After a few weeks’ hiatus, “Saturday Night Live” returned with a surprising episode: It alternately commented on politics and race, made ample use of its Academy Award-winning host, and surprised us with its liberal use of the word “bitch.” This episode was silly, and weird, and best of all, it was consistent. The season thus far has been light on impactful episodes from cold open to the goodnights – Dave Chappelle, of course, is the crucial exception – but last night’s episode got pretty close to nailing it. Can McKinnon doing a Kellyanne Conway sight gag be a running joke through the rest of the season, please?
Host: Octavia Spencer
Octavia Spencer is a really good host, you guys. She’s already likeable, of course, but her exuberance felt infectious. Hers was a shorter monologue than we’ve seen in recent episodes, but that worked for her. Plus, Spencer was in damn near every sketch — including the cold open! Who does that? Who has the energy, particularly for someone coming off of awards season?
Spencer’s an ideal “SNL” host, for all of the reasons she displayed last night. She’s not afraid of the ridiculous sketches. She commits to everything. She sells her characters, whether they’re wearing cat-eye glasses in a board meeting or providing awful customer service at a Cinnabon knockoff, and we buy ‘em. Spencer can recite out-there lines with an astonishingly straight face as well as deliver normal sentences with total confusion. She holds her own against the show’s highest profile cast members. And her Oprah impression isn’t bad!
Best Sketch of The Night: Republican Movie Trailer
“Republican Movie Trailer” is the exact brand of political commentary “SNL” needs. (Enough of Alec Baldwin as Trump — it’s good, but it’s one note, and Trump isn’t going anywhere just yet.) This sketch, a pre-taped one, centers on the brave Republican that will soon stand up against our new administration. Someone who says “No!” to the President’s unhinged orders, and remains conservative while they do it. A hero. A leader. An icon. Not Paul Ryan. Who is it? No, seriously, who is it? Who is it going to be? Senator Haircut, please rise: It’s your time.
Sketch Most Likely To Go Viral: Girl At A Bar
At once topical and evergreen, cringe-worthy and horrifically, hilariously real, “Girl At A Bar” is “SNL” at its best. This pre-taped sketch offers the political and social commentary that had group texts discussing the show across the country this morning. This sketch is for every person who’s been hit on by a “woke” dude at a bar when they’re waiting to get a drink; for every woman who has received a “Bitch!” message after they didn’t respond enthusiastically enough on a dating app. Cecily’s T-shirt is perfect, as is the physical progression of the men who approach her. A+.
Best Female Performer: Vanessa Bayer
The welcome return of Vanessa Bayer’s Laura Parsons to the 8H stage! Bayer has been a little more behind-the-scenes than we’re used to this season. As the longest-tenured female cast member, it would make sense that she’s preparing for the next stage of her career. She’ll likely appear on a network sitcom within the next few seasons, but we have her now, and need to appreciate her accordingly. Bayer may not have been in too much last night, but she made her sketches count.
Honorable Mention: Cecily Strong
Best Male Performer: Beck Bennett
Beck Bennett is entertaining and physical and weird — he nails it as the straight man but isn’t afraid to look insane. Yeah, yeah. You’ve heard it all before, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Last night, in particular, he stood out during two sketches: “Sticky Bun,” which was funnier than it had any right to be, and “The Chocolate Man,” which had veteran cast members Bobby Moynihan, Vanessa Bayer, and Kenan Thompson all visibly ready to break.
Honorable Mention: Alex Moffat
Worst Sketch of The Night: Drug Company Hearing
Admittedly, this isn’t a bad sketch — it’s just the episode’s weakest. The joke here is vague. What is the audience supposed to be laughing at? Is the punch line the fact that a drug company stole the names of employee family members for their products, or the concept of people being named things like Celexa and Seasonique? Which part do we laugh at – the names of people, or the executives who thought they were medicines? After the Oscars, where Jimmy Kimmel couldn’t stop saying “Mahershala Ali,” it seems as if white people need a reminder that names that aren’t explicitly white aren’t interesting as a joke. However, it’s rare to see three black women anchor a sketch on “SNL.” So that counts for something. Again, the sketch wasn’t unfunny! It just wasn’t the night’s best.
Best Parody: Eric And Donald Trump Jr.
This symbiotic Beavis and Butthead-esque take on Trump’s adult sons is [insert Italian chef finger kiss gesture here]. It won’t ever get old. Eric’s baffled facial expressions. Don Jr.’s deflecting. The slick wigs and oversized ties. The only thing that brings it down is adding Colin Jost into the mix. (We get it, Jost! You’re a WASPy vanilla milkshake.) The way Moffat and Day play the Trump boys as smarmy creeps is beautiful, because there’s an element of “they don’t know any better” at work too. Also, shout-out to Moffat for actually taking down an entire Capri Sun pouch without a breath.
Best Impression: Melissa Villaseñor
“SNL” needs to find more uses for Melissa Villaseñor. This season’s male featured players appear in every episode, while Villaseñor has yet to make a real name for herself. Attention, writers: She’s being underutilized! Work with her to find her niche. We’ve seen her absurd range of impressions before, but it wasn’t until last night’s episode that she really let them rip.
It’s rare to see impressions of other cast members onstage, but Villaseñor did three of them in one sketch — including “SNL” golden girl Kate McKinnon! This performer is obviously a gifted impressionist. Her stage presence is just so chill. She needs the manic energy of Robin Williams, or the confidence of Jimmy Fallon, and the space to mess around that “SNL” has offered the new male performers. Then we’ll be able to appreciate Villaseñor in full. She needs a franchise character, or a recurring sketch. Get her on the Dana Carvey track.
Did David S. Pumpkins write this episode? Why did it feel so accidentally good? “Saturday Night Live” is back next week with Scarlett Johansson and, deep breath, musical guest Lorde.