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‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: First-Time Host Tiffany Haddish Proves She Truly is Ready

The best sketches of the night paid tribute to Haddish's deep well of comedic talents.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 1730 -- Pictured: Host Tiffany Haddish during the Opening Monologue in Studio 8H on Saturday, November 11, 2017 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)

Will Heath/NBC

Is it time? Because it feels like it’s time. Time for the official campaign for Tiffany Haddish’s Oscar nomination to begin, and what better place to begin than with a hosting gig on “Saturday Night Live?”

Tiffany Haddish’s performance in this year’s “Girls Trip” is absolutely worthy of Oscar attention — and her work on “The Carmichael Show” as well as her stand-up special “She Ready” definitely deserve praise too — and hosting “Saturday Night Live” is as declarative a statement as they come. Especially as the first African-American female stand-up comedian (yeah, neither Whoopi Goldberg nor Wanda Sykes have done this) to host in the series’ 43 seasons.

Host: Tiffany Haddish

Tiffany Haddish is just infectious positivity in comedy form, which is kind of necessary considering there’s still a question of what this season of “Saturday Night Live” wants to be outside of “a reminder that everything in the world is bonkers-slash-horrifying.” But when it comes to Haddish, she ready, indeed. In fact, even her introductions of Taylor Swift come musical performance time are filled with so much enthusiasm that you can tell she wasn’t B.S.-ing about her love of “Saturday Night LIve” during her monologue. Or, if she was, she has the ability to be truly convincing and definitely deserves that Oscar nomination sooner rather than later.

Once again, “Saturday Night Live” allows a stand-up comedian to do just that — stand-up comedy — during their monologue, and it’s worth it to set the tone for the episode. Even better, it actually does more to set the tone for the episode and Tiffany Haddish’s hosting than the previous episodes have done this season. This episode isn’t perfect, but there’s an obvious increase of comfort happening as the episodes go by. So it’s only natural there’s more of a balance between what the monologue introduces and what happens in the rest of the episode. The sweet spot in her monologue comes in the form of her Febreze joke, in which Tiffany talks about her monologue dress and how it’s the same dress she wore at the “Girls Trip” premiere… as well as the same dress she’s going to wear a lot of other places. She also manages to bust out a PSA during this monologue about men keeping their “thang thang” to themselves, which is a lot more affecting than it reads right here.

However, the most surprisingly poignant aspect of this monologue comes in the form of Tiffany’s entire look during it. It’s something “The Rundown” creator/host and former “Nightly Show” head writer Robin Thede even tweeted about:

It’s a fair comparison given Tiffany’s hair in her opening monologue, but there’s nothing to say it’s truly intentional… until the random Weekend Update beat that follows it up with a recreation of that exact same “Coming To America” moment. It’s very common for the “Saturday Night Live” host to just skip Weekend Update altogether, but for one to interject just to make a brief referential joke that a very specific subset of the audience would even make a connection to in the first place means something.

“Saturday Night Live” has a habit of working hard to write a “black episode” when it has a black host (see: the last Kerry Washington episode; this episode’s “Woke” sketch), which doesn’t so much poke fun at how much of a white institution “SNL” is as it draws more attention to how little diversity there is. But here, in a small moment that didn’t even have to happen, that’s the type of thing that shows how a host’s particular point-of-view can elevate an episode in even the littlest ways.

Best Sketch of The Night: Beck and Kyle

When it comes to Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney’s particular brand of humor together, it can be a pretty polarizing thing. While some people find the irreverence incredibly funny, there are still those who find it simply weird for weird’s sake. In some ways, it absolutely is the latter — but that’s arguably what makes the former true as well. However, over the years, Beck and Kyle have created a strange form of linear storytelling in the sketch series in which Kyle Mooney and Leslie Jones are in a committed relationship.

This particular plot thread is something that started off as a ridiculous opposites attract bit and then just became part of the “Saturday Night Live” mythology, and this sketch takes that mythology even deeper. Because what do you do when your best friend and creative partner’s love life gets in the way of your friendship and work? Leave it to Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney to make a weird short story — continuing to follow the thread of previous installments — out of it. And leave it to them to find a way to allow Colin Jost to play the smug, preppy ‘80s movie villain he was born to play. That choice is definitely a case of playing to someone’s strengths.

Also, it wouldn’t be a proper Beck Bennett/Kyle Mooney sketch if it didn’t feature some finely-tuned ‘90s sitcom detail, which is exactly what we get with the never-before-mentioned “Saturday Night Live” masquerade ball. That Lorne Michaels even gets excited about said masquerade ball shenanigans probably makes Andy Samberg cry next to his leftover Laser Cats props.

Honorable mention: Tournament Fighter

It’s impressive that Tiffany can keep up her character pose for as long as she does in this sketch. It’s pretty unbelievable that a primary attack called “Rihanna Rihanna Rihanna” doesn’t just win a battle, though. (The “helpful” line “You should’ve done Rihanna on him.” from Melissa Villaseñor’s character, only for the move to actually do nothing is just perfect.)

Worst Sketch of The Night: Get Woke With Tamika

In the Ryan Gosling episode, the Levi’s Wokes jeans sketch got an “It Can Be Two Things” designation because of the actual intent of the parody in contrast with “Saturday Night Live’s” own pattern of not exactly being the most “woke” institution. This, on the other hand, is just bad. Especially when you compare it to the Whiskers R We sketch, which also has its awkward moments but is above all else a sketch specifically about that awkwardness. Here, the sketch never gets past the level of “uninformed black woman sponsored by Breitbart,” even though there’s the same general over-performative wokeness aspect to the sketch. It doesn’t help that the line delivery in this sketch falls flat, even though the “Moonlight” joke almost works. That’s the problem: There’s a kernel of something there, but the jokes don’t land and the sketch itself feels more like a rough draft.

