“Ladies and gentlemen—me!”
There are little moments that Saturday Night Live gives you that you don’t get from any other show. Sometimes they’re big, and momentous. Other times, they’re tiny, and afterthought. And yet, they encapsulate an episode so perfectly in miniature that I know I’ll think about them forever. Tonight, in the scurry and rush after one sketch ended, Aidy Bryant took Lizzo’s hand and, as the camera pulled out and got ready to cut to commercial, the two of them hurried off for the next quick change.
It’s such a nothing moment, a marginal doodle around the edges of a 90-minute show. And yet. I was swept up in the flow this episode was maintaining around its host and musical guest, a breathless, giddy, giggly rush of silly sweetness. Do I just want Aidy and Lizzo to have become best friends from their frequent team-ups tonight? Of course. I’m only human. But it’s always uniquely intoxicating when it’s so apparent that everybody on SNL is enamored of that week’s host, and vice-versa.
Lizzo was a delight. Her monologue, filled with the singer’s signature boosterish good cheer and unapologetic confidence, was a charmer, right down to when she confessed to being worried about all the cussing because her mom was there. (Hello, Mrs. Lizzo, you did a very good job introducing your daughter’s second musical number.) Lizzo joked about the inevitable rumors about her dating “every little white boy in Hollywood,” while admitting that she did make that one video proclaiming her the mother of Chris Evans’ baby. “It’s called manifesting!,” the singer confessed, happily.
There’s pretty much no question in my mind that Lizzo is going to go into acting—and be very good at it. Yeah, she read some cue cards, but SNL actively and historically discourages performers from memorizing the ever-changing lines, and if every host wrung as much joy from her lines as Lizzo, SNL would be very happy, indeed. And, sure, she was prone to break throughout, but there’s breaking and then there’s Lizzo breaking, which seemed utterly spontaneous and born of genuine, and contagious, joy at being there. There was nothing self-satisfied about it (cough—Fallon and Sanz—cough), which makes all the difference.
And Lizzo was really funny. The Lizzo rom-com, when it comes, is going to be similarly buoyed by a performer who simply has the stuff. Tonight was all about tempo, too, as each sketch seemed to have a running motor a lot of sketches this season have lacked. SNL can be a monster of a gig for anybody, never mind a first-time host also pulling double-duty as musical guest, and Lizzo was great.
After all that buildup, I’m not saying that the show was flawless or anything. The sketches were brisk and energetically performed, but none really exploded. The best of an above-average bunch was the game show sketch. I know, I’m as shocked as you are. Here comes a tangent: Saturday Night Live sifts the week’s reality into various, tried-and-tested templates, which is fine. But game show sketches have always been such a crutch for this show. I mean, there are other types of sketches. Are game shows that ubiquitous in the public consciousness that every episode needs to pour its energy into a game show bottle? Just put the buzzer props in a box and see what else comes to mind.
I’m done. Guess That was a game show sketch in only the barest detail, functioning mainly as Lizzo’s first post-monologue showcase as a contestant on a very nondescript quiz show who takes over the enterprise on strength of personality alone. Her take-no-shit energy swept up fellow contestants Ego Nwodim and Chris Redd, and eventually felled indefatigable host Kenan, her unwillingness to knuckle under to the format’s unforgiving, rapid-fire rules making her de facto boss by dint of being herself. Even the show’s judges (and the seeming electronic mechanisms of the game show themselves) fell in line, as, in response to Lizzo’s Nicole arguing that Kenan’s host should lose a hundred bucks (for not being able to refute Nicole’s logic), Kenan’s podium suddenly and inexplicably flashed that he owed $100. Lizzo’s reading of “I don’t wanna play no more” after buzzing in in protest of Kenan ruling her RFK Airport answer incorrect (“You know what I meant!”) Is the sort of center-stage comic acting that truly drives a sketch. Again, a game show sketch getting the top spot from me means there was something special going on.
I didn’t object to anything tonight. The Six Flags sketch came closest to trying my patience, but even there, I was won over by the commitment to the dumb premise, and by the time an inexplicable chorus line of heavily made up old people emerged to dance along with Lizzo, her identical, theme park mascot grandparents, and formerly befuddled date Mikey Day, I had a big, dumb grin on my face. (Partly in relief that Mikey, at the last minute, diverted away from once more being cast as “guy who explains premise of sketch in mock outrage.”)
