With kickoff mere hours away at the Super Bowl LIV, “Saturday Night Live” capitalized on the fervor of the big game the only way it knows how: with an athlete as host. The position is the one brand of “SNL” host that provides the most unknowns heading into an episode, as athletes aren’t necessarily performers.
Now with this recent episode of “SNL,” the latest athlete host to show up at Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center is Houston Texans defensive end JJ Watt. A football player, of course, and one who has done some comedy (“The League,” “New Girl,” “Bad Moms”), which is the first hurdle.
Host: J.J. Watt
Some quick “writers are nerds, jocks are dumb” jokes (which make sense, given the specific show and the reason behind this hosting choice), some jokes about being one of three sons who all ended up in the NFL, and even some jokes about not being in the Super Bowl — Watt handles an aspect of the show that can easily be very stilted, like a funny conversation with the audience. It’s a good sign for the future.
When the host is as noticeably large and even cartoonishly handsome as someone like Watt, the sketches kind of present themselves. Add in the athlete component, and that’s how we get sketches “Frozen 2” (playing a Disney cartoon prince), “Robbie” (a football movie), “Men’s Product” (playing with the macho aversion to beauty products), the recurring “The Bachelor” sketch (as “Pilot Hunk”), “Madden 21” (football again), “Society Debut” (he’s big), and “Pizza Place” (he’s big and handsome). The only sketches in the episode that don’t really play off of these particular aspects of the host are “The Sex Talk” (though it is helped by Watt’s physical stature) and “Food Dudes” (a pre-tape without Watt).
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“Men’s Product” is a spot-on pre-tape sketch about fragile masculinity when it comes to skincare products and even beyond. While Oil of BROlay might not really exist, Irish Spring “MAN SIZED” soap, Dude Wipes, Mangria (sangria… for men), and Brosé (rosé… for men) all do. Which is how we get Beck Bennett’s character asking, “This isn’t gay, right?” At least Watt replies with a secure in his sexuality and masculinity, “Just gay enough.”
Kind of like “Men’s Product,” “Madden 21” makes clear Watt isn’t afraid to poke fun at himself and come across as a goof. This sketch isn’t especially clever, but it is funny and fun. Watt comes across like a big teddy bear in this episode, which is especially the case even when he’s frustrated here. So that’s definitely a win for his role as a host.
Best Sketches of The Night: “Robbie” & “The Sex Talk”
This episode definitely helps Watt succeed by having three pre-tape sketches—with Watt part of two of them—and “Robbie” is the one where he gets to shine. In this “Rudy”-esque, inspirational football movie, Robbie plays the lone voice of reason crying out against letting Chris Redd’s terrible — not even unproven, simply terrible — practice team player go on the field during playoffs. Watt’s rage as everyone else (including Kenan Thompson’s inspirational but pragmatic janitor) is still on the sappy level of the inspirational football movie provides the initial laughs of the sketch, but as usual, Redd’s misplaced belief in himself as Robbie propels it.
Once again, Kyle Mooney has a host play his dad. But this time, he probably wishes his dad would just stay on the phone instead of talking to him. This is a strangely sexual episode of “SNL,” but it really works in this sketch, even before Aidy Bryant shows up. But if there’s one thing that really defines Watt’s hosting stint, it’s that, for as good as he proves himself, the sketch only gets better once the professionals really get involved. It was the case for “Robbie,” the case for “Pizza Place,” and the case here. Bryant channels her Aidy B flavor once more to talk of “that good good” and how she “turned your daddy out,” and what is already a pretty funny sketch with just Watt and Mooney is complete.
Worst Sketch of The Night: “Society Debut”
It makes no sense why this sketch of Bigfoot being refined for high society exists in the first place — and then it turns out it’s all a means to an extended poop joke. Knowing that still doesn’t explain this sketch. The reveal that it’s “My Fair Bigfoot” (a riff on “My Fair Lady”) at the end could’ve been better served at the beginning — perhaps introducing it as one of the show’s classic film sketches — but it still wouldn’t have made it a better sketch, just a less baffling one for at least a moment.
However, as previously mentioned, you can’t say Watt doesn’t commit to this. You can’t say anyone in this sketch doesn’t commit to it.
Best Female Performer: Aidy Bryant
“The Sex Talk” alone is enough for Aidy Bryant to get the Best Female Performer honor this week, but you also can’t deny her work in “Pilot Hunk.” (By the way, the best non-verbal joke of the entire sketch is the early label of Watt’s pilot profession being “Plane Driver.”) That sketch, in particular, is really all about the women, and Bryant “drinking champagne” is just the cherry on top of this particular comedy sundae.
Best Male Performer: Beck Bennett
With Mikey Day and Alex Moffat around, Beck Bennett hasn’t really had to be the “leading male” of the “SNL” ensemble for awhile, which has been somewhat of a blessing, because it’s allowed him to do the weird stuff (usually with Mooney) he’s really good at. But this episode is kind of a return to that particular role for him — or at least a return to him being truly prominent — and a reminder that he does actually fit those shoes rather well. From his continued work as Mitch McConnell in the cold open to his role as the very confused (and bigoted, but mostly confused) voiceover guy for “Frozen 2” to his role front and center in “Food Dudes,” Bennett isn’t just all over this episode: He’s all over it in a substantial way. He’s also an integral part of the “Society Debut” sketch, no matter your thoughts on it.
As with last week’s episode, Colin Jost makes sure to undercut jokes at his expense when the time comes. In this case, it’s the Jared Kushner joke ( “I’ve never seen a more self-entitled, overconfident white guy… and I’m me!” ), which he must’ve known was coming but still takes time to react as though he can’t believe he just dunked on himself like that. It makes no sense why “SNL” keeps doing these jokes at his expense during Weekend Update if he won’t even commit. It makes sense when he and Michael Che do their regular joke exchange, but not when the joke is written specifically for and by Jost.
Obviously, this Update is exciting because it features the return of Bowen Yang’s Chen Biao, a character that mostly works because of Yang’s commitment and enthusiasm. But more importantly, it features the introduction of a new feature character from Ego Nwodim, Dr. Angie Hynes, Professor of African-American Studies at Rutgers. This seems like it is is technically a bit that can only exist during Black History month, but hopefully “SNL” will find a way to retool it to last. This is the type of character Nwodim would debut on an Earwolf podcast, which “SNL” could honestly use more of.
Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump impression is only getting worse, but at least it’s not Kyle Mooney’s Joe Pesci/”My Cousin Vinny.” At the very least, the cold open at least acknowledges that the latter is supposed to be bad. It’s also more fuel for the opinion that Beck Bennett is the Best Male Performer of the episode.
Watt had obvious poise and enthusiasm throughout. Not only did he actually seem comfortable onstage — even in moments where he stumbled a little — he never seemed like he was phoning it in. For an athlete host, it’s definitely enough to warrant a return in the future.