Our host (and musical guest!) for tonight is Drake, an adorable young Canadian who just makes you want to pinch his precious cheeks, and also a successful rapper. He held his own tonight in an episode that started slow but gained momentum as it went, consistently aided by Drake”s high energy performance.
Cold Open: Chris Christie meets with Donald Trump to give him suggestions for whom he should nominate as his Vice President. These Trump cold opens are starting to feel less like legitimate political satire and more like fiddling while Rome burns. Even the choice to have Darrell Hammond return to play him, rather than sticking with current cast member Taran Killam, feels indicative of where the writers' heads are at: they're still treating Trump as the silly cartoon of the '90's, not the modern threat of today. So this sketch was fine, particularly due to the return of Bobby Moynihan's reliably good Chris Christie impersonation, but it still feels like we're waiting for the writers to find their point of view on Trump, which should not be the case in the season's penultimate episode. C-
Monologue: Drake sings a song about how sad it makes him to see photos of himself consistently turned into internet memes. Any time someone on television actually uses the word meme to make a joke, I picture a room full of old man writers googling, “What are the kids into these days?” But this monologue's meme theme worked, largely because Drake charmed his way through it (Yes, it was another dreaded musical monologue, but those get more of a pass when the host is also the musical guest). Highlights included a quick flash of a meme involving Drake's face being photoshopped onto E.T. in Elliot's basket, and Aidy Bryant moodily wearing a chicken suit because her sketch got cut. Lowlights included NEW GUY being cut to for literally less than three seconds, and not even to make a self-deprecating joke about how sad his whole deal is these days. But then the monologue ended with Drake dancing around the stage as meme letters above and below him said, “When you got a great show and I'm here,” and it was all pretty adorable. B
Car Rental: A couple about to leave on their honeymoon discovers that their rental is not on record at the very disorganized car rental company they planned on using. When the employee helping them calls in his manager, neither of them provide much help at all. This was a strange choice for the first sketch of the night– more chuckle-worthy than laugh-out-loud funny, more mildly entertaining than stand-out. The whole thing might have existed just so that Jay Pharaoh could replace all of his vowel sounds with “ur,” but the good news there is that Pharaoh was clearly having the time of his life doing just that, and his enthusiasm was contagious, even if the sketch around him felt pretty significantly underdeveloped. B-
American Ninja Warrior: A man from a small Texas town ravaged by a tornado decides to compete on American Ninja Warrior to bring a sense of hope back to his community– but his consistent failure at the competition has the opposite effect. Bobby Moynihan functions mostly as a reliable glue guy in the current cast, but when he gets the chance to step up and shine, he does not waste it. I'm not always one for the pratfall school of comedy– every episode of AFV I've ever watched has just made me very nervous about the injuries sustained by each video's hapless subjects– but the sight of Bobby Moynihan trying to run on top of a pool of water brought me pure joy. And it was paired so well with the perfect depiction of the classic reality show dramatic backstory of Moynihan's ravaged hometown. Drake and Beck Bennett did great work as the chipper, bantering hosts Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila, but I sincerely hope Drake's hairline never recedes, because seeing him bald was one of the most frightening sights of my lifetime. A-
Sexy Kinda Evening: An old PBS show hosted by sensual soul musician Dennis Walls and his female backup singers is hindered by the pranks being played by their director, who resents Walls for forgetting his name during rehearsals. There was a lot of potential here, but there was also not a lot of audience laughter, to the point where watching it felt uncomfortable. Points to Drake for giving it his all even when the live audience didn't seem to be feeling it, and negative points to the audience for not laughing whenever Cecily Strong's character asked, “How come is this nasty?” because that was funny, guys. I wouldn't call this one a complete dud– the tiny saxophone gag was genuinely funny, and the physical comedy of the rapidly spinning bed had potential– but the execution just didn't quite work out; the sketch as a whole felt rushed and at times hard to hear, and the premise wasn't established enough early on to lead to ideal results by the end. C
Mr. Patterson: Paul Ryan's assistant suggests a candidate who could replace Trump as the Republican presidential nominee: Mr. Patterson, a grown man with the body of a baby. Baby Boss is simultaneously really clever conceptually, and also just dumb, silly fun. It is one of my favorite recurring sketches, and I don't care wht that says about me. Beck Bennett's baby imitating skills are truly impressive, and pairing this character against Drake's goofball energy worked especially well. Nothing made me laugh out loud more tonight (or maybe this month) than Bennett's panicked reaction of “Where'd he go?! Oh, there he is,” every time Taran Killam held a manilla folder in front of his face to read. A triumphant return for Baby Boss, and the first mark of the episode really picking up for its second half. A
Weekend Update: We had three guests for Weekend Update tonight, starting with Kate McKinnon's Olya Povlatsky. In another performer's hands, this character might feel a little clumsy or even offensive, but as previously established, Kate McKinnon is a goddess among humans, and her fierce delivery as Olya was in fine form tonight. Her discussion of Trump as America's Putin, as well as her insistence that he visits her village every ten years to take a wife, served as a reminder of how much more savagely SNL is treating Trump at the Update desk. Here's hoping this treatment spreads out to the rest of the show by next season (or, fingers crossed, maybe even by next week).
Second we had Leslie Jones with her typical series of shouted messages, some describing her sex life, ending with an aggressive flirtation with Colin Jost. If this description makes it sound like I've grown bored of Leslie Jones's shtick, I can assure you I haven't; while I understand how others may be weary of her shouty delivery, I would happily view a Leslie Jones standup Update bit every week, as I find her performances so refreshingly alive.
The last Update guest tonight was Jay Pharaoh imitating the alleged “rappers' meeting” Jay Z held in the wake of Beyonce revealing his extramarital affair. Pharaoh did a similar impression series earlier this season, that time imitating a meeting of black comedians, and while these are more tour de forces of impression skill than an actual series of jokes, their entertainment value can't be denied. Pharaoh's ridiculous talent for impressions is just plain fun to watch.
Black Jeopardy: A black Canadian contestant on Black Jeopardy throws off his fellow contestants and host with his distinctively non-black sensibilities. We've seen Black Jeopardy a few times now; it's a consistently solid sketch, and it was well served tonight by shaking up its standard “white person ruins Black Jeopardy” joke with a “black Canadian ruins Black Jeopardy” joke. It was a fun shakeup that allowed the cast to play with stereotypes within, not just outside of, the black American community, especially with Kenan's persistent confusion surrounding Drake's character's whole deal. Drake's choice of accent was a bit confusing– it got a bit Jamaican at times, especially for someone who is actually from Canada– but this was a fun and breezy sketch overall. B+
Drake's Beef: After being offended by Pete Davidson, Leslie Jones, Aidy Bryant, and Lorne Michaels' slights against him– ranging from making fun of his inability to turn on a TV to calling his performance good and not great– Drake raps about how his friendship with each of them is over. My only real complaint about this pre-taped bit is that it could have been a little longer (which is a rare complaint in the SNL universe). It served as a playful take on Drake's reputation for being over-emotional, as well as his now-famous feud with Meek Mill, but was mostly just entertainingly silly. Drake's insistence that every person he sang about “used to be his best friend” was great, as was the way he referred to everyone from Leslie Jones to Lorne Michaels as a bitch. Also, I don't know whose idea it was to include multiple references to Drake's love of Josh Gad, complete with a series of graffitied Josh Gad faces, but props to that person; what a silly and fun detail. A
Spring Fling: A high school dance chaperone encourages the students he meets to live their life to the fullest, but as he describes what he would do if he were “fifteen years younger,” his dreams consistently turn to hunting down famous villains of society and drinking heavily with them, chastising them, and then often just letting them go. After watching this show week in and week out over the last year, I've come to have a deep appreciation for the famous 12:55am sketches. The ones that come earlier in the night often seem more tightly scripted, more planned, more polished. But after an hour and a half of celebrity impersonations, political sketches, and fake game shows, it can be nice to find oneself laughing from the element of surprise as much as from the actual jokes. This is one of those sketches that you know came from a writer's 3am delirium, and you can't imagine why they thought of it, but boy is its weirdness entertaining. And as with all of his sketches tonight, Drake truly committed to this wild character, which really moved the bit along. The mention of letting genuinely horrific figures get away with their crimes is obviously awful, but when it's being delivered by a clueless, leather-vested, Hulk-Hogan-mustachioed Drake, it all goes down pretty smoothly. B+
Quotes, Extras, and Final Thoughts:
– The cold open was bumpy for me, but I did appreciate Chris Christie's recommendation of Springsteen for Veep (Trump: “He's a democrat.” Christie: “HE'S A GOD”).
– Can someone please make me a ringtone of Jay Pharaoh saying, “Early lurnch?”
– As a fan of Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney's strange sense of humor, I like when their weird sensibility sneaks its way into a more basic sketch. Tonight's example comes during Bennett's banter with co-host Drake mid-American Ninja Warrior– “How have you been, by the way?” “I'm depressed. No reason really.” “Well, you hide it well”– before jumping right back into their commentary.
– Also, in terms of great closing lines, “That tornado destroyed their home, but this tornado destroyed their spirit, and showed his penis” should probably be taught in future literature classes.
– My favorite part of the Sexy Kinda Evening sketch was Leslie Jones's PBS intro in which it was revealed that her co-host Kyle Mooney was hidden behind her the whole time.
– As Paul Ryan's assistant, Drake explains of Baby Boss Mr. Patterson, “He may have the body of a baby, but his hands are much bigger and stronger than Trump's.” I remain fully here for any and all Trump hand jokes.
– THOUGHTS ON THE MUSICAL GUEST: Drake cracked such a big smile at the end of both of his songs that my heart grew three sizes like The Grinch. He's just so excited to be there! Also, he did the Quiet Coyote symbol a lot while dancing; can someone make a meme out of that? THIS HAS BEEN THOUGHTS ON THE MUSICAL GUEST
– Remember when Chris Rock showed up to introduce Drake's first song and then disappeared for the rest of the episode? I have some questions.
– Olya Povlatsky greets the Update hosts as “Colin and Black Colin.” Later, while chastising Colin, she refers to him as “White Che!”
– Among Colin Jost's thoughts on the recent transgender bathroom law drama: “Bathroom Bill sounds like the perfect name for a restaurant pervert.” He's not wrong.
– Leslie Jones thinks life is too easy for young women these days: “We do pilates. We've got Jamie Lee Curtis keeping us regular.”
– Another great thing about the Drake's Beef sketch: They got Lorne Michaels to say Drizzy! I do not think he enjoyed it.
Next week, season 41 comes to an end with host Fred Armisen, probably doing a series of weird voices! Be sure to tune in!