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Saturday Night Live recap: Carey Mulligan brings her dramatic chops to Studio 8H

Andy Hoglund
·11 min read
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Welcome to the latest SNL in Review experience — tonight's show is hosted by Carey Mulligan, with musical guest Kid Cudi.

I am joined tonight by Siobhan Fallon Hogan, who was a Saturday Night Live cast member in the early '90s. She has been a company member of New York's Atlantic Theater Company, which put on a production of Through a Glass Darkly starring Mulligan a few years ago. She says Mulligan's performance at the Atlantic "was truly inspiring. She is a fantastic actress." Fallon Hogan is looking forward to seeing Promising Young Woman.

With a host like Mulligan — known for dramatic acting, not her comedy chops — the burning question will be how she conducts herself on a live sketch show. During Fallon Hogan's season on SNL, she says, "Mary Stuart Masterson and Sharon Stone were both not known for comedy but did fabulous jobs on the show."

Will Heath/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Cold Open: Minnesota News

We open with Eye on Minnesota, KDBD midday news. Ego Nwodim, Kenan Thompson, Kate McKinnon, and Alex Moffat are local news anchors discussing the Derek Chauvin trial. "We have seen this movie before," Ego says. The police have gotten away with tragic moments like the killing of George Floyd time and again; the white anchors choose their words carefully. They keep putting their feet in their mouths, as things get heated. "It's a good dialogue," suggests McKinnon.

Their weatherman (Chris Redd) does not want to get involved. He's in trouble for being in the Paul Pierce video.

"We lost royalty," says McKinnon, referring to the death of Prince Phillip. Kenan and Ego want to salute the late DMX. "There must be something we can agree on!" This has Michael Che's fingerprints all over it — same with Gary Richardson and Josh Patten.

The quality of these sorts of cold opens — including the Britney Spears talk show segments — feels so much more well-executed, even weightier than the grim Trump-era material. They feel, dare I say, important, but with an ability to rise to the moment in a way that seeing Alec Baldwin and his macabre mugging never truly did. It's the show grappling with some fraught, charged material, and mining (vaguely familiar) laughs.

Monologue

"They just told me I'm the first English person to host," Mulligan says, in a stunning pink outfit. She acknowledges that people often confuse her with Michelle Williams. She's used to deeply dramatic productions; in COVID times, she's had to channel that energy into her children's bedtime stories.

"She is such a great actress," says Fallon Hogan. "SNL is lucky to have her. She is trained, so she knows exactly what she's doing, comedy or drama."

Mulligan's husband, Marcus Mumford, turns up in the audience. His band has played SNL three times — that puts them in a unique husband-wife category. He has his guitar and is willing to perform. He's upstaging her a bit here! Which I suppose is the point.

You tell me, Conehead nation: How many wives have hosted SNL while their husbands have performed as the musical guest? Gwyneth and Chris Martin? Sound off!

What's Wrong With This Picture 2021

What's Wrong With This Picture? is a spot-the-difference game in which contestants come up with wild, silly, and increasingly stupid answers. The show ran with this premise twice back in 2019, as well as during last year's season finale. I think game shows are such a crutch for SNL, and the current tendency to repeat premises (as opposed to characters) always makes me a little bored during sketches like this. We've seen it before, though the giggles from the audience suggest I am in the minority.

Naturally, Kenan is the (half-vaccinated) host. The winner gets KY Jam. Aidy Bryant is back, goofing around about a picture of a newborn in the hospital: "The doctor won't stop explaining WandaVision!" Eventually Mulligan correctly guesses one picture: mixed haircuts. Lots of outlandish one-liners; if that's your style of humor, great!

IBS Medicine Ad

Tremfalta is a once-daily pill helping the likes of Carey Mulligan's bowel movement problems. Principal Aidy Bryant and custodian Kenan Thompson find something awful in the toilet during a school recital. "Lit the whole damn thing up!" Thompson cries. Mulligan must threaten her husband (Mikey Day) and a fellow parent (Lauren Holt) to protect her secret. Meh?

Study Buddy

Josh (Kate McKinnon) is working on a diorama with his middle-school classmate, played by Mulligan. Pen15/Chad vibes! They sit together, and "the Beyonce of their science class" makes a move.

Josh calls his best friend, Jason (Aidy Bryant) for advice. "One species of jellyfish is immortal," he whispers "sensually" in her ear, at Jason's request. Allison Gates and Anna Drezen penned this one, I think. They really do a nice job of capturing these aching, awkward moments. There are some dramatic beats, which suit Mulligan's skills nicely!

Weird Little Flute ft. Kid Cudi

Kid Cudi joins Pete Davidson and Chris Redd in a rap about that "weird little flute" that can appear in otherwise standard rap songs. "Big Pimpin'," "Sure Shot," and "Mask Off" all had it.

Redd and Cudi handle themselves nicely, but this feels like something the Lonely Island might've workshopped and nixed. December host Timothée Chalamet even pops up, as they enter a musical instrument store run by Mulligan. Eh?

Kid Cudi, "Tequila Shots"

"Tequila Shots" was the highest-charting track on the Billboard Hot 100 off Cudi's Man on the Moon III: The Chosen. He's got Chris Farley's headshot printed on his T-shirt, which is so nice.

Cudi first appeared back during the season 44 premiere, performing "Ghost Town" with Kanye West. Cudi is often credited with influencing the mopey, everyman-on-record persona later embraced by the likes of Drake and 808s-era Ye. His humming half-singing is perhaps second only to T-Pain's use of Auto-Tune and the impact it had on modern pop music. To be sure, he has a legion of devoted fans, the lonely stoner cohort (let's call them).

