Like with Sam Rockwell last week, this episode of “SNL” works very well to make Jessica Chastain a true part of the show — not just a necessary semi-presence — and make sure that her voice is clear in her sketches. And you know what? As it turns out, Jessica Chastain’s comedic voice (in addition to her voice as a feminist) is pretty weird. Especially when she starts doing voices.
Host: Jessica Chastain
Before Chastain starts doing voices, she’s got to start doing a musical monologue. You know the deal by now, gentle “SNL” viewers. BUT, said monologue does involve the forever jam “You Don’t Own Me.” And before it becomes a musical number, you’ve got Chastain’s brief aside about wanting to play the nagging girlfriend as opposed to the strong female for once. That particular moment is kind of like Sam Rockwell’s monologue noting he’s going from a character actor to a leading man, only to keep doing the weird character actor-y stuff in his sketches. Only here, Chastain steps away from that strong female character, though she’s not quite nagging either. Again, the word “weird” comes up, and it’s a beautiful thing.
“Tell me something about you.” “Well, I have short hair.”
Her first sketch of the night is as one of the “12 Laurens” in “Car Hunk.” Yes, this is literally parodying this specific season of ‘The Bachelor. Yes, it’s called “Car Hunk,” because unlike “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” it’s not and has never been an NBC show.
This is also the first of Chastain’s many voices, which are made even better by her Lauren’s discomfort over “playing mini-golf with Young Sheldon,” her achievement of inventing eating Tide Pods (referenced twice in this episode, to appropriately age it for the future), and playing a dead body on HBO’s “Crashing”… as part of a one-on-one date. There’s also the payoff of the sketch’s opening voiceover about how Ari can look attractive, depending on the light, with newbie Luke Null replacing Alex Moffat at one point.
Just a note: After seeing some random person on Twitter thinking “Doctor’s Orders” was a poorly-constructed sketch about sexual harassment (based on an irony about it being Jessica Chastain of all people being the harasser) — and not just a continuation of the sexually magnetic dunce known as Chad — this is just a reminder that it’s alright to check is something is a recurring bit or if someone is a recurring character. Or even just to check if you’re way off-base! Obviously, “SNL” deserves plenty of criticism, but it’s typically best to have a knowledge of what you’re criticizing before you do so.
But seriously, watching Chastain monologue while Chad gets almost excited for sex, pees right in front of her, and decides to play on a wheelchair instead is one of those things the world never knew it needed. “His friend dared him to eat a dog turd.” Of course.
Best Sketch of The Night: “Fresh Prince” & “What Even Matters Anymore”
Is this episode Jessica Chastain’s way of trying to tell the world she identifies as a ‘90s kid? Surely that explains both the “Fresh Prince” sketch and the “Google Talk” (aka “Bert Sampson”) sketch. They even aired back-to-back!
Somehow, Chris Redd managed to create — it’s probably safe to assume this sketch was his own brainchild — a perfect shot-for-shot remake of the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” opening theme while also making it work as the extended short film it becomes. They got Method Man on “SNL” for this! Also, ‘90s kid Jessica Chastain (a nickname that will surely stick) channels her inner Dana Scully to play the redhead “FBI agent.”
As for “What Even Matters Anymore,” from the very moment Chastain’s Veronica character starts her hosting duties, the “so over it” nature of this bit is already on full display. Quickly — even before the twist — it becomes a question of, “Is she even acting?” Plus, there’s the cold-blooded moment (to which the audience surprisingly doesn’t react all that much) where she asks, “Judges, do they have a conscience,” only for the wrong answer buzzer to sound. When she chugs the chardonnay, she’s basically channeling the spirit of her “twin,” Bryce Dallas Howard, in the “Black Mirror” episode “Nosedive.” There’s a level of legitimate rage — as tethered at it is — in this sketch that’s overall lacking in “SNL” lately. And that’s even before the sketch breaks the fourth wall.
