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‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: The Best Moments of Daniel Craig’s Second Time as Host

It’s been eight years since Daniel Craig last hosted “Saturday Night Live."

Kate McKinnon, Daniel Craig, Heidi Gardner, "Saturday Night Live"

Kate McKinnon, Daniel Craig, and Heidi Gardner in “Saturday Night Live”

Will Heath/NBC

Even though the latest 007 movie has been pushed to a release date in the fall, James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, still hosted last night’s “Saturday Night Live.” It’s actually been eight years since Craig last hosted “SNL,” and you know what? After this second time, while he may not be playing James Bond anymore, he can host any time he wants.

Host: Daniel Craig

If there’s one thing Daniel Craig makes clear in his opening monologue, it’s this: “I’m not a nerd. You’re a nerd.” Fine, while he may not be a nerd, he’s certainly not afraid to go all-in on a joke or, even better, be the butt of one. That is the key to this episode, and it’s really amazing to realize while watching that this man’s only hosted twice, despite how good he is at it.

It’s always nice to see an “SNL” monologue step outside the box, and this one does, featuring pre-tape “footage” from the upcoming James Bond movie. (It seems like it takes the live audience a moment to realize what’s going on, as the first “SNL” cast member to show up in the sketch is Chloe Fineman, who still kind of blends in, as good as she is.) Craig’s “favorite scene” in the movie is apparently the one where Bond ends up becoming a craps guy and it’s filled to the brim with the most un-Bondlike characters ever, on top of Fineman’s progressively frustrated Bond girl. You’ve got Heidi Gardner and Beck Bennett as messy gamblers, old lady gambler Kate McKinnon, bachelor party boy Kenan Thompson (“THIS GUY! HIM!”), and Mikey Day as the craps dealer-turned-villain.

It’s simply a fun sketch to open things up with, with Bond getting way too into craps and becoming “Simba,” as he’s the “king of the jungle.” In fact, Craig singing the opening music from “The Lion King” is arguably the best thing any James Bond movie has ever given us, even tangentially. Thompson showing up to do the “HIM!” bit in both the Bond entrance and live on stage then brings it all together. “SNL” also knows how good it is, as it’s provided a version of the scene without the monologue.

You can’t go wrong with a pre-tape (rap or otherwise) from both Kenan Thompson and Chris Redd, and the live audience — who are pretty good this episode, other than the moment in the cold open with the “WOO!” for white chocolate — realizes that before it even really gets going. It’s worrying at first that this is a hacky sketch about ending up “on the couch,” but it thankfully takes its first interesting turn when The Weeknd comes in. “We make dinner like lovers do / I pour wine / And I’m sleeping on the couch tonight.” That’s when the sketch enters the weird territory it remains in (“It don’t seem too fair this time”) for the duration. The Weeknd, surprisingly, ends up being the MVP of the sketch, as his moments of sleeping on the couch are especially odd (“I say hello / And I’m sleeping on the couch tonight”)… and then comes the twist, with Thompson and Redd’s actual indiscretions and the reveal that The Weeknd is Gardner’s ex (and Craig is her new husband):

We broke up five years ago
And?
I got married to another guy
And?
He’s sick of you crashing here
And?
You really gotta stop coming over here
“What?”

The main humor of “Daytime Show” comes from Ego Nwodim going all Patti LaBelle on Craig’s “celebrity” chef (that’s the way the episode uses its quotes to introduce him) for telling her not to eat the foil (“Legends don’t eat foil, boo.”), but Aidy Bryant’s loopy host Deirdre honestly makes the case for this sketch to somehow recur. Especially her matter of fact declaration that hors d’oeuvres is French “for horse doves,” which beautifully gets no pushback at all. There’s also Kenan Thompson and Heidi Gardner’s audience characters who enable Nwodim’s singer every step of the way, which makes this such an interesting world for the brief time “SNL” is in it.

“Knives Out” is a great movie for many reasons, but one of the obvious ones is Craig’s Southern-fried accent. That has surely been on the minds of the “SNL” writers since the movie came out, so finally, they were able to investigate with the man himself. Beck Bennett’s Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn-inspired accent coach invite Craig to go all-in in this episode, which is exactly what you want to see from a “serious” actor.

At the same time, Bennett and Craig’s commitment to acting — “You can just puke on command?!?” — most likely confused any person watching who still has yet to watch “Knives Out.” And that just makes the sketch even funnier.

Best Sketches of the Night: “The Sands of Modesto” & “Deep Quote Game Night”

Yes, “The Sands of Modesto” is somewhat distracting because of its use of what must be the set of “The Californians,” but outside of that, it’s a very funny sketch. “SNL” is such a polished show that it rarely even goes for intentionally cheap-looking and makeshift anymore (outside of a Kyle Mooney sketch), so when it does, it tends to really work. The handholding b-roll, the fake hand, the fighting dolls, the glass pane and then the saran wrap — it’s all so good, and the live audience is right there with them. Part of that is also because everyone involved so fully commits to the intentionally bad soap opera that they’re creating, especially Craig. This sketch and “Accent Coach” really show that, in terms of “SNL” hosting, Craig is perhaps most comparable to Adam Driver: both in terms of commitment and in terms of the writers serving that commitment well.

Also, the most understated part of the humor of this sketch — because everyone’s focused so much on the obvious — is the fact that everyone’s names on this soap opera are absolutely wild. “Debranique.” “Blace.” “Victalia.” The name choices scream that the writers knew no one would be paying attention to that aspect, so they just went with whatever.

As for “Deep Quote Game Night,” this is the type of sketch that serves as a reminder of why Heidi Gardner should basically be running this place — and probably will be soon. Her approach to awkwardness in comedy is so different from everyone else’s. For example, her awkwardness is so different from Aidy Bryant or Kyle Mooney. It’s to the point that she’s able to be sexually charged in this little weirdo of a sketch that quotes “Captain Phillips” more than any actual “Captain Phillips” sketch ever has. Gardner and Craig’s weird chemistry in this sketch, coupled with McKinnon’s reactions, make for a true winner, which is especially for another game night sketch on “SNL.”

Worst Sketch of the Night: “Debbie Downer Wedding Reception”

On the one hand, “Debbie Downer” is a true joy of a sketch, and this return version knows exactly what it needs to do: update us all on the state of feline AIDS. On the other hand, “Debbie Downer” has always been trying to chase the high of the original, break-heavy sketch, and it’s never happened. This version of the sketch, though, does some things to at least change it up. Craig and Thompson’s (“Why would you delve?”) desire to silence Debbie throughout allows the characters to have something to do while Rachel Dratch works her magic. (However, due to the premise of the sketch, it doesn’t allow them to build to finally, truly snapping at her at the end.) The “How do you guys feel about Trump?” — with Aidy Bryant’s character revealed to be the one Trump supporter at the table — bit also works, and “SNL” is smart not to make this sketch too long.

This is a solid entry in the pantheon of Debbie Downer — especially since she would be all over the coronavirus, as this whole episode is — but again, the sketch will never be able to duplicate the original’s magic. It just can’t.

Best Male Performer: Kenan Thompson

Bachelor party (“HIM!”) guy, “On the Couch,” his feather-finding character in “The Sands of Modesto,” his half of the enabling duo (with Heidi Gardner) in “Daytime Show.” Kenan Thompson remains the most reliable cast member of “SNL,” and he provides big laughs with everything he does in this episode, no matter how small.

Best Female Performer: The Female Cast of “SNL”

Despite the appearance of both Elizabeth Warren and a former cast member in Rachel Dratch, this manages to be a very strong episode for every current female cast member on the show. Kate McKinnon starts off strong as Laura Ingraham (and then Elizabeth Warren) in the cold open, and then proceeds to keep it going as Debranique in “The Sands of Modesto” and Daniel Craig’s very confused wife in “Deep Quote Game Night.” Cecily Strong has her Jeanine Pirro and the return of her Girl at a Party…, as well as the iconic line, “Bitch, this is Modesto.” Chloe Fineman gets to be a Bond girl and Debranique’s daughter.

Lil’ Baby Aidy breaks in the “Accent Coach” sketch, introduces the world to the loopy “The Deirdre Show,” and makes her overnight salad, the latter being the first true 10-to-1 sketch in quite a while. Melissa Villasenor reminds Redd of all the credit card fraud-related reasons he’s sleeping on the couch. Ego Nwodim channels her inner Patti LaBelle in “Daytime Show” and then functions as a straight man (along with Day and Bryant) in “Accent Coach.” And Heidi Gardner has a sexually-charged game of quotes with the current James Bond. It’s a really good episode for the ladies of “SNL.”

Final Thoughts

One must give credit where credit’s due for “SNL” when it comes to actually acknowledging when something works. No, not the return of “The Weeknd Update” (since The Weeknd is the musical guest) but when it comes to Michael Che. After last week’s — genuinely entertaining — descent into nihilism for Che, that continues this week. And showing some restraint, it doesn’t just go full tilt again on the bit; instead, Che has his all hope is lost moment, grabs his drink from offscreen, and goes on about the depressing business without a hitch.

And speaking of something that works, in this episode, Strong finally brings back her breakout “SNL” feature character — “The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party” — for the first time since 2016. Considering the current political climate, it’s shocking there hasn’t been more mileage out of this character recently, but it’s also the rare time that “SNL” hasn’t tried for too much of a good thing. It’s been a while, but Strong hasn’t lost a step with this character. Her trying to put her hands in Che’s mouth just felt right.

Bowen Yang’s feature appearance as Bottle Boi is sort of like “Maine Justice,” in terms of wondering where the (Bobby Boucher-adjacent) accent comes from, but the eventual “French quarter of Times Square”/Bubba Gump explanation is a good one, despite not ever expecting an explanation in the first place. In a way, it does somewhat come across as Yang just throwing characters at a wall and hoping they will stick. But in another way — and not just in terms of the accent-work — it kind of feels like Yang deserves comparisons to “SNL”-era Adam Sandler much more than Pete Davidson ever has. As the comparison would be more than age-based and instead be Weekend Update ridiculous features-based.

As is also quite rare, the episode actually starts with a strong cold open that doesn’t go long and features the actual cast well… even though it’s still odd that white chocolate got a “WOO” from the crowd.

As previously mentioned, for an episode featuring a big political cameo and a former cast member in their own recurring sketch, this is an episode where every actual cast member — along with the host — gets to shine. Except for an absent Pete Davidson and Kyle Mooney, who is at least in the “Deep Quote Game Night” sketch. (Darrell Hammond is also in the cold open, but as the show’s announcer, he’s always just around anyway.) More importantly, that’s the case from the very beginning of the episode, as the cold open gives spotlights to McKinnon, Strong, and Day and Moffat, who have been strangely underutilized lately.

And then there’s host Daniel Craig, who is a host who can command a sketch scene, like “The Sands of Modesto” and “Deep Quote Game Night;” but he is also good at the supporting stuff, like in “On the Couch” and “Daytime Show.” Hopefully it doesn’t take another eight years from him to host again.

Grade: A

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