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‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: The Best and Worst of Kieran Culkin’s Hosting Debut

After a week off, “Saturday Night Live’s” 47th season returned with another hosting debut, this time in the form of “Succession” star Kieran Culkin.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Kieran Culkin" Episode 1810 -- Pictured: Host Kieran Culkin during the monologue on Saturday, November 6, 2021 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE — “Kieran Culkin” Episode 1810 — Pictured: Host Kieran Culkin during the monologue on Saturday, November 6, 2021 — (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)

Will Heath/NBC

After a week off, “Saturday Night Live’s” 47th season returned with another hosting debut, this time in the form of “Succession” star Kieran Culkin. This, however, was not Culkin’s first appearance on “SNL,” as he (at age nine) appeared in a sketch nearly 30 years ago to the date, when his older brother, Macaulay (at age 11, promoting “My Girl”), hosted the sketch comedy institution back in Season 17.

Host: Kieran Culkin

The most important part of Culkin’s monologue — other than him wanting to make clear that he’s not at all like his “Succession” character, Roman Roy — was the promise of what was to come. Specifically, the promise that he would be picked up by a cast member during the episode’s goodnights, much like he made Kevin Nealon pick him up during the goodnights of the aforementioned Macaulay Culkin-hosted “SNL” episode.

Thankfully, the promise was kept, as Chris Redd and Kenan Thompson ended up doing the honors.

In terms of getting things started, “Cancelling Cable” was both an unexpected sketch and an extremely satisfying one as soon as it really got going. The one knock against it would probably be Culkin’s character’s reaction of being “triggered,” but his general exasperation throughout the sketch otherwise worked. The first “it’s funny, ‘cause it’s true” sketch of the night, “Cancelling Cable” could have easily been a one-note sketch had it just been Culkin’s interactions with the Mikey Day’s customer service representative character. However, much like the “Football Press Conference Cold Open” from this season’s Rami Malek episode, this sketch built off the pacing and cadence of going from cast member to cast member.

The returning “Dionne Warwick Talk Show” sketch continues to have a simple premise: Ego Nwodim plays the Dionne Warwick, playing off her illustrious career and current social media persona, often confused by what’s happening in music right now. (Like, why aren’t people just named “Burt Bacharach” anymore?”) Nwodim Warwick’s laissez-faire reactions to the revolving door of guests always get at least one big laugh out of the short time she spends with them, whether it’s how Hannah Montana is Miley Cyrus’ (Chloe Fineman) nemesis, how “Ed Sheeran” (Ed Sheeran) backwards is Dionne Warwick (“I don’t think it is.), or how MGK (typically Pete Davidson) is “too scary” for her… and Post Malone (Pete Davidson) is even “worse.” (Culkin, unfortunately, didn’t have much to do as Jason Mraz, a “man [who] is not famous anymore.” Though he did rock the hat.)

This iteration of the sketch, of course, culminated in Nwodim bringing out the real Warwick to duet on “What the World Needs Now Is Love.” Maybe not the funniest conclusion to a sketch but definitely the most satisfying in this particular case.

“Men’s Room” was so close to being one of the best sketches of the night — another “it’s funny, ‘cause it’s true” sketch — until the conclusion. Not even just the tacked-on Tracy Morgan cameo — though it’s always a pleasure to see the “SNL” alum — but the sketch-closing “we don’t know what to do now” dance that all the guys did (which has been cut out in the YouTube version). There was a really funny and interesting concept in the sketch about the weird performative masculinity that apparently happens in a men’s restroom, somewhat perfectly buttoned by Alex Moffat’s (strongly channeling Beck Bennett here) public-facing creep character being even more of a creep in his inner monologue… and then Morgan made his appearance.

One thing to note about this episode of “SNL” was that Culkin definitely had no problem making himself look like a fool. Maybe that wasn’t always the game of the sketch — like him kind of playing Jason Mraz in the “Dionne Warwick Talk Show” sketch — but it was perhaps the ultimate takeaway of the episode. “Weatherman” may have perfectly encapsulated that fact, even before the actual premise of the sketch kicked in. As he did his “fall rap” as weatherman Riley-turned-“Turkey Tom,” of the live sketches, this was the one that really allowed Culkin to play around and get just as silly as everyone else around him. There were also just little bits in this sketch that really played well, like the fact that Thompson’s anchor was more invested in the “Turkey Tom” of it all, while Cecily Strong was frustrated with weatherman Riley for prioritizing his holiday rap persona over knowing that a severe storm was coming.

Also: R.I.P. that Boy Scout troop. “The sea took them!”

