“Saturday Night Live” is where the beautiful people are. Think about it: After last week’s premiere giggle fest with Ryan Gosling, the NBC sketch comedy kept the beauty scale at an unnatural level with Gal Gadot. From the savior of jazz to Wonder Woman herself, “Saturday Night Live” truly is where the beautiful (celebrity superhero) people are.
Despite the beautiful people thing — which is normal for the show — Season 43 of “Saturday Night Live” is off to an interesting start so far. Three cast members left last season, but it’s not exactly a rebuilding season. Instead, the show feels like it’s trying to find a balance between just how trivial or hard-hitting its sketches should be. In fact, the E! Network sketch in this episode understands that dilemma, as intentionally vapid as it is in getting that point across. (“Turn off your brain!”) At the same time, the show is also tasked with trying to remember that its hosts are supposed to be part of the fun (or biting humor) too, and while Ryan Gosling made himself the fun last week, the same can’t be said for Gal Gadot.
Host: Gal Gadot
On the plus side, there’s always something special about a “Saturday Night Live” monologue that does not involve a musical number of some sort, and that’s what we get this week. Instead, we get a little Hebrew from Gadot — as well as a little bit of host-based ribbing of the “Saturday Night Live” cast, which is always appreciated — and a comparison between big screen Wonder Woman and… a Wonder Woman you’d see over at tourist hotspot Times Square (Leslie Jones). Opening monologues are an early way to clock guest jitters or even just secret charisma (or singing ability) you might not have known a host had, and Gadot’s first time around the block is a pretty solid opening performance, the kind that eases you into the rest of the episode.
Note: Points have been deducted for “Saturday Night Live” not following up on Gadot’s monologue promise by attempting to sneak some hummus in every — or at least one — sketch. It’s called a callback, people. Points have also been deducted for there not being a single “Fast & Furious” sketch or joke in this episode, despite Gal Gadot’s Gisele being one-half of one of the greatest love stories in blockbuster action franchise history.
Of course, this week’s episode already has people buzzing about a moment in the requisite Wonder Woman sketch, the part where Gal Gadot and Kate McKinnon kiss. For a substantial amount of time. With Gal Gadot getting really into it, consummate professional that she is. Is Themyscira not-so-secretly a haven for lesbians? Supposedly, no. But based on the reaction to this sketch, the answer is now going to be remembered as yes. That’s something to remember this episode by, for sure.
Best Sketch of The Night: First Date
“I haven’t been here in years.”
In classic “Saturday Night Live” fashion, this particular sketch is simply titled “First Date,” despite just how loaded it is. An understated part of what makes First Date such a successful sketch is just how much the early bits (pre-OJ reveal) determine everything. It immediately feels like a typical sketch that’s possibly about the horrors of dating apps, which pretty much lowers expectations enough for the reveal to work. Plus, it relies on Kenan Thompson’s endearing lack of obvious impressions, so the immediate appearance is just that of an older man with a younger, beautiful woman. The pre-reveal part is even better on rewatch, especially the little touch about the rude service from the white waitress, which initially seems unrelated.
“I haven’t used dating apps before.”
You don’t say, OJ. You don’t say.
Worst Sketch of The Night: Mirage
This week’s major product placement-turned-sketch is for Jamba Juice, and while Leslie Jones shouting “BANANAMATAZZ” is a beautiful thing, this sketch is also perhaps the peak of “Saturday Night Live” forgetting to try to let its host be (or at least try to be) funny. Sure, not everyone’s funny, but it doesn’t hurt to at least try.
Plus: It’s a mirage sketch in 2017.
Best “Hard Left” Sketch: Safelite
Technically, First Date counts for the best “hard left” sketch turn, but it can’t win everything. So its runner-up, Safelite, officially takes the “Hard Left” place. Like the premiere’s Papyrus sketch, Safelite appears to come from humble beginnings. Namely, a simple idea: “What if the guy from the Safelite commercials is a giant pervert?” Again, it’s a very specific subject to latch on to, but the Safelite jingle lulls you into a sense of security… before the sketch gets into all the creepiness of the matter.
This is also the Best Nightmare Fuel Sketch, really.