I have to confess I never saw those Six Flags commercials back in the day—I live in the Northeast, and the closest I ever got to what I’m assured is a truly annoying ad campaign was that reference to it on The Office. The sketch definitely gets points for demonstrating that SNL is going to continue to allow Sarah Sherman to get grotesque and weird with things, and Lizzo kept slipping in her own strange little touches, as her come-ons to the confused Day repeatedly ended with a silkily seductive dig at his potential lovemaking skills. If my least favorite sketch of a particular night is merely odd and dotted with off-kilter laughs, then that’s a pretty good night.
It was after the Black Eyed Peas sketch that Aidy and Lizzo hustled off hand-in-hand. And they made a very appealing team as the pair of 2008 music producers tasked with explaining to will.i.am and the gang that the studio notes reading “boom boom pow” were merely intended as filler lyrics. Like the whole Six Flags concept, time and circumstance absented me from having to give a damn about The Black Eyed Peas as a group or a concept. Still, I recognize that we are all supposed to think they’re very silly now, so here’s to SNL for deciding that now is the time to really let those guys have it in 2022.
Aidy and Lizzo are great, riding herd over the group’s cluelessness about what constitutes a hit song. Or a song. And Kenan, Redd, Bowen Yang, and Cecily (belting out nonsense as Fergie like a champion) match them in blockheaded intransigence. I did like producer Aidy trying to brainstorm lyrics for the problematic and quickly rerecorded “Let’s Get [Redacted],” explaining, “It has to be something we can say forever.”
The Please Don’t Destroy guys have hit paydirt mining their backstage, three-to-an-office dysfunction into some genuinely amusing short films. Tonight’s was another winner, as Lizzo, admitting that her writer’s block has left her bereft of new material for the show, demands that three white dorks whip up two killer Lizzo “black woman anthem”s before Andrew Dismukes straight-up murders her. It’s rarely about the premise as such with Martin, Ben and John, and the bizarro detail that featured player Andrew Dismukes has killed unprepared musical guests before is right in the guys’ strike zone. Here again, Lizzo’s super, acting the hell out of her desperation and her resignation, and sighing, “Guess I gotta go get killed by Andrew Dismukes,” before the guys’ equally sweaty riffing inspires her to write a banger about a horny zookeeper. (She’s also got a thing going with Martin, who she calls “sexy daddy,” much to Ben and John’s jealousy.) The resulting snatch of “Horny Zookeeper” isn’t on the level of “Three Sad Virgins,” but we do get to see the guys in animal costumes being stroked by Lizzo. Sometimes it’s the little things.
I laughed at the uniform underplaying in the orgy sketch. Sorry, the “weekly debauch party” sketch,” as Bowen Yang and Cecily Strong played the exacting directors for a rehearsal of the upcoming flesh feast for the benefit of one Mazrathin(?) the “depraved, insane god-king.” (Who turns out to be a little boy.) Premise and tone are right in synch, as each would-be performer auditions their concept for the evening with the blasé perfectionism of the seasoned orgy professional. Aristotle Athari’s purveyor of “loud, abrasive music” is prepared to take notes, while Alex Moffat, Ego, and Sarah Sherman lounge on each other promising that their on-demand lovemaking will be “happening” but “not the focus” of the scene. Meanwhile, Dismukes and Lizzo’s episode-long pairing sees her asking for guidance on just how the god-king would prefer she torment her “little tender boy.”
Kate gets the big animal laugh, asking if she’s supposed to make out with or sacrifice the goat she was tasked with bringing, and then doing a walk-through kiss with the help of a carrot stick and her very real goat pal. What could just be a snicker-fest, instead, becomes a scene filled with arch little character sketches, down to Chris Redd assuring everyone that, while he’s fanning everyone with his big feather, he will, obviously, have an enormous penis that will be out the whole time. It’s nobody’s first rodeo. Or goat-rodeo.
