Dua Lipa Pulls Double Duty on a So-So SNL

Comedy Reviews Saturday Night Live
Dua Lipa Pulls Double Duty on a So-So SNL

Back in my day, the “host and musical guest” honor used to mean something! Sorry, just channeling Dana Carvey for a moment there in response to a truly dull and uninspired Saturday Night Live. Dua Lipa played a whole lot of side parts that would normally have been shunted off to a featured player in need of airtime tonight. The sort of “the doctor will see you now” nothing roles that only feel more insignificant when played by a performer who’s gotten the sort-of coveted double-duty SNL gig. (Literally, all Lipa did in the OBGYN sketch was say “Yes doctor” to Kenan’s BBQ pit boss turned baby doctor, Fat Daddy.)

The British singer wasn’t embarrassing or anything. She was just sort of there. You could pick out the signs as the episode ground on. A cast-aided Q&A monologue? Check. Three full pre-tapes? Check. An extra-long Weekend Update that was like a clearinghouse for desk pieces kicking around the office? That’s a check. Dua Lipa really only loosened up in the very last sketch of the night, breaking out some broad accent work and a little comic confidence just in time for the goodnights. Protecting a host who also has to prep for two musical performances is a time-honored SNL game plan, but the quick-change sleight-of-hand is usually a lot more hectic and fun than it was tonight. That’d be okay if Dua Lipa shone as an unexpected comic performer, but in her uniformly brief and unremarkable roles here, she could have been literally anyone.


To bring back Grumpy Old Dennis for a moment with regard to the splashy honor of hosting and musical-guesting—at least give me a Kris Kristofferson-style near drunker train wreck or a Bad Bunny-esque energy-bomb. Or invite someone (Queen Latifah, Donald Glover) whose dual threat performing chops are already established. Sadly, I’d slot Dua Lipa into the Halsey, Nick Jonas, Jack Harlow category of people whose SNL showcase makes me wonder what someone at SNL saw in the singer to make this happen.

The Best and the Rest

The Best: It was along wait—and a recurring sketch at that—but Dua Lipa actually helped jazz up the Luciano’s jingle sketch. She wasn’t the main attraction or anything, but Lipa put on a New York-esque accent and a little welcome swagger in her turn taking over for previous guest Jenna Ortega as a desperate businesswoman looking to two local restaurant funk musicians/jingle writers to turn her ailing flooring business’ fortunes around. Bowen Yang overshadowed her as the co-executive who’s margarita-fueled enthusiasm for white soul lounge act Soul Booth gives Yang yet another chance to add to his line of passionate weirdos. And, as Soul Booth themselves, James Austin Johnson and Andrew Dismukes are cooly hilarious as the dedicatedly smooth and not-getting-it jingle maestros, turning the company’s nondescript phone number into a series of unintelligibly groovy vamp-a-thons. (They turn the inevitable 555 exchange into an endlessly funky run of fives that seem destined to direct callers to dial China, if they’re lucky.)

It’s a repeater, but a slight, goofy one of the type that it’s essentially impossible to hate, especially in the final sketch slot. You get the sense that the show is counting on the execs’ riffs on the restaurant’s name (Luciano’s becomes “Get Looched!,” and so forth), but it’s really just JAJ and Dismukes’ imperturbable funk confidence that sells the bit for the second time. In a cast where true scene-stealers are scarce, these two regularly stake out territory as true SNL character guys, their ability to imbue necessarily brief roles with the right kind of watch-me spin a godsend. Especially in an episode that’s sort of dying of ordinariness.

The Worst: Saturday Night Live should have the occasional disaster of a live sketch. The combination of live TV with a show swinging for the conceptual fences calls for a real stinker from time to time, but this iteration of SNL is so committed to bland competence that we’ve long been robbed of the spectacle of something truly eating it live on air. The tradition continues here, as I found myself casting back though my notes in search of details of sketches I’d just watched but could barely recall. That that applies to the very first sketch after the monologue is not a great sign, sadly.

