Here’s hoping the writing throughout this season is more focused than it was tonight
This week’s Saturday Night Live opened with a CNN special report: news anchor Don Lemon (Kennan Thompson, now officially the longest-serving cast member in SNL history), announces the Senate confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the supreme court. Coming just hours after the actual confirmation, the mood of the night (noticeable among the cast) mirrored that of exhausted correspondent Dana Bash (Heidi Gardner) as she reports live from the Republican congressional locker room, where a party is well underway. Senators Mitch McConnell (Beck Bennet) and Lindsey Graham (Kate McKinnon) celebrate their latest political victory, one that is “up there with Vietnam for sure!”
Crucial “yay” voter Susan Collins (Cecily Strong), the GOP’s “one girl”, nervously pontificates about how it is “important to believe women until it’s time to stop”. She’s joined by Jeff “the Snake” Flake (Pete Davidson) and Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell (Aidy Bryant). We cut briefly to Chuck Schumer (Alex Moffat), who shrugs off the loss, admitting that “we thought this time would be better than the Anita Hill hearing because Dr Ford was white, but then it turned out Brett Kavanaugh is white too and we were completely blindsided by that”.
Back at the Republican locker room, the senators crack open cans of Miller High-Life, “the champagne of beer”, in honor of Kavanaugh, the “Natty Light of judges”. It doesn’t quite seem like anyone’s heart is in the sketch.
Awkwafina, the 29-year-old rapper/actress who has broken into the mainstream thanks to big roles in two of the recent box office smashes, Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians, receives huge applause during her opening monologue when she mentions the latter film. However, the momentum dwindles during the quick spate of humorous observations (it would be stretching to call them jokes) that follow, which revolve around the new lifestyle her skyrocketing fame has earned her (“I am not a crazy rich Asian, I more like a ‘rebuilding my credit’ Asian.”) and a brief impression of her Queens-based father. Only the second Asian woman to ever host SNL, she devotes the last minute of her monologue recounting how she waited outside 30 Rock in 2000 to try and get tickets when her idol, Lucy Liu, hosted and how important that episode was to her.
The first sketch, Late Night Battle, concerns two urban crews who meet in a back alley to have a dance-off. The first crew displays their impressive technical abilities, only to be thrown for a loop when their rivals (comprised of Awkwafina, Thompson and Leslie Jones), “bust moves to the Price is Right theme”. While none of the jokes necessarily fall flat, they don’t particularly get big laughs either. This, unfortunately, proves to be the prevailing mood of the night.
Emergency Alert is a commercial about the new presidential text message alert system that debuted earlier this week. A range of women react to the increasingly boorish and deranged messages from the president, indistinguishable from his Tweets: “September 11th was almost a month ago!” “Remember Tiffani Amber-Thiessen? That’s when women were slam dunks!” It ends up as a joke about Cricket Wireless poor service.
The next sketch, Cleopatra, unnecessarily sets itself up as a show on The History Channel. It’s a meandering bit that sees the Egyptian queen (Strong) visited by a trio of catty, modern-day beauticians (Awkwafina, Thompson and McKinnon) and ultimately goes nowhere.
Travis Scott takes the stage for the first song of the night, the moody, auto-tune-heavy “Skeletons”.
This week’s Weekend Update dedicates its first news rundown exclusively to the Kavanaugh confirmation.
Colin Jost and Michael Che are then joined by guest commentators Eric Trump (Moffat) and Donald Trump Jr (Mikey Day), who commit to their usual portrayal of the brothers: Eric as dimwitted child and Donald Jr as the smarmy political hatchet-man. The bit itself is fine, but a little lazy.
After the second short news rundown, the duo is joined by Pete Davidson, who addresses Kanye West’s impromptu pro-Trump speech to the live audience immediately following last week’s show. Davidson notes that there was debate about whether he or Che should be the one to talk about West’s behavior, eventually deciding on him, since “Che’s black, but I’m crazy, and we both know which side of Kanye’s at the wheel right now”. He dismisses West’s claim of being “bullied” by the cast and crew for wearing a Maga hat.
The next sketch, So You’re Willing to Date a Magician, has Awkwafina playing Tracy, a newly-single contestant on the titular gameshow. It gets some laughs early on, but goes on far too long.
It becomes apparent at this point that Awkwafina’s onscreen charisma doesn’t seem to translate to live performance (at least not of the sketch comedy variety). It’s tempting to lay the blame on SNL, being that they haven’t yet given her any interesting characters to play, but her stilted line readings and general awkwardness (so different from her confident performances elsewhere) don’t suggest she would do much better even if the material were better.
As if to drive that point home, the next segment, Baby Shower, finally lets her play a kooky eccentric,but it’s similarly awkward and unintentionally cringe-worthy.
Travis Scott performs his second song, Sicko Mode.
The show comes to a merciful end with the last sketch, Film Panel, which features four famous actresses – Marion Cotillard (Strong), Allison Janney (Gardner), Sandra Oh (Awkwafina), and “legend of such classic Hollywood films Shimmy on the Train Tracks and The Jiggle Sisters”, Debette Goldry (McKinnon) – talking about the #MeToo movement.
After a smashing season opener and a lukewarm second show, here’s hoping the writing throughout this season is more focused than it was tonight.