And Your Host…
“Hey, let’s book an athlete as the linchpin of our live, 90-minute sketch comedy show!”—SNL, at least once per year, since time began.
Travis Kelce seems like an amiable, enormous gentleman, the Kansas City tight end and two-time Super Bowl champ happily game for the healthy workload SNL threw at him tonight. Putting a non-performer on the show always makes for a rather fascinating viewing experience—seeing just how much protection the cast is giving the occasional athlete, politician, or [shudder] tech billionaire is at least another level on which to watch the show. And Kelce was adequate, his burly bluffness compensating for generally sluggish cue card reading.
An episode anchored by someone who hasn’t spent their career learning how to carry, say, a live, 90-minute program sometimes takes the pressure off everyone involved, I imagine. After all, how good could an NFL player-hosted SNL actually be? In this case, it went marginally better than I expected. Kelce has a reputation for being sort of a goofball, and that served him well enough, even as the much tinier cast members spent the night blocking for him, to greater and lesser effectiveness.
Kelce’s monologue leaned into the big lug’s enthusiastic sideline schtick, with clips from one of his game time rants (“More! More! More!,” has a certain sideline poetry to it), and his onetime E! Network dating show, Kelce setting expectations low and counting on his not-inconsiderable charm to carry him through. He did a funny, Kermit-esque impression of his QB Patrick Mahomes, and joshed with his stone-faced older brother Jason in the audience, the pair having become the first brothers to ever face off in the big game. Travis even appeared to get a little choked up thinking about walking the same stage as Chris Farley and Adam Sandler, two former SNL stars I can totally see the young Kelce being into.
The Best And The Rest
A jock-led show offers plenty of opportunity for the cast to shine, and nobody took more advantage than James Austin Johnson and Ego Nwodim in the sketch about a pair of middle-aged marrieds telling their kids about their new romantic arrangement through song. Johnson is stealth killing it this season, his capacity for inhabited character work emerging here as his happily cuckolded husband croons alongside his equally satisfied wife Nwodim, Johnson belting out a Michael McDonald-esque yacht rock ballad about how he likes to watch “from the corner,” as Ego sleeps with their new partner, a doltish ex-con names Sucre Walodowsky (Kelce). With their three adult kids struggling to comprehend that their parents are singing a smooth jam about their new life in a thruple, Nwodim and Johnson strike perfect notes of besotted cluelessness, all while Sucre plays Streets of Rage II on his handheld. The turn where a question about their grandkids’ college fund turns into a third-verse guitar solo from Johnson, the couple’s smiling groove concluding with an abrupt, “The money’s all gone now.” And there’s a bizarre little twist where the parents explain the various complexions of children Devon Walker, Chloe Fineman, and Marcello Hernandez that’s absurd enough to suggest a whole other level of loopy logic underlying the seemingly normal couple’s marriage. But, man, is Johnson good at pulling attention simply through sheer performance, his dad here reprimanding his grown kids for distracting Sucre from his game (“I think you guys should apologize to Sucre about the mohawk guy”) emerging in hilarious deadpan incongruity.
It’s the cold open, but that gets its own section below, so I suppose the doll restaurant sketch would be a distant second. (This was actually a surprisingly solid show all around.) The sight of a pink-suited Kelce sitting alone (but for his two dollies) at the sort of family establishment where the waiters ask little kids’ dolls if they want more tea is the big gag, coupled with the flummoxed but prepared staff’s wary questions about the big guy’s intentions. (“Are you allowed within 100 feet of a school?,” is, according to waiter Mikey Day, just a standard question.) The problem here is Kelce, who doesn’t really have the catty weirdness the sketch would need to find a groove. Kelce isn’t playing gay, necessarily, but his oddball doll enthusiast’s bitchy putdown of a little girl’s offer to share her pizza with his dolls needed a more confident delivery. And while Day and Heidi Gardner’s staff members make their smiling, anxious questions amusing, the sketch is too blunt as Day repeatedly checks to see if Kelce is “aroused.” Kenan has a funny bit as a wary dad, noting, “Yeah he talkin’ about showing off the body of a doll,” but, again, Kelce’s eager flatness made this a dud of a pick for the first sketch out of the gate.
The two filmed shorts tonight found equally funny (and safely pre-taped) ways to use Kelce’s tough guy demeanor. The Please Don’t Destroy guys are getting their films on almost every week now, and their backstage battles for SNL respect continue to make Ben, John, and Martin’s travails uniquely amusing. Here, after being dissed by some interns (“We don’t get coffees for little bitch boys.”), the trio enrolls in a self-esteem/self-defense class taught by Kelce’s bluff Kurt Lightning. Naturally, Lightning’s lessons all involve the relatively tiny writers getting the crap beaten out of them (“You punched my friend and I’m worried he’s dead,” Martin notes in response to Lightning pummeling John into motionlessness), with the lessons taking the guys’ usual absurd turn when an old lady gets in on the act. SNL has a penchant for giving their burlier hosts this sort of gratifyingly physical showcase, and Kelce gets some laughs out of Kurt’s unpredictable violence, while the guys’ perpetual status as the SNL “bitch boys” is secured when even their momentary epiphany is subverted by those darned interns. (I hope those are real SNL interns, because that would be funnier.)
Better still was Bowen Yang’s commercial message on behalf of all gay men who just need a break from their female friends’ drama with a nice, undemanding hetero guy friend (Kelce, once more intent on his video games). Yang’s pitchman deadpans through all the benefits of a no-drama, low-stakes friendship with a straight dude who loves wings and beer, and quickly apologizes for any momentary flash of genuine emotion. (“Sorry about being a pussy about my dad dying,” Kelce’s bro states, before quickly moving on to some more wings.) And if this no-strings friendship means having to endure the occasional blunt sex question (“So, like, do gay guys like it when a guy has a big one, or is it kinda like, a bad thing?”), Yang notes that Kelce’s pal doesn’t really mean anything by it. Plus, there are always more wings.
The funeral sketch is another big swing of a conceit that would have benefitted from a more confidently silly performer to lead it. As the former nurse/lover of the elderly deceased, Kelce is too hesitant to land the premise that his bereaved and much younger boyfriend has engineered a memorial where Ego Nwodim’s dead granny is propped up in a chair with a straw in a 2-liter bottle of Dr. Pepper, a menthol in her lips, and a pull string recording of her favorite sayings implanted somewhere in in her body. Kenan, being Kenan, punches through to the heart of things with adept little line flourishes (Kenan snapping “Stop it!,” when Kelce pulls of his mother’s wig to reset her stuttering recordings “like a Nintendo cartridge” gets the one big laugh), but if you’re going to go for a big, bad taste sketch, you need someone who can sell it better than Kelce here.
Heidi Gardner got to try out both a new character and a new SNL special effects rig, as her ex-girlfriend attempts to play it cool after spotting former love Kelce at a bar. I’ve seen SNL whip out vomit and blood rigs aplenty over the years, but this might be the first gushing tears rig, and it mostly works, with Gardner managing to make her still-obsessed ex funny enough that the prop doesn’t take over the whole thing. (I do worry about pink eye, though.) There are also enough weird little writerly touches to keep the sketch from just becoming a gimmicky setpiece—I liked how Garner had misconstrued Cocaine Bear for Paddington 3 (“Okay, see, I was soo worried about Paddington”), and how it comes out that her obsession stems from one single chaste date with Kelce’s newly-engaged ex, after which she tossed a kettlebell through his windshield. I don’t know if Kelce himself was supposed to have a similar rig for the punchline (brother Jason turning up as Gardner’s new and burlier boyfriend), as he scrunches up his eyes with his hands just as Gardner had done, but, if so, nothing happening.
Gardner and Kelce teamed up again, next as a pair of lovers whose happy hookup is interrupted by Bowen Yang, whose dating app rendezvous with Gardner she’d blown off in favor of Kelce. Once more, I’m liking how writers are getting some weirder stuff on air this season, as Yang’s home intruding jilted date not only refuses to understand why Gardner’s so upset that a stranger has broken into her house, but must give himself bathroom mirror pep talks to keep him from straight-up murdering everybody. Yang is great at imbuing characters with singularly specific strangeness, such as his unhinged intruder constantly aping the posture of his Stewie Griffin t-shirt, and how he comes armed not just with glowing green poison, but also ready Covid tests for Gardner and Kelce. (He also refers to the “plandemic,” hinting at further depths of lunacy.) That Kelce eventually winds up sympathizing with the stood-up nutjob (the Stewie impression helps) ramps up the silliness even further. After all, Gardner did make Yang look like a sucka at Buccacino’s.
