Tonight”s host is Peter Dinklage, a talented actor best known for playing Game of Thrones” Tyrion Lannister, a performance so good it makes you say, “Fine, I guess I”ll keep watching Game of Thrones this season, but if another Stark dies I”m out.” Though Dinklage did make a brief but memorable appearance last year on Weekend Update as Drunk Uncle”s brother-in-law Peter Drunklage, tonight marks his first appearance as host.
Cold Open: Kate Bolduan of CNN interviews noted Donald Trump supporter Scottie Nell Hughes, asking Hughes how she manages to defend Trump despite his terrible behavior and negative statements concerning women. I”d never heard of Scottie Nell Hughes before tonight, but she appears to be some sort of darkest timeline Connie Britton character, and Cecily Strong”s sputtery performance brought her to life for me instantly. Strong and Kate McKinnon”s sparring was entertaining to watch, but the sketch fell apart for me a bit whenever it cut to Trump. Perhaps it”s because at this point, there”s no need to embellish what Trump says; why invent Trump leading a “women suck” rant at a rally when he has openly referred to women in his life as “young and beautiful pieces of ass”? The crew at SNL still has farther to go in figuring out exactly what they want to consistently say about Trump– but they did manage well tonight in terms of pinpointing the absurdity of those, like Hughes, who are blindly supporting him. B
Monologue: Peter Dinklage recites a monologue written by Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin, who watches happily from the audience. The best thing this monologue had going for it was its brevity. With no real point to make and very few actual jokes, it tapped out early enough to be quickly forgotten. There are plenty of jokes to be made surrounding Game of Thrones, the culture of its fans, its author George R.R. Martin, and HBO, but I guess the gang at SNL didn”t really feel like telling any of them. I laughed at Vanessa Bayer volunteering to take her top off per Martin”s suggestion (“What? Screentime is screentime!”) and at the image of Leslie Jones in a dragon costume made from a green sweatsuit. The rest of the time, I just felt like I was waiting for a punchline that never came. D+
Denny the Real: During a birthday party thrown by his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood, Winnie the Pooh is visited by his frank cousin Denny the Real, who tries to convince him to lead a more exciting life outside of the Wood. The only real joke to this sketch came in the first sixty seconds with the introduction of Jay Pharaoh as Denny the Real, and it then pretty much immediately ran out of steam. There were a few good throwaway lines– “Your cousin was just in The Revenant,” “I”m talking about honeycombs, berries, hoes”– but overall there just wasn”t much here beyond some funny costumes and decent vocal impressions of cartoon characters. Certainly an odd choice with which to open the night. C-
Naked and Afraid: Celebrity Edition In a new celebrity edition of the reality show Naked and Afraid, Peter Dinklage and Leslie Jones attempt to survive 21 days naked in the woods, a prospect which the two actors approach quite differently. SNL performers who come from the world of stand up rather than that of improv sometimes have a harder time adjusting to the sketch comedy format. There are multiple ways to handle this, and Leslie Jones represents one of the most effective: rather than trying to prove yourself a chameleon, own the outlandish things about yourself that you relate in your stand up, and allow all of your characters to fit them. Leslie plays herself on the show a lot, even when she isn”t officially playing herself, and it makes her memorable. Placing her in a Naked and Afraid: Celebrity Edition episode with Peter Dinklage was far from a predictable choice, but it fit her persona superbly. Watching her spoon poor Peter Dinklage on the forest floor was one of the more disturbingly funny images this show has given us all season. One of the more enjoyable things about Leslie”s persona is how utterly bold she is, so why not throw her in the woods naked? As she said herself, “What am I afraid of? I”m Leslie Jones!” B+
