The nice thing about joining the “Five-Timers Club” — aside from that sweet smoking jacket — is the level of comfort you can feel, not just from the host, but from Saturday Night Live itself. It’s a welcome respite from the last few months, when the cast and writers have felt pressure to put the Trump administration on blast every week.
Of course, they should be mocking politicians and speaking truth to power — that’s the nature of a weekly topical sketch show. But Scarlett Johansson brings a looseness to this episode that makes even the weak jokes (looking at you, monologue bit about Kenan’s videos) breezy and forgettable. When’s the last time you can remember a host rolling with the punches as easily as ScarJo did when the dog’s helmet fell off in “Translator” or Leslie Jones kept blowing her lines in the ninja sketch?
The real winner is the back half of the show. It used to be a regular thing for the slot at 12:50 a.m. to be high-concept or a weird character piece that flopped as often as it hit. These bits always had a “swing for the fences” vibe that was endearing, though, and that’s been missing lately. This week, the last four sketches all felt like that: bold, silly, and willing to embrace their flaws.
Best of the Night: “Shud the Mermaid,” “Shanice Goodwin Ninja-Rivals,” “A Sketch for the Women,” and “Funeral Service”
Kate McKinnon throws herself into ugliness with gleeful abandon. She doesn’t even need makeup — her recurring Sheila Sovage character, the last-call barfly, is arguably the grossest character on the SNL roster — but her blobfish mermaid, Shud, doesn’t let it go to waste. Johansson plays her BFF, Kunk, and their weird Simpsons theme outbursts alone make this sketch worthwhile.
Tracy Morgan is not a good actor; he never was. But he had a couple of characters that were basically, “What if Tracy were an [occupation you wouldn’t expect Tracy to be]?” and the results were magical. Brian Fellow was a terrible safari expert and Astronaut Jones was awful in space, but they were both perfect to showcase Morgan. “Rivals” isn’t a great sketch, but by the second or third time out, Shanice Goodwin will be a franchise player.
If you’ve got a sketch with a message, keep it short. Throw in a couple of good gags like Johansson and Aidy Bryant saying their lines simultaneously, and cramming all the female members of the cast into one table and not letting them talk. Now, if only SNL could cut down on the number of sketches they air that this sketch parodies.
Any episode of SNL that does not have a sketch this silly and weird and with this level of commitment should be considered a failure. Likewise, any episode with more than one of these sketches would also be a failure. There are only so many times you can watch the entire cast sing “Here is my butt,” after all.
Worst of the Night: “Olive Garden” and “Zoo Pornographer”
To be fair, neither of these sketches was bad. Nothing this week was bad. But “Olive Garden” runs nearly seven minutes, and that’s twice as long as a sketch about the cast making funny faces should be. “Zoo Pornographer” feels like a sketch that’s been sitting in a writer’s portfolio for years, written more as an exercise than for comedy. Both of these sketches are perfectly acceptable but feel rote. “Olive Garden” is basic. “Finish” has an alternate sexual meaning.
Episode MVP: Scarlett Johansson
So frequently, movie actors cannot handle the challenge of live television; they’re so used to multiple takes and the restraint of film acting that they look like hunks of wood in front of the cameras at Studio 8H. But Johansson earned her smoking jacket and even if she had probably prepared for the eventuality of the dog getting free of the helmet, she handled it like a pro and ad-libbed to cover it like she does this every week.
Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:35 p.m. on NBC. Watch clips and full episodes of SNL for free on Yahoo View.