‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: First-Time Host Sandra Oh Embraces The Bizarre

The "Killing Eve" star lets weirdness drive the episode.
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Sandra Oh" Episode 1762 -- Pictured: Host Sandra Oh during the monologue on Saturday, March 30, 2019 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)
Sandra Oh, "Saturday Night Live"
Will Heath/NBC

After another mini-break, “Saturday Night Live” is back with a new episode and another first-time host: Sandra Oh. Unfortunately, there is no “Killing Eve” sketch — though BBC America takes care of that series promotion during one of the first commercial breaks — but there is some unexpected insanity that gets the season back on track, heading into the closing stretch.

Host: Sandra Oh

Oh, Sandra. Sandra Oh’s monologue gets this episode off to a pretty good start, as she lets the whole world know she’s Canadian, she’s Asian, and she’s now a United States citizen… but she also has absolutely no idea how to be assertive and braggadocious, as she’s Canadian, and she’s Asian. This isn’t a Leslie Jones-heavy episode — in fact, the entire joke of the later sketch she’s “supposed” to figure into involves her not actually getting to do anything — but she leaves a lasting impression with her role as Sandra’s confidence advisor in this monologue.

Yes, Leslie is right that when Drake was still just in Canada, “he was in a wheelchair.” And yes, it is quite amusing to hear Sandra overconfidently say, “I’m Leslie Jones!”… though it’s even funnier to hear her say less confidently, “I’m Sandra Oh, and cry more than anyone you’ve ever met.” Lack of ego officially shown, now the real test becomes the rest of the episode.

It’s easy to be upset at first that, with this sketch, “Saturday Night Live” teases that it’s going to do its own riff on “The Favourite” — and just to be clear, “Saturday Night Live” should totally do its own riff on “The Favourite,” still — only to get… this. But this is an amazingly insane sketch that pretty much announces early on that Sandra has absolutely no problem doing the weirdest sketches possible. In fact, the way the episode goes, it seems that she encouraged them. (See also: “Future Self” and “Louise’s Birthday”) She’s certainly never the same type of character twice in this episode.

But “The Duel” especially is one big “WHAT IS HAPPENING?” on a loop, as two men (Beck Bennett and Pete Davidson, whose accent work is actually better than expected here) prepare to duel over her affection and are somehow so dumb (and so strangely-positioned, for physics reasons) that they keep accidentally shooting her. It becomes this bizarre body horror sketch, with Sandra’s fingers and leg getting shot off before the grand finale, and… Why? Why is this happening? It’s inappropriately funny, but this is also a sketch on the first episode back from a break. That’s impressive.

“Saturday Night Live” has plenty of classroom sketches, but who could’ve ever imagined “Test Prep” would feature Kate McKinnon as a Jordan Catalano proxy — with Aidy Bryant as the obvious Angela Chase proxy, though there’s a missed opportunity in not having Heidi Gardner as this sketch’s Rayanne Graff? This also isn’t “Saturday Night Live’s” first take on the trouble student trope, but this one takes it a different way as it goes student-by-student and then to Sandra’s (substitute) teacher—a small reminder of her past work in things like “Popular,” “The Princess Diaries,” and of course, “Big Fat Liar.”

Best Sketch(es) of The Night: “Discover Card” & “Future Self”

“Discover: from the mind of Jordan Peele”

The first sketch of the night, “Discover Card” is the perfect blend of synergy (and a bit of product integration, paid or not) and topical relevance. Because for starters, the sketch couldn’t exist without Discover’s actual ad campaign (since 2013), which focuses on the fact that their employees are so good because they’re essentially doppelgangers of their customer. (Fun fact: There is one of these ads with actual twins, but all the others are just two actors who look similar, not one actor in both roles.)

So that ad campaign exists, and so does Jordan Peele’s doppelganger-driven and black=led horror film “Us” — having just come out last weekend — which is where this sketch and Ego Nwodim and Kenan Thompson (both clearly channeling Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke from moment one) come in. While obviously, the bizarro version of Ego’s character is the one that does the most in this sketch, “normal” Ego’s reactions to all of her very unhelpful comments is actually the gem of this sketch (“Oh my god, I say ‘random’ all the time. Are you me?” is a line that’s basically cribbed from the actual Discover commercials, and it goes from annoying to funny in this context). The same with Kenan when he tries to tag in for her and ends up simply saying, “That ain’t it.”

While “The Duel” is the first sketch in this episode to beg the question, “WHAT IS HAPPENING,” “Future Self” immediately follows that sketch up to continue asking it. Sandra’s Tishy might be the new David S. Pumpkins, which is one of the highest praises you can give a “Saturday Night Live” host character. (And like David S. Pumpkins and Boo Boo Jeffries, she’s clearly a Mikey Day joint.) In fact, she’s such a force, it’s impossible to spend any time wondering why Mikey’s character Trent’s voice sounds like Garth Algar’s when the sketch starts. With a perpetually broken arm and a can of Four Loko, 47-year-old Tishy is a confusing ideal version of a woman, always going on about her “good goo-goo” which is apparently “not what you think.” While “The Duel” is an unexpected sketch simply because of the shocking body horror out of nowhere, “Future Self” is unexpected because of whatever this type of character is that Sandra is playing. This is not exactly a “safe” choice of a sketch, especially as early on in the episode as it is. The woman really can do it all.