I am very happy for Devon Walker—he had three sizable roles tonight, and he’s certainly not the problem with the recording booth sketch, where Dua Lipa and Ego Nwodim’s guest vocalists riff out embarrassing hype phrases for Walker’s next track. As Young Spicy, the unsuspecting would be rap star, Walker has some presence as the guy waving his hands and telling Kenan’s engineer to stop tape once his new backup singers start dropping lines about him possibly being a sexual predator, pedophile, gay, or a secret Trump fan. It’s one of two recurring sketches tonight culled from the shallow bench of the last few seasons, and while the joke still works okay, it’s hardly first sketch out of the gate material. Like Spicy’s track itself, the sketch genuinely lacks momentum—Nwodim is her solid self, carrying Lipa, but whatever juice this one had was squeezed out last time. It’s a rare sketch indeed that can endure repetition when robbed of the premise’s surprise, and this one ain’t one. And I just have to say, when your host is  also your musical guest and their first sketch meant to highlight excellence at both is a dud, you’re in for a long, long night.

The Rest: Among the three pre-tapes, I wish The Anomalous Man’s comic snap measured up to the loving care that went into the production of this Elephant Man parody. Sarah Sherman is the sensitive and disabled playwright whose words win over Dua Lipa’s understanding society lady, despite the boar’s spikes emerging from his face and the giant, blinking eye on his back. Shot in black and white, and with a typically committed and grounding turn from James Austin Johnson in the Anthony Hopkins caretaker role, the sketch is clearly building to something more than Sherman’s penchant for gross-out comedy. (Which would have been a pretty insensitive payoff to an Elephant Man sketch, even for Sarah Squirm.) But the twist that Sherman’s now-married poetic soul is carrying on multiple cellphone assignations with women into crudely-texted deformation fetish play deflates the premise. Dua Lipa doesn’t help (she really doesn’t have much screen presence to speak of), and, for all Sherman’s dedication to the makeup chair, it’s a thin gag to put so much effort into. That can work if the elaborateness of the buildup is part of the joke, but this just plays like a mildly amusing gag shot in B&W period dress.

The OBGYN sketch is likewise a gross-out exercise, albeit a much more amiably silly and cheap one, as Kenan’s replacement baby doctor turns out to be a former BBQ pit master named Fat Daddy, whose amnio jelly is applied to Ego’s tummy along with lemon squeezin’s and spray bottle spritzes, and whose eventually check under the hood sees Fat Daddy licking his fingers to suss out the proper treatment. Even with that final gag (and I mean gag) in mind, the sketch got precious little of the “Ewwwww” it was going for from the studio audience. Maybe it was the fact that Kenan was Fat Daddy, and it’s genuinely impossible to not be charmed by him. But mainly, this just wasn’t committed enough to its own ick—it didn’t help that expectant daddy Mikey Day (and here comes the shocker) repeatedly explained to us just how inappropriate everything Fat Daddy was doing truly was, and there was an overall slackness to the pace that didn’t help. Truly, the only real laugh came from Punkie Johnson’s inability to not laugh when she came out to write down fat daddy’s post-sampling recipe for a pH balancing treatment on hanging butcher paper. Punkie, like us, presumably just can’t resist Kenan. (Oh, Dua Lipa played the nurse. I genuinely forgot.)

Okay, I was going to put “Good Morning Greenville” into the recurring Sketch Report, because I was 100 percent certain I’d seen it before. The fact that it appears to be an original conceit suggests that Saturday Night Live does way too many talk show sketches. Or that the whole “vapid morning show hosts are too white to talk about Black stuff” premise has likewise been done to death. So I’m just going to address this as a new enterprise for Heidi Gardner and Mikey Day and say—meh. Dua Lipa is on hand as the show’s cultural critic, breaking down the ongoing Kendrick Lamar-Drake beef with predictable tone-deafness, even if she’s outdone by Day and Gardner’s hosts, whose banter is peppered with references to nonexistent rap figures like “Old Dirty Donkey” and “As Soon as Possible Rocky.” (Okay, that one made me laugh.) Sticking it to the white squares is always good for a comfy SNL sketch, especially when you make your characters Southern and have them not see the issue with saying the N-word through their articulated Drake and Kendrick role-playing face masks. Devon got the sketch’s only good laughs though as the show’s weary weatherman, literally ducking behind the set so the hosts won’t throw to him for another “what’s our one Black coworker thinking” cutaway. And this might be asking too much, but Kendrick literally put up a brand new diss track a mere few hours before tonight’s show. Incorporating that might have juice this one up a bit, historically speaking.

