‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: The Best and Worst of Rami Malek’s Hosting Debut

This week’s “SNL” saw the Oscar winner step into the hosting role to promote the latest James Bond film, “No Time to Die.”
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Rami Malek" Episode 1808 -- Pictured: Host Rami Malek during the monologue on Saturday, October 16, 2021 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Rami Malek" Episode 1808 -- Pictured: Host Rami Malek during the monologue on Saturday, October 16, 2021 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)
Will Heath/NBC

Another week, another “Saturday Night Live” hosting debut in the books. This week’s “SNL” saw Academy Award winner Rami Malek step into the hosting role for the first time ever to promote the latest James Bond film, “No Time to Die.” (As you may recall, Malek’s co-star Daniel Craig — who appeared in two sketches this week — hosted “SNL” back in March 2020 to promote “No Time to Die” as well. You may also recall real-world circumstances delaying the film.)

Following both Owen Wilson and Kim Kardashian West’s solid entries into the “SNL” first-timer’s club, Malek came into Studio 8H with a tone set for this current season.

Host: Rami Malek

Rami Malek’s monologue took somewhat of a page out of the Peter Sarsgaard book of “SNL” hosting, focusing on his reputation as an intense actor. As Malek said himself, he has “resting villain face.”

Once again, the monologue really set a comforting tone for the rest of the episode, as this season so far has done so much to play to the strengths of its hosts from week to week. Malek’s strange charm is off the charts in this monologue, as he goes down the list of villains he can easily find empathy for in a surprisingly soothing way. “Darth Vader? Just trying to reconnect with his son. And Freddy Krueger? Encouraging kids to dream.” It was in the Freddy Krueger line that Malek temporarily broke — not too big but something of a sign of the lighthearted, chill vibe that one could hopefully expect from Malek moving forward.

“Yeah, what is this kid’s deal?”
“Well, his dad’s an exec at Bravo, his other dad’s a Republican, and honestly, this is the first time I’ve ever heard him speak.”

After being kind of under the radar in the first two episodes of the season, Bowen Yang got quite the featured performance in this week’s “SNL.” As soon as he said “DADDY LONG LEGS” in the “Bug Assembly” sketch, all anyone could pretty much do was strap in and enjoy the ride. (Kenan Thompson also sort of broke during this sketch for that very reason.) While Malek — along with Andrew Dismukes and Sarah Sherman — brought the awkward middle schooler energy to this sketch in a sweet way, this was all Yang’s sketch.

“What do you think, Jordan Peele?”

A sketch that essentially boils down to an improv exercise, “Prince Auditions” truly got a lot of mileage out of the opening riff of Prince’s “Kiss.” It’s also one of those “SNL” that understands how funny it is when the characters the audience have been watching the whole time aren’t even characters but instead the actors themselves.

Unfortunately, while the reasoning behind it was funny, the inclusion of Daniel Craig (also as himself, or “Double-0-Ugly,” as Thompson called him) ultimately ended up dragging down the sketch, as his timing was off and his Prince reactions had nothing on Thompson’s or Malek’s.

Who’d have ever thought that — despite any physical resemblance people may think they have — Rami Malek would have a good Pete Davidson impression? Clearly, the writers at “SNL.” “Celeb School Game Show” was a typical impressions-heavy sketch, which provided fun in bits like Mikey Day’s returning John Oliver (there’s a cadence and Day has it down) and Malek/Davidson character swap. But in terms of the peak of impressions, hats off to Chloe Fineman as Jennifer Coolidge (especially saying “dumbass”) and Melissa Villaseñor’s Kristen Wiig.

Best Sketches of The Night: “Mattress Store” & “Angelo”

Aidy Bryant’s talent is such that she can truly be absent for a huge chunk of the episode and then show up in one sketch and absolutely steal the show. And Malek’s talent is such that he can bring Serious Actor vibes to such a ridiculous sketch — with Yang, surprisingly and brilliantly, playing the straight man of the piece — and it all works, every step of the way. While Malek got to be varying degrees of weird throughout this episode — and that includes in cut-for-time sketches — “Mattress Store” was the one that really clicked for him as host and performer.

Of the new batch of cast members, it’s been looking like Aristotle Athari has already gotten lost in the shuffle, really only showing up when they need someone to quickly react before being shuffled offscreen. But this week, he got the 10-to-1 sketch slot and showed that each member of this entire new class is very strong in their own very, very distinct ways.

Once again, repetition proved the key to comedy gold, as his terrible song (as the titular Angelo) got funnier each time he sang it and hit those high notes. If “Mattress Store” was the peak of Serious Actor Malek, “Angelo” was the peak of Weird Vibes Malek, with his “dancing” and just the very premise of him being on the same, very specific wavelength as Athari’s “Angelo.”

Best Male Performer: Bowen Yang

From Daddy Long Legs to his straight-man mattress store salesman character, Bowen Yang’s return to prominence in this week’s “SNL” proved what a solid all-around performer he is. (Similar to Kenan Thompson, who also had a great performance week.)

Best Female Performer: Aidy Bryant

Much like last week’s episode was more about the “SNL” ladies, this week’s episode was more about the men. But Aidy Bryant stole the show, and Cecily Strong also had a similar effect with “Angelo.”

Final Thoughts

One of the things that has absolutely hamstrung contemporary “SNL” is its need to do political cold opens. So while this week’s cold open was a topical one about current events, not only was it refreshing for it not to be about politics, it was perhaps that choice — and the fact that it wasn’t completely just another round of stilted beats of impressions of real, unfunny politicians — that made this week’s cold open so good. The pacing and flow of the sketch were also the best a cold open has had in quite some time for “SNL;” which is saying a lot, as last week’s cold open was also the best political cold open “SNL” had had in ages.

But like the past two weeks, the greatest sign of the cold open from the jump is that it wasn’t used to get a celebrity cameo over. Again, this was entirely the actual current cast of the show, to the point that Colin Jost even performed in it — as Roger Goodell, set up by Cecily Strong’s brief NFL PR character to get booed by the live “SNL” audience. It also seems that these cold opens simply exist to show off James Austin Johnson’s impressionist range, which also breathes a whole new amount of life into them.

Weekend Update had two strong features this week in Day and Thompson as a hypnotist and his poor, poor volunteer (“Oh no, I killed Zendaya!”) and Chris Redd as himself. The latter even brought up a fine point about blimps, before reminding everyone of the real reason he was there — Redd’s non-sequitur “Black people can’t get the Coronavirus!” from a February 2020 Weekend Update.

Three sketches were cut for time from this episode, all featuring Malek. Two of the three were pre-tapes two, which again speaks to the way “SNL” is really working with its hosts’ strengths and weaknesses this season: While the Kim Kardashian West episode was more heavily filled with pre-tapes, Malek’s adeptness in live sketch meant the show didn’t need to fall back on that. “Brutal Marriage Movie,” for example, hit on similar territory as the live sketch “Mattress Store,” which Malek clearly excelled in.

But at the same time, when you consider that number of cut sketches — including the Please Don’t Destroy one, a week after their sketch was a clear highlight of the season — it does also speak to how thin the episode somewhat felt. That’s also why there was no “Worst Sketch of the Night.” Sketches like “Bug Assembly” and “Celeb School Game Show,” for example, worked, but they were also fine at worst. It’s a good problem to have, especially when it’s a first-time hosting situation.

Grade: B+

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