’s apparently got time on his hands.)
Still no Kate, although Kyle Mooney resurfaced this week with a couple of decent roles. Conspicuously and entirely absent was Andrew Dismukes, who seemed poised last season to break out more than we’ve seen in Season 47.
Of the new kids, it was still the James Auston Johnson show, although not to the same extent as last week’s impressive debut. Aristotle Athari got two silent roles and then a line, while Sarah Sherman got a line. She did get to hold a cute dog, though. Keep paying those dues, gang. Just ask Bowen Yang.
Of the returned cast, the sheer number of performers isn’t doing any favors for Melissa or Chloe, two talented impressionists inexplicably and consistently underused on a such an impression-heavy show as SNL. On the other end, all the cameos and Kardashian content meant that people had to make hay while the sun shone, and it shone most brightly for Kenan and Cecily, both of whom can make a scene pop in the briefest appearances. Aidy got plenty of screen time, too, and it wasn’t her fault, but that body-switch thing was such a bummer that I’m knocking her down a notch.
“What the hell is that thing?”—Dispatches From Ten-To-Oneland
On the one hand, the final sketch was about as shameless a plug for a host’s business ventures as the show’s ever done. On the other hand—cute dogs! Kardashian West shilling for a doggie line of her signature shaping undergarments once more smacked of a contract rider, but at least that bulldog Kenan was holding throughout was a star. Pandering to an indifferent host’s moneymaking plans really isn’t what I look for in the last sketch of the night.
- By joking about her long-ago sex tape, Kardashian West gave me some Jean Smart in Hacks vibes, but without the soulful self-awareness. I have no idea how the host feels about what was essentially the revenge-porn sex crime that first brought her into the public eye (or her brother’s dabbling in same), but, like Smart’s show biz trouper Deborah Vance, she’s incorporated past scandal into remunerative self-parody. Just toss this on the pile of things in tonight’s episode that made me feel sort of dead inside.
- I know the Melissa Joan Hart coffee commercial wasn’t part of the show, but the idea that Maxwell House is touting its java’s side-hustle as a potent degreaser gave me serious Shimmer flashbacks.
- Presented without comment: According to the internet, Kardashian West called upon such comedy advisors as Ellen Degeneres, Michelle Wolf, Dave Chappelle, James Corden, and Schumer for a crash course in being funny.
- Of the three Please Don’t Destroy guys, only Ben Marshall isn’t the son of a longtime SNL writer, as John Higgins and Martin Herlihy’s dads, Steve and Tim, are Saturday Night Live writers room royalty. Still, the three all seem funny on their own, so nepotism be damned, I suppose.
- We got two O.J. jokes tonight, with the former Kardashian family friend being called out in Kardashian West’s monologue as “the first Black person” she ever met, and Kenan busting out his O.J. in the courtroom sketch, naturally.
- As a fretful Richard Blumenthal in the cold open, Mikey Day remains secure in his position on the show as the character who calls out everyone else for all their shenanigans and makes sure the audience isn’t missing the joke.
- Kenan even made me laugh in the dog sketch, simply by announcing his name was “D’ennis.” Maybe I’m jealous.
- “Hulu: It’s that thing you steal!”
- Kyle Mooney’s Senator John Kennedy, asked if the Space Jam furry group selfie he found online constitutes pornography: “Not yet, but it feels like it’s getting there?”
- With the host’s estranged husband being spotted alongside Kardashian West in New York this week, was anyone else imagining another Kanye run-in at some point?
- Next week: Actual performer in the house, as Oscar-winner and Bond villain Rami Malek hosts, alongside musical guest Young Thug.