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-