Best Musical Performance: Jason Aldean
While Sam Smith was the official musical guest, it was Jason Aldean’s unexpected musical number — serving as the episode’s cold open, a response to the recent violent attack in Las Vegas, and a tribute to the late Tom Petty — that made the lasting impression. Calling on the people of the United States to unite in the face of catastrophe and despair, Aldean sang a song of resilience and, well, basic kickassery to kick off the show with fricken Wonder Woman. It was a message made even more powerful by the fact that Aldean was a witness to the Las Vegas horror.
It’s worth noting that this cold open also falls under the “It Can Be Two Things” designation, which might just have to be a weekly segment in this season of “Saturday Night Live.” Because while a call for “unity” is admirable and understandable, it’s also a lot more difficult to unpack when the forces breaking the country apart are internal (from citizens), not external (other countries). The unfortunate part is that “Won’t Back Down” (especially the following lyric involving “stand my ground”) is the type of phrase that can definitely be twisted and misconstrued by the same people who are looking to destroy that unity.
Best Female Performer: Leslie Jones
One word: BANANAMATAZZ
Best Male Performer: Pete Davidson
Pete Davidson probably won’t ever be an MVP of “Saturday Night Live,” but as he reminds us on Weekend Update, he’s still here. And based solely on his appearances on Weekend Update and no other actual research into his life, it’s pretty much a story of triumphant struggle that he is still here. This time around, Pete’s talk about mental health transforms into an attempted manipulation to get more screentime and to specifically be put “in more sketches where he gets to kiss the host.” So Pete Davidson’s depression stems from not being Kate McKinnon. Got it. (She really does kiss a lot of the hosts.)
This episode also sees the return of his bro (though perhaps that’s not a strong enough word for the dunce) character Chad, previously seen in the Benedict Cumberbatch and Julia Louis-Dreyfus episodes. After Pete’s Weekend Update appearance, it might be safe to assume that almost all of Pete’s sketch ideas involve Chad. But that’s “OK.”
It’s also okay to laugh at the sword as a penis joke. Sometimes it feels good to have the humor of a 12 year old.
Best Follow-Up To “Henrietta & The Fugitive”: The Maiden and The Mice
Last week, Aidy Bryant dressed up like a chicken, causing Ryan Gosling to fall in love with her. This week, Aidy Bryant dressed up like a mouse, causing Beck Bennett to fall in love with her. This is a pattern that obviously needs to be chronicled.
Best Impression: Gal Gadot as Kendall Jenner (E! New Line Up)
Gal Gadot’s Kendall Jenner impression could be perfect. It could be terrible. We may never know. But everything from the E! Network sketch just feels right, from the triviality of the spin-offs on top of spin-offs to how often they repeat and marathon series. “Kendall’s World” would be a hit! As would the Nene Leakes show, if we’re being honest with ourselves.
Honorable mention: This week, Heidi Gardner stepped up from her premiere first impression of “blonde” to “Kristen Schaal doppleganger.” No, she did not actually do a Kristen Schaal impression, but it was kind of distracting, especially in the Naomi Show sketch (which was a solid spotlight for Gardner).
Gal Gadot is a technically competent “Saturday Night Live” host, but there are far less memorable sketches in this episode than there were in the premiere, and Gadot is very much the straight woman in all her sketches (except the E! one). The best implementations of that asset are the OJ Simpson, Wonder Woman, and Naomi Show sketches, but they’re not the standard set for this episode. Instead, in relying on Gadot’s brand as a hot badass — which isn’t even a bad brand— “Saturday Night Live” ignores the part where it has to make comedy from her performance, not just the performances around her.
When you factor in the Jason Aldean cold open, Gal Gadot’s opening monologue, the E! programming pre-taped sketch, and this sketch, it’s hard to deny that this episode peaked strong. It definitely hit the ground running early on. The early goings on of the episode push the idea that it might lean more in that direction for Gadot, but as solid as it all is, it never quite gets into that next gear for her. She obviously reads the cue cards and doesn’t break — both things that get you a thumbs up from Lorne Michaels — but she doesn’t truly get to play, as game as she appears to be. (She really does give it her all in the mirage sketch, which is impressive in a way that the sketch is not.)
Let this last thing sink in: Even Gal Gadot as a spy with an eye patch doesn’t get to be any part of the joke in that particular sketch.