Saturday Night Live: Emma Stone elevates a middling episode

<span>Photograph: NBC/Rosalind O'Connor/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: NBC/Rosalind O'Connor/Getty Images
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Saturday Night Live opens with CNN’s breaking coverage of “disgraced and now expelled” congressman George Santos’s (Bowen Yang) press conference. The “proud, gay thief” and “Latina queen” picks a fight with reporters before sitting down at a piano and singing a tribute to himself, Scandal in the Wind, to the tune of Elton John.

This is a far more fitting send-off to Santos, AKA “evil Forrest Gump”, than his goodbye on last episode’s Weekend Update, and probably the best performance Yang has given during his time on the show.

Host Emma Stone becomes the youngest member of the fabled Five Timers Club at only 35. The Oscar-winner recounts meeting her husband on the show (in real life, writer Dave McCary, though we get a funny cutaway to Lorne Michaels), before being joined on stage by fellow Five-Timer Women Section members Tina Fey and Candice Bergen. They present Stone with her jacket, which they assume used to belong to Woody Harrelson after she finds a joint in the pocket, before discarding that notion after she also discovers a vaccine card in it. A solid and much-deserved jab, no pun intended, at Harrelson’s moronic anti-vaxx rant from last season.

On Question Quest, Stone’s contestant wins “Speedy”, a giant tortoise that previously belonged to the show’s host (Michael Longfellow). She’s horrified to learn that the animal lives between 150 and 200 years and that she’s now saddled with the responsibility of caring for it for the rest of her days. The idea isn’t strong enough to carry the whole sketch, but Stone’s exasperation and Longfellow’s dead-eyed, American Psycho-like aura make it worthwhile.

A soulful music video from Stone and the cast sees them celebrate their love of working blue-collar jobs in New York City while fully naked. Unexpected and bizarre, but in a good way (it helps that the song is catchy).

This is followed by yet another musical sketch – this one live – featuring Kenan Thompson’s lounge-singer Treece and his backup band. Like all of the Treece sketches, it’s too long and convoluted.

A new Please Don’t Destroy short is preceded by a disclaimer informing us that due to a hard drive malfunction, some of the footage featuring Stone was corrupted, but that it’s been “seamlessly replaced” by AI-generated technology. Said footage very obviously features Punkie Johnson standing in for her with a horrifying digital facial reconstruction of Stone. Johnson and Martin end up hooking up, while Marcello Hernandez replaces Ben and John ends up yassifying himself. As the Please Don’t Destroy sketches have become more focused and less surreal, they’ve also lost much of what made them feel fresh at the start of their run.

On a pottery show, the hosts welcome Stone’s fellow amateur craftsperson to show off some of her creations – including misshapen bowls and an even more warped representation of her mother’s vagina. Low energy by design, this one is a total slog.

Following musical guest Noah Kahan’s first performance, it’s time for Weekend Update. Colin Jost welcomes the first and sole guest, a lit cigarette (Longfellow, in a ridiculous, but impressive costume). The cig complains about kids smoking dorky vapes, tries to get Jost to say the nickname for smokes in London, and crows about countries like Australia trying to ban smokeable electronic devices.

After last episode’s noticeably long Update, it looks like we’re back to shorter segments. Usually, that would be fine, but this week feels like a missed (or perhaps intentionally ducked) opportunity to take on some of the big stories of the week–namely, the death of the despicable Henry Kissinger and Elon Musk’s spectacular and humiliating public flameout. Both men get brief mentions during the initial headline rundown, but the show could have done so much more with them.

Newly found footage from the 60s shows a studio session featuring Mama Cass (Chloe Troast) of the Mamas and Papas recording her solo track Make Your Own Kind of Music. Stone plays producer Mitch Lester, who informs Cass that although the song will fall out of the public consciousness for decades, it will eventually be rediscovered via its ironic ubiquity in violent movies and movie trailers. A fantastic takedown of tired Hollywood tropes, featuring some truly impressive physical acting from Stone.

Next, Marcello Hernandez plays an exhausted high school student who falls asleep while studying for an exam. In his dream, his bedroom posters, featuring David Beckham, a UFC champion, video game characters and, of course, sexy airhead Krissy Knox (now an Instagram model and “unpopular podcast” host) come to life to teach him the value of physics. A virtual repeat of previous installments, but Stone’s squeaky-voiced, highly flexible sexpot gives her another chance to show off her exceptional comedy chops.

The final sketch of the night is a commercial for Olay’s new facial cleanser, made entirely from Diet Coke. There’s no real point to this other than a recognition that women love Diet Coke and the whole thing is over before you know it. Stone isn’t even in it, which makes it an odd choice to wrap up on.

While this episode’s sketches where mostly middling, Stone’s presence and performance elevated everything. No surprise there, as she’s not merely one of the most reliably great SNL hosts of recent times, but one of the most talented comedic actors of our day. Hopefully, SNL has some better material for her when she returns for her 6tht go round.

• This article was amended on 4 December 2023 to correct a misspelling of Candice Bergen’s first name.