Ariana Grande is shiny haired and beautiful and also fully believes in ghosts and one time licked a donut in a display case, and honestly, I”m kind of a fan of her whole weird vibe. Additionally, I enjoy how she has a tiny speaking voice and a huge singing voice, like Sister Mary Robert from Sister Act. And although tonight”s sketches were a little hit or miss, Ariana handled her hosting/musical guest double duty fairly well. Let”s dig in!
Cold Open: CNN reporter Jake Tapper cuts between coverage of Donald Trump”s rally with Ben Carson and an interview with Bernie Sanders. Listen, I was going to miss Jay Pharaoh”s Dr. Ben Carson impersonation as much as the next SNL reviewer, but I would have rather never seen him again than watch another former Republican candidate throw his support behind this orange monster who won”t go away. Admittedly, though, it was nice to see Pharaoh”s “positively turnt” Carson one more time, even in dire circumstances. We also got some standout Trump digs, my favorite being Trump yelling at his crowd who had just attacked Ben Carson, “Guys, what did I say? Not this one! This is one of the good ones!” But I will continue to point out every time SNL takes a dig at Trump this season: not only was the decision to have him host an offensive and blatant attempt at high ratings for a show that will never get cancelled anyway, but it was also fairly short-sided. Perhaps the gang at SNL assumed Trump would be dropping out of the race soon after his hosting gig (Ah, October 2015: a simpler time), but clearly they were wrong. So now they”re stuck mocking him more and more scathingly every week while the tell-tale heart of the ratings boost they gave him beats beneath the Studio 8H floorboards.
The standout of tonight”s opener, though, was Larry David”s return as Bernie Sanders, apologizing for his followers ruining everyone”s Facebook feeds (PREACH) and bragging about how his voters are “a very diverse group of white people. I”ve got supporters of all ages: 18 year olds, 19 year olds. . . That”s it.” This felt like the first time David”s Sanders impersonation had delved into the details of Bernie”s demographic, rather than focus on his cheap and grumpy old man vibe. But sometimes there”s nothing wrong with just making a joke about his weird vibe, particularly when that joke involves him immediately removing his suit post-interview to reveal the pajamas he always wears underneath (“that”s why my suits are so big”) because “it”s bedtime, you idiot.” B+
Monologue: Ariana Grande announces her intention to finally accomplish her ultimate goal: being involved in a real, adult celebrity scandal. Okay, fine, I”ll say it: I ENJOYED A MUSICAL MONOLOGUE. Partially because it is much more sensible to do a musical monologue with a host who is also a musical guest, and partially because it was a pretty fun and charming concept. Ariana sold it with her doe-eyed deadpan, and the cast members popping in throughout were genuinely funny, with Pete Davidson”s look of instant fear upon Ariana suggesting they smoke crack together, and Kenan”s lament that after being “on this show for thirteen damn years” people still ask him “once a week, ‘Where”s Kel?”” (“Oh I loved you guys!” Ariana replies, “Do you keep in touch?” “A LITTLE BIT!” shouts Kenan). Other than Grande”s opening line, “I”m Ariana Grande, and I”m a singer, not a Starbucks drink” (that sounds like a line an SNL writer would write for a fake cheesy comedian), this was a good opener. B+
Hillary Clinton Millennial Ad: Hillary Clinton makes an appeal to millennials by claiming she has the same platform as Bernie Sanders . . . and then the same hometown . . . and then the same clothes and hair . . . until finally she appears to have transformed into Senator Sanders in a desperate bid for young voters. There”s not much to say about this except that I thought it was great. Though Kate McKinnon”s Hillary Clinton impersonation has always revolved around the concept that Hillary is desperately willing to adapt to please voters, specifying that right now she mainly has to convince young people that she is essentially a female Bernie Sanders was a great update, and her slow descent into a full-on physical and vocal Bernie Sanders transformation was just the weird touch needed to pull it off. A
Kids” Choice Awards Preshow: Two red carpet hosts and a behind the scenes host at the Kids” Choice Awards red carpet attempt to announce the beginning of the official awards ceremony, but the countdown clock in the screen keeps resetting itself to longer and longer intervals, leaving them awkwardly trying to come up with material to fill the dead space. I feel like this sketch was constantly building to something that never happened. Modern SNL tends to like its sketch endings over the top (this can be both good and bad), so I guess I just assumed this would end with one of the hosts vomiting or something. Instead, they just all looked nervous and then posed in a consistently (but not increasingly) dramatic fashion. The sketch had its moments– namely Bobby Moynihan”s crew member revealing that he wishes he got to make the slime, but his only job is to put a straw fedora on Blake Shelton– but it never felt quite complete to me. Also, if we”re going to have Kenan and Ariana discuss their Nickelodeon pasts in the monologue, how do we put Taran Killam in a Nickelodeon-based sketch without discussing his star turns on the Amanda Show?! The Moody Point truthers are out there! C
Not a Feminist Song: The women of SNL have gathered to write an anthem for feminism, but they gradually realize that is a very tricky proposition, so they settle for something less political. Ladies of SNL killing it again with another music video. It”s interesting to watch the two major descendants of the Lonely Island Digital Shorts be the absurdist Good Neighbor shorts and the more streamlined ladies” music videos. Both work well, and it”s kind of fun to see two different groups taking two different ideas from their recent predecessors (Good Neighbor as “Lettuce,” and the Ladies as “I”m on a Boat,” if you will). This was another great entry for the female cast, from the tampon commercial aesthetics of the video to their increasingly nervous lyrics (“here”s a bunch of lens flares/ and an old woman”s hands/ not to call a woman old/ or judge a woman”s hands/ ’cause a woman should not be reduced to just her hands”). My only complaint is that I felt like the lyrics could have gotten a bit more specific– maybe they could have had the girls sing about specific girl power topics covered in female music, then backtrack on why it wouldn”t work. The funniest part of the sketch to me was that weirdly specific moment about the old woman”s hands; it might have been nice to have a bit more of that specificity throughout. A-