So, here we are. It’s 2017. The world hasn’t ended, and “Saturday Night Live” is back. Did the episode tackle Trump? Yes, somewhat. Was it a good episode? Not especially. Will you have a clear idea of who Felicity Jones is, and what her brand is, despite the fact that she was nominated for Best Actress just last year and we should probably get her by now? No. But are there still any sketches worth watching? Absolutely.
Pardon us: The monologue had a special guest star who burned Internet reviewers and threw us off our game. OR DID IT? (It did — have a guest, at least.)
Host: Felicity Jones
Felicity Jones is a good actress, an Academy Award nominee, the star of her own “Star Wars” spinoff, and a fairly prolific indie performer too. But who IS she? What’s her thing? Why was she hosting this particular episode? We don’t have all the answers. And the truth is, she was a fine host; she had enough energy, she kept it together in the weirder sketches, and has an oddly good robot voice in her back pocket. The fact that she’s not an American tabloid fixture (or object of fascination) should work in her favor. Maybe it wasn’t a strong episode; maybe she was nervous. (Jones was noticeably reading off of cue cards in the monologue and during “Beard Hunk”, at least.) It just wasn’t a memorable episode at all.
On the flip, she may be too good of an actress; “SNL” can be so cartoonish, we’re used to going “look at X person playing this part!” instead of appreciating the character itself. Just a thought.
A hologram of Tina Fey dropped by for the assist during her monologue, and to appropriately acknowledge/mourn the loss of Carrie Fisher. Interestingly, Fey also got in the best jabs — she took kindly shots at online reviewers of “SNL,” at the President-Elect, and Kenan Thompson — all while reassuring Jones that she didn’t have to be the funny one in every sketch. It was a strangely meta moment, as Fey was literally in the middle of upstaging her. Hmm.
Best Female Performer: Kate McKinnon
The most visible female performer of the evening was also the best. McKinnon has a supernatural ability to transform — duh, she’s a comedian and an impressionist ± but last night’s episode saw her do pretty much everything. We saw a tough corporate CEO, a malevolent witch, and a put-upon theater actor, among other characters. Fortunately, McKinnon was free from her Hillary Clinton impression, but she’ll likely have to resurrect that next week (in the first episode post-inauguration). Rest up today, Kate.
Best Male Performer: Mikey Day
Something is wrong with this person.
Fine, maybe that’s unfair. What I mean to say is, a performance this preposterous is typically an indicator of a) a person’s talent or b) complete insanity. In Mikey Day’s case, it appears he is blessed with both. He nailed his role in other sketches, too, but it’s difficult to think about anything other than Day choking back prop paste and barking for his nurse right now.
Sketch Most Likely to Go Viral: The Princess and The Curse
A “Ella Enchanted”/any classic fairy tale-type setup will have you on the edge of your seat. What curse could have befallen the angelic princess (and really, how has Felicity Jones not played one before)? Could it truly be so terrible that she’d push away the love of her life, just to protect it? And what would the equivalent be, for a man? At the very least, viewers will take away this perfect getaway line: “I just remembered… I have a thing until the end of time.”
Best Sketch of The Night: Beard Hunk
“The Bachelor” may seem like easy pickins’ for parody, but “SNL” does it best. The third entry in its trio of Bachelor-adjacent shows, “Beard Hunk,” joins “Farm Man” (Blake Shelton) and “Bland Man” (Taran Killam) in the fake reality TV hall of fame. In terms of the evening’s sketches, “Beard Hunk” brought it all: The best delivery, the sharpest lines and uncanny accuracy. Even if you’ve never accidentally tuned in to ABC on a Monday night in the last fifteen years, you’ll be hip to Beard Hunk. We all know someone named “Whatever” with the most abrupt ombré hair color
Worst Sketch of The Night: Corporate Retreat
This sketch brought to mind a line from a musical episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”: “Who is it versus? Who are we doing it versus?” The best sketches have a clear target, an answer. This one did not. Satire should be pointed, not vague and strange and grasping at whatever sends people up in arms (and that hasn’t already been covered during the episode). Which character was the audience supposed to find relatable? Is there ever one person like Cecily Strong’s character that in an office setting, let alone three women? And do offices really take staff trips to tropical locations? (Maybe this reviewer should stop working for start-ups.) By the time it reaches its conclusion, the audience doesn’t know what to think.
Best Impression: Kate McKinnon
Okay, to be fair, there’s no official way to declare this an impression, because we have an incomplete understanding of Susan B. Anthony’s facial expressions, body language, and cadences. That said, it was excellent. Unlike “Corporate Retreat,” this sketch found the balance between “silly” (What would happen after a bunch of modern women summoned Susan B. Anthony’s ghost at her historic home?) and “offering valuable insight” (No, seriously, what would happen?). While inherently goofy, this sketch managed to hit all the right notes, including some damning ones! White feminists love to laud Susan B. Anthony, but she’s an imperfect hero. And not even Kate McKinnon can make her cool enough to get off the phone for.
Best Parody: Press Conference
Someone remarked online that this sketch went more smoothly and provided more credible information than the actual press conference itself. That seems a bit optimistic, but this version was somewhat more truthful. (It also featured a surprising number of key cast members for the cold open.) One highlight? Cecily Strong as Trump’s charisma-free tax attorney. Okay, two highlights: Baldwin-Trump introducing his sons as Beavis and Butthead. It also got uncomfortably real; after a “journalist” asked why the GOP was so hell-bent on removing insurance from 20 million people in their own country, many of who will die, Trump responded “I’m about to be President. We’re all gonna die.”
A lot of last night’s episode felt like a fever dream. “SNL” returns January 21st with first-time host Aziz Ansari and musical guest Big Sean.