Rumors swirled of President Trump’s unhappiness with last week’s Sean Spicer sketch. It’s not that he didn’t enjoy the sketch, per se, but despised the fact that a woman portrayed his Press Secretary. So, what if the President himself was portrayed by a middle-aged black woman, and not even a heavily disguised one at that? These are the questions “Saturday Night Live” has to ask, because every day comes a new, terrifying CNN push notification — and with it, an irrelevant tweet from the Commander-in-Chief. Even so, “SNL” didn’t stick to politics for the entire hour, and when they strayed from the news, it was often in error.
Host: Alec Baldwin
Live from New York, it’s Alec Baldwin’s historic 17th gig as host. It’s hard to believe he only began hosting in 1990, which happens to be three-plus years before cast member Pete Davidson was born. Time is a flat circle. But anyway. Though it may seem as if “SNL” tapped Baldwin to host to tick off the President and boost mid-season ratings, he was actually there to promote something. That something is “The Boss Baby,” a ludicrous animated film that gets one mention during the monologue.
Baldwin held it down; it’s unlikely that any one sketch of his from tonight will stand out the way “Canteen Boy” or “Schweddy Balls” once did, but that makes sense. It’s a different time. He isn’t just there to goof and promote “The Boss Baby” after all; the President hates Baldwin’s impression of him, and takes actual time out of his day to let the planet Earth know it. People would be watching this episode. It would matter. He was neither over-the-top, nor subtle, and only broke out the famed impression once. The bottom line? Baldwin is just an affable dude — at least, as an “SNL” host — and he did a reliably good job. He flubbed a line here or there, but at least he didn’t swear, right?
Best Parody: Pitch Meeting
On the heels of the Super Bowl, “SNL” sent up the wave of newly woke brands running commercials to reflect their cultural awareness. Remember the one about immigration, which turned out to be for a lumber company? And then we all found out that the owner is in favor of a new wall between Mexico and the United States? This sketch features ad executives trying to capture (and monetize) the spirit of political savvy, and this time, it’s to hawk Cheetos. The prop bowl of Cheetos in the background was tantalizing, but couldn’t distract from Baldwin and Aidy Bryant’s determination to bring cultural sensitivity to the forefront of Cheetos advertising. Even Cecily Strong and Alex Moffat’s reactions were perfectly timed. Look for this ad before and after every Monday Night Football timeout next season.
Best Sketch of The Night: Sean Spicer Press Conference
After last week’s triumphant sketch, it was rumored that Sean Spicer (the real one) wanted to bring a water gun to his next press conference as a joke, and the Commander-in-Chief wouldn’t allow it. That’s a shame, because it would have been incredible — and, to be honest, only gives “SNL” more room to do whatever it wants now. Had Spicer acknowledged the sketch, it would have been funny, and we likely could have moved on. But that’s not what happened.
“I’d just like to announce that I’m calm now!” shouts Melissa McCarthy, as she marches up to the podium. She’s just so good as Spicer. It’s uncanny. From the strange emphasis she puts on words to her inability to pronounce anything — or apologize for fumbling — McCarthy is just a dead ringer for the White House’s press secretary. (How did we get here, as a society?) Between her screaming, indignant version of Spicer and the hybrid of Foghorn Leghorn and Ross Perot that is Kate McKinnon’s Jeff Sessions, there was no way another sketch would outshine the cold open. The props are back, as are the reporter burns — it’s worth watching a billion times. It just is.
Best Female Performer: Kate McKinnon
Kate McKinnon belongs in the Smithsonian. Let’s talk about her versatility, just from last night? Her impressions included Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and the pile of bewitched cornsilk known as Kellyanne Conway. “SNL” knows that she’s special, as she’s in fewer meaningless sketches and offered more spotlight-stealing roles as each week passes. Whose idea was it to have the same human being tackle Jeff Sessions and Elizabeth Warren? How did she master Conway’s creaky Philadelphia-area accent, and how does she maintain it when hurling chef’s knives at Beck Bennett’s head? We may never know.
Best Male Performer: Alex Moffatt
With a host like Alec Baldwin in the house, it’s normal for the male cast members to be pushed aside to some degree. For instance, we barely heard anything from Bobby Moynihan this week, and even the reliable Beck Bennett didn’t do too much more than Vladimir Putin and Jake Tapper. However, Moffatt’s awkward physicality as Eric Trump is incredible; we only saw it for a moment, but it’s absolutely worth pointing out. Additionally, his roles as an ad exec, Army cadet, and gym class student were correctly underplayed. He appeared often, but was never unwelcome. Moffatt could very well be the sleeper hit of the new generation.
Worst Sketch of The Night: Gym Class
Fart humor? Fart humor? Seriously? What sketches were scrapped after dress rehearsal to make room for two and a half minutes of gym class? After seeing Alec Baldwin in a drill instructor role earlier in the night — and in a better sketch, too, though not one for the history books — why did we need one of him as a gym coach? Baldwin didn’t do anything special, and it didn’t allow a single cast member to show off his or her range. You know what got the workout here? The people behind the scenes who time sound effects. This was embarrassingly dumb. Oof.
Sketch Most Likely to Go Viral: Russell Stover
This commercial parody feels like the Cheetos pitch meeting, part two — and the worst possible outcome of it. What happens when a brand tries too hard? A new, time-sensitive, and fantastically terrible product idea. Ladies: If your man comes home with this, uh, well-intended celebration of history – particularly in place of a more traditional Valentine’s Day treat – it’s your choice to keep celebrating Valentine’s Days with him. Make the right call.
Best Impression: Sasheer Zamata
In an episode that overfloweth with impressions, Zamata’s Beyoncé comes out on top. Perched in a chair at her OB-GYN, the regal Queen Bey — still decked out in the veil from her pregnancy announcement, we see — waits pleasantly for news from her doctor, portrayed by Alec Baldwin. Something about Zamata’s vacant smile and calming demeanor felt so on the nose. It’s tough to make fun of someone as genetically blessed as Beyoncé. Lord knows Maya Rudolph tried. But Zamata’s confident, blissed-out manner of speaking implied a Beyoncé so supremely talented that she’s transcended the stress of a double pregnancy – and possibly the exhaustion of just being a person. (The money probably helps.) We won’t spoil what’s going on inside of her uterus, but it’s safe to say that she’s in no danger of being upstaged.
Honorable Mention: Leslie Jones as Trump. We see you, girl.
Alternately political and legitimately dumb, this Alec Baldwin-led episode just about gave us what we needed. “Saturday Night Live” returns on March 4th with first-time host Octavia Spencer. The musical guest has not been announced. Hopefully it will also be Octavia Spencer.