In the second episode of its 45th season, “Saturday Night Live” went with a first-time host in “Killing Eve” and “Fleabag” creator (and star) Phoebe Waller-Bridge. However, unlike what a certain promo for this episode promised, Waller-Bridge did not carry her three Primetime Emmys around with her in every sketch…
Host: Phoebe Waller-Bridge
… and she didn’t even show them off in the opening monologue.
She did, however, get the type of freedom stand-up comedians tend to get with their opening monologues, which was a simultaneously surprising and excellent choice. After all, if you’re going to acknowledge a person’s genius as a writer, it should be on display. Waller-Bridge showed off her talent for wringing humor from the unlikeliest of places, as she does during a hilarious tangent about genitals, setting a high bar for the rest of the episode to clear, which it does.
As mentioned in the Woody Harrelson episode review last week, one of the most important things to ask when critiquing any episode of “SNL” is: Could this episode’s sketches have existed with someone else as host? For this week’s show, the answer is no. Waller-Bridge as host is singular. The “Love Island” sketch, where Waller-Bridge dusts off her accent from “The Cafe,” was especially good.
The episode also saw the return of established winning one-and-dones (“What’s Wrong With This Picture?” from last season’s Paul Rudd episode, and “The War in Words” from the Claire Foy episode). “The War in Words: William and Lydia” and “Another What’s Wrong with This Picture?” both improve on the original sketches, although the latter gets the edge over the former.
Best Sketch(es) of The Night: “Mid-Day News”
Not just the best sketch of the night but the most unexpected, and one that gets going very quickly and never steps off the gas, which can be a rarity in “SNL.” The already solid sketch gets even better when Chris Redd’s weatherman shows up.
Worst Sketch(es) of The Night: “Mike Pence Impeachment Strategy Cold Open”
On the plus side, the cold open doesn’t feature Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump, but it’s extremely flat, with Matthew Broderick essentially playing Mike Pompeo as a bad version of Cooter from “30 Rock.” But maybe he thought Alec Baldwin was actually in the sketch.
Also, we need to talk about Kate McKinnon’s Rudy Giuliani. Like Baldwin’s Trump, the impression isn’t good. It’s just a lot of makeup and hunching over. And then there’s that voice. It’s similar to her Jeff Sessions impression. But Kate’s impressions of politicians — including Elizabeth Warren, who at least has a fun angle in this week’s Weekend Update — are easily the weakest part of her “SNL” arsenal. And while it might be too late for anything to be done about that, it should be acknowledged. Her best work is when she gets to do something different and original, like this week’s “Kaylee, Crystal & Janetta.”
But it was the only real weakness of the episode.
Best Female Performer: Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Again, this is an episode that actually gives its host something to do, and as a result, she shines.
Although it’s worth noting that both Heidi Gardner and Melissa Villaseñor were strangely absent.
Best Male Performer: Kenan Thompson
Kenan Thompson is just so good as Jimmy Jay Robinson, aka “Thunderstick.” Especially in the archival footage, which really helps make this sketch edgy. Plus, with the “Mid-Day News” and “Another What’s Wrong with This Picture?” sketches, Thompson gets to do what he does best: react.
Honorable mention goes to Bowen Yang for his star-making performance as Chinese Trade Representative Chen Biao. While Yang appeared for a bit in last week’s premiere, this was his official “SNL” introduction, and far more indicative of his sense of humor. He absolutely kills it. Last week’s episode didn’t feature any “Weekend Update” character sidebars, but this week’s episode had three.
After a disappointingly weak season premiere, “SNL” bounced back in a big way with this Phoebe-Waller Bridge episode. She might not be a household name like last week’s host Woody Harrelson, but, having a blank slate to work from allowed for more freedom. (“Freedom” definitely describes the “Kaylee, Crystal & Janetta” sketch’s existence.)
Although the writers most likely knew that a lot of people would be tuning in only to see Taylor Swift perform, so maybe it didn’t matter what they did, hence the freedom. They should have that type of attitude more often, whether or not Taylor Swift is the musical guest.
Now: How soon until “SNL” turns “Where’s Pete Davidson?” into a sketch?
“Saturday Night Live” airs Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBC.