At a certain point in this episode I became convinced I had died and gone to hell, a hell where I was condemned to watch over and over again this very episode, the episode that killed me. But I had not died; I was still alive. And living, it turned out, was its own kind of hell.
That point, unfortunately, was the cold open, a syrupy parade of phoned-in banter ft. various cast members heaping praise upon their mothers, who grinned mawkishly beside them. I bear no ill will toward these mothers, or any mother, except maybe the movie Mother!, but shame on Saturday Night Live for making innocent civilians complicit in its crimes against comedy. Aidy Bryant introduced the bit as a reprieve from the show’s typically “divisive” political cold opens—divisive, I suppose, in what they do to the viewer’s brain cells—and sure enough several of the cast mothers complained about the show’s cruel treatment of Donald Trump before their sons rushed them offstage. Even when it spares us the interminable topical box-checking of its usual openers, SNL can’t help but congratulate itself for #resisting.
Amy Schumer in her second hosting gig did little to improve the show from there. Her monologue, eight minutes and change of stand-up, comprised mostly tepid commentary on getting married and getting older, though her digression on the social politics of borrowing tampons (“We’ve been taught to be ashamed of being born human women…”) offered more of the bite she’s known for. She coasted gamely through a series of withering live sketches, few of which escaped the confines of their premises. There was the mom-and-son game show with two normal pairings and one weird pairing, the former balking at the latter; there was the local news story about a children’s theatre production of Rent whose director replaced HIV/AIDS with “diabetes,” a juicy enough conceit that served entirely for the straight-man news correspondent (Cecily Strong) to balk at; and there was “New Hulu Show,” or “What If The Handmaid’s Tale Was Also Sex and the City,” or pretty much just a bunch of puns about The Handmaid’s Tale. Schumer and her co-stars were perfectly enjoyable in all of these—especially the second, which starred Schumer as a Southern conservative schoolgirl playing Mimi—but in every case the writing did little more than restate the premise.
“Gospel Brunch,” a cooking show parody with delightful turns by Leslie Jones, Kenan Thompson and Chris Redd, benefited from a multiplicity of moving parts: a gospel choir, Redd on the piano, Cecily Strong as an atheist chef immediately kicked off by the Christian hosts, Schumer as a “healthy” chef who tosses a pecan pie in the blender (among other visual jokes). The sketch suffered, however, from a running gag in which the hosts, who cook exclusively fatty foods, could not fathom why all their friends seemed to be getting heart disease or diabetes. Considering how these diseases disproportionately affect people of color—who, not coincidentally, disproportionately lack access to quality health care—the gag had unwitting and unfortunate racial undertones, namely that the victims of health disparities are responsible for said disparities. Not great.
Much more interesting were the episode’s digital shorts. “Graduation Commercial” advertised a high school graduation as a high-octane athletic event, its gung-ho narrator (Beck Bennett) describing all the ceremony’s little moments—the speaker who doesn’t talk into the mic, the visibly pregnant grad, the group photos where nobody knows which parent’s phone to look at—with the high stakes of, I don’t know anything about sports, a wrestling tournament? A clear episode highlight, it was funny and well-paced, and it thoroughly explored the sketch-world without ever repeating a joke. So too went “The Day You Were Born,” which featured Schumer as a mother telling her young son about the day of his birth, her rosy description undercut by gruesome, frantically shot flashbacks of the day itself. Facile as it might seem to say, both shorts showed where lesser sketches told, and they were much stronger for it.
Seth Simons is Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Follow him on Twitter.