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Saturday Night Live returns with a great host but moderate laughs

Aubrey Plaza kills in an unfortunately so-so episode of SNL

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Image: SNL

Saturday Night Live found the perfect host to bring it into 2023 in Aubrey Plaza. In addition to her deadpan delivery, she often treats press junkets, red carpets, and late-night interviews as her own experimental sketch show. It turned out to be a sort of homecoming for Plaza. She got her start in the entertainment industry in the NBC page program and even worked with the SNL set-design department. Since those early years, she has built a surprising and impressive career with her role as April Ludgate in the NBC comedy Parks And Recreation, earned laughs in broad Hollywood studio comedies, and captivated in a litany of dark indie films from Ingrid Goes West to Black Bear. Hosting SNL caps off a stellar year for Plaza after the success of Emily the Criminal, which she starred in and produced, and her role in The White Lotus. Perhaps this all caused too high of expectations. The episode overall felt middle of the road, even though Plaza proved to be an excellent and enthusiastic first-time host.

Best sketch of the night

The Black Lotus - SNL

The episode was full of spoofs on recent pop culture entertainment from “M3gan 2.0” to “Avatar,” but “The Black Lotus” stood out as the best of the bunch. A terrific showcase for Ego Nwodim and Kenan Thompson, it makes a good argument for them to join The White Lotus cast next season as the hotel managers. The sketch allowed Chloe Fineman to reuse her Jennifer Coolidge impersonation and gave room for Plaza to show her range after playing Harper on the show’s second season. Most impressive is that the sketch works well for those who were fanatics of the series and for those who immediately dismissed the show as rich white people problems.


Worst sketch of the night

Avatar - SNL

Of the pop culture spoofs, “Avatar” was the worst. The sketch felt like an obligation as if the writers felt like they had to do something with the cultural phenomenon of Avatar. It lacked focus, direction, or commentary. It felt overlong, even though it was relatively short. It was a lazy sketch that relied more on costuming and sets than good writing or funny performances.


The most WTF moment of the night

Sam Smith: Gloria (Live) - SNL

It could be the best sketch of the night. It could be the worst sketch of the night. Sam Smith’s performance of “Gloria” was bizarre and bewildering. It took a while to realize that it was actually Sharon Stone surrounded by a choir in black sequin robes like a gay remake of Eyes Wide Shut. Smith sang in the back as Stone lounged before staring out into the horizon or the studio audience. Why all this was happening is up for debate. Is it camp? Is it a case of queerbaiting by an actual queer person? Is it a homage to Stone’s 1999 remake of the gangster film Gloria? We may never get the answer to these questions.


The most material of the night

Weekend Update: Colin Jost Interviews Rep. George Santos - SNL

The New York Times published its bombshell report about George Santos the day after the final 2022 episode of SNL. In the meantime, Santos’ web of lies has become as intricate as it is absurd. For SNL, it is the gift that keeps giving. Featured in a solid string of jokes in “Weekend Update,” Santos, played by Bowen Yang, made two separate appearances in the “Cold Open” and as a special guest on “Weekend Update.” There is something fascinating about Santos and the way that he embodies the fragility and failings of the democratic system in the United States.


MVP of the Night: Aubrey Plaza

Aubrey Plaza Monologue - SNL

While tempting to give the MVP slot to George Santos or even Molly Kearney, who had a good amount of screen time this week, Aubrey Plaza had the biggest impact on the episode. It was a mixed bag of sketches, but Plaza was committed throughout. She managed to show an impressively wide range of characters while infusing the show with her brand of off-beat deadpan humor. She was at her best during the monologue which played on her own history with SNL and NBC. She also managed to pull in a remarkable and peculiar collection of celebrity cameos from former co-star Amy Poehler to Tony Hawk to the aforementioned Sharon Stone, and even the President of the United States Joe Biden.


Stray observations

  • Cecily Strong’s Verizon commercials got a shoutout.
  • They felt like very short sketches this week, which was good and bad.
  • It was sort of funny when Michael Che didn’t seem to get the joke about the Staten Island Ferry.
  • “M3gan 2.0" had some funny moments, but it needed to be pushed further and be much gayer. Like offensively gay. “Little Homo?” Just bleep out what she really should have said.