Back to IndieWire

‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: America, Are You Not Entertained By John Cena?

John Cena hosts an "SNL" that says things aren’t bad, they’re just "alt-good" right now.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "John Cena" Episode 1713 -- Pictured: Host John Cena on December 6, 2016 -- (Photo by: Rosalind O'Connor/NBC)

Rosalind O'Connor/NBC

LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: Emma Stone Keeps Us From Fighting on Christmas

Here are the things “Saturday Night Live” is doing right: Tapping John Cena as host, creating viral sketches, and staying weird. Here is what “SNL” needs to be doing more of: Political satire. Social commentary. Anything to demonstrate that they know what’s up. We said it last week, and we’ll say it again, and again until it actually happens. The world looks to “SNL” for this sort of thing, and the president-elect is watching! Cut down Weekend Update’s one-liners, and expand the best jokes into sketches, like this week’s exceptional “Through Donald’s Eyes.” Please. Please. (Also, when you have a sec, can you give John Cena my number?)

Host: John Cena

John Cena. John Cena. WWE’s John Cena. Essentially a crazy-jacked reality TV star, and the best “Saturday Night Live” host of this year, no question. Watching Cena crush “SNL” was a masterclass in cognitive dissonance, at least for this reviewer; how can someone so physically overwhelming and so known for not-comedy be this good at hosting “Saturday Night Live”? It wasn’t all wigs and costumes and disguises, though those were great; Cena is funny, he has innate comedic timing, and he was always prepared for some light self-mockery. It’s not like this was his first acting gig, or even high-profile comedic role — remember his cameo in last summer’s “Trainwreck,” with Amy Schumer? – but to see his enthusiasm, and his dedication, was a freakin’ joy, okay? His cartoonish overreacting in “The Karate Teen” was great. Watching him as a meathead jock committed to a 4.0 GPA was sublime. He knocked it out of the park. The ring? THE CAGE?

Best Male Performer: Beck Bennett

Beck Bennett has quietly become the standout member of “SNL’s” male cast members. While his character work can be fun (“Baby Boss” is beloved by some, though this reviewer has never understood it), Beck shines brightest as any sketch’s straight man. As a result, he rarely overplays his hand; for instance, last night, the dude was ubiquitous, but he never came across as too much. Beck’s Jake Tapper and Mike Pence impressions are always solid, and appropriately understated, but our low-key favorite was his “MTV’s Hook a Hunk” contestant. He and [long-term writing partner] Kyle Mooney should do everything together.

Best Female Performer: Cecily Strong

After an absent few episodes, Cecily Strong returned in top form. Whether she was a shakily flirtatious dating show contestant or Michael Che’s screechy neighbor, Cecily was a joy to watch. (Personally, we’d love to see more Melania Trump, but there’s plenty of time for that in the future.) Interestingly enough, as the gonzo “Cathy Anne” on Weekend Update, Cecily offered the most genuine insight of the hour. When pawning off legitimate political commentary onto Che’s erratic neighbor is “SNL’s” satirical strategy, what does that mean for future episodes? Does calling a spade a spade count if it’s done so by an unintelligible Update character?

Best Impression: Literally Everyone in “Where’d Your Money Go?”

The evening’s second game show sketch promised to teach financial security to “the most ignorant millionaires” in professional sports, which pretty much says it all. Hosted by Kenan Thompson as Charles Barkley (always a delight), this show is perhaps most reminiscent of the “Celebrity Jeopardy” sketches of yore. With subtle put-downs and general disbelief at the level of incompetence put on display by the contestants — including John Cena as Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots — Charles seemed to be channeling Will Ferrell’s enraged Alex Trebek. Bobby Moynihan and Alex Moffat put in excellent turns as golfer John Daly and unhinged UFC fighter Conor McGregor, respectively.

Worst Sketch of The Night: “Joanne & The Tree”

In the only true dud of the evening, a raspy-voiced Aidy Bryant sees her good intentions unintentionally sabotage the office Yankee Swap. Putting aside Santa’s workshop, which is presumably fictional, has anyone actually worked in an office setting where the Christmas tree matters this much?

Best Sketch of The Night: “Through Donald’s Eyes”

At once the episode’s best sketch, best parody, and the sketch most likely to go viral, “Through Donald’s Eyes” is a “Saturday Night Live” gem for the history books. If you’ve spent even a minute of your day wondering “How could this man possibly be the way that he is?” “SNL” finally as your answer. From the visual gags to the lighting cues, the elaborate set to the Fox news soundbites and beyond — “Through Donald’s Eyes” was, and we do not use this word lightly, perfect.

Sketch Most Likely to Go Viral: “Romance Bookstore”

For those of you who miss when “SNL” was best known for sheer, entertaining madness, “Romance Bookstore” is the one for you. We list this as the sketch most likely to go viral mostly because it featured the heaviest amount of bodice-ripping action — or, more accurately, flowy shirt and dowdy sweater-ripping action — of the entire night. Here, “SNL” followed one of its best archetypes to the letter: Regular People Customers attempting to make a Normal Purchase from lunatics. It doesn’t get a whole lot better than seeing John Cena, a champion wrestler (and record-breaking completer of “Make A Wish Foundation” wishes, by the way) done up like Fabio and yelling erotic nonsense in a bookstore. Really, something for everyone.

Best Parody: “Dyke & Fats Save Christmas”

Those beloved 1970’s TV detectives — Officers Les Dykowitz and Chubbina Fatzarelli — are at it again. But can they save Christmas and demand the respect they deserve, all before the hour is up? Find out tonight on an all-new “Dyke & Fats,” right before a brand-new episode of “Keith: Black Detective.”

Grade: B

If wrestling doesn’t pan out, John Cena should just join the cast of “SNL.” We’re back next week, December 17th, with host Casey Affleck and musical guest Chance the Rapper.

Stay on top of the latest TV news! Sign up for our TV email newsletter here.

This Article is related to: Television and tagged , , ,