Despite Donald Glover’s status as a comedian, writer, actor, and musical artist, it was hard to guess what his first time hosting “SNL” would be like. Based on his creative pedigree, one would assume he’d be given the chance for his voice to be heard throughout the night and that his comedic sensibilities would shine through. But unlike John Mulaney, Glover didn’t have the advantage of working on “SNL” before. He’d also be pulling double duty, both as himself and his musical alter ego (kind of) Childish Gambino. That — the music part — was always the easiest one to imagine, because it’s the one that relies more on the performer than it does the entire “SNL” machine. Plus, everyone could get excited about Donald Glover introducing himself as the musical guest, right?
Wrong on that front. Somewhat disappointingly (in a way where it really doesn’t matter at all) despite being the closest “SNL” has come to another Garth Brooks/Chris Gaines situation, Donald Glover does not introduce himself for his musical numbers as Childish Gambino. Instead, he had Zoë Kravitz introduce the first song (before walking onstage herself to enjoy the performance) and Daniel Kaluuya introduce the second. See? When put that way, it doesn’t really disappoint at all. Neither does Donald Glover’s role as a host, which is quite the performance for a first-timer. It’s also kind of a love letter to all of his fans who remember his days working in sketch comedy, as that feels like a lifetime ago at this point.
And apropos of nothing but some rhyme scheme appreciation, before the first musical performance, this episode gives us some Lando, a Lambo, and Rambo… style.
Host: Donald Glover
After this episode, there’s going to be even more talk about how versatile Donald Glover is and how he can do it all, but his opening monologue is all about the opposite. Yes, even as he sings, “I really can do anything.” (Also, despite his comedy background, raise your hands if you too just knew he’d be doing a musical monologue.) The pratfall he does as he tries to prove he can ride a skateboard is quite brilliant, but the whole monologue is really just a nice build-up to get to the puke. Even Emmy/Grammy award-winning artists like a little gross-out humor.
The monologue also addresses the fact that Glover had auditioned for — and been passed up by — “SNL” twice. The joke then becomes that Glover is using this hosting gig as his latest audition to become an actual cast member, and honestly, this episode is a very solid audition tape for him. It’s interesting to imagine a world where Donald Glover did get a job at “SNL,” especially since one can imagine the same path, at least on the writer/actor/director side, being taken. Even if Glover had somehow only lasted for one season.
Donald Glover’s first sketch of the night sees him as a lawyer for Jurassic World (you know, from the movie “Jurassic World”), and really, that basic description doesn’t quite capture the beauty of this sketch. While most people were probably first introduced to Donald Glover as a cast member on “Community,” the vibe throughout most of this week’s “SNL” feels like a grown-up, more “mature” version of Derrick Comedy, Glover’s old sketch comedy group (alongside DC Pierson and Dominic Dierkes). Especially in this sketch, with the voice he chooses for this character and the general demeanor.
Everyone in the sketch as the straight man to Glover’s wannabe-hotshot attorney keep up the high created by the opening monologue, and little things like the way Glover awkwardly pours his water (which Kenan Thompson even can’t help but laugh at) or tries to act like a normal human being makes it all work. “Who even knows what is happening there?!?” indeed. Also, except for maybe the last sketch of the night, this week’s show is very good about having solid endings to the sketches, and the jury’s swift verdict is great after watching Glover’s lawyer think he’s won. (He has not.)
This is probably the one sketch of the night where Donald Glover’s presence is really just as support. And that’s okay, because who could have expected that Melissa Villaseñor’s awful dirty talker character would become a recurring bit? (The original sketch is in the Aziz Ansari episode.) With such dirty talk gems as, “Your dad’s dead.” and “Yes, I’m the Elephant Man!” this sketch is perfect to get the crowd invested, wondering what she’s going to say (or who she’s going to impersonate) next. The sketch also includes a fundamental rule and truth, courtesy of Glover’s character: “Don’t ever be Bill Cosby in the bedroom.”
