Per usual, the lone highlight of an overwhelmingly dull Saturday Night Live was a digital short starring one of the show’s least visible performers. Generally that performer is Kyle Mooney; last night it was a delightful turn by Chris Redd in a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air parody (also featuring Method Man). The sketch is one of those great bits where a single, straight-faced joke is played to absurd conclusions: The Fresh Prince (Redd), in verse, narrates his move to Bel-Air after a fight with a group of gangsters, who chase him into the protective custody of an FBI agent (Jessica Chastain), who turns out to be a be a criminal too, who turns him over to the Yakuza. There’s a violent shootout that kills just about everyone, except for the narrator, whose upbeat tone remains constant through the end. It’s the kind of thing you watch and think “Huh, why don’t they do more stuff like this,” but of course the reason is: Great ideas are hard to come by, and great executions even harder.
The rest of the episode, unfortunately, comprised mostly lame ideas executed lamely. Host Jessica Chastain rose to the occasion, and the occasion was a whole bunch of stuff we’ve seen a hundred times. There was a game show, “What Even Matters Anymore,” where she played a host distraught over Donald Trump’s apparent immunity to consequences. (I don’t know if NBC wouldn’t let her or she didn’t want to, but it was weird that she said “poo-poo-holes” instead of “shitholes,” right?). Except, just kidding, the whole thing was actually a massive fourth wall-break, with the actual joke being that Chastain apparently made up a whole game show sketch just so she could rant about Trump. There were… very few jokes, and about as many laughs from the studio audience. Then there was the Bachelor parody where a parade of women sat beside Alex Moffat and said dumb shit. Then there was the restaurant sketch where Chastain and Heidi Gardner couldn’t wrap their heads around a buy-one-get-one deal. Ha ha, women are stupid! Chastain’s monologue was similarly devoid of substance—basically she mentioned the Women’s March and sang “You Don’t Own Me” with Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong, with brief walk-ins from other cast members. Why is this show so bad at writing monologues for hosts who aren’t stand-up comedians? Isn’t it… written by stand-up comics?
Speaking of “written by stand-up comics,” Weekend Update kept it pretty clean last night! Well, all right, there was one joke about how the UK government has appointed a “Minister of Loneliness,” and Jost said “Minister of Loneliness” was his nickname in middle school, and Che riffed, “I knew you were a lesbian in middle school.” What? No, but, hey, there was also a great bit about how of course Trump’s afraid of sharks because he has the body of a seal, and a solid five minutes of material on Stormy Daniels, and Kate McKinnon as Robert Mueller gleefully hinting to Jost that Trump’s toast. (Note to self: “Jost toast.” That’s gotta be something, right?) That latter segment is another example of SNL prioritizing wish-casting above comedy writing—see: every sketch with Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump—and probably one of the worst so far. The joke, which does not heighten, is Mueller chuckling at all the dirt he has on Trump, which he can’t divulge, but rest assured he’s got the goods. It’s “Trump’s going down,” in other words, and it’s practically as pandering as McKinnon’s rendition of “Hallelujah” last year. Oof.
The episode also included what appeared to be two glaring instances of #sponcon, though I don’t know why I’d expect better from SNL. In one sketch, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos took pitches from city officials desperate to win the company’s new headquarters. One imagines that focused political satire might say something about how f*cked up it is that municipal governments are going to absurd lengths to curry the favor of a mad billionaire and his evil company. Instead the sketch hewed to the superficial: The Boston delegation offered Dunkin’ Donuts and Casey Affleck, the Atlanta delegation offered Waffle House and Paula Deen, Miami brought Pit Bull. The sketch capped with Bezos (Kyle Mooney) telling Alexa he loved her, which just about captures how underwhelming the whole affair was.
Then there was “Google Talks,” in which Chastain hosted a sort of town hall on bullying. Some in the audience behind her were bullied over their religion, some over their race, some over their sexual orientation, and one (Mikey Day) because he looks like Bart Simpson. The visual reveal was very funny, but all the other jokes were just… Simpsons references? And the Google framing never did anything but allow the host to take questions from Twitter, a company which, you may be aware, is not Google. The sketch did not say anything about Google, or even how technology relates to bullying. So I’m gonna go with #sponcon on this one, which is pretty lame if you ask me! You’d think NBC could pony up a few extra bucks for a #nonsponcon sketch, but, who am I to say what NBC can and can’t pony up.
Oh, also there was another Chad sketch. I like Pete Davidson a lot but I’m getting tired of Chad. Ah, who cares, see you next time.
Seth Simons is Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Follow him on Twitter.