The cold open
A Fox News show called Outnumbered cuts to a Trump press conference where he's accompanied by leaders of the Baltic states. Alec Baldwin's performance this week was a bit wilder than usual, as he espoused some of Trump's more outlandish claims of the week. Well-written and physically engaging, this was actually kind of funny, which has been rare for a Baldwin/Trump sketch over the past couple of years.
Chadwick Boseman's legendary charisma proved something to behold even on the small screen. His monologue, with many references to his star turn in Black Panther, was funny and pointed, with a goofy cameo by Kenan Thompson, who played a thirsty Thundercat. Complete with Boseman reprising his portrayal of James Brown, with a quick flurry of footwork set to "Sex Machine," this was auspiciously endearing.
Nike Pro Chilling Leggings
This fake ad made fun of women who wear athletic pants for non-athletic purposes. While Heidi Gardner and Melissa Villaseñor each played women who push their bodies to the limit with activities like running and boxing, Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon portrayed total slobs and couch potatoes. And yet, they all wore the same high-end leggings. It was a funny idea that went on a tad long for such a one-note joke.
This recurring idea, drawn from a similar-minded Chappelle's Show idea that brought "badonkadonk" into popular parlance, is always purposely inside, as trends and issues pertinent to black communities are mined for comedic effect. Chris Redd and Leslie Jones played stylish, hip African-American contestants, while Boseman played Black Panther himself, King T'Challa, who is a bit lost until he hilariously unravels a riddle about white women and potato salad. But the true star of this piece was 15-year SNL vet Kenan Thompson, who received huge laughs just for scrunching up his face at some of T'Challa's early answers. It's easy, but send Thompson into a sketch and he can still elevate its humour with just a look or physical flourish.
Fertility Frontier Project
Boseman played a scientist announcing a huge breakthrough: a man had finally been impregnated and was due to give birth in the coming months. Unfortunately for the man in question, played by Mikey Day, it turned out that instead of a planned "C" section, the baby (or babies) would now be using his urethra for a birth canal. Landing on "tulip-ing" as the most appropriate medical term for the after-effects of such a procedure was a funny stroke of inspiration.
When #AidyB— Saturday Night Live - SNL (@nbcsnl) April 8, 2018
In this remote bit, Aidy Bryant expresses her love for musical guest Cardi B by adopting her strong, assertive personality and telling off virtually everyone in her path, with a series of diss raps. With Cardi herself appearing towards the end, this was amusing and showed off Bryant's underappreciated comedic range.
met #CardiB. @iamcardib #SNL pic.twitter.com/VRu21BbpiW
By now you may have heard that Cardi B made a big reveal during her performance of "Be Careful," wearing a form-fitting dress that accentuated and confirmed her pregnancy, which has been much speculated upon in the press. The song itself was presented dynamically, with carefully framed shots of Cardi and a powerful singer who delivered the primary choruses and hooks of the song while Cardi bit into her tender verses (when the camera panned back to reveal her new curves, the crowd roared in joyful congratulations). This second performance was dramatic for more than just the baby bump and far outshone the energetic medley, "Bodak Yellow" / "Bartier Cardi." For her initial appearance on the show, Cardi and a crew of dancers gave their all but, much like Migos's performances a few weeks ago, they suffered from a slight, muddy mix. Though musical performances on the show are often slagged by engineers who can't fathom certain technical choices, SNL hasn't struggled this much with mixing hip-hop in years, and it's gotta be fixed because it diminishes the power of high calibre artists.
Cardi B Killing The Stage & Performs "Be Careful" On SNL 🔥🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/9CqyvwVwG9— 2Cool2Blogg (@2Cool2Blogg) April 8, 2018
Michael Che and Colin Jost have landed in a good zone, more comfortable with their on-screen chemistry and trading off on headline jokes without exploiting or leaning on their prickly, "what'd you say?" dynamic too heavily. As usual, they each made hay of allegedly moronic misadventures of President Trump (whom Jost described as a "shade queen"), joking about his border wall proclamations and braggadocio about starting a trade war with China, and, of course, his connection to porn star, Stormy Daniels, who claims she can describe Trump's genitalia.
The wondrous Alex Moffatt debuted a spot-on and creepy impression of nerd-bro Mark Zuckerberg, who had to address the latest news about Facebook's data breach. Moffatt's high-pitched, inhuman screech-laughs and "Absolutely homie," were ingenious white guy flourishes and man, he's just a joy to watch perform. Jost delivered two successive homers with jokes about a golfer who sprained his ankle celebrating on the green and an Australian who was stabbed in the back.
Heidi Gardner returned as Angel, "Every boxer's girlfriend from every movie about boxing ever," which is such a honed, back-pocket bit, it was likely part of her SNL audition. Gardner astutely picked up on the fact that most cinematic boxing spouses seem to be on the brink of perpetual nervous breakdowns in Boston, and often threaten to "take the kids to my sistah's house!" Now that the amusing premise has been established (this was at least her second appearance), for regular viewers, Angel is a performance piece that depends on Gardner's delivery of good writing and she accomplished that this week.
Three grown-ass women played by Cecily Strong, Melissa Villaseñor, and Leslie Jones decide to have some fun with a Disney installation where they each look in a mirror and have a popular princess reflected back at them. It was already clear that Jones might encounter some awkwardness with Disney's less-than-diverse universe of characters, but the sketch took it all to another level. Instead of a princess, Jones's character draws out a sleazy, gently gyrating R. Kelly, played with studied expertise by Boseman. "What are you up to R. Kelly?!" Jones yelled at one point and then Boseman actually sang — about popcorn in a bag? — and it was glorious.
Oof, this was a stinker that looked expensive too. At the scene of a building on fire, Boseman plays a fireman who insists he must leave work early to get home to work on fulfilling some vague dream about "dogs and dolls." With flames rising and falling in the background of an elaborate set, and Boseman trying to milk some comedy out of referring to his task as "squirting," this felt intricately designed but also super last-minute, ultimately coming across as incomprehensibly rudderless.
This amusing premise rested upon a group of pretentious restaurant patrons who insist on singing their praises and critiques to the restaurant's manager (Beck Bennett) and their waiter (Mikey Day). Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, Boseman and Thompson played the annoying crew who reflected upon their meal experience in a jazzy musical style that baffled Day and Bennett's characters. This was good and seemed like it could've been a lead sketch, furthering my speculation that SNL seems to be back-loading or even purposefully reversing episode segments of late, with stronger fare and more fake commercials showing up near the end of the show.
LIFE: DACA Edition
Speaking of which, here was the second fake ad of the night and it was definitely far more elaborate, thoughtful, and ambitious than that throwaway, 12:50 am-bound leggings idea. Melissa Villaseñor plays an immigrant playing a game of LIFE with white friends, but it's the DACA edition, which means she must endure a series of bureaucratic obstacles to retain her citizenship. This was pointed and amusing and again, should've been up shortly after the monologue instead of being relegated to the last 15 minutes of the show.
Another Black Panther joke that worked well. Leslie Jones, Chris Redd, and Boseman play black characters who encounter wasp-y dudes (Beck Bennett and Pete Davidson) who have appropriated the comic's Wakanda salute. This played out amusingly, as the lines between cultural celebration and a fictitious African nation blurred the lines between love and theft and rendered some excellent performances, especially from Redd, who continues to shine this season.
Saturday Night Live returns April 14 with host John Mulaney and musical guest Jack White.