Zoë Kravitz is coming off a well-reviewed turn as Catwoman in The Batman, the kind of cultural pole position that has led to both excellent Saturday Night Live episodes and sadly wasted opportunities. This episode trended much closer to the former, thanks to some impressive writing (in addition to hiring 10 new writers at the start of the season, the show just added three more) and Kravitz’s appealingly mischievous touch.
The monologue was a cute idea well executed, as Kravitz was interrupted by Kate McKinnon as Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman from the 1992 movie. (“The one with the whip—you know, like cats have.”) She fired up the “cat signal,” which attracted Ego Nwodim as Eartha Kitt from the ’60s TV Batman (“People call it campy, but it was just super-gay”), along with Aidy Bryant as “more of a cat lady” pushing her “husband…sorry, cat” in a shopping cart, and comedian Katt Williams.
In a commercial for the Amazon Go chain of convenience stores—just scan in at the entrance, pick up what you want, and walk out, without interacting with a register—Black customers are highly skeptical of the business model. “So it’s a trap,” says a customer played by Ego Nwodim. “Where do you pay?” demands a matronly type (Punkie Johnson). “I always pay!” Meanwhile, a young Black woman (Kravitz) has her white boyfriend (Dismukes) grab her favorite kombucha off the shelf. (“I’m learning,” he says.) “Go ahead,” the voiceover prods a reluctant Kenan Thompson. “Leave. Just walk out.” It’s an instant classic destined for the compilations.
The TikTok cold open is the way to do a kitchen-sink sketch that incorporates as many cast members as possible: President Biden and press secretary Jen Psaki (James Austin Johnson and Kate McKinnon, both note-perfect in their amiability and astringency, respectively) recognize that the Russia/Ukraine conflict is the first to be fought on TikTok. They invite performers to the Oval Office for a strategy session on how to defeat Putin. This provides strong moments for Chloe Fineman, Andrew Dismukes, Melissa Villaseñor, and, particularly, Bowen Yang, who appears as a guy whose act is dependent on a toilet plunger and is actually 55.
For a while there, SNL was cranking out game-show sketches as a first response to everything, and while a few scored (“Black Jeopardy” stands as a classic of the show’s latest era), most just seemed rote. Not so with “Word Crunch,” a spiral into absurdity gamely sold by Kravitz and Dismukes. The setup is a game show in which contestants must pick out words from a grid of scrambled letters. Kravitz keeps spying the world “Momhole,” which host Dismukes refuses to accept. The culprit: Sarah Sherman’s audio assistant, who wrote up the boards because of a writer’s strike.
In “Maid of Honor,” a solidly amusing sketch set at a wedding reception, Kravitz plays, yes, a maid of honor who reveals less-than-honorable details about the bride during her speech, to the growing horror of the groom. For example: “You’re like a second sister to me, and not just because we’ve both seen my dad naked,” and “She’s been kind of a Bridezilla, and not just because she’s attacked a lot of Japanese people.” It’s a setup as old as time, but the writers came through with high-quality one-liners.
I’m warming to Please Don’t Destroy’s digital shorts slower than some, which is to say maybe not at all. The trio of SNL writers—who play SNL writers—labor and strain to create comic moments that came to The Lonely Island more readily and successfully. The premise this week: The three adopt a female cat to give to “Catwoman” Kravitz, which they keep losing in their office. (They had previously gifted a male ant to “Ant Man” Paul Rudd.) The bit is almost redeemed by a cameo from actor Paul Dano, who randomly emerges from underneath their couch, revealing he’s been doing research for his next film Three Boring Writers, which is about “three guys who suck.” But self-deprecation works best as a supplement to comedy, not a substitute for it, and as with most PDD bits so far, this felt like four minutes that could be better spent with others in the building who aren’t getting enough airtime. It’s partly an issue of scope: Lonely Island’s productions were highly conceptual and character-driven. PDD is trying to do absurdism, mostly sold verbally, by themselves, in their tiny 30 Rock office.
In a surprise for a relatively strong episode that was clearly driven by new voices on the writing staff, the show repeated a premise that wasn’t strong enough to fully succeed on its first go-round. Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant play early-teen boys, one of whom is covertly seeking advice about dealing with a girl from the other boy via phone. Playing on the sight gag of the two most well-known female cast members doing drag, it felt cheap. Why not have Dismukes and, say, Kyle Mooney do something that actually reveals something about early dating? (Also, is it too much to hope that the show might occasionally do something as poignant as 1975's “Slumber Party” again?)
If you’re craving lazy mentions of toilets and erections, get your fill in “Old Home Movies,” a sketch about a father’s accidentally discovered video will, which a mother and her two kids (Nwodim, Kravitz and Redd) are able to watch because dad (Kenan Thompson) is upstairs on the john for a prolonged period. The only redeeming factor is Thompson physically acting out a video being fast-forwarded (unfortunately, it recalls Jan Hooks doing it in a more clever sketch in 1989, and only with her voice).
It was another successfully toothsome Update this week, with Michael Che packing the most punch.
- High gas prices might cause the U.S. to “move back in with its ex” by invading Iraq again (Che)
- Russians are hoarding McDonald’s sandwiches, as is “honorary Russian” Donald Trump (Jost)
- Although Ron DeSantis called Disney “a woke corporation,” 90 years of cartoons argue otherwise (Jost)
- Meth users are meeting each other on the app “Tooth Grindr” (Che)
- It was just International Women’s Day, “so hopefully you remembered to smile” (Che)
On the correspondent front, Alex Moffat made a successful return as film critic Terry Fink, his piss-take of old-school Sandy Kenyon types, a guy who saw all of this year’s Oscar-nominated films in two days thanks to “vitamin LSD.” He declared that Power of the Dog was a “hysterical gay Western…who let this dog out of the closet?” and Encanto “feels worse than being on fire,” before confusing Belfast with Jackass Forever.
Rosalía performed her new single “Chicken Teriyaki” and last winter’s “La Fama” (which features The Weeknd on record, but not live). They’re two good tunes that were not well showcased here. “Chicken Teriyaki” had Rosalía flanked by two male backup dancers, a setup which just looks silly, as aspiring chorus boys work mightily to pull focus from the main act. (This seems to be approaching a house style, and so soon after it didn’t work last week with Charli XCX either). “La Fama” was better; it at least let Rosalía stand alone. SNL’s musical performances need a serious rethink.
This week’s MVP is Bowen Yang. Anyone who appears shirtless with a toilet plunger attached to his nipple deserves serious consideration. But Yang also showed admirable commitment in the 12:50 sketch, as a guy who’s trying to sell his brunch companions on the brilliance of a hot new track of a university marching band playing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” Yang has undeniable big-sketch energy, an element that’s been largely missing from the show since Leslie Jones departed.
- It’s almost officially spring. And that means it’s time for SNL fans to do the equivalent of whatever sportsball people are doing right around now to discuss who should be kept or released from their team of choice. So what should the roster look like next year?
- The freshman class of featured players (Sarah Sherman, James Austin Johnson, Aristotle Athari) is, pound for pound, one of the most solidly talented in years. The sophomores are scoring: Andrew Dismukes is really settling into the Sambergian/Fallonian occasionally-punchable-young-male spot. Punkie Johnson is solid in everything she’s given, and her Thanksgiving Update spot was gold.
- Where is Aristotle Athari? His Update bit as Laughingtosh 3000 and Angelo character proves he has something to offer. But he seems to be failing to thrive. He needs to speak up at the table reads more or buy one of the popular kids a coffee or something.