Saturday Night Live‘s 44th season premiere is, one week later, best remembered for how it began and how it ended. Matt Damon’s inspired performance as then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was apparently enough to make general audiences laugh at the otherwise taxing situation, despite Damon’s problematic public comments about the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. As for musical guest Kanye West’s pro-Donald Trump speech, which didn’t make it to air since host Adam Driver had already signed the program off, even SNL is still talking about it now.
No, seriously. Both host Awkwafina’s opening monologue and Pete Davidson’s “Weekend Update” segment featured digs at the rapper, who deactivated his Twitter and Instagram accounts on Saturday. West’s notoriety notwithstanding, however, his words and actions may have dominated much of the SNL-driven news this past week, but co-head writers Michael Che, Colin Jost and Kent Sublette apparently tried to steer their writer’s room away from the more obvious jokes and sketches in order to produce something that was wholly new.
It worked, for the most part, as the aforementioned jokes at West’s expense were quickly crowded out by the fact that Awkwafina became only the second Asian woman ever to host SNL in its storied history. Lucy Liu became the first-ever Asian woman to host the program back in 2000, so 18 years later, Awkwafina made sure to highlight this feat in her monologue, which was one of the more memorable sketches and moments from this week’s show.
Awkwafina gives a shout-out to Lucy Liu
While Donald Glover’s monologue five months go came in at nearly five minutes, both Adam Driver and Awkwafina’s opening bits this season have been kept at least a minute shorter. Whether or not this is simply a coincidence or a new effort by the writers to make time for more (or longer) sketches remains to be seen, though it doesn’t detract from the impact of Awkwafina’s monologue this weekend. Aside from taking the first of the night’s many shots at Kanye West, the host also used her moment to thank Lucy Liu, the only other Asian woman to ever host SNL in its 43-year history. “I remember how important that episode was for me,” she said, “and how it totally changed what I thought was possible for an Asian-American woman.”
Pete Davidson roasts Kanye West
Speaking of taking shots at Kanye, cast member Pete Davidson practically stole the night with his reaction to the rapper’s impromptu pro-Trump speech to the audience at last weekend’s taping. “A lot of people thought that [Michael] Che should be the one to talk about Kanye,” he said of the “Weekend Update” co-host. “Because Che’s black but I’m crazy, and we both know which side of Kanye’s at the wheel right now.” With a combination of in-house footage from the off-air fiasco (which hilariously shows Davidson ducking out of Kanye’s speech) to comments about Kanye claiming this is the “real me” because he’s not taking his medication, it made for one of the night’s best, and most cathartic, segments.
The magician dating game ventures into the absurd
When it comes to the absurd, SNL has a long history of producing increasingly silly characters and sketches that are so far out there, no one can keep it together. Kate McKinnon’s alien abductee in “Close Encounters” and “Another Close Encounter” is a prime example of this. (As is host Ryan Gosling’s inability to avoid cracking up in both.) Adam Driver’s oil baron had such an effect on Pete Davidson last week, while practically everything about this week’s “So You’re Willing to Date a Magician” did the same for him and Leslie Jones. Even if it’s just an okay sketch, sometimes we just want to see the SNL cast laugh.
The Trump/FEMA emergency alert
From Dan Akroyd’s classic “Bass-0-matic” to Phil Hartman’s “Colon Blow,” SNL loves making fake ads. These live and pre-shot sketches have always been a source of simple (and sometimes satirical) fun for the show, and this week’s “Emergency Alert” short is no different. It begins as a silly dive into the “Presidential Alert” FEMA tested this past Wednesday, which understandably made many cell phone users jump out of their skin. Over the course of a minute and a half, however, it quickly turns into yet another fake ad, though one with a slight twist.
That somewhat tone-deaf cold open
Of course, this is modern SNL we’re talking about, so not everything from Awkwafina’s episode was perfect. This is especially true of the cold open sketch, which attempted to poke fun at Brett Kavanaugh’s hours-old Senate confirmation with a look into the GOP’s “post-game” celebration. Not only is the thankfully short bit mostly unfunny, but it is also largely tone-deaf. Sure, the image of a bunch of old white politicians dancing to Montell Jordan’s 1995 hit “This Is How We Do It” is a ridiculous one. And yes, Kate McKinnon’s unflattering take on Sen. Lindsey Graham seems destined for regularity this season… but this cold open was still not great.
As always, the latest SNL was chock-full of sketches and moments that, though they made the cut, weren’t quite as memorable as others. Hence why the five mentioned above includes the Kavanaugh cold open, or despite its tone-deaf approach to the subject matter, the fact that it even happened is still quite memorable. The episode’s many other attempts at political humor, however, were not. The Trump boys’ bit on “Weekend Update, the “Ted Cruz Rally” and other moments were just there.
Perhaps, as Vulture‘s Mark Harris opined following last week’s Kavanaugh cold open, doing political comedy isn’t exactly SNL‘s forte at the moment. Or maybe the current political climate is just too sensitive, and too tense, for the timeframe that SNL‘s weekly schedule allows for. After all, considering the fact that Kavanaugh was confirmed by the Senate the afternoon before SNL aired, it’s not like the writers had the entire week to prepare for this episode’s opening block.
On to the next one.