Space Pants: While meeting at a swanky restaurant, two mobsters threaten a couple of men who have failed to come through with money for them. The group gets distracted, however, when the night”s main entertainment is revealed: a robotically-dancing man who sings a strange song about the space pattern on his pants. Boy, this sketch was dumb, and I mean that in the best possible sense. I suspect that Space Pants won”t really go down in SNL history, but like many of the show”s famous sketches, from Land Shark to More Cowbell to I”m On a Boat, it was funny for absolutely no discernable intellectual reason, but funny all the same. A lot of that had to do with Dinklage”s fittingly strange portrayal, his dead eyes staring straight ahead, his body only moving in the most robotic ways. Having the main action of the scene be an exchange of death threats by a group of old-school mobsters provided a perfectly jarring backdrop to Dinklage”s low-rent Bowie character. I suspect fans of this sketch will be showing it to their friends and failing to explain why they find it so funny for days to come, and that feels right. B+
Glory Hole Restaurant: A New York couple takes their out of town friends to the neighborhood”s hottest new restaurant: an old sex parlor where cylindrical food is served out of the building”s original glory holes. This was another deeply silly sketch– but again, I”m not complaining. Dinklage and Aidy Bryant were great as an all-too-familiar couple of proud city-dwellers obsessed with being a part of the latest trends, no matter how absurd. The sketches that worked the most tonight were the more physical ones, and this one was no exception. All four of the main actors here gave it their all. I don”t know if I”ll still be thinking about this sketch tomorrow, but for tonight, it made me laugh. B+
Game of Thrones Preview: An official HBO preview of the new season of Game of Thrones focuses on the actor who uses visual effects technology to portray Daenerys”s dragons, even when he becomes a bit of a distraction for the cast and crew. First of all: is it just me or did Kate McKinnon really look eerily like Emilia Clarke here? Impressive job recreating those flawless eyebrows, SNL makeup department. Moving beyond Emilia Clarke”s eyebrows (though I could talk about them for days), this sketch reasonably solved the inevitable need for a Game of Thrones bit tonight, though the gang probably could have done more with the wide variety of options the Thrones universe presents for comedy. It was a really strong concept, but it felt like Bobby Moynihan never got enough to do in order to really sell the sketch. Though his character was clearly the major source of laughs, he didn”t really receive enough focus throughout the sketch. I really enjoyed him popping up behind an actor who had just recited a line ending in “game” just to add a whispered “of thrones,” but the sketch could have used more than one moment in that vein. This was a solid entry for the night, but not as memorable as it could have been. B-
Weekend Update: Update is always the most reliable part of any SNL episode. You never know what you”re getting with the sketches or pre-taped bits or monologues (though let”s be honest, you can assume you”ll see some ill-advised tap dancing during that latter portion), but Update has it pretty easy– it”s pretty much just a parade of recognizable characters and one-liners delivered from faces you”ve learned to trust (even if, in Colin Jost”s case, you also feel a compulsive need to punch them). But while Update got a few good jokes in tonight, it didn”t feel quite as reliable as usual.
The jokes were there, but they didn”t feel quite as biting as they have lately; overall, it seemed an off night for SNL in terms of political coverage, a major staple of Update, especially during an election season. As for the guests, we had appearances from Kenan as Red Sox player David Ortiz, and a standup bit on Hulk Hogan”s sex tape from Pete Davidson. Kenan”s Ortiz is one of those reliable Update characters, and perfectly within Kenan”s wheelhouse; very silly, pretty nonsensical, and entertaining in a more visceral way. Ortiz isn”t an Update character I find myself hoping to see, but I find him enjoyable when he shows up. As for old Petey, he was particularly loose tonight, which was a little distracting when he was sporadically tripping over his lines, but surprisingly charming when he was razzing Jost and Che about penis sizes (he”s got that grin of the class troublemaker whom the teacher decides to take on as a special project, and it helps him get away with a lot).
