Saturday Night Live recap: Dakota Johnson weaves a tangled web

Photo: ROSALIND O’CONNOR/NBC
Photo: ROSALIND O’CONNOR/NBC
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One word: Oof. Fumbles were frequent during this week’s Saturday Night Live, starting with a football-themed cold open overrun with missed cues, a mediocre musical parody (of Charlie Puth’s “See You Again”) and meandering writing—along with lamenting the end of the NFL season, the clip saw sportscasters like Nate Burleson (Devon Walker), James Brown (Kenan Thompson) and Bill Cowher (Mikey Day) bemoan those Barbie Oscar snubs, Boeing 737s and Blue Bloods’ final season.

It was an especially disappointing start for an episode that, on paper, had a lot of potential, as our host this week is one of Hollywood’s most low-key chaotic and unintentionally hilarious figures: Dakota Johnson. Promoting her new Marvel superhero flick Madame Web, which hits theater on February 14, the Ellen-ruining actress and noted lime lover (or is she?) returned to Studio 8H this week for her second hosting gig. (She previously hosted a season 40 episode in 2015.) This time had the added excitement, though, of an onscreen reunion with her The Social Network co-star and SNL Five-Timers Club member Justin Timberlake, who returned as musical guest for the first time since 2013.

But not even that pop of millennial nostalgia could pep up what is so far the worst episode of SNL season 49. (You’ve been spared, Jacob Elordi.)

Opening monologue: Hosting crashers

We started off well enough. The bangs were banging, the black jumpsuit was giving Fleabag season 2 and Johnson was poking fun at the delightfully unhinged public persona she’s crafted over the years. (“I’m just not good at talking to journalists. I think the problem is that I say stuff and then they write it down.”) That is, until Justin Timberlake materialized à la Beetlejuice at the mere mention of his name. Dakota managed to squeeze in a few funny barbs about the veteran pop star’s “comeback” before Jimmy Fallon inevitably crashed the monologue, too, wearing full Barry Gibbs cosplay. It was very much giving 2010s vibes, but this throwback was more tired than thrilling.

The most “peaked in high school” sketch of the night:

Speaking of, the return of Timberlake and Fallon’s The Barry Gibb Talk Show bit would have worked better had they not spoiled the surprise in the monologue. In its seventh SNL appearance—and first in a decade—the sketch’s gist remains the same: Jimmy as an increasingly irate version of the eldest Gibb brother (“I fear nothing! I watched Saltburn with my entire family and I knew about the bathtub scene beforehand!”) and Justin as his less-than-verbose brother, the late Robin Gibb. Given Timberlake’s extensive SNL creds, it was only natural that he’d appear in a sketch, but the Gibbs’ revival very much felt like the “coolest” guys in high school reminiscing at their 20-year reunion. (It doesn’t help that both performers’ reputations have taken a serious hit since the last time they collaborated on the show.) Plus, it would’ve been lovely to see this week’s actual host have a more substantial role here.

The best sketch of the night: Dakota kills Please Don’t Destroy

Ellen DeGeneres got off easy, as evidenced by this week’s Please Don’t Destroy digital short. Johnson had seemingly nothing but friendly intentions as she paid a visit to Ben Marshall, John Higgins and Martin Herlihy—that is, until she leashed a roasting so brutal, the comedy trio were carcinogenic by the time she finished. Among her excellently harsh insults: “I’ve always wanted to meet the Lonelier Island!” and “I can just tell by looking at you that you guys just loved Hamilton.” But it was the “nepo truce” between the host (the daughter of actors Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith) and fellow industry babies Higgins and Herlihy (sons of longtime SNL writers Steve Higgins and Tim Herlihy, respectively) that really tickled us.

The most topical sketch of the night: Supersized Stanley

At the risk of making the majority of TikTok feel “so attacked right now,” this “Big Dumb Cups” product pitch featured Johnson, Chloe Fineman and Heidi Gardner as variations of a very specific type of woman: one between the ages of “12 and 70,” who is “physically or spiritually blonde,” and who may or may not resort to murder to get their hands on one of those large, ludicrously expensive and potentially lead-laden Stanley Cups. “This is the cup that says, ‘I’m a virgin, but I also have six kids,’” Johnson said. “It’s the cup that says: ‘My favorite rapper? That’s Kesha,’” Fineman added. Extra props, literally, to the props department, for the sight gag of those increasingly Jurassic water bottles.

The “these cameos deserved better” sketch of the night:

That upstage attempt by Timberlake and Fallon wasn’t the only celebrity drop-in of the night: we also got appearances from Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran and Mark Cuban, who crashed a book-club sketch that saw Johnson as the “inventor” of a T-shirt that read, “Don’t ask if I’m ok. I’m ok. But if everyone starts asking if I’m ok, I might start crying’ on it.” (“I distilled the entire human experience into three sentences,” she quipped.) The clip was clearly conceived to have the TV investors swim in for a surprise, but the ending was underwritten, and it left said sharks splashing around aimlessly.

Dakota Johnson/Justin Timberlake

D-

D-

Dakota Johnson/Justin Timberlake

Season

49

Episode 10

10

Stray observations

  • A largely lousy episode, but we did enjoy two new characters introduced during “Weekend Update”: Heidi Gardner’s tarot reader Jan Janby, who offered up predictions on the 2024 presidential election, and some guy named Ethan (Bowen Yang), who showed up to put in his two cents on those Oscar nominations and reveal the winners of his own awards-show body, the Ethans. Ex: In the category of “Best Performance That Reminded Ethan of a Moment in Ethan’s Past,” you’ll find “Bradley Cooper Marrying a Woman, Maestro” and “Paul Giamatti’s Eye Condition, The Holdovers.”

  • Uh, Dave Chappelle? The increasingly controversial comedian randomly appeared stage left during Dakota Johnson’s episode close-out, though the actress didn’t mention him at all. What’s the deal? Plus, according to Twitter, both Pedro Pascal and Paul Mescal were also in the house, but we sadly didn’t get any onscreen sighting of either Internet boyfriend.

  • However, next week, we will be getting sightings from both Emmy-winning The Bear star Ayo Edebiri, who makes her hosting debut, and superstar Jennifer Lopez, who returns as the musical guest.