As far as elaborate setups to little purpose go, the sketch in which Dua Lipa’s single gal shows off her collection of be-hatted little nude dude dolls to horrified date Marcello Hernandez is right up there. Okay, I did have to Google that these naked dolls with tiny exposed penises is a real and profitable fad, so thanks a heap, SNL. Some things you can never unsee. Anyway, there’s also a a Challengers threesome theme going on here? I haven’t seen the tennis-themed Luca Guadagnino drama yet, so I have no idea if erotic churro play is on point, but I do confess to finding this whole thing as slack as most sketches tonight, despite Bowen Yang gleefully gamboling about in a fleshy, tiny-wienered bodysuit. Someone in the room looked at Challengers and those dolls and mashed ’em together, which I suppose could have worked… somehow. Marcello and Yang were game, but Dua Lipa was dull, and this whole enterprise limped when it should have confidently asserted its loopiness.

I kept wondering where the hell the somber family gathering pre-tape was going. Funerals, reunions, graduations—what’s the common theme? Big steam trays full of lukewarm pasta goop, that’s what, at least according to this sketch sparked from someone making an offhand reference that got inexplicably turned into a whole production. Again, I generally appreciate when SNL mounts an expensive production based on a comically insignificant idea, but this seems like a mildly amusing standup bit (“What’s the deal with penne all vodka?”) stretched out to little purpose. Tray of lukewarm pasta goop, indeed. (Just a warning: “Loved by none, tolerated by all” is a dangerous line to put into an episode this bland.)

Weekend Update update

Gee, it sure was nice of Jerry Seinfeld to overcome his grumpy old man convictions that “wokeness” is killing comedy to do a middling bit on SNL in support of his widely derided feature directorial debut about breakfast pastries. As far as Seinfeld-related product placement gags set at 30 Rockefeller Plaza go, I’ll take his 30 Rock episode any day, as here his winking, rumpled  “Man Who Did Too Much Press” manages to plug the hell out of Unfrosted in the guise of mocking how tirelessly/tiresomely the newly minted anti-PC comedy warrior has been plugging his deeply unfunny Netflix comedy. But I kid the aging comedy icon jumping on the “you can’t be funny on TV in this too-sensitive culture” cranky old bastard bandwagon who has apparently never heard of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, I Think You Should Leave, Big Mouth, or the just-concluded Curb Your Enthusiasm. (Time is making the Seinfeld/Larry David credit balance for Seinfeld‘s success tip further and further toward Larry.) Anyway, this was just Lorne extending the welcome mat for another of his pals in need of a little PR, and the fact that Seinfeld’s brief bit of self-promotion came in almost as an Update afterthought is all the indication we need of how the Unfrosted tour is going.

Oh, this was Weekend Update. Jost and Che. Funny without getting all worked up about anything. Kristi Noem’s puppy murder got its expected airing-out (after Heidi Gardner’s drive-by in the monologue), Donald Trump’s trial and authoritarian plans for a second term got a mention or two, and Che made a joke about him being a kidding-on-the-square scoundrel with women. You know what you’re getting by this point with these two, and if you don’t, you’ll mistake their cheek for satirical irreverence and get eager for more hard-hitting future installments that won’t ever really happen. Reliably, shallowly entertaining as ever, guys!

Marcello Hernandez is a very good dog. As South Dakota Republican and in-print confessed puppy murderer Kristi Noem’s latest, understandably terrified family pooch (also named Cricket—RIP, Cricket 1), Hernandez brings just enough observational dogginess to the bits Noem-bashing, as Marcello’s puppy smilingly assures Colin Jost that the trigger-happy doomed would-be Vice President is a great and not at all murder-y master. Sure, his paw-pounding speaking contraption keeps spelling out cries for help (plus, it’s programmed with “Mar-a-Lago” for some reason), but Hernandez makes Cricket’s desperate eagerness to please/live pointedly amusing. As Cricket the Seventh notes, “It’s like the old saying goes: I don’t know if she rescued me or if I’m gonna get shot in the face!”)

And it’s time for the old SNL reviewer to hop back on his Google machine. Okay, Jojo Siwa, got it. A former Nickelodeon star turned heavily-retooled sexy pop bad girl, Chloe Fineman’s energetically exhibitionistic Siwa is fun enough without the internet help, and the whole concept of a desperate career rebrand to generate heat recalls a fondly remembered (by me) bit about completely forgotten Russian pop band t.A.T.u. (anyone?), where the flash in the pan duo played up their tabloid-baiting supposed performative gayness. (Siwa herself is apparently genuinely and happily queer, however.) Here, Fineman’s Siwa seriously creeped me out simply by adopting a child’s inability to say the “r” sound as she, decked out in an approximation of the singer’s recent iHeartRadio Awards shock effect getup (again, thanks, Google), asserted that she was a rock and roll bad girl now. (“I even do cigarettes!,” made me laugh, too.) Anyway, here’s to child stars somehow surviving all this.