Lizzo gets to play her flute a couple of times tonight, making use of her enviable flautist’s skills for comedy as the emergency fill-in orchestra member who can only play while she’s twerking. This could have been sour, but for how happily everybody onstage got into the idea that everyone in the “DeVry Institute Symphony Orchestra” is charmed by the boisterous but brilliant flautist’s unorthodox style. Lots of cast members were on the verge of losing it, as Lizzo played “Ode to Joy” while grinding her rump against Moffat’s bassoonist, and there was one great gag where Lizzo starts to give her inspirational backstory of fluting and twerking, before thanking violinist Aidy for accompanying her. (I’m a sucker for fake-out diegetic music jokes, what can I say.) With the entire tuxedo-clad orchestra finally joining their new band member as she shakes it and blows, the sketch ends on an appropriate note of harmonious silliness.
Updates have been shorter the last few weeks. Just an observation, but, as even short-time readers are aware, it’s a little pet peeve of mine that Saturday Night Live’s flagship political comedy segment is doing so little with so much. I mean, what’s an in-progress right-wing, authoritarian, white supremacist power grab from a political party fully given over to its most regressive and hateful elements? Ugh, fine.
Jost and Che were funny enough, even if I had to scan back over my notes to remember anything even remotely biting or hard-hitting. Che did better, with a solid burn on Elon Musk’s bid to take over Twitter (“That’s how badly white guys want to use the N-word”), and another on a police stop on a driverless car. (The cop still managed to shoot an unarmed Black guy, somehow.) After that, it was all “Biden is old,” “guy with a dumbbell up his butt,” and a fat joke.
Melissa Villaseñor got a piece on the air, everybody! As Jost’s driver and wannabe stand-up, Melissa has a solid spin on the premise, as her amateur comic kept slamming his nephew for the laugh, only to continually turn to camera two to tearfully apologize. A nifty piece of character work from Villaseñor, who needed one.
Oh, that crazy TikTok. But I kid SNL once more cobbling together a lazy framework for some quick-hit goofs with no punchlines. I know you crazy kids with your kooky internet are all the rage, so I’ll crank back the old man crankiness. Plus, this was actually solid throughout, with enough representative parodies of the sort of nonsense you’re likely to find on everyone’s favorite short-form self-promotion and fuck-around site. The wraparound even had a payoff of sorts, as the procrastinating user’s father (James Austin Johnson) is revealed to be one of the strange-os the LSAT studier has been watching. (Dad is living his life on all fours to restore his testosterone, something I’m sure Tucker Carlson’s latest he-man woman-haters club docu-ganda will be promoting any day now.)
Still, I did moan about this the first time around as the sort of catch-all trap for disconnected, disposable recognition laughs. And while I have no idea how true some of these things are to the TikTok community itself (I can only imagine there is a channel dedicated to a white guy delivering political takes while wearing kitty cat body paint), I recognized. Punkie Johnson at the end of her rope, explaining “You’re pissing me off. I will end your life” is the sort of public service jerkiness I can get behind. Of course, that’s my brand. SNL is always seeking for a handy template into which it can slot otherwise random jokes (see tonight’s cold open), so pegging them to the latest social media trend is at least likely to bring in the youthful demographic on YouTube the next morning. That should make Lorne happy.
I mean, I guess the cold open qualifies? Bowen Yang as the Easter Bunny could have led somewhere other than a string of unconnected and overall mediocre impressions, but it didn’t. Instead, the rabbit gave way to such sort-of newsworthy figures as Kate’s Anthony Fauci (finally admitting that he doesn’t give a shit if you get Covid because you won’t get vaccinated), Chloe’s Britney Spears (for no discernible reason), Kyle Mooney’s Jared Leto (saying it’s okay if we critics skip Morbius), and Mikey Day’s robotic Elon Musk (who explains every joke, sort of the way that Mikey is wont to do). On the slightly more newsworthy front, Redd’s New York Mayor Eric Adams continues his campaign to fix the city through braggadocio and police worship, touting his former cop colleagues for catching New York’s most recent mass shooter—who turned himself in at a McDonald’s, after telling the unsuccessful NYPD right where to find him. Meanwhile Cecily’s Marjorie Taylor Greene continues to be equal parts unhinged and dangerous, proudly boasting of emphasizing a passive-aggressive “Happy Easter” to her non-Christian government colleagues while holding a chocolate assault rifle.