The “Star Wars”/“Solo” sketch had to happen — such is the nature of the “SNL” beast. They’ve got the new Lando Calrissian hosting, so of course it happens. But since it is “Star Wars”… It’s basically the opposite of the “Black Panther” sketches from Sterling K. Brown and Chadwick Boseman’s episodes. This sketch addresses that whole lack of black humans in space (according to “Star Wars,” at least) thing — shout out to Mace Windu and Kenan Thompson as Saw Gerrera — by bringing the headcount to four and generally making it all an awkward black experience. That, juxtaposed with Lando’s, well, Lando-ness with alien ladies (“Making Love In Space” is a bop) makes for a successful First Ever Galactic Summit For All Black Humans.
By the way, if any Birthday Boys fans are in the house, that was Tim Kalpakis as the blue monster (aka Max Rebo) in this sketch.
No one goes into “SNL” hoping the host will go into an existential monologue about a Barbie doll. At least, no one hoped that until this sketch came into existence. The stupidity of Heidi Gardner and Pete Davidson’s intern characters is funny enough on their own, but it’s Glover’s commitment to this dark, bizarre intern (with a fantastic pronunciation of “Barbie”) that makes the sketch. Well, that and Kenan Thompson’s commitment as well, as the executive who eats, breathes, and sleeps Barbie. Just writing all of this is weird. “There goes Barbie. Poor thing. She doesn’t know she’s a toy.”
Best Sketch of The Night: “Friendos”/”’80s Music Video”/”A Kanye Place”
Nearly every sketch in this episode tries to vie for the position of Best Sketch of The Night, and honestly, between “Friendos,” “Raz P. Berry,” and “A Kanye Place,” it’s really hard to decide. Especially since these sketches go back-to-back-to-back here. But luckily, there are no rules here, just an appreciation of good comedy. Seriously, if the three-way tie weren’t ridiculous enough as it is, I’d add the Barbie sketch too.
Last time Donald Glover gave the world of pop culture something Migos-related (though I suppose this is more “Migos-inspired”), it was in the first season of “Atlanta.” There, they showed up — technically as themselves — as drug kingpins. Here, Glover takes things pretty much the opposite way, as he, Kenan Thompson, and Chris Redd play the trio, kind of, by showing what it means to put the “Migos” in “Amigos.” Or in “Friendos,” to be more precise. It of course involves a lambo (LAMBO), but it also involves therapy (THERAPY)… and eventually making it rain on your therapist after you and your boys have a breakthrough. Also, A$AP Rocky.
As for Raz P. Berry’s ’80s Music Video, it’s such a specifically-inspired sketch that is only instantly recognizable to a specific generation… and their children who they let watch VH1 Classic back in the day. Said inspiration would be Oran “Juice” Jones’ 1986 single “The Rain,” which is not as pee-filled but just as creepy as this sketch. (Remembering the video from that childhood watching VH1 Classic, it’s been burned into my brain.) The weirdness never ends with this sketch, and that’s why it’s so good.
When Twitter gets something on its mind, that’s pretty much all that’s going to be on Twitter’s mind for a while, as short as that while is in the grand scheme of things. Remember “The Dress?” Right now it’s DJ Khaled and his thoughts on what a “King” does and does not do for his wife, sexually. But just a few days ago, it was Kanye West. Kanye West and his Trump-loving, “poopity scoop”-rapping, free “thinking” Twitter shenanigans. No one could shut up about it online — and as this sketch acknowledges, the poop rap “kinda grows on you” — so it’s only natural no one could shut up about them in the world of “A Quiet Place.” (Poor Beck. His character tries so hard here.)
Worst Sketch of The Night: Prison Job
For a 10-to-1 sketch, Prison Job isn’t all that weird, but that’s not exactly what makes it the weakest sketch of the night. It’s really mostly a bizarre situation, as the sketch itself bears quite the resemblance — in a pretty one-dimensional way — to the premise of “Sorry To Bother You,” the upcoming film starring Donald Glover’s ‘Atlanta’ co-star Lakeith Stanfield. Even without that very apparent comparison shining through, after a pretty sharp approach to comedy throughout the night, this sketch really just doesn’t have all that much to say. Which is strange, considering the sketch begins with a comment about the prison system being “modern day slavery.” Even “Friendos” has more going on, and a lot of that is just repeating “LAMBO.”