Best Sketch of the Night: “The Jockey”

What is more niche at this point: the genre of film that includes early 2000s movies like “Seabiscuit” and “The Legend of Bagger Vance” or the combination of ska and the X-Games Era? Because “The Jockey” does both of these things, set to a Kieran Culkin-sung ska song — heavily riffing off of Goldfinger’s “Superman,” which is best known for its place on the soundtrack of the original “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” video game — that ends with a “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater”-inspired video game plug. (The “Seabiscuit” meets “The Legend of Bagger Vance” mash-up comes from the horse-racing premise of the sketch mixed with Chris Redd’s obvious Magical Negro character.)

Worst Sketch of the Night: “Car Heist”

This is where the realm of “worst” sketches of the night always gets tricky, as “Car Heist” wasn’t a bad sketch at all. But in terms of the premise and its use of the episode’s host, it was all kind of small potatoes.

Not knowing how to drive a stick shift? Also falls into the realm of “it’s funny, ‘cause it’s true.” And in the case of “Car Heist,” the premise was clear and simple: “What happens when the getaway driver in a heist can’t actually drive the car?” This is a bit that was actually even employed in the most recent entry into “The Fast and the Furious” franchise, “Fast 9,” though it was specifically about a member of the crew who’d never driven at all. While not a wholly original premise, Chris Redd’s performance as the thief who cannot comprehend a stick shift — as well as Kenan Thompson’s security guard character who finds great amusement out of that fact — is what really drives (no pun intended) this sketch. It’s difficult not to have fun with a heist premise, in general, but the execution of “Car Heist” didn’t provide much for Culkin (the mastermind) or Day (the hacker) to really sink their teeth into. Heidi Gardner (as the client), on the other hand, was able to break through into Redd and Thompson territory in this sketch simply with the accent work she ended up doing for her character.

Best Male Performer: Chris Redd

Redd’s performances in “Men’s Room,” especially,” and “Car Heist” sealed the deal on this one. Honestly, even his small role in “The Jockey” was great for what it was, even though the rest of the sketch pivoted immediately from that.

Best Female Performer: Cecily Strong

And not just in typical sketch form either — though her voice work continues to be winning, as evidenced by the “Cancelling Cable” sketch — as the standout for Strong in this episode actually came in the form of her Weekend Update featured performance as Goober the Clown, Who Had an Abortion When She Was 23. (Though, the bit quickly had Jost give up the ghost that this was just Strong using a more easily digestible persona to get her message across.) While the Goober the Clown get-up may have done a lot to suggest this was a light-hearted segment, this was actually far from it, with Cecily Strong honestly pouring her heart into a segment full of quite righteous fury and frustration.

Final Thoughts

While somewhat a political cold open, “Aaron Rodgers Trump Cold Open” worked mostly based on the reliable strength of framing things from the perspective of Strong’s Judge Jeanine Pirro. This opening sketch was interesting to clock certain audience reactions on, because from that, it was both clear: 1. The audience had absolutely no idea who Governor-Elect Glenn Youngkin (Moffat) was, 2. James Austin Johnson’s Trump impression was arguably too pinpoint accurate, with little actual jokes thrown in. In the case of the latter, the audience definitely became more onboard — notably impressed, even — when he started doing “the rundown,” but the buffoonery that made Alec Baldwin’s Trump (even though it was a far less accurate or even good impression) was absent. Instead, Austin Johnson’s Trump — while he made “mistakes” like calling Judge Jeanine “Judge Judy” — came across as far more calculating in his actions, which was definitely a choice.

It was actually Gardner’s parent concerned with “critical race theory” who served as the true highlight of the sketch, highlighting all the reasons certain books should be banned. There really is “too much jazz” in “The Great Gatsby,” isn’t there?

Please Don’t Destroy also made it back onto the show, and naturally, they probably should have made it back onto the best sketches of the night. But rounding out the “it’s funny, ‘cause it’s true” sketches of the night, there’s not much to say about why “Calling Angie” works as well as it does than to just say, “Watch the sketch.”

For as strong as this episode was, sketches like this edition of “The Dionne Warwick Talk Show” and “Car Heist” made clear that it was not even necessarily because of Culkin’s hosting. But on the other hand, a sketch like “The Jockey” was propelled off the back of Culkin, and “Cancelling Cable” — while full of strong performances — did require Culkin’s straight-man schtick. It continues to be fascinating to watch these first-time hosts take a crack at and thrive in the realm of “SNL’s” version of live sketch comedy, even when not necessarily everything lands.

Grade: B-

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