Also: Who knew Alex Moffat was so jacked?

Worst Sketch of The Night: “Network Meeting” & “Kremlin Meeting”

This season’s John Mulaney sketch only had one weak sketch, in “Legal Shark Tank.” That sketch also introduced Chris Redd’s — default, because it wasn’t going to be Kenan Thompson or Michael Che — Jussie Smollett “impression.” It honestly didn’t resemble Smollett in any way, other than acknowledging current events, but it didn’t seem like it would happen again, because it fell pretty flat.

Unfortunately, it happens again, in this episode. The main question is, what exactly is the angle on this sketch? The idea is that Smollett is a scammer (which, okay, sure), but here, the delusions of grandeur by calling himself “the gay Tupac,” “the gay Mike Tyson,” and “the gay Lee Daniels” make no sense. And the sketch acknowledging that doesn’t make it better, because it really makes no sense why this sketch is even happening. “Saturday Night Live” being topical explains why any Jussie Smollett sketch, but there is no explanation for this particular approach to it. And it basically sinks a talented performer like Chris Redd by being stuck to this sinking ship.

Plus, the sketch honestly just bombs: It’s dead unless Redd says or does something especially ridiculous (like providing the “clues” from “the killer”), but there is barely a laugh otherwise. Because unlike the cold open — which is even better than this sketch, that’s the bar — there are not a bunch of celebrity cameos to get the “woo” treatment during this. The sketch happening this time honestly reads like Lorne Michaels absolutely loved it, and he is the audience he’s trying to reach with it. The same goes for the two additional Smollett jokes in this week’s Weekend Update (first from Colin Jost, then Cecily Strong’s Jeanine Pirro).

Also, in terms of Sandra not playing the same type of character twice, this is the only sketch she’s in which she really has nothing to work with. No one comes out looking better or funnier for this sketch.

This sketch is honestly fine, with the simple joke that none of the world’s foreign bad guys can take Vladimir Putin seriously anymore, with the knowledge Trump hasn’t actually been working for Russia this whole time. It’s a sketch full of accents and none are particularly great, but the biggest issue to come from this sketch is “Saturday Night Live” writer Bowen Yang as Kim Jong-un (with Sandra as his translator). It’s not even the fact that they didn’t have another Asian cast member available either: It’s the fact that Bowen Yang should be a cast member in the first place. His performance is the best of the sketch.

But ultimately, not a great week for sketches with “meeting” in the title.

Best Male Performer: Kenan Thompson

Yes, “Electric Shoes” makes you wonder immediately why “What Up With That?” can’t just come back (the lack of Bill Hader this year to produce Season 2 of “Barry” stings a bit), but by the end of the sketch, it’s impossible not to find the song catchy as hell. Repetition, especially coming from Kenan, works. “I’m here 50 years later, just like the Terminator!” This sketch just clinches Kenan’s spot as the top of the guys this week, as he’s able to close out the episode with as strong of a sketch as he starts it with (“Discover Card”).

Best Female Performer: Aidy Bryant

The only thing missing in Aidy Bryan’s Weekend Update appearance as non-space-walking astronaut Anne McClain is Melissa Manchester’s “Don’t Cry Out Loud.”

“Cheques” is such a very specific sketch, seemingly apropos of nothing, but it’s also a perfectly specific sketch. It also features Sandra Oh explaining, at length, how to write a check. Sorry, a cheque. But while Kate McKinnon has the look down and Sandra Oh has the cheque-writing tutorial, Aidy Bryant is the full package from the moment she’s used as the example for “making him leave your daughter.” The sketch is right: “A cheque is drama.”

Final Thoughts

If only this episode could have just started with the monologue. The funny thing is, at under five minutes, this is one of the shortest “Saturday Night Live” cold opens in quite some time. And still, it seems to go on forever, with Alec Baldwin’s mugging, Robert De Niro’s disinterest, and the “woo”-ing that comes along with all of this. Aidy Bryan has already been mentioned as an episode MVP, though, and that actually does begin here in this cold open with her as William Barr. But the cold open is what it is.

As far as Tame Impala goes, he’s the kind of chill musical guest you kind of need to decompress during an episode full of bizarre sketches like this one. It’s a perfect fit of host and musical guest, really, in terms of balancing.

This episode really is a great example of how “Saturday Night Live” leaning into weirdness these days is for the best, as it doesn’t even seem like anyone even questioned if any of the sketches (like, say, “The Duel”) would be a turn off for a return episode. They just did it. And they did it with a first-time host who doesn’t get buried or pushed aside in the weirdness, as has been a major issue as of late. Hopefully this is the first of many hosting appearances for Sandra Oh.

Grade: B+

“Saturday Night Live” airs new episodes on NBC at 11:30 p.m. live, coast-to-coast. Kit Harington will host the April 6 episode, with Sara Bareilles serving as the musical guest.

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