Also, the violent minutiae of the prison life just hits the humor button better than the actual customer service voice (from the titular prison job), especially when the final moment (with Beck Bennett’s cannibal being their supervisor) doesn’t do to flip the script on the sketch or elevate it. It’s all just the one beat.
Best Male Performer: Donald Glover
Between the sketches and the musical performances (from the “Off The Wall”-esque “Saturday” to the awe-inspiring performance of “This Is America”), Donald Glover was simply the hardest working performer in Studio 8H this particular Saturday night. No one else was doing body rolls, that’s for sure.
Best Female Performer: Cecily Strong/Leslie Jones
You’ll probably be surprised to learn Kate McKinnon is barely in this episode. In fact, she’s only in the cold open, which is so bonkers you probably want to go back and check if that’s really true. It is. (Her Rudy Giuliani looks a lot like Danny DeVito’s Penguin.) In her absence, the rest of the “SNL” women get their chances to shine outside of just one sketch, but this episode gets a tie for Cecily Strong and Leslie Jones. Yes, Cecily gets her Melania on, is the object of Raz P. Berry’s obsession, and screams the final words “FROM MODERN FRICKEN FAMILY?!?”
But Leslie Jones sings Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” and subtly (“subtly”) calls Scarlett Johansson “that bitch” (not in the good way) when the woman is very much just hanging around backstage, minding her business. You know that song “Brave” by Sara Bareilles? In moments like these, that song is clearly all about Leslie.
The only things weighing this episode down are the same things that regularly weigh an episode of “SNL” down these days. As the season goes on, I’ve tried more and more to keep the grades of these episodes specifically focused on the host-based aspects of the show. Their performance, the material they’re given, or even just the way the actual cast works in each week’s ever-changing landscape. The cold opens and Weekend Updates are really just outliers, with musical performances either adding to the experience of an episode or simply just existing as part of it, and “SNL” has proven plenty of times that the rest of the episode can be absolute fire even with mediocre cold opens and Weekend Updates. The inverse is also true, but it’s less the case with this current era—especially with the cold opens’ central focus on the world revolving about Alec Baldwin’s Trump. Or with Colin Jost and Michael Che still not really feeling like they have a solid groove as Weekend Update anchors, despite their partnership now landing them an Emmys hosting gig.
Speaking of the Emmys hosting gig, this week’s Weekend Update has no guest characters. Instead, both Pete Davidson and Leslie Jones do their standard bits as themselves. Petty Pete Davidson can be really enjoyable — like his Staten Island rant — but when it comes to his pettiness against Jost and Che for their Emmys job, the lack of commitment is disappointing. Obviously, Pete is just joking and doesn’t want to be mean to his colleagues, but in that case, there’s really no reason for this bit… other than to remind us that Jost and Che really are “the less entertaining version of Riggs and Murtaugh.” As for the Update as a whole, it peaks at Che’s “PASS” in response to the Kanye news graphic (“SLAVERY IS A CHOICE”), and if it were possible for “SNL” to do a version of Weekend Update with just one joke — on a night where they know that one joke will kill — it would be worth a try. At least to avoid duds like the “remote control” joke about the guy who waterboarded his wife.
“SNL” is back after a few weeks, after having the worst ratings of the season with Mulaney as a host—despite being a creatively fruitful episode—so naturally it brings in the big guns, the firepower, to this week’s cold open. This cold open has cameos and Martin Short shouting “RAPE” a few times, but since the jokes about the characters everyone is playing are mostly saved for Weekend Update, it was really very little but these cameos. Including one from the actual Stormy Daniels. Like with the “Meet The Parents” cold open, it’s clear these are the parts of the episode that exist mostly for the point of the “look at the shiny thing” that leads to clicks and views. But when “SNL” creatively fires on all cylinders with its hosts—as the writing for the hosts was very iffy at the beginning of the season — it’s disappointing that the same can’t be said outside of those aspects of the show.
Anyway, even a cut for time sketch from this episode is a winner: