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‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: The Best and Worst of Jonathan Majors’ Hosting Debut

This week’s “Saturday Night Live” saw “The Harder They Fall” star Jonathan Majors take on first-time hosting duty.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Jonathan Majors" Episode 1811 -- Pictured: (l-r) Bowen Yang, musical guest Taylor Swift, host Jonathan Majors, and Aidy Bryant during promos in Studio 8H on Thursday, November 11, 2021 -- (Photo by: Rosalind O'Connor/NBC)

“Saturday Night Live”

Rosalind O'Connor/NBC

Continuing this season of new hosts and comedic experimentation, this week’s “Saturday Night Live” saw “The Harder They Fall” star Jonathan Majors take on first-time hosting duty. And not just any first-time hosting duty, as he had to do so with Taylor Swift as the heavily-buzzed-about music guest.

Host: Jonathan Majors

One thing to really appreciate about this new season of “SNL,” in all of its freshness and newness, is the fact that it’s not relying on gimmicks for its opening monologues. While a scripted Q&A, a Studio 8H tour, or even the occasional musical number can be fun, the past few years have been so overloaded with gimmick monologues — particularly in the musical number category — that there was obvious burnout. The back to basics nature this season has taken with both its hosts and their monologues has been refreshing.

But nerves still exist, especially coming from a first-time host, and that’s also something that has been very apparent this season. Jonathan Majors’ monologue, for example, was perhaps the greatest example of these nerves, as he was both so amped from the adrenaline rush and nervous that he pretty much rushed through his entire monologue, leaving no real breathing room or even place for the audience to fully digest and laugh at — or even just appreciate — what he had to say. Genuine excitement — genuine emotion of any type in this scenario — is much appreciated, but unfortunately, this set the tone for the rest of the episode and Majors’ somewhat shaky (though committed, even through stumbled lines) performance throughout.

As is ultimately the case for most of this episode’s sketches, “March of the Suitors” hat had some interesting bits but was neither tight (or cohesive) nor particularly relevant enough to really hit hard. That’s definitely not for lack of trying on anyone’s end, especially for Chloe Fineman, Mikey Day, and Aidy Bryant, as the queen and her aides, respectively. (There’s probably a way to make Fineman’s Queen Matilda the First a recurring character, as she’s someone who lives for “the drama.”) The conclusion with Punkie Johnson’s Lady Tawnie (turned Mad Queen Tawnie the Terrible) made this one of the few live sketches of the episode with a solid finish — and hopefully also provided an opening for Johnson to get to do more on the show, as she always hits when she’s allowed to. And she hit here; just listen to the live audience during her bit.

Also, it’s amazing the sketch had the restraint to not just flat out say that Andrew Dismukes’ character was apparently the Pete Davidson of that era.

The thing about “Audacity in Advertising Awards” is that there’s a fun sketch to be had just from the premise of Jonathan Majors as “Jake from State Farm” and Heidi Gardner as “Flo from Progressive,” especially with Flo’s “hundred-million year contract with Progressive.” (“And I love that too.”) This was also one of those sketches that has been done in similar ways plenty of times before on “SNL” and could work as an “I Think You Should Leave” sketch (with tweaks). As it actually was, there are some fun bits — though it perhaps peaked at the Pepsi/Jenner joke — and the premise is pretty universal, but it just didn’t quite pop. This had the premise and even bits of a cutting satire, but the edges were just sanded off.

“Strange Kid Tales” was the first of three sketches in this episode that were decidedly, specifically Black — which would’ve been an interesting tone for the whole episode but instead signaled a disconnect between what this episode was trying to do with its host from sketch to sketch. While Kenan Thompson was the MVP, once he got more comfortable, Majors was able to somewhat keep up with him to keep this one solid.

The premise was positioned as those of two Syfy hosts who were only doing the job because they needed the paycheck, but the actual rationale behind it was that they were two Black hosts, dealing with creepy white people stories. (One of the stories involved just casually walking by a cemetery. This was a pointed choice.)

Other than “Strange Kid Tales” and “Pet Store Ad,” “Broadway Benefit” actually provided Majors’ best performance of the episode. Unfortunately, the sketch — with a fun premise of a drug-obsessed old-school Broadway show — suffered from not knowing how to end. But at least he got to show off his impressive dance moves.

Best Sketch of The Night: “Three Sad Virgins”

During the “SNL @ Home” episodes, Pete Davidson’s true sketch range just being parody music videos was really exposed… which actually made his version of a Please Don’t Destroy video just being a parody music video even funnier. Even though it was, in a way, a very similar premise to The Lonely Island’s “Jack Sparrow” — especially once it gets to the “Dune” rap part. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and that’s why “Three Sad Virgins” works.

It’s clear the live “SNL” audience has very much taken to the Please Don’t Destroy boys, and this sketch officially brought them outside of their office and into the larger scale pre-tape “SNL” sketch world. The icing on this particular cake was that they did so with Taylor Swift, who, in case you missed it, is a pretty big star.

Worst Sketch of The Night: “Pastor Announcement”

This is the third of those decidedly Black sketches, alongside “Strange Kid Tales” and “Pet Store Ad.” And it’s kind of a mess, outside of Ego Nwodim and Thompson’s exchanges.

Best Male Performer: Kenan Thompson

When in doubt, it’s always Thompson. In this case, his work in “Strange Kid Tales” especially sealed the deal.

Best Female Performers: Sarah Sherman & Ego Nwodim

“IN OTHER NEWS…”

For the second week in a row, an “SNL” performer takes the MVP role based primarily (and in this case, solely) on their Weekend Update feature. Sarah Sherman — fully as herself — giving a new cast member check-in in the form of a roast session on Colin Jost is just absolutely refreshing. At the very least, this could be her audition tape for taking Weekend Update away from Jost (and Che).

As for Nwodim, on multiple occasions — notably “March of the Suitors” and “Pastor Announcement” — she almost single-handedly turned the tide on otherwise so-so bits with her performances. Anyone familiar with Nwodim prior to being cast on “SNL” knew she’d be a force on the show if given the chance. She also manages to pull off a Robin Thede-esque (see: “A Black Lady Sketch Show”) comedic drag performance as one-fourth of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.

(Speaking of: No, there is absolutely no reason for there to be a Bone Thugs-N-Harmony sketch in 2021. It’s still funny and easily one of the best performances of Majors’ hosting debut. “You’re gonna miss everybody…”)

Final Thoughts

“Ted Cruz Sesame Street Cold Open” managed to continue this season’s streak of strong cold opens, despite devolving into just throwing everything at the wall by the end of it all. For example, as nice as it was to see “SNL” acknowledge a free Britney Spears, maybe this wasn’t the sketch to do it in. Then again, this sketch also had Pete Davidson — noted skinny man — playing Joe Rogan — noted beefy meathead — so maybe all bets were off.

While Aidy Bryant’s Ted Cruz always provides a sad laugh or two, Cecily Strong’s “I represent America.” as Marjorie Taylor-Greene was the most biting joke of the entire episode, despite the live crowd not quite acknowledging that fact.

It’s worth noting that Aristotle Athari also had a great Weekend Update feature as Stand-Up Robot Laughingtosh 3000 in this episode; he just, unfortunately, had to follow Sarah Sherman’s showstopping feature.

“It’s not their fault masculinity makes intimacy so hard.”

It really was difficult to pin a specific tone or theme or thread on this episode, but in terms of the pre-taped sketches, the vibes were at least there. Which is key for “Man Park.” It was a pretty upfront sketch: “It’s like a dog park but for guys in relationships.” Pete Davidson was probably at his best here, with an earnestness in his and everyone else’s struggle to connect. Simply put, he and the others were like shy, adorable dogs in this sketch.

Grade: C

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