Weekend Update update
Inspired by racist dipshit and now-former cartoonist Scott Adams having his Dilbert strip pulled from every paper in the land thanks to him being a racist dipshit, Update gleefully aired Adams out. It’s always fun when there’s such a worthy punching bag for Jost and Che to bat around, their tag-teaming glee amusingly infectious. Throw in an appearance by a genuinely impressive/scary Dilbert himself in the form of Michael Longfellow in disturbingly fleshy prosthetics, and, yeah, everybody seemed to be having fun.
The Dilbert suit is great (Longfellow notes that, yes, his hair is made of flesh), and Longfellow once again demonstrated that Update is a good vehicle for his brand of deadpan delivery, as the apologetic office drone admits that he knew Adams was “weird, but not racist-weird.” (Poor guy never gets out of that cubicle.) Having educated himself in the wake of his creator’s outed bigotry, Longfellow’s Dilbert may have taken things a bit too far, his trenchant self analysis that “even mundane works serve to uphold a capitalist system built to maintain a racial hierarchy” quickly escalating to talk of a coming race war and the bespectacled doodle’s willingness to “paint the city with the blood of the white man,” much to Che’s amused alarm. I mean it as a compliment, but Longfellow’s style fits perfectly inside the skin of an unhinged cartoon.
Mikey Day and Punkie Johnson were charming as hell, their unusual team-up apparently stemming from the very real backstage fact that Johnson can’t remember the name of any single famous person, even those, like Zoë Kravitz, who were hosting the show she’s on. (Kravitz got addressed as “Zoey Dechanaise” when Punkie didn’t recognize her the week Kravitz hosted.) Day, so often stuck as the designated sketch character who points out the sketch’s premise, is as relaxed and funny here as he’s ever been, as he quizzes Jost on just which very famous person Punkie habitually misidentifies. For her part, Johnson is also as confident and funny as she’s been on SNL, the pair’s obvious affection making this one of the backstage bits that reinforces the ensemble concept nicely. That Punkie has referred to Bruce Springsteen as “Rick Bernstein” (“the guy with the jeans”), and Anne Hathaway as “Claire Blankenship” emerges as an endearing indifference to the show business she’s a part of, while her defiant, “So, sue a bitch,” sums up the underused performer’s appeal with very funny succinctness.
Sarah Sherman also got to hijack Update for another of her Jost-baiting “Sarah News” segments, complete with grotesque Sarah Squirm wardrobe and graphics. It’s almost Sherman’s birthday, so Jost endured a few more accusations of preying on underage girls, racism, and, this time out, an obsession with his female castmates’ weight, with Sherman beaming all through her litany of gross-out lines and cheeky jabs. Sherman’s an acquired taste I’m still not sure I’ve entirely embraced, her beaming, play-it-to-the-rafters performances and outsized physical schtick turning her sketches into spectacle more often than not. But she’s most appealing as herself here, her baiting of head writer Jost a bracing exercise in punching up for all she’s worth.
As for Jost and Che, funny stuff as ever. The topical material was typically glancing, settling for absurd swipes at the unmitigated, creeping evil that is the GOP’s assault on LGBTQ people everywhere, plus Scott Adams. Not to get all Dilbert about it, but there’s an ugly wave rising in America, and Jost and Che’s signature trade in above-it-all cleverness might not be an effective tool as the waters rise higher. Still, their confidence at this point is hard to resist, as in Che’s whiplash delivery of the line, “Well, thank god I’m not George Santos, said George Santos” in a story about the fraudulent Republican’s upcoming ethics investigation, or Jost joining in on the Jost-bashing by seeming to agree with Adams’ white supremacist rant in front of a picture of himself in a tuxedo and flashing wads of cash.
“New York’s hottest club is ‘Push!’”—Recurring Sketch Report
Fox & Friends breaks a refreshing streak of all original sketches. Ah well, nice while it lasted.
“An issue which I am, frankly, surprised to hear people suddenly care about.”—Political Comedy Report
Fox & Friends remains the sort of concept that’s much more potent in its unfulfilled comic promise than in practice. The Fox morning chat gabfest, complete with three nodding dum-dums who’d be out of their depth interviewing Survivor contestants instead making vapid chit-chat about GOP talking points, is a Paul Verhoeven-style satirical goldmine, a queasy spectacle of air-headed showbiz glitz in service of a reprehensible agenda. SNL has always seized on the “Aren’t they dumb” of it all without quite reckoning with how calculatedly the familiar morning show format is used to smuggle in horrible people and ideas. And, no offense to Bowen Yang, but Bobby Moynihan’s clueless Brian Kilmeade was much funnier.
Here, the three Fox talking heads are forced to dance around the ongoing, $1.6 billion lawsuit Fox News is battling against the voting machine company the network has been accusing of fixing the 2020 election. Yang, Mikey Day, and Heidi Gardner are all flat, the spin they attempt to apply to leaked emails showing how even Fox’s most powerful propagandists know what they’re spewing is nonsense emerging more effortful than pointed. James Austin Johnson livens things up as manically insane pillow pitchman and GOP star Mike Lindell, Johnson’s impeccable impersonation skills yet left stranded by the fact that the whole “Lindell is nuts” thing has been done to death. (Shout out to James Adomian.)
Gratitude to SNL for weaning us off of Johnson’s admittedly excellent Trump in these cold opens—again, I dread the upcoming presidential election with all my soul. And the show’s strategy of settling for running down the latest GOP-related outrages might make for lukewarm comedy, but I guess it’s a public service to rile up the right people, so, yay? There’s so, so much more that could be done, and if SNL wants to keep doing political comedy in these cold opens, they should really do it much better than this.
Not Ready For Prime Time Power Rankings
James Austin Johnson has outgrown the whole featured player label at this point, that’s for sure. From the cold open to his standout singing alongside Ego, to some typically fine and understated character work, the guy is becoming indispensable and more confident each week. And I’m into it.
Heidi, Ego, and Chloe were all right there in the mix, too, with Punkie and Sarah landing excellent showcases on Update. Kenan’s gonna Kenan, which makes everything just that much better.
The newbies all had a few nice moments, with the exception of Molly Kearney, who’s in danger of doing the first-year disappearing act.
“That was unstrordinary.” “I think I dejaculated.”—10-To-One Report
So apparently there’s a reality show on Netflix where horny couples lose prize money every time they grope, fondle, or otherwise canoodle each other. And it’s been on for five seasons. Just putting that out there, as someone at SNL is fan enough to fashion tonight’s last sketch around it. Kelce adopts a passable English accent of all things, as his hunky ding-dong is revealed to one of the two contestants gradually depleting the rewards cash by irresistibly doing things with Chloe Fineman’s frizzy-haired oddball. Chloe is channeling a Kate McKinnon type here, her horny temptress bringing more than a little Sheila Sauvage to the party. It’s a funny, go-for-broke characterization that Fineman needs more of, as a rule, even if the sketch itself doesn’t match her in true 10-to-one weirdness.
The Season 48 RIP tribute cards keep coming, with the show briefly noting the death of John Head. A friend of Lorne Michaels (he reportedly was the impetus behind SNL’s ill-fated New Orleans special) and talent scout, Head was there from before the beginning, forming part of the group who helped the young Michaels sort out who and what would be on the show’s first season. He also co-wrote one of the earliest behind-the-scenes SNL books in 1977 alongside original SNL writer Anne Beatts.
I refuse to believe that “Kelsea Ballerini” is an actual human name.
Big night for throuples.
Jost, addressing the push to remove gendered acting awards categories, suggests “Best Actor” and “Best Actor Who Got Paid Less.”
The cut for time sketch about both Kelces and Travis’ KC teammate Creed Humphrey doing charity work by lifting the girlfriends of weedy comedy writers and men who have traveled to see John Mulaney in concert is at least as funny as anything on the actual show.
Dennis Perkins is an entertainment writer who lives in Maine with his wife, the writer Emily L. Stephens, and their cat, (Special Agent Dale) Cooper. His work has appeared in places like The A.V. Club, Ultimate Classic Rock, and the Portland (Maine) Press Herald. You can find him on Twitter, where he will anger you with opinions, and Instagram, where you will be won back over by pictures of Special Agent Dale Cooper.