While you might think, “well, rage doesn’t belong in sketch comedy,” the fact that this sketch comedy show specifically tries to call out political bullshit and centers so much of its show around that idea means there has to be an actual intense emotion used from time to time. (Also, rage can absolutely belong in sketch comedy. Come on.) Otherwise, you just get the mostly toothless cold opens (more about Trump’s nonsense medical records than the government shutdown) and poor Donald Trump impressions (that thankfully have remained on hiatus)
Worst Sketch of The Night: Amazon’s New Headquarters
This is one of those moments when a strong series of sketches has to have a weak one, and in this case, it’s the Amazon one. It’s not just that it has a weak conclusion — did you know Jeff Bezos is secretly in love with Alexa? — it’s that it is essentially a less rapid-fire version of the typical impression-based sketches. It’s worth it for Jessica Chastain’s Boston accent (complete with a “You think you’re better than us?”) and the return of Alex Moffat’s Casey Affleck. But there’s also a weird moment where people in the audience “woo!” hard for a Chik-Fil-A mention, which arguably makes that the sketch’s peak.
Best Male Performer: Kenan Thompson
You know, Chris Redd could have won it all for “Fresh Prince” if he’d just hidden Kenan and prevented him from playing Uncle Phil. He should have known that would have given Kenan the win for this IndieWire accolade.
Even outside of Uncle Phil, you have Kenan as Bernard in the “What Even Matters Anymore” sketch, with his dedication to staying in character, even after everyone else has broken it. “Kenan will leave, but Bernard will stay.” And as mentioned before, he manages to get the pop of the night for just saying Chik-Fil-A. But then there’s the return of his director character in “Movie Set,” which is where he manages to actively steal the show whenever he does it — because no one can ever do Kenan’s weird, over-the-top reactions as well as Kenan can. (And oh, they have tried.)
Best Female Performer: Jessica Chastain
Since the hosts are always eligible to be considered best performer of the episode, we’re now getting another week with an MVP for a host, this time in the form of Jessica Chastain. As previously stated, her commitment to voices — and more specifically, character — is both surprising for a first-time host but also somewhat expected for a versatile actress. Even if she wanted to downplay that versatility in her monologue by saying she only plays strong female types.
Heidi Gardner, however, is sneaking her way to the top with this episode. (Kate McKinnon is great, because she’s Kate McKinnon, but she also did this.) Her extreme resemblance to Kristen Schaal is still stressful at times (see: the “Car Hunk” sketch), but she also brings the talent to the table, literally (see: the “Taco Math” sketch). Speaking of “Taco Math,” when can Jessica Chastain guest star again so we can get their characters’ recurring status? Also, extra points for that sketch ending with the reveal that they’re surgeons, only for the next sketch (with no commercial in between, even) to immediately introduce us to Dr. Jessica Chastain.
Best Impression: Chris Redd as “The Fresh Prince”
This is an obvious choice.
Regarding other aspects of the episode, while “toothless” is still a word to use with the cold open, the press questions worked, especially in the form of Pete Davidson as himself. (Cue the “he always plays himself” comment.)
As for Weekend Update — specifically the character guests — if Alex Moffat and Mikey Day’s Prince William/Prince Harry bit is going to become a recurring thing, it’ll need a little more than the sibling rivalry, especially when you compare it to how good the Eric/Don Jr. Trump dynamic had gotten between the two. Day’s Harry calling Michael Che “my dog” (since he has a black fiancée!), however, is a nice brief moment that, again, the crowd didn’t react as much to as they did a Chick-Fil-A mention.
Also, Cecily Strong’s Stormy Daniels progressively becoming a voice of caustic “you deserve it” (“Guess what, America? I’m the hero you deserve right now”) has a bite the explicitly political aspects of the episode somewhat lack.
Yes, this makes “SNL” two-for-two going into the New Year, and it does so with the combination of stellar actors with something to say (no matter how weird that is) getting to do so in their sketches. Chastain, of course, had a serious message to put on display within all of this, and while some might think that “wokeness” doesn’t exactly scream a sense of humor, please rewatch the “Google Talk” sketch.