And just from a brief YouTube check, it’s actually the longest sketch of the episode. It certainly feels that way.

Keep in mind, this is also a show that thinks wokeness can come in the form of three different Louis CK jokes, as though we’re supposed to believe that literally no one at “Saturday NIght Live” was aware of the “open secret” about him before this week. Having said that, Cecily Strong’s Claire from HR character is just the perfect amount of stressed out realness.

Honorable mention: LaVar Ball (Weekend Update)

LaVar Ball is not and never has been funny. And yet…

Best Female Performer: Aidy Bryant

While Tiffany Haddish deserves this particular accolade just due to sheer force of will, she already had her time as “Saturday Night Live” host. Instead the role of Best Performer (Female or Male) in “Saturday Night Live” deserves to go to an actual cast member. And Aidy Bryant, while not a major player in this episode, is pretty damn game and into everything she gets to do. Whether it’s being hyped AF for the “SNL” masquerade ball or keeping a bad sketch about wokeness afloat, your Lil’ Baby Aidy keeps things fun.

Best Male Performer: Chris Redd

Even with smaller roles Chris Redd is quickly becoming a stealth MVP in sketches, and his role in Tiffany Haddish’s brief “Coming To America” moment deserves some love. As does his Katt Williams impression in the Whiskers R We impression. It’s not quite at Jay Pharoah level, but it’s nice to think Chris probably workshopped the impression with Katt Williams’ fellow “Wild ‘N Out” alum Mikey Day. (Let us never forget Mikey Day’s work on “Wild ‘N Out,” because Mikey Day was great on “Wild ‘N Out.”)

Best Follow-Up To “Henrietta & The Fugitive”: The Dolphin Who Learned to Speak

Finally, there’s another sketch worthy of this very specific designation. Yes, this is simply the result of Aidy Bryant even being in a sketch with animals — so technically, the Black Unicorn sketch was also on the table — but considering the source material, it’s also absolutely perfect for this superlative. It’s also based on a true story, which makes it hit closer to home than just about any of the show’s political satire.

This sketch goes on for an amazingly long time — yet, somehow not longer than Tamika — but it’s the type of long sketch where you more question just what you’re watching and how it came to be, instead of why you’re watching and when it will stop.That’s a good thing, honestly.

Best Impression: Heidi Gardner as Kristen Schaal AND Tiffany Haddish as Mary J. Blige (Lion King Auditions)

It’s been a minute since “Saturday Night Live” went to the “Let’s All Just Do Our Impressions” well, and honestly, this sketch is like putting on an old sweater. It took five episodes for “Saturday Night Live” to embrace Heidi Gardner’s physical resemblance to Kristen Schaal, and as it turns out, the wait was worth it. The impression itself is short, but it doesn’t veer right into try hard level. Also, do you think Heidi Gardner is so used to getting Kristen Schaal comparisons that she knew she needed to have an impression in her arsenal, or did she come up with it before anyone ever even thought about her and Kristen Schaal as long lost sisters?

As for Tiffany Haddish’s Mary J. Blige impression in this sketch: If you’ve ever ended up in a “Mary J. Blige dancing” spiral on YouTube or any form of social media, then this impression probably speaks to you and everyone else in your particular dancery on a deeply personal level.

Final Thoughts

It’s worth mentioning that this week’s episode doesn’t open with Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump, which is one of the most refreshing realizations of the season. There’s still the non-stop political aspects of the cold open — “Saturday Night Live” nails the Roy Moore jokes better later in the episode, when they come in the form of Cecily Strong’s Claire from HR Weekend Update character — but even a week without the iffy Trump impression is a week that’s well worth it. Also, this week’s episode features Larry David popping back up as Bernie Sanders in order to walk back last week’s concentration camp monologue joke. This is honestly more indicative of the nature of the beast, but: If it’s neither your job nor passion to care about “SNL,” does the one-liner “apology” (that won’t even be in context come syndication) in this sketch really matter?

While Tiffany Haddish and the entire cast perform strongly, the sketches that don’t quite work truly halt the episode momentum. That Democratic National Committee sketch is an early example of this, albeit more forgettable than anything else. (Based on this sketch, apparently everyone in the DNC barely speaks with their mouths open. Go figure. Also, hey Jason Sudeikis!) Whereas the “Get Woke With Tamika” sketch simply lacks a sticking point on any end, despite Aidy Bryant and Tiffany Haddish’s performances trying to dig it out of the hole it’s in from start to finish. Like with most things, all of this is of course saved at the end by images of Tiffany Haddish and Kate McKinnon with kittens.

This episode still sometimes falls into the same trap as the rest of this season’s episodes so far though: The hosts are not the driving forces of sketches, even when they’ve proven themselves comedically capable. A proper alternative is for a host to at least feel like a part of the cast, but that’s also not often the case these days. The closest thing to an exception this season is perhaps Ryan Gosling, but that’s only because his directive in terms of being the driving force was all about his breaking in sketches. Fans of Tiffany Haddish’s standup can see her fingerprints all over this episode — see: The Last Black Unicorn — and she makes the best of every moment she gets in the episode, but for a host who so very clearly knows how to drive comedy, she’s not given the opportunity very often. (Despite being only a blip in the Beck and Kyle sketch, she makes the most of that blip.)

Tiffany Haddish’s role as host is honestly a strong one, and the sooner she returns to “Saturday Night Live,” the better. You just can’t fake her enthusiasm and the sheer joy she brings to all of her work, and that’s the one consistent theme of this episode. This season and team are still finding themselves, and when the time comes for Tiffany Haddish to return, you can guess she’ll be ready.

Grade: B+

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