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‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: The Best and Worst of Willem Dafoe’s Hosting Debut

This week’s “SNL” saw Academy Award nominee Willem Dafoe join the ranks of this season’s first-time hosts.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- “Willem Dafoe, Katy Perry” Episode 1817 -- Pictured: Host Willem Dafoe during the monologue on Saturday, January 29, 2022 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE — “Willem Dafoe, Katy Perry” Episode 1817 — Pictured: Host Willem Dafoe during the monologue on Saturday, January 29, 2022 — (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)

Will Heath/NBC

After making a brief cameo during the opening monologue of last week’s Will Forte-hosted “Saturday Night Live” — in which Lorne Michaels himself joked about the apparent ridiculousness of booking both a “Will” and a “Willem” on back-to-back weeks — this week’s “SNL” saw Academy Award nominee Willem Dafoe join the ranks of this season’s first-time hosts. As a character actor known for his intensity and very specific — if not subtle — acting choices, Dafoe had “SNL” fans expecting a very strange episode.

Host: Willem Dafoe

If given the chance to guess where Willem Dafoe is originally from, it seems highly unlikely that most people would actually guess correctly and say “Appleton, Wisconsin.” (Which is also part of why the British/”Sir Willem Dafoe” joke in the “Nugenix” sketch works as well as it does.) As he noted in his monologue, he got his start as an actor in New York City. But while that was briefly discussed and joked about (in addition to his lack of subtlety compared to actors like Nic Cage and Al Pacino), it wasn’t until the Appleton mention that the actual angle of the monologue kicked in, with Mikey Day and Aidy Bryant (instantly the MVP of the episode) as tourists also from Appleton. There was something to the duo not quite knowing Dafoe’s work outside of the “Spider-Man” movies and, yes, “Speed 2: Cruise Control,” but ultimately, it was really all about the Wisconsin accents (and getting Dafoe to force one out).

It wasn’t the strongest “SNL” monologue, but the rest of the episode did follow-up on the inherent promise that came with the announcement of Dafoe as a first-time “SNL” host: For better or worse, the sketches were weird. However, while there was definitely a weirdness (which, again, was to be expected) to the sketches, this episode didn’t really go too far outside the box.

For example, “Tenant Meeting” wasn’t really different from a lot of “SNL” sketches that exist solely to give everyone present on the cast (and the host) something to do. This season has even had a sketch just like it with “School Board Meeting” from the Owen Wilson episode. Dafoe’s small bit did, however, confirm that, just like in his acting career — even in movies like “Speed 2: Cruise Control” — Dafoe would commit to every role and bit of the night, also for better or worse. But ultimately, this was a forgettable sketch.

Also, had “Tenant Meeting” been Punkie Johnson’s only sketch of the night (after some episodes of absence), her yelling “THEN WHY AM I EVEN HERE?!?” and then immediately leaving the scene would’ve been a pretty bittersweet meta moment. (As noted the past couple of weeks, Cecily Strong has also been absent; she’s currently starring in a one-woman off-Broadway show.)

In terms of their relatable comedic raps, “Now I’m Up” wasn’t exactly Chris Redd and Kenan Thompson’s best work, but still — relatable. (And catchy.) The sketch’s turn from standard inconveniences to nightmare fuel spurred on by Dafoe and Heidi Gardner’s infomercial hosts allowed the host to reveal just how game he’d be throughout this episode.

It’s hard to go wrong with animals (dogs, especially) in an “SNL” sketch. Sure, they rarely want to play along with the sketch, but that’s not the point: The point is that they’re adorable. Which allowed the Badminster Dog Show sketch (“Live from the Cujo Arena,” an opening joke the audience did not appreciate) to work, as it featured the cutest dogs “SNL” could find… and constantly explained why they were “canine freaks.”

While it was easy to get swept up in the adorableness of the pups (especially Luna from the “Shaky Dog Group” and Pigeon from the “Mean Group”), the performances by Dafoe and Bryant’s Judas Chrysler and Miriam Jeans (Bryant’s delivery can make any name hilarious) as the hosts really centered the strangeness of all of this. In fact, Dafoe’s delivery of, “and now, we do this” in reaction to the out-of-left field fact that his and Bryant’s characters are married was some of the best work he did in this episode.

It truly was interesting to see how “SNL” would squeeze Dafoe into certain sketches, and “Office Song” was perhaps the most interesting sketch in that regard. As Jeremiah, the new temp who decided retirement just wasn’t for him, it wasn’t immediately clear where the sketch was going to go. And then things turned to an impromptu “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” performance from everyone else in the sketch… with Jeremiah ruining it all by throwing a chair through a window. As a sketch that had vibes of “I Think You Should Leave…,” “Office Song” was the perfect way to end this episode. The late reveal that the premise was essentially “WORST TEMP EVER” was something the sketch never really let breathe, but at the same time, the sketch didn’t outstay its welcome either.

Best Sketches of The Night: “Nugenix” & “Please Don’t Destroy: Martin’s Friend”

“Oh. Why did I think you were British?”
“I don’t know.”

While this pre-tape sketch boiled down to just being about “boner stuff,” it did strangely capture the increasing bizarreness of the actual Frank Thomas Nugenix commercials — seen quite often on basic cable — in a nutshell. Day’s straight man routine was at its best here, against Thompson’s Frank Thomas, Kyle Mooney’s Doug Flutie, and Dafoe’s Willem Dafoe, acknowledging the weirdness of the Nugenix’s commercials without getting too big (no upsetting pun intended). Even funnier was how long it actually took for the fake ad to even say Nugenix, as it was so wrapped up in the “You can’t get hard anymore.” and “Oh, now he’s interested.” repeated bits.

As tends to be the case, a Please Don’t Destroy sketch airing on “SNL” basically means a Please Don’t Destroy Sketch was one of the best sketches on that week’s “SNL.” Though, in this sketch’s case, it was clearly the star power of Connor that really drove things home.

But most importantly: Does the use of Chad Kroeger and Josey Scott’s “Hero” in this sketch officially make it part of the Spider-Man multiverse?

Worst Sketches of The Night: “Beauty and the Beast: The Mirror” and “Good Morning Columbus”

Let it never be said that Dafoe didn’t entirely commit to every single bit he was given to do in this episode of “SNL.” The former sketch features Dafoe himself 100% committing, but the premise itself is neither all that interesting nor funny. Which is often the case when it comes to “SNL” going down the well of classic films, both animated and live-action.

While it might seem strange to praise “Nugenix” for the erection jokes but criticize “Good Morning Columbus” for the oral sex jokes, the difference between the two sketches is that this one is essentially a recurring sketch. And the bit is the same every single time. The misspeaking that mistyping that follows as a result was perhaps funny the first time “SNL” did this sketch — with Day, of course, as the straight man pretty oblivious to it all — but there’s really not much more to it.

Best Male Performer: Peyton Manning

More on that in Final Thoughts…

Best Female Performer: Aidy Bryant

Bryant and Bowen Yang’s “Trend Forecasters on the Latest Trends” will hopefully be a recurring Weekend Update segment after this and not immediately put to bed.

Final Thoughts

While, unsurprisingly, the cold open wasn’t anything special, Weekend Update really upped the quality of this episode with its two features: “Trend Forecasters on the Latest Trends” and “Peyton Manning on the NFL Playoffs.” The former was, of course, part of the number of reasons Bryant was the MVP of the episode, but the latter was a surprising feature that could easily be considered the best bit of the night. Manning has been known as one of the great athlete hosts of “SNL,” and his return for this bit was a solid reminder of why. Sure, it was a bit that was essentially a live sketch version of “Jack Sparrow,” but still: It’s hard to beat Peyton Manning praising Season 2 (and only that season) of “Emily in Paris.”

Again, while Dafoe definitely committed at all points — truly, his performance in “Beauty and the Beast: The Mirror” was great, despite the material itself not being great — he wasn’t exactly revelatory in his comedic performances. Nor were the sketches themselves, though most of them did hit a sweet spot of weirdness. In addition to the best sketches, sketches like “Office Song” and “Dog Show” were promising, even though the rest of the episode was inconsistent. For the most part, Dafoe carried a decent episode.

Grade: B-

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