Weekend Update

"Matt Gaetz looks like all the guys from American Pie combined," quips Colin Jost. He lands a joke comparing President Biden to Clint Eastwood (except pro-gun-control). Meanwhile Michael Che gets into Donald Trump's proposed Coca-Cola boycott.

Spotify just released the last episode of the Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen podcast. To discuss, Chris Redd comes out as Obama and Beck Bennett delivers an, uh, interesting take on the Boss. Redd follows Fred Armisen and Jay Pharoah (classic) playing the 44th president. Springsteen has appeared as a musical guest several times on SNL and has also been impersonated multiple times, by the likes of Gary Kroeger (yet another callback to December's episode!), Adam Sandler, Will Forte, and Ben Stiller. The joke here is how scripted and banal both men are.

Punkie Johnson plays Pineapple, one of the strippers from the Paul Pierce video. This has a fun Danitra Vance/Cabrini Green Jackson vibe! I was hoping Punke would eventually get to perform some of her standup on "Update," but it is also very fun and captivating to see her character work on display. I am a fan.

Bowen Yang also shows up at the iceberg from the Titanic! His publicist was very clear with Jost: He is not here to discuss sinking the ship. He wants to discuss his new EDM album instead. He is still consumed with guilt and shame over the accident. "Everyone is talking about me — not the water," the real culprit. "No one is canceling the ocean!" He puts on his new single, "Loverboy." Bowen really lands bits like this. (Also, SNL has an illustrious history of Titanic related humor. Please dig into the archives! RIP Bill Paxton.)

"Update" concludes with Anne Beatts' image in tribute. Beatts, a pioneering writer for SNL and National Lampoon who also created the sitcom Square Pegs, died this week. "Her writing captured how irreverent and hip this new SNL program was going to be; it was completely original," says former cast member Denny Dillon, who first met Beatts when she appeared on SNL's first season as a guest. (Beatts later asked Dillon to have her piece "Talent Night in the Convent" included in her book Titters: The First Collection of Humor by Women.)

If you're reading this, you might only know the shorthand of Beatt's life and accomplishments. A mere two weeks ago, Tina Fey played fictional early SNL writer Gloria Zellwig, an apparent composite of/homage to Beatts. Dillon recommends fans check out the brilliant "Speed" sketch and her hilarious stick figure court drawings during the Patty Hearst trial. "For a woman in comedy, she was a trailblazer," adds Fallon Hogan.

Maybe by honoring Beatts, even in a fleeting moment, the show can invigorate her legacy for a new generation of comedy lovers. Maybe it will yield a new appreciation of her intelligence and wit, and how hard fought her place at the table must have been — both as a show creator and a female comedy writer in an infamous boys' club. We tune in to SNL for a pulse check on our times, but it's evolved into a larger refrain of American life.

Star Trek Spin-off

We tune into Paramount+, which thought of the plus before Disney+. McKenna (Mulligan) works IT on a spaceship. She and Mikey Day are two rich white kids finally in an environment that does not revolve around them. "Stop gaslighting me!" whines Mulligan. They are drifting into a black hole, yet these self-absorbed new hires are more worried about speaking their truth. "My voice has value!" McKinnon is the commanding officer; she grabs Day's arm as Chloe Fineman films.

Good critique of privilege and affluent selfishness disguised as being woke. We see you!

Lesbian Period Drama

This is a sharp Ammonite and Portrait of a Lady on Fire spoof. "Twelve lines of dialogue, two-and-a-half-hour run time." Wind! The world's saddest flirting! Glance cinematography! A nude sex scene so graphic it was obviously directed by a man!

This is especially hilarious as Mulligan tends to appear in artsy, Oscar-baity projects like this. Well done.

The War in Words: Bertie and Mary

In a documentary series for the History Channel, war is shown through the lens of the letters between a military couple. This time it's 1943, and British soldier Bertie (Mikey Day, as always) becomes increasingly concerned — Day's default mode — as the letters of his wife back home (played by Mulligan) grow more absurd. Claire Foy and Phoebe Waller-Bridge previously did this exact sketch, but fans might also recall it also links back to a 2013 sketch with Jennifer Lawrence and Tim Robinson. And on Maya & Marty, Day played a Civil War soldier opposite Rudolph. It's almost always the same?! But I guess the audience thinks it plays?

Is this a requirement with every female British host? Oof.

Kid Cudi, "Sad People"

On "Sad People," Cudi details what troubles him at night and his search for inner peace. Perseverance in the face of depression and mental health are touchstones for Cudi throughout his career, dating back to at least "Day N Nite."

L'Eggs

It's an after-school rap group, Beat Buddies. Students are joined by their "female teen peers" (Mulligan, Bryant). How do you do, fellow kids? Turns out they are selling some pantyhose products.

Nice to finally see Andrew Dismukes! Also Kyle Mooney (though the beatboxing loses me). A little too random and amorphous for me. Eh?

Final Thoughts

  • Bit of a comedown from last week's perfection. What did you think? Weigh in below, or vote here!

  • Thank you to Siobhan Fallon Hogan for her contributions tonight! She recently appeared on fellow SNL cast member Jeff Richards' podcast to discuss her upcoming movie Rushed. Take a look! Rushed is a revenge thriller, perhaps not unlike Promising Young Woman.

  • Speaking of SNL alum, check out my conversation with the stupendous Gary Kroeger. We discuss the Daniel Kaluuya episode as part of the most recent SNL Stats roundtable. If you know, you know!

  • And thank you to Denny Dillon for sharing her memories on the late, great Anne Beatts.

  • No Melissa Villaseñor or Cecily Strong tonight. If I am Villaseñor's talent team, what are you thinking? Guess prepping for IFC Awards?

  • A nice hat tip to the recently departed DMX, who performed "Party Up" and "What's My Name" back in 2000. This one hurts. RIP.

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