Political Comedy Report

Jumping back a bit, one pre-tape not covered yet was the commercial for the Teeny Tiny Statement Pin, a handy badge for red carpet celebrities who want to express bland support for causes without angering anybody or truly making any statement at all. You might see where I’m going with this. The news cycle this week has been largely dominated by stories about nationwide college protests against the climbing civilian death toll in the Gaza region at the hands of Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Israeli government, with all the entrenched partisanship and glib media coverage that predictably has entailed. (Here, I’ll just pause to let all the steam escape from the ears of everyone on every conceivable side of this horrific conflict.)

This is to say that there is a whole lot of complexity to this situation, requiring a thoughtful and nuanced approach delving into history, ethnic identity, corporate and governmental rooting interests, use of militarized police force against social justice movements, and the state of political commentary in the contemporary media landscape. (With a soupçon of good old fashioned opportunistic bigotry as the traditional side dish.) Saturday Night Live, with its long history of claiming a whole lot more satirical sophistication and courage than it perhaps has earned, has avoided taking stances on the Israel-Gaza conflict with a dedication traditionally reserved for politics at the Thanksgiving table, so I wasn’t expecting much when the cold open saw three college parents on a talk show addressing their Columbia student kids’ participation in these protests. And, man, would I love to proved wrong one of these days.

Today was not that day, as the sketch hinged on what this SNL considers the safely “edgy” territory of racial differences in parental attitudes, with Kenan’s proud dad nodding along with white parents Heidi Gardner and Mikey Day’s well-intentioned both-sidesism about their offspring’s idealism vs. possible consequence—until he slams the door shut. Using his daughter’s full name repeatedly as punctuation of his working class, non-white priorities, Kenan’s dad is another in a line of Kenan characters who slam the door shut on waffling white guilt and privilege. And I’m here for that—SNL having non-white writers and performers in greater abundance means that the last decade or so has forsaken the show’s Harvard writers room nominally-supportive archness when it comes to race in favor of the occasional sketch that seems actually written from within the world its talking about. And Kenan, with his brilliance at deadpan puncturing of pretense and the unacknowledged in comic premises is funny here. (He’s Kenan Thompson.) But there’s its own kind of reductive hackiness in looking at the current student unrest and simply laying this same old filter over it.

Campus protests bring out the worst in bad comics and media types. The clash of youthful idealism and “the real world” is played off as “stuff they’ll grow out of” at best, and cynical oppression in the guise of worldliness at worst. And while there will certainly be missteps of youth in these kids’ passionate reaction to a very complex conflict (stories about on building-occupier group’s dietary demands illustrates all sides), painting unfocused anger at needless slaughter as mere kids’ stuff is at the very least incredibly lazy. That’s how this feels, with SNL getting to check “address Gaza” off its political checklist while saying practically nothing. Which brings us back to Teeny Tiny Buttons, which I’d love to think was someone at Saturday Night Live expressing frustration with the show’s apparent mission to feint toward satirical boldness without pissing anybody off. I’d really like to think that.

Not Ready for Prime Time Power Rankings

Give it up for Devon Walker, whose three roles tonight probably gave him more screen time than any other two shows combined this season. He was solid, making the case to stick around as the season winds down and some people (raises hand enthusiastically) suggest that a post-season housecleaning is in order.

Alternately in the featured player race, poor Molly only got a pre-tape cameo and the goodnights, while Michael Longfellow stumbled a bit as talk show host in the cold open. (If you want to make yourself indispensable at Saturday Night Live, nail talk show sketches, man.)

Punkie is still around, bless her, even if the show has no earthly idea how to use her. Her little tag laughing her ass off in the Fat Daddy sketch reminded me how much she can light up on SNL. Just a tiny glimpse of what they’re missing.

Recurring Sketch report

Typing “Good Morning Greenville” into my search bar only gets this one sketch, huh? If you say so.

Happy for Devon, but Young Spicy is played. And as much as I love Dismukes and JAJ in the Luciano’s sketch, that bone’s been thoroughly picked, too.

10-to-One Report

Let’s hear it one more time for Soul Booth! “Thirteen billion, five hundred twenty five million, five hundred fifty five thousand, one hundred seventy eight!” Sing it with me!

Parting Shots

Jost tells Fineman’s Siwa, “You can’t smoke in here unless you’re Dave Chappelle.”

Marcello on those unspeakably creepy dolls: “I’ve seen those on shy teenