“I’m not an actor, I’m a [goddamned Five-Timers Club] star!”
When Steve Martin popped onstage during the goodnights to present Melissa McCarthy with her own, coveted Five-Timers Club smoking jacket (plush!), the almost offhand nature of the gesture made up for the show not making a big deal out of the milestone during the monologue. And that was just right, as McCarthy’s fifth time hosting (hey, I just got that) didn’t have much time to waste. Like the similarly solid Chris Pine episode last week, McCarthy’s outing here was tight and energetic, alternating writerly pieces with the sort of broad, belly laugh sketches McCarthy obviously loves doing.
And that monologue—the place where FTC members traditionally get SNL’s comic adulation—was a real charmer. Pulling a game and very nice lady named Joan out of the crowd, McCarthy celebrated Mother’s Day by taking Joan on a whirlwind tour backstage. There were jokes—the pages readily produce the ketchup and foot cream McCarthy spontaneously demands, Alec Baldwin is surprised pantsless, Kyle Mooney needily demands hugs to let them pass—but it was mostly an opportunity for McCarthy to do some fine crowd work, reveal to the happy Joan that unexpected guests Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively (“The Livelys will be fine!”) are there because she invited them while drunk, and bring Joan out through the legendary host entrance, theme music and all. Plus, Joan got to pet the SNL llama. We’re all jealous, Joan.
McCarthy is one of those performers that, had the stars aligned differently, would have been huge as a Saturday Night Live cast member. (Instead of just the major movie star and mogul she’s become.) A former Groundling like so many SNL players over the years, McCarthy has that heat-seeking character instinct that is gonna explode on you. Or all over her, as the case always is on SNL. In the past, she’s been doused in ranch dressing, devoured nearly an entire pizza, and generally been up for anything (literally and figuratively) the show throws at her. Tonight it’s pies, as the bakery-themed game show sketch just kept pounding McCarthy in the kisser, both with the expected pies but also high-powered jets of glitter, air, and water, leaving her the happily dripping mess she always is at least once per hosting gig. The sketch was mostly just an excuse for the mess, but there was some cleverness to how the convoluted rules of the game kept delivering pies unexpectedly, and there’s just something plain old exhilarating watching a force of nature comic go all in. With the air and water, McCarthy committed to the extent that you worried about her safety—which, one assumes, was her intention. McCarthy’s a fine, versatile actress, but she’s also going to get the huge laughs she came for, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Weekend Update update
“I know most of us think this every week, but this week was crazy,” is how Colin Jost led off tonight’s Update, and the idea that the country is flying further and more recklessly off its rails at this point informed a lot of the Donald Trump material tonight. (See the political comedy report below.) With Trump firing FBI Director James Comey—the main person in charge of investigating the giant, ever-more-evident clusterfuck that is Trump-Russia—Jost and Michael Che continued to discover ways to say, essentially, “What the fuck?!” without actually just, you know, saying that. There’s a sense of a major national crisis brewing at the infamously small hands of Donald Trump, a guy who the writers and performers know is watching every week—and who fucking hates Saturday Night Live’s jokes about him. So, again, fuck it.
Che found his tack by introducing a runner of all Trump headlines being interrupted by a record-scratch and James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” because it’s an entertaining way to say, “What the fuck?!” Jost mocked Trump’s assertion that Comey was bad at his job by delivering Trump’s rationale, “For example, I’m still president.” Because, fuck it. The cold open laid the groundwork for the ensuing show to just start throwing haymakers at Donald Trump, and Jost and Che were swinging. Jost got the gasps he was looking for when he mocked press secretary Sean Spicer’s recent “hide in the bushes” strategy of avoiding the press by landing a shot about “diving into bushes without warning” being noted and confessed sexual harasser (at least) Donald Trump’s signature move. Fuck it.
Same goes for the return of Cecily Strong’s Cathy Anne, Michael Che’s punch-drunk, slurring neighbor who, as part of her usual, malaprop-heavy rant, just started punching, too. A big, broad female character grounded in some sneaky-subtle character work from Strong, Cathy Anne has been around and, no matter what a nightmare she might be for Che to deal with on the stoop every day, Strong finds the heart in a woman with absolutely zero fucks left to give. The “funky wiring” in her head (combined with a little “recreational heavy drug use”) allowing her the freedom to careen from point to outrageously unjust point, Cathy Anne rails against Republicans unwilling to “find a spine” to “put their country before their party,” and Trump (or something like “Dinald Trink” in her pronunciation) trying to cut health care for millions of Cathy Annes and others while he spends millions so his wife doesn’t have to sleep in the same bed. There’s an integrity to the character’s voice here—when she compares Trump to the mentally ill people she knows who rant about the Russians and the CIA being after them, she makes the point stick. Che remains, as ever, warily affectionate of his neighbor, her repeated cries for Che to “tell her story” underlining how tenuous her existence is. So fuck it.
I thought they’d keep the vibe going when Pete Davidson came out to talk about his recent sobriety, considering that Jost introduces the desk piece by talking about Trump’s plan to cut funding for drug rehab. (Because, naturally.) But Davidson’s candor about his personal struggle wins him a lot of good will here, as he relates his experiences at an unwisely chosen, horse-centered, very expensive rehab. (Where he found out he was allergic to horses.)
Best/worst sketch of the night
Like last week’s show, there were a number of sketches that hinged on eccentric, original premises, all of which worked nicely. The ad for a senior-friendly version of that Amazon cylinder that’s totally not Siri was a beautifully put-together and acted old person joke, with the mature model equipped to answer to any name even tangentially similar to the machine’s “Alexa,” a forbearing “uh huh” listening feature, and a chipper robotic willingness to repeat things even when invariably greeted with a dismissive “I don’t know about that.” It’s about as funny a piece of product placement as you’re going to get. Happy Mother’s Day!
Similarly, a gathering of neighborhood moms introduced the premise of each mom deciding on her “spirit animal”-esque “mom animal” in order to subsume all thoughts and personality into one, easily categorized fetish object. There’s a glassy, Stepford Wives horror underlying the sketch, with all the female cast and McCarthy getting a turn to show new mom Melissa Villaseñor the necessity of defining yourself as the one thing that others will forever see you as. A story: My mom once made the mistake of telling her young kids that the penguin was her favorite animal, kicking off a solid decade of no-thought but well-intentioned penguin gifts. When she finally put a stop to it, it was jarring, since we’d allowed her supposed penguin obsession to absolve us of putting any thought into her actual wants. Here, the women show the double-edged sword of the arrangement, settling into a life defined by dolphins, frogs, jungle cats, and others (Leslie Jones’ is an angel, for reasons unexplained) that, nonetheless, allows them to pawn off their stereotypical “mom” behavior on their mom animal. It’s a premise sketch, and it works.
Same goes for the ten-to-one sketch, where Beck Bennett’s designer keeps trotting out increasingly inappropriate and bizarre concepts for the pre-movie logo of a kids’ movie company. All featuring the clearly-depressed and disagreeable Donna (McCarthy), the pitches escalate in weird unpleasantness, with Bennett’s obliviousness and the deadpan rejections of execs Moynihan and Strong all playing off Donna’s craziness. Again, this is the template for a last sketch—an oddball premise, executed with a straight face.
This season has had a few running jokes, and I’ve loved them all, perhaps none more so than the ongoing, odd couple love story between Leslie Jones and Kyle Mooney. Usually presented as little short films, these character-driven pieces are meticulously crafted and genuinely sweet, at least before they take strange turns, befitting Mooney’s comic style. Both he and Jones make the couple’s struggles as a now-married couple (with an adorable kid named Little Lorne) feel real, their different levels of success (“He’s barely on the show!,” exclaims Leslie), and the smirking work-husbandry of Colin Jost threatening what’s been a most rewarding, seasons-long gag. And the turn, with Mooney abruptly shooting Jost in the leg (he survived, and Lorne admits that he can be kind of annoying anyway) a huge, weird laugh, again, in keeping with the welcome notes of offbeat comedy Mooney brings to the show. (Same goes for the swerve where their couples therapy turns out to be them confessing their sexual problems to a very uncomfortable McCarthy.) Here’s to these two kids making it.
“What do you call that act?” “The Californians!”—Recurring sketch report
Cathy Anne. Spicey. Trump. And the blessed return of Kate McKinnon’s old time Hollywood trouper, Debette Goldry, here alongside her equally storied onetime star pal, Gaye Fontaine (McCarthy). As ever, the joke is how demeaning and horrible it was for actresses in the studio system, and, as ever, McKinnon makes Debette’s undiminished, no-nonsense survivor’s gumption deeply funny. This time, we learn about having bones removed, casting couch sex acts, whistlestop tours hawking (and drinking) lead paint, pretending your out-of-wedlock daughter is your sister, and, best/most horrible of all, having your molars pulled to look “less Polish.” Again, it’s another woman-driven sketch that steamrolls along on the backs of the performers.
“It was my understanding there would be no math”—Political comedy report
Alec Baldwin was back as Trump for the cold open, a terrifyingly factual portrayal of Trump’s recent sit-down with Lester Holt, played by Che in a rare off-Update appearance. I’ve been critical of Baldwin’s (and SNL’s) Trump as too broad, too safely buffoonish. And he’s both those things here, as Baldwin essentially just reeled off this week’s alarming and bewildering parade of Trump insanity. Trump asks Holt if he’ll pledge undying loyalty to him (something Trump is reportedly doing to everyone in sight, and something apparently James Comey refused to do). Baldwin’s Trump blurts out that he, in fact, fired Comey specifically because the FBI under Comey is investigating Trump’s connections to Russian election meddling (“He’s investigating Russia. I don’t like that. I should fire him.”) Which is exactly, astonishingly, what Trump did in that interview.
When Che’s Holt gets Trump to confirm the undeniable obstruction of justice that that represents, he asks his producers, “Did I get him? Is this over? No I didn’t? Nothing matters? Absolutely nothing matters?,” Che asks the questions with the hopeful shock of someone thinking the world’s about to make sense again. When it doesn’t, he soldiers on, asking about the optics of inviting Russian officials to the Oval Office (where only Russian media were allowed), asking about Trump’s real-world threat that he’s been secretly recording Comey’s conversations, and on, and on, and fuck it. The sketch goes for cheap jokes that seem designed in that spirit—Trump’s (sigh) recent claim that he invented the common expression “prime the pump” is turned into a juvenile impotence joke. And, like Jost’s “bushes” joke on Update, Baldwin’s assertion that Trump is a “serial tapist” (regarding Oval Office recording) is just another cheap shot clearly designed to rile up the notoriously touchy Trump. Fuck it.
Later, Baldwin’s Trump comes back as the punch line of McCarthy’s crowd-pleasing return as Sean Spicer. Spicer’s increasingly sweaty lies as he attempts to spin the unspinnable erupts in the usual, if escalating, insults and violence (that Samson-esque column-throw was genuinely impressive and unsettling). And the payoff (spoiled by ubiquitous news stories during the week) with Spicer driving his mobile podium through the streets of New York in search of Trump gets the requisite laughs. Setting Spicer’s motorized journey to the wistful sounds of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy In New York” (Lorne’s pal Paul Simon no doubt cut him a deal) signals the sketch’s take on the reportedly doomed Spicer, as he tearfully confronts Trump with the toll all his daily lying and humiliation is taking. Like the show’s early conceit that the women in Trump’s orbit are all secretly hating themselves, this portrayal is more generous than, perhaps, reality will bear out, but McCarthy is dynamite as ever in the Spicer getup. (And at least her being the host takes away the intrusive nature of her undeniably funny appearances in the bad suit and wispy wig in past episodes.) Here again, SNL kicks Trump beneath the belt, with Baldwin’s Trump not only forcing a passionate kiss on the distraught Spicer, but also appropriating the actual Trump’s infamous “When you’re famous, it’s okay” creepiness.
I am hip to the musics of today
Keeping in mind that I haven’t checked out the catchy pop stylings of Haim much before tonight, and that I found their pair of songs perfectly enjoyable, the thought that I was watching a band made up of three Marnies from Girls wouldn’t leave my head. But listen to the experts, as A.V. Clubbers/music smarties Marah Eakin and David Anthony—they know their Haim.
Most/Least Valuable (Not Ready For Prime Time) Player
I’m going with Cecily on this one. Cathy Anne was the best she’s ever been, and Strong’s delivery of “Personally, I’d prefer that these not include direct threats to children” in the movie studio sketch was deadpan perfect.
Melissa Villaseñor had a straight person role in the mom sketch and Alex Moffat got to do a wordless, eye-rolling anderson Cooper, but Mikey Day continues to pace the featured players.
“What the hell is that thing?”—The Ten-To-Oneland Report
Look, Donna’s going through a tough time right now, you guys.
- On the “cheap but fuck it” front, Baldwin’s Trump referring to Holt as “Jazzman,” “O.J.,” and “Tupac” is another blunt method of making Trump’s racism explicit.
- I’m going to miss Bobby Moynihan. In the pie sketch, he made me laugh just with the way his contestant cockily stared down the camera.
- Speaking of shaky characterizations of the women in the Trump administration, going out of the way to call Aidy Bryant’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders “articulate and charming”—while it sets up Spicer’s psychotic behavior—is awfully gentle for another press spokesperson whose blatant lying in the service of other liars isn’t exactly admirable. Aidy makes her funny, though, describing her parents as a former senator and “a big southern hamburger.”
- Debette Goldry is introduced as, among other things, a “would-be victim of the Black Dahlia killer.”
- Gaye Fontaine was the first woman to fire a gun on screen. “It wasn’t in the script, it’s just that people have limits.”
- McCarthy’s Spicer jokes about Trump’s real-life promise to send a certified letter to Congress, swearing that he’s in no way in bed with the Russians. “Costs an extra 2 dollars to have it certified!”
- “Now I’m just pigs. I’m done.”