The real reason for the season, though, was finding another way to put James Austin Johnson’s excellently observed Trump right up top. And while some might cry for SNL to truly tackle the ongoing, nationwide GOP coup against American democracy and fair elections, frankly, I don’t know if substantive attacks on the former president and twice-impeached active seditionist bigot are really the point anymore. Johnson’s Trump is character assassination through uncanny channelling, Johnson’s pitch-perfect approximation of the track-skipping and deteriorating Trump’s signature brand of self-aggrandizing gibberish the most potent sort of satirical broadside. Nobody’s going to have their mind changed at this point, certainly not by having Alec Baldwin read out verbatim Trump-isms while making dopey faces, so perhaps Johnson’s babbling but self-impressed Trump, with his elided articles and nonsensical asides, can worm its way into a few voters’ consciousnesses. Couldn’t hurt, I suppose.
No Pete again, as he’s currently embroiled in the sort of real-world drama that will, no doubt, make for a dishy Update piece once he comes back.
Aristotle fans will continue to be angry online, as he had just a few lines, while Melissa stans got a solid Update piece to tide them over.
For the top spot, there was a nice ensemble spread tonight. Kate kissed a goat and hammed it up on a harp. Kenan did what he could with a game show host. Cecily got to sing as Fergie and be insane and terrible as MTG. I’m going to cop out and give Dismukes and Aidy a tie. Slight edge to Andrew, as his ominous threat to murder the host was the sort of unexpected little star turn that can boost a featured player’s profile. (Seriously, though, he should have been promoted to the cast already.)
A good night for Dismukes concludes with a fine little 10-to-one sketch about his smug Beanie Baby collector finding out that his big, post-resignation nest egg isn’t the key to world travel and retirement comfort he and wife Lizzo imagined it to be. It’s not just me thinking that the whole “Beanie Babies don’t hold their value” gag is played way, way out at this point, right? (And don’t get me started on Ace Ventura impressions.) Still, that’s less the point of the sketch than letting Dismukes and Lizzo play out their delusional couple’s drama as they brainstorm new windfalls after Dismukes hurls his Beanies bookcase to the floor in a rage. A good last sketch piles on the strange twists, as Dismukes and Lizzo reassure each other that his skills at drawing Mario will tide them over, even if the couple’s friends can’t help but note that his Mario is more of a Luigi. Lizzo had the giggles, but I don’t blame her, and if you’re going to lose it, the weirdo last sketch of your marathon hosting/musical episode is the time to do it.
After joking in her monologue that nervousness has left her merely “50 percent that bitch” (plus “10 percent flute-playing band girl bitch”), Lizzo predicts that her SNL will claim the title of episode with the most uses of “bitch.” I only counted 15 (including musical numbers), though. Somebody get on that. @thesnlnetwork, hit the books.
Tonight’s sad memorial card went to Gilbert Gottfried, naturally. Gottfried didn’t make much of a mark in his brief time on one of SNL’s most disastrous seasons, but he rebounded from that trainwreck just fine RIP.
Another big laugh from the game show sketch is how Ego explains how she “won” The People’s Court: “I stole my roommate’s waffle iron and I burned my hand.”
As a renowned critic and grump, I should be cynical about Lizzo’s pair of anthemic, overtly inspirational musical numbers tonight. But Lizzo doesn’t lend herself to cynicism, her unashamed self-esteem lyrics (about being a woman, and Black, and large), and her naughty generosity of spirit and body-positivity emerge with too much funky, defiant goodwill for even me to resist. Plus, we got a flute breakdown. Eat your heart out Jethro Tull.
We’re off for a few weeks, SNL returning on May 7, with second-time host Benedict Cumberbatch and fifth-time musical guest Arcade Fire.
Dennis Perkins is an entertainment writer who lives in Maine with his wife, the writer Emily L. Stephens, and their cat, (Special Agent Dale) Cooper. His work has appeared in places like The A.V. Club, Ultimate Classic Rock, and the Portland (Maine) Press Herald. You can find him on Twitter, where he will anger you with opinions, and Instagram, where you will be won back over by pictures of Special Agent Dale Cooper.