Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Selena Gomez (and Steve Martin) can't energize a less-than-inspired episode of SNL

Photo: Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC

The former child actor and Disney star Selena Gomez has achieved recent critical praise in a certain lane: She has a dry, deadpan comic delivery that has made her a beguiling part of the comedy Only Murders In The Building, able to hold her own against SNL veterans Martin Short and Steve Martin. But this affect can read as low-energy in certain lights—she gives Aubrey Plaza vibes sans Plaza’s occasionally manic spark—so Gomez is not the most obvious choice for live sketch comedy. But you always want to see SNL give a host the chance to stretch themselves and break out. This week, there was added potential because of the possibility of cameos from Gomez’s Only Murders costars Steve Martin and Martin Short. In this episode, we only saw half of that duo (fair enough, but in less-than-stellar material) and although Gomez had a few strong moments, she didn’t quite soar on the show, partly because of the writing, partly because of her tendency to come off a bit recessive in sketches.

Recent Video

This browser does not support the video element.

What killed

In her monologue, Gomez was more appealing than strictly required. She demonstrated some sharp comic timing, even hauling out a rock-solid Miley Cyrus impression. The show deserves points for self-deprecation—Gomez ultimately claims she’s come to SNL looking for love, as cast members Colin Jost and Pete Davidson respectively found with guest stars Scarlett Johansson and … Machine Gun Kelly (heh, good one). So cast members line up to volunteer. The twist was nice: Punkie Johnson showed up to shoot her shot. Unfortunately, Gomez’s quick Cyrus impression was almost the evening’s highlight. If she didn’t have the studio audience eating out of her hand by the end of the monologue, Gomez had them willingly singing along to the Barney theme song. But the night’s trajectory was bumpier from there.

A Netflix show about Japanese toddlers who are tasked with doing errands for their parents and abandoned on public transportation—yes, this is an actual thing—was the solid construct for “Old Enough,” in which a woman (Gomez) asks her childlike long-term boyfriend (Mikey Day) to pick up a few things for her, without her help, if he can stop playing video games. I’m not going to hoist my dudgeon about the premise that adult men can be utterly inept at basic errands when they have a partner to lean on—although men-as-babies is a comic premise as old as time, hey, truth is truth. It’s always nice to see the show use a topical peg to say something about modern relationships. Day meeting fellow “toddler” Kenan Thompson on the street was a choice bit. Although Gomez’s deadpan delivery can become an overplayed hand, it worked well here: See her wine moment.

Advertisement

Another talk show sketch? Well, not exactly, as “A Peek at Pico” had an unusual share of strong character beats. It’s also nice to see the chronically underused Melissa Villaseñor take the lead. Here, she and Gomez play the hosts of a hyperlocal L.A. show that’s essentially a coastal inversion of “Bronx Beat,” the Amy Poehler-Maya Rudolph franchise that occupies a special place in my heart. “Pico” isn’t as thoroughly rewarding as that classic, but both Villaseñor and Gomez get some distinctive moments (look for their discussion of what’s sad vs. cathartic). There are fun bits for Mikey Day (as the correspondent they keep cutting off in boredom), Heidi Gardner, and Chris Redd. Gomez, in particular, registers strongly here. Too bad the rest of the night didn’t give her more character material to run with.

“Intuition” was more Fun With Relationships, as Punkie Johnson and musical guest Post Malone show up as angels of doubt rapping on the shoulders of a couple (Gomez and Redd) to sow seeds of insecurity about their partnership, convincing her to follow a “catch-his-ass-recipe” and him that she’s seeking out “dude nudes.” It was a nice showcase for the underused Johnson, who raps impressively, and Malone is solidly amusing. File this also under funny because it’s true.

Post Malone is not to everyone’s taste, but I’m a fan—he’s a clever lyricist who knows how to use hooks to assemble impressive, sometimes stunning, pop architecture. Both of his performances were excellent, particularly the first, “Cooped Up,” which featured Roddy Ricch. This presentation style for SNL musical guests is ideal—just put talented people front and center with a working mic instead of wasting time on set pieces and backup dancers that don’t add.