Honeymoon Suite: A newlywed couple who plan to spend their honeymoon in an underwater suite is surprised to find the dead body of a hotel employee floating just outside their bedroom window. Behind Space Pants and the glory hole sketch, this was the third bit of the night to rely largely on physical comedy, and as with the two before it, this definitely worked in its favor. Taran Killam killed it (pun ABSOLUTELY intended) playing the dead body in the water, proving that “no small parts just small actors” idiom very true. Unfortunately, as with many of the sketches tonight, Dinklage didn”t get quite as much to do as he could have, but I did appreciate the constant references to his character”s seemingly ever-changing name. A-
Vacation Nightmares: On a reality show about vacations gone wrong, a couple recounts their experience being mugged in Denmark. But they are confused by the show”s reenactment, which involves two American women poorly playing the Danish men who robbed them. This was not my favorite sketch of the night, but that being said, I”m pretty much always up for a McKinnon-Bryant pairing, and this was one of those sketches that transcended slightly mediocre material with how much fun the actors seemed to be having. Overall, the sketch was a bit undercooked, but I”m not going to complain too much after getting to see Aidy Bryant say “bitch” in a Danish-adjacent accent while wearing a Guy Fieri wig. B
Magic Show: During a company retreat, the company”s boss is brought on stage during a magic show, only to have the magician pretend to pull the boss”s underwear out of his pants and make fun of them for smelling. Perturbed, the boss interrupts the rest of the magician”s show by continually prodding him to explain his joke. This was a good sketch to end the night on in terms of being representative of the episode as a whole. What with the election season, most SNL episodes this season have contained their fair share of political and social commentary. But this episode pretty much eschewed that in favor of more outright silliness than is typically included in just a single episode. There”s nothing inherently wrong with that– Chris Hemsworth”s episode took a similar tack, and was one of my favorite episodes this season– but as I”ve mentioned, most of these silly sketches felt pretty fleeting; I don”t see myself remembering them a couple of months from now the way I still remember Hemsworth”s Debra”s Time (Just me? No?). So I have nothing against this sketch. Dinklage”s wig will haunt my dreams, and there were enough solid punchlines to warrant the skit”s place in the episode. It”s just that unfortunately, like much of the episode, I don”t see it being worth a replay in the morning. B-
Quotes, Extras, and Final Thoughts:
Scottie Nell Hughes defends Trump”s “women suck” chant by explaining that some women do suck. “Are you telling me Casey Anthony does not suck? Cause I am close friends with her and she is always late! She sucks!”
Scottie Nell Hughes on Trump”s positives: “He is bringing trade back so we can make American grapes again!”
At the start of Naked and Afraid, Leslie”s potential survival rate is higher than Peter Dinklage”s, based on her ability to “survive Compton.” By the end of the episode, Dinklage”s score has risen above hers, based on “surviving 21 days with Leslie, a feat no man has ever achieved.”
While eating through the glory hole, Dinklage and Bryant ask Vanessa Bayer about her house renovations back home in Columbus. “Um,” she answers, “I can”t remember anything other than what I”m looking at right now.”
Thoughts on the Musical Guest: Gwen Stefani is truly ageless, and as always, she looked great. I appreciated her bouncy, tipsy girl on karaoke night dance moves. I wish she wasn”t dating Blake Shelton, whose face is even more punchable than Colin Jost”s. This has been Thoughts on the Musical Guest.
“Women should be punished” is never the right answer, Michael Che explains, “even if you”re on Wheel of Fortune and the board says, ‘Women should be unished”
Pete Davidson”s argument against slut shaming: “We”ve got to stop making girls feel bad about having sex with random guys, or they”ll stop having sex with random guys.”
Michael Che discusses the recent price surge of vanilla: “”Incidentally, Surge of Vanilla is also the name of Colin”s R&B album”
Among the products David Ortiz is representing: Welp (“You looking for a good seafood restaurant in Cleveland? Welp, I can”t help you! I live in Boston, man!”) and BeeWorld (“It”s like SeaWorld, but it”s just bees. Everybody gets stung. It”s a no-good place, but come!”).
Very sad there was no appearance from Peter Drunklage tonight. I had high hopes.
Peter Dinklage”s hotel manager offers the honeymoon couple free tickets to that night”s lounge show. “Oh good, that”ll definitely be what I remember from this trip,” Beck Bennett responds.
And that”s all for this week”s episode! Tune in next Saturday for an episode hosted by noted funny guy Russell Crowe!