Despite Tiffany Haddish's championship calibre performance, a weak musical guest and spotty writing made this an uneven SNL. Here's what happened.
The cold open
A take on the Roy Moore pedophile allegations, Mikey Day plays Alabama senate hopeful Moore, meeting with Beck Bennett's Vice President Mike Pence to discuss his future in the race. After Pence leaves, Kate McKinnon's cartoonish, rodent-like Jeff Sessions tries to talk sense to him. Left alone, Sessions then performs a kind of monologue, addressing a stuffed opossum as "papa" and lamenting a cultural landscape full of a myriad of sexual assault allegations. The whole thing addresses some news of the week but offers little perspective or relief from it.
High-energy comedic actress Tiffany Haddish destroyed with a brilliant monologue. The Girl's Trip star riffed on her rise from foster care to the SNL stage, Trump's hair, and sexual harassment in Hollywood. Her extended bit about wearing her $4,000 Alexander McQueen dress as many times as she damn well pleases was amazing, and punctuated by some endearing physicality. It's always fun to see an actual fan relish hosting SNL and Haddish, who described it as her favourite show growing up, made her monologue moment as memorable as possible.
A couple of competitive gamers face off in a round of Death Fight 12. Pete Davidson's character chooses Scorpinox, a conventional Street Fighter-y choice, while Kenan Thompson's cocky player accidentally selects Boo Boo Jeffries, played by Haddish. Jeffries is less game fighter than streetwise blusterer and, sensing defeat, mostly avoids the game conflict. A funny idea that mostly succeeded thanks to Haddish's commitment to it.
The Lion King Screen Tests
A screen test reel designed to show off celebrity impressions is essentially a welcome SNL tradition by now, and usually yields some surprising and funny stuff. This Lion King thing didn't really hit though. Aside from Haddish ruling as Cardi B and Mary J. Blige, and Leslie Jones channelling Oprah's outsized enthusiasm, few other impressions made an impact.
A message from the DNC
Complete with cameos from Larry David's Bernie Sanders and Jason Sudeikis's Joe Biden, SNL took a long cheapshot at the makeup of the Democratic Party's current leadership. The premise was that despite their monumental electoral victories this past week in states like Virginia and New Jersey, which sent a clear signal that an anti-Trump tide was finally washing ashore among voters, the DNC is still made up of limp or uninspiring figures like Nancy Peolosi and Diane Feinstein, or established senior citizens like Sanders and Hillary Clinton. After normalizing Trump before the election and taking flack for the same, this seemed like a weird move for SNL to pull after a rare glimmer of hope in American politics and, beyond David alluding to his controversial concentration camp joke from last week's monologue, this was all pretty one-note.
Beck and Kyle
A running remote gag, we revisit the love story between Kyle Mooney and Leslie Jones from the perspective of Mooney's jilted best friend Beck Bennett. Aiming to get his old pal back in his life on the regular, Bennett agrees to hatch a plan with Colin Jost, who feels that Jones is his to re-claim. Well-structured and shot with a funny pay-off, this was likely the best remote SNL has produced in some time.
Tonight.— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) November 11, 2017
📷: Mary Ellen Matthews pic.twitter.com/mbQdDHz5Dn
With all the presence of a catty drama camp counsellor, African-American pop art co-opter and former country star Taylor Swift first white-girl hip-hop-danced and partially sang/lip-synched another one of her weak-ass songs that strain so much to be edgy and hard, yet really come across as vain attempts at progressive contemporary art. At least "…Ready for It" was mercifully short. When she returned later for "Call it What You Want," she was seated, singing and playing an acoustic guitar. See, most contrived pop stars strive to present themselves as super dynamic on SNL by doing one song that might appeal to young people and one that appeals to slightly older young people. In this desperate "I have range" playbook move, Swift didn't disappoint. In her continued effort to write a steady stream of toothless, immature, ya burnt kiss-offs and Forever 21 love songs, she was as predictably melodramatic and off-putting as ever.
Colin Jost and Michael Che have been incredibly solid this season and, along with their fellow writers, crafted another airtight array of jokes about the week in news. How good was it? Every joke landed hard and garnered laughs. Cecily Strong's beleaguered HR rep, quizzing SNL staff like Jost about what constitutes sexual harassment, was pointedly funny, and Haddish was bold and poised, doing a Coming to America-inspired walk-on in that already fabled white dress of hers. A desk piece appearance by Kenan Thompson as delusional, boastful sports dad/entrepreneur LaVar Ball was the only low note, as it spiralled into a comedy of errors.
The Last Black Unicorn
A fairy tale about a trio of young children who encounter a magical black unicorn who can tell them their futures. Despite game performances by Haddish and Jones, as two versions of the Last Black Unicorn for some reason, the joke here — that Aidy Bryant's character doesn't fare so well in life — wasn't executed so well.
Get Woke with Tamika
A train wreck, this faux talk show sketch took a risk in giving the cue-card-accident prone Leslie Jones the primary role in a talk-heavy piece and we all paid the price. She played a dim bulb, fashionably adopting righteousness as a stance without a real grip on her subject matter. Misguided as a full sketch to begin with, things took an awkward turn when Haddish joined Jones and both started tripping over their respective lines. Yikes. Best forgotten.
The Dolphin Who Could Speak
A bizarre and sporadically funny remote, Bryant and McKinnon play elder scientists recalling experiments they conducted in the '60s, wherein they tried teaching a dolphin how to speak by jacking it off a bunch. Haddish appears as a colleague who witnessed many of these ill-advised handjobs and isn't happy about them. The best thing here was Bryant and McKinnon's dedication to playing oblivious to how problematic it is to stroke a dolphin off to completion.
Whiskers R We
"I got the pussy," Haddish ad-libbed, corralling a runaway kitten in this latest edition of Whiskers R We. Kate McKinnon's elderly lesbian is often the lead host of this public access show meant to show off kittens who could use a good home, and it's often a healthy mix of physical humour with the unpredictable felines, and some amazing, unexpected one-liners. Playful filler, this was fun and funny.
Order Swift's new album Reputation on CD and double picture disc vinyl via Umusic.