Advertisement

What bombed

The cold open addressed the Amber Heard/Johnny Depp trial. Except not really; it was mainly concerned about testimony that Heard once defecated in Depp’s bed. Specifically, the judge (Cecily Strong) wants to see all the video evidence of Depp’s housekeeping staff individually showing up to make this discovery. The sketch doesn’t take this premise to anyplace weird or interesting; it was essentially four minutes of fecal synonyms and dull reactions. Another demerit: Kate McKinnon opened things up with an impression of MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace that sounded nothing like Wallace and lacked a point of view (and the show did Wallace additionally dirty by misspelling her first name in the chyron). Wallace isn’t the most dramatic anchor on air, but every newsperson has tendencies that can be amplified into comedy. Yet there was no attempt here on the page or in performance. I have said my piece about scatology as a source of SNL’s humor before, so I will just this add this: There are a million places the show could have gone this week without premising four minutes of live nationally broadcast comedy on people staring at a pile of shit.

Steve Martin shows up (!) in a pre-taped piece in which Gomez is the host of a “Inventor Documentary” about the inventor of novelties like the whoopie cushion. As usual, Aidy Bryant brings it and more as the man’s long-suffering wife who is the inspiration and frequently victimized test case for his novelties. Unfortunately, fart gags predominate. High-school-level writing made this a waste of time for all concerned. (Man, I wish I had the guts of the writer who had access to the comic talents of Steve Martin and delivered him a script premised on flatulence.)

“Three Daughters” had such a clever premise, and they blew it in the final 30 seconds. Kenan Thompson presents his daughters (Ego Nwodim, Gomez, and McKinnon) to a prince as marriage material. As the trio go down the line, answering their suitor’s questions, it’s clear he’s judging them by comedy’s rule of threes. What is the last one’s problem? Something must be wrong with her; he can’t figure it out. This is a slow burner that was more of a chuckle than a LOL, but it was a fresh and fun meta concept, and then they revealed the third sister’s gown has a cutout revealing her ass. Sigh. It’s no revelation that SNL has always had a problem ending sketches, but it’s better to just drop the dead donkey instead of hauling out a prosthetic butt.

Advertisement

Stray observations

  • The show deserves points for trying to take on a topical pop-cultural moment in “Irish Play” (in this case, photos of Take Me Out star Jesse Williams’ onstage nudity being leaked), and it starts out well. In his pre-show remarks, Off-Broadway stage manager Kenan Thompson warns the audience that the show they’re about to see contains a penis, and it better not end up online. But the premise swerves into an approach straight out of a ‘50s variety show: everyone is out sick, so all the understudies have parts, and they can’t remember their lines. We rejoin 2022 too late, as Bowen Yang shows up onstage an hour early to announce that he has fluffed and must do his frontal nude scene immediately. This was an air sandwich—a good premise, a sharp moment at the end, and a bunch of generic business in between. Gomez seemed stiff and self-conscious, despite the accent work.

  • “Weekend Update” was anemic again this week, as flat jokes were interrupted by another visit from Kyle Mooney’s Baby Yoda (we’ve really seen enough there). Michael Che came off best, getting in two good lines on abortion and Kevin Spacey’s return to acting. (Although I’m convinced no one can do better Spacey burns than Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner in Difficult People.)

  • Sarah Sherman got another “Update” segment as a correspondent who wildly favors Michael Che and lives to denigrate Colin Jost. Sherman absolutely killed in her first appearance last fall—it was one of the most electric “Update” debuts in recent memory—so it’s no surprise the show has tried to repeat the feat. Her second try replicated the format to lesser effect, so this one sent her roving into Jost’s dressing room. This time, the burns weren’t that searing, and Sherman fluffed a joke by dropping a photo. She recovered, but this premise has pretty much retired itself.

  • Aidy Bryant deserves special mention—and perhaps dispensation—as the hypersexual Bratz doll who comes to life to counsel her suburban teen owner through a parental divorce: “We watch over you every day, like God, but slutty,” she says, and confesses she has designs on the kid’s dad. She was the best thing about a sketch that was otherwise as middle-of-the-road as its setting.
  • Despite a strong monologue and “A Peek at Pico,” Gomez came off as somewhat flat throughout the evening. I would’ve liked to see more opportunities to see her give herself over to character as she did in “Pico” and the Bratz dolls sketch.

Advertisement

Read more!