It’s like the new saying goes: New year, new “SNL.” Well, to be fair, it’s also kind of the same “SNL” — especially when considering what “the same ‘SNL’” means these days, on a larger front — but it is the first episode of 2019, which make it technically correct. (Which is the best kind of correct.)
And while “SNL” ended 2018 with a (surprisingly only) two-time guest host who seemed like an old pro at the whole thing (Matt Damon), 2019 begins with a first-time guest host and one with a much less recognizable name — “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” leading actress Rachel Brosnahan.
But she’s a Golden Globe and Emmy award winner, you know.
Host: Rachel Brosnahan
Given that scary time when the singing opening monologue became the ultimate crutch for this show, at first this monologue devolving right into that did not bode at that well. But then it did something pretty funny: It was actually pretty funny. “Having Fun in 2019” isn’t quite a bop, but it does allow for some decent bits, like Cecily finding the killer, which is something everyone should be on alert for, Cecily not having an agent (which would explain… a lot), the entire American confusion over Brexit (also apparent in that Matt Damon episode), Kyle’s singing skills (or lack there of), and of course, ya lil’ baby Aidy.
Also, this opening monologue quickly notes Brosnahan’s extremely striking resemblance to Evan Rachel Wood — who should definitely host “SNL” soon, especially after her phenomenal performance in the season premiere of “Drunk History” — but for some reason, the rest of the episode doesn’t dwell on it. Which is ridiculous, because the longer the episode goes on, the more pronounced it becomes. To the point where the Barbie sketch version of Brosnahan just looks like a bit the show can now no longer use for when Evan Rachel Wood hosts. Despite “SNL’s” love of impressions, this is not one of those episodes that goes all over that, so there’s not even a blip of a “Westworld” sketch or Wood impression in this episode. Is this the “SNL” equivalent of restraint?
“Earthquake News Report” is definitely one sketch to kick off the new year, new “SNL” festivities. This is a very juvenile sketch, but that is the point, and it never pretends there is any point other than that. (The sketch is pretty much the sequel to the “Invest Twins” sketch from this season’s Liev Schreiber episode.) Pete Davidson’s role as the firefighter who’s way too amused by all of these names is one of the better uses of Pete Davidson in a sketch where he’s just going to laugh anyway, and Brosnahan’s resolve while saying these ridiculous names is impressive. Also impressive is the small bit when Kate McKinnon’s news anchor Carol just keeps chiming in with her “inappropriate earthquake joke[s].”
“Millennial Millions” is a sketch that could be a mess, especially with every jab at millennials, despite simultaneously, legitimately showing how millennials aren’t just being crybabies. But the runner of Kenan Thompson confirming his character is a Gen X-er who just wants to “watch the world burn” saves that. Kind of. The point is still that millennials will tweet about their safe spaces and storm off in the face of conflict, which: 1) is your regular reminder that people still don’t know how old millennials are, and 2) is your other reminder that millennials are maligned for not putting up with Baby Boomers’ verbal garbage. But Kenan is still great in this sketch.
Throughout this episode, as excited as Brosnahan clearly is to be hosting “SNL,” she truly excels in this episode when she plays things dry and to the point. She’s not without humor, but the bigness one would expect from the marvelous Mrs. Maisel — as evidenced by Cecily Strong’s previous impression of Brosnahan, which is just Midge Maisel — isn’t what she’s all about. This sketch is a good early indicator of that fact.
Of course a “Mrs. Maisel” sketch was coming — unless Brosnahan, for some reason, wanted to pull a Liev Schreiber and not parody her show — and thus “The Raunchiest Miss Rita” was born. Bleeps are funny. This sketch knows that, and pretty much, that’s all anyone needs here. Brosnahan’s Maisel’s attempt at “My Fair Lady”-ing Miss Rita after she seems to have created a monster is great, especially as it continues to fail tremendously (but help Rita succeed), as is Aidy Bryant as Alex Borstein (because of course she is).
The Barbie sketch was funny in its first incarnation, but nothing screamed “recurring sketch” about it. (It’s no Gemma, after all.) That is until now, because even though the premise is simple, the execution is pretty funny. Brosnahan’s role as the existential potential intern is oddly compelling though, to the point you actually want to know what’s under Barbie’s jacuzzi. (And whether she and Evan Rachel Wood are in fact secretly related.)
Best Sketch of The Night: “Leave Me Alurn”
Looking over it all, there’s no true battle for a superlative sketch in this episode, but the best is obvious: It’s “Leave Me Alurn,” which is so good and pure it accidentally turns a fake commercial into a request from the audience for the real thing. (Kind of like “Mom Jeans.” Admit it.) The part about men interrupting to small talk a woman just minding her business with her ear buds in is especially the truest moment of the sketch. Who expected “SNL” to get so real when kicking off 2019?
Worst Sketch of The Night: “Tabitha”
Do you get it, Brent? The men are actually being treated like bad dogs. (As for the “Kool-Aid” sketch, just wait.)
Best Male Performer: Kenan Thompson
Kenan Thompson carries this episode on his back, because that’s just what Kenan Thompson does. The Bill Cosby bit in “The Raunchiest Ms. Rita” isn’t even the most memorable bit from him in this episode, especially not with his roles in the opening monologue, the “Leave Me Alurn” sketch, the “Millennial Millions” sketch, and the “Ken Instagram” sketch. Actually, for as weak as the “Tabitha” sketch is, Kenan’s acting and physicality as Craig is the funniest part of it all, by a mile. (The second best part is every time Leslie Jones says “Craig.”)
Best Female Performer: Cecily Strong
Like Kenan, Cecily Strong is coming in hot in this episode, commanding every sketch she’s in. The two of them are the straight man duo in the “Ken Instagram” sketch, though Kenan’s specific role in these sketches is more about the build to his inability to suffer these fools. (He has a flair for the dramatic, you see.) Her roles in the singing monologue and “Millennial Millions” are classic Cecily though, and then there’s her very hard left turn in the “Tabitha” sketch. While Kate McKinnon gets features in this episode — including on Weekend Update — Cecily gets the good, memorable stuff, with Aidy Bryant right behind her, most likely singing.
When it comes to Rachel Brosnahan’s hosting duties, this is definitely not a matter of “SNL” giving a host little to work with — although them not pulling the trigger on a Westworld/Evan Rachel Wood sketch is quite suspect, unless you’re of the belief her Barbie sketch character is a version of Wood — and expecting her to still shine through. But the sketches themselves are so low-key that even the good work Brosnahan does is hard to truly call all that memorable. No one’s ever going to look back at this episode and say Brosnahan was bad, and really, she should definitely come back if possible. But, hopefully, the sketches pop more. It’s not even necessarily that they’re all safe, because most of them are very weird. But unfortunately, not the peak of “SNL” weird.
This is also not really an episode for standout cast performances, where everyone gets at least one thing great to work. Ego Nwodim as Cardi B is simultaneously a decent bit and 100 percent yikes, as she is a dark-skinned black woman, and Cardi B is… not. In fact, the funnier bit — based on the actual comedy of this show — would’ve been to have Aidy Bryant play Cardi B. Because of course Aidy B would want in on that, in the name of empowerment.
It’s honestly amazing this episode is anywhere as solid as it is.
Despite mentioning the expected lack of freshness of the singing opening monologue, the actual sign of foreboding going into this episode is the cold open sketch, a “Deal or No Deal” sketch in the year 2019. And if that’s not the antithesis of cool already, it then quickly introduces Alec Baldwin’s terrible Donald Trump impression. (He appears to be puckering his mouth more, perhaps to shut up all the critics to rightfully note how bad the impression is. That is not working.) The sketch goes on seemingly forever, though apparently it’s only eight minutes long. (“Only” — that’s still a very long sketch.)
Really, the highlight of this sketch — to even point out a highlight — is Kenan kicking off an episode he’s all over. Kenan truly does crush it this episode.
Here’s the thing: “SNL’s” apathy while also “raging” against the Trump machine with Alec Baldwin’s godawful impression really isn’t funny or cute. The smugness of not caring shines through in the form of Weekend Update of course — especially when it comes to Michael Che, who spends most of his jokes including a form of “I don’t care” — but it’s also apparent in the Kool-Aid/Gillette sketch, which is also the rare sketch these days that even features Jost and Che. During the Weekend Update, Che already managed to slam Gillette for its “controversial” new ad, because it’s funny not to care or change or something. (Yes, it’s money-fueled. So is this show. So is… everything. This is a capitalist society.)
And the Kool-Aid man sketch doesn’t even make sense on a fundamental level. The only thing that actually makes sense in it is the fruit punch mouth.
But at least this week’s Weekend Update has something good in the form of Pete Davidson and John Mulaney — which, at this point, might be the best use of Pete Davidson’s presence on the show, at least until he stops getting the “woo!” treatment from the audience for literally no reason at all — and their friendship. Specifically, their bond as two people who have seen “The Mule.” They said it couldn’t be done, but this bit proves that “The Mule” really is even worse than it seemed. Clint Eastwood has two threesomes in this movie? Why was that allowed?
Also: Musical guest Greta Van Fleet is so weird, extremely derivative, and annoying to apparently everyone who watched this episode (at least according to “SNL”) that it actually turned around and got awesome. All ironically, but still, it counts. Plus, it was responsible for the best Weekend Update (anchor) joke of the night with Jost’s “Super Blood Wolf Moon” quip.