For the first episode in 2014, Saturday Night Live came in strong. In addition to hiring several new writers, SNL also introduced the much talked about hire of Sasheer Zamata, who received small parts in several skits and already seems like a solid addition. But lets talk about Drake, who might have been SNL’s best host/musical guest since Justin Timberlake. No, Drake wasn’t mind-blowing, but give him a few more hosting gigs, and I bet he will be.
SNL kicked off 2014 with a Piers Morgan Live, which is usually a more convenient way for the show to present the news stories it feels it has to tackle. This time, we get Chris Christie, Drake as Alex Rodriguez (a rare feat for a host to appear before his monologue) and Kate McKinnon as Justin Bieber, who stole the entire skit by being as awkward and weird as he was when he hosted.
Drake’s monologue reminded everyone that yes, he’s Jewish and black, by flashing back to his Bar Mitzvah. But Drake sells it with his Bar Mitzvah rap and shows off a great amount of enthusiasm and excitement that makes him fun all night.
I usually don’t care much for the skits in which the cast gets to bring out their impressions with a flimsy premise, but Hip Hop Classics: Before They Were Stars, hosted by Kenan Thompson as Sway, was too weird not to appreciate. In it, we see other rappers who performed on TV shows when they were younger, much like Drake on Degrassi, so there’s Eminem on Felicity, Drake as Lil Wayne as Urkel on Family Matters, and the weirdest, Rick Ross as the Red Teletubby.
Maybe the weakest skit of the night was Nancy Grace, now played by Noel Wells, who has large shoes to fill after Amy Poehler’s impression. Here, she’s worried about Colorado’s legalization of weed and what that means for babies. Drake shows up doing a surprisingly decent Katt Williams, but it doesn’t really go anywhere, and feels too similar to the presentation of Piers Morgan Live.
The Resolution Revolution video’s pacing was a bit awkward, but has a fun premise that at least ends with a LARPing Drake that could’ve happily gone on much longer. Zamata got a bit of the spotlight during a skit in which Drake played a nerdy father at a sleepover, and Aidy Bryant played Zamata’s friend who wants the father bad. The ending has one of those great surprise twists that makes or breaks some skits, but works here.
Drake’s two performances were quite good as well and very understated. First came a combination of “Started From the Bottom” and “Trophies,” with Drake in darkness with the exception of being lit by a red light. The performance was incredibly simple, yet reminiscent of Kanye West’s at the end of last year. Equally great was combo of “Hold On We’re Going Home” and “From Time” with Jhene Aiko, this time with a blue light illuminating the two of them—there was even joking about Lorne Michaels cutting to commercial so him and Aiko could make love.
Weekend Update brought back Nasim Pedrad as Arianna Huffington, who is always fine, but never all that funny. But Vanessa Bayer as Jacqueline Bisset trying to get to the Weekend Update desk from the audience was too accurate to not be great. I wouldn’t have minded having her working her way to the stage throughout the entire episode.
This year, Pedrad has been killing it with her characters, and the introduction of Rahat is definitely one of her best. Rahat is pulled onto the stage of the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular as a audience participant who Drake’s host has no idea how to communicate with her. Once again, Drake’s enthusiasm here really elevates the whole thing and it’s such an unusual character, it’ll be great to see her again.
Bayer returned with her poetry teacher Miss Meadows, this time getting seduced by Drake as a student who likes older ladies. Again, Meadows is such a peculiar character, but it’s worked more than once. Speaking of returning gags, Mornin’ Miami is back, and it’s just as fun the second time around. Both the silent, disappointed stares and the incredibly weird headlines for each day makes this one a blast every time. I also enjoy the continuing gag that apparently Topher Grace is on their show once every week.
Things wrapped up with another Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney short, entitled “I Know,” about how Mooney always says he knows when people tell him different facts. It might be the weakest of these Bennett-Mooney shorts, but they are a nice way to end the evening.
This 39th season has had some guests who have completely surprised me by how fantastic they can be at hosting, like Edward Norton, Kerry Washington, Josh Hutcherson, and now Drake, who is one of the few people in recent memory who can pull off both the hosting and musical guest double duty with equal success.