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‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: First-Timer Sterling K. Brown Proves His Greatness Even In the Weirdest Situations

The Emmy winner wasn't afraid to take chances during his time in Studio 8H.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 1740 "Sterling K. Brown" -- Pictured: (l-r) Sterling K. Brown, Melissa Villaseñor during "Family Dinner Shrek" in Studio 8H on Saturday, March 10, 2018 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)

Will Heath/NBC

It’s not saying anything new to say that Sterling K. Brown is a very charming, captivating actor. So of course seeing him on “Saturday Night Live” for the first time ever is one of those highly-anticipated moments, because you’re not quite sure what the show will be able to do with an actor like him. And vice versa, as no one could have possibly known that Sterling K. Brown was going to take his very first “SNL” hosting gig as an opportunity to let everyone know he has no problem taking a break from the tears and being weird every once in a while.

Host: Sterling K. Brown

All right, maybe he doesn’t take a true break from the tears, but weirdness still abounds from the moment Brown takes the show’s stage for his opening monologue. And surprise! It is absolutely not a musical monologue. That’s honestly pretty surprising.

So with the monologue, we’re treated to the “revelation” that the “K” in “Sterling K. Brown” stands for “Kathleen.” It doesn’t land that much, but that’s because it’s simply funnier in its follow-up, once our host tries to psych himself up by calling himself “Sterling Katherine.” We also learn that, because he’s an ACTOR, he wears his heart on his sleeve and is very “emotional”… which leads to him getting choked up throughout his monologue because he’s just so overwhelmed by everything about hosting ‘SNL’ for the first time. And — let’s be honest — because he wants to show off his ability to play emotional at the drop of a hat.

Brown also finds a way to deliver some solid jokes pretty quickly (the “That Was Them” after-show and the “This Us” spin-off, specifically) and a very good Kenan Thompson impression, out of nowhere. Who just has a Kenan Thompson impression? Emmy Award winner Sterling K. Brown, that’s who.

But getting back to the weirdness Sterling K. Brown has to play with in this episode, it’s really worth asking: Is Sterling K. Brown just a weird guy with a weird sense of humor? Given the sketch choices this week, that’s certainly a valid question. If it’s not exactly the case, then it is at least worth noting he was very pro-risk-taking when it comes to sketches. Even more so than Sam Rockwell, a person everyone really expected to take risks and pick the “weird” sketches. And since “weird” has been the strong baseline for the past couple of years of “SNL,” this classification is certainly a compliment. For better or worse, let it never be said Sterling K. Brown called any sketch too weird or too dumb for him.

The “This Is U.S.” sketch is a strange choice at first because it starts with a Ben Carson impression — one where it looks like Sterling K. Brown took some notes from Jay Pharoah in order to properly get the Droopy Dog-ness down — right after the Celebrity Family Feud sketch made a Carson-related “Get Out” joke. It’s also the necessary “This Is Us” riff of the episode, as the overly-emotional Sterling K. Brown of the cold open simply couldn’t be enough. While certainly a solid sketch, it’s one that became less memorable as the episode went on and got into its strange groove. To the point where you might wonder, for a minute, why “SNL” hasn’t done a “This Is Us” sketch already — before remembering that it has.

It does, however, have a great “This Is Us’”-inspired visual that deserves praise, which is all the urns with past members of the Trump administration. Urns are a big deal in “This Is Us.”

Best Sketch of The Night: “Family Dinner-Shrek”/”Dying Mrs. Gomez”

Neither of these sketches should work. Neither of these sketches really do work? Whoever is responsible for these sketches was apparently on an early 2000s kick, right?

In the case of the “Shrek” sketch, it’s a wrap: Sterling K. Brown should win another Emmy just for this. Yes, the man deserves an Emmy for committing to a bit so hard you almost want to think “Shrek” is the best animated movie of all time. (It’s not, because “A Goofy Movie” exists. As well as a lot of other animated movies.) It’s not even necessarily a slam on people who are obsessed with Pixar and seek nothing else out on that front, but by the time Sterling K. Brown tosses a glass of water at Beck Bennett, it might as well be. Really, it’s so stupid but so great, which is the name of the game for the best sketches of this episode. (The Cupid sketch is another great performance from Brown, but it just misses the mark of being on that greatness level.) And then it ends with a little bit of Smash Mouth’s cover of “I’m A Believer.” This actually happened.

Now let’s talk about Nickelback. This is a goofy sketch that has no reason for existing in 2018, which makes it even better. Again, the “SNL” writers got on a 2000s kick — there were probably some Buzzfeed quizzes involved — and as a result, Emmy Award winner Sterling K. Brown is going off about “Shrek” and Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me.” Though Cecily Strong’s dancing to the song might actually make her the MVP of the sketch. It’s mesmerizing. Truly, you haven’t experienced this sketch until you’ve watched it numerous times, focusing on either Sterling K. Brown, Melissa Villaseñor, Pete Davidson (who is the first one to really get into the song), or Cecily Strong. The sketch is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s just a shame it’s probably going to be lost to us, because hello, music rights.

Honorable Mention: “Rap vs. Rock”

Kyle Mooney is one of the most divisive cast members on “SNL.” There doesn’t tend to be a middle ground when it comes to people finding him funny or not. Those who do find him funny will most likely appreciate his latest Chris Fitzpatrick sketch, especially as he finds his way out of the high school and into the streets with a pretty fun man-on-the-street segment pitting rock music against rap (which apparently doesn’t deserve the designation of “music”). One of the best things about the sketch is Chris’ coded speak about how rap “doesn’t sound right” or how it’s not “for all colors” of people (unlike rock)… only for him to officially get uncomfortable when one of the men on the street flat-out makes it a race thing. There’s also the woman who gets cut out because she gives a well-thought out answer about music in general and the middle aged white guy who absolutely knows his stuff about rap.

This sketch should also be a pleasant surprise for Comedy Bang Bang podcast fans, as Kyle Mooney’s Chris Fitzpatrick puts “The Freak” back in their heads as soon as he discovers nu-metal… er… rock ‘n rap. “You think that I’m under your control / Never ever better / Sever the ties.”

Worst Sketch of The Night: Black Panther New Scene/Sasquatch

A “Black Panther” sketch with Kenan Thompson as that one uncle at the cookout should work… it just kind of doesn’t. It’s the one sketch where Sterling K. Brown does the least — both in terms of performance and the set-up of the sketch itself — and it’s also surprisingly the one where he breaks. (As does Leslie Jones.) Then again, it’s no surprise the man who just has a Kenan Thompson impression on hand finds the guy very funny, no matter the context.

On the other hand, Brown is doing the most in the Sasquatch sketch — really channeling his inner bro — and even that can’t save it. Because there’s really not anything to save: It’s just a sketch about a sasquatch messing with a dude in a juvenile way. That’s it. “A Goofy Movie” did that better too.

Best Male Performer: Alex Moffat

Alex Moffat has so quickly become the glue that holds “SNL” together that it’s amazing he once looked like he’d be the Luke Null of the show. (Sorry, Luke Null. You can still turn it around!) He and Mikey Day have become somewhat of a package deal as Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. (and the less-figured-out Prince William and Prince Harry), but Moffat has somehow broken out in a way not expected by those of us familiar with Day prior to “SNL.” Please just watch his initial reaction to opening up a pop-up book. That’s pure innocence on display in sketch comedy.

Best Female Performer: Cecily Strong

Strangely enough, this isn’t exactly an episode for the ladies. (At least performance-wise, not host-wise. Wink wink. I’m sorry.) That is sort of an anomaly, because so often the women of “SNL” have to do the heavy lifting to prop an episode up. In a way, that’s technically still the case here, as there are plenty of weak points. Oh, and Vanessa Bayer returned for a quick sec! We’ve missed you, Vanessa.

But in an episode of weirdness, Cecily Strong certainly deserves credit for her big contributions, starting with the cold open (as Becca K.) and then toward the end of the episode (as the Southern???, god-fearing script supervisor). The latter sketch is also one that’s spectacular in how she doesn’t start tripping over her lines, because eventually all of the “fudges” and “c-suckers” start to blur together.” In a good way!

Best Impression: A Singular Moment Within Kenan Thompson as Steve Harvey

Some people might not consider Kenan’s existential crisis during the “Family Feud” sketch — which is specifically what’s being referenced here — an impression. Those people probably also think that at some point, you’ve gotta to call it quits on sketch comedy. But you do you, Kenan.

Honorable Mention: Sterling K. Brown as Common

Common really has just become one long spoken word piece, hasn’t he?

Grade: B

Sterling K. Brown’s performance in this episode of “SNL” is like a whirlwind, to the point where you’d almost think the episode itself was as strong as said performance. It’s sadly not, but there’s no chance this will be his last time hosting. And now that they know his strengths, they’ll know what buttons to hit ever harder next time. By the way: His strengths are everything, and the button they’ll hopefully hit next time is Creed. Or Limp Bizkit!

It’s disappointing that the “This Is Us” sketch and the “Black Panther” sketch — you know, the two sketches specifically designed for Sterling K. Brown, an actor from those two projects — aren’t the major highlights of the episode. It’s even more disappointing that there isn’t a surprise “Army Wives” joke either. You’re thinking that might be too obscure of a Sterling K. Brown reference for them to make, but: 1. That show lasted for seven seasons and he was on all seven. 2. It would at least hold up more than a cold open that will make even less sense the further away we get from this latest season finale of “The Bachelor.”

By the way, the greatest trick this episode ever pulled is during that cold open, when it fooled us into thinking the show is starting something other than a political cold open. Now we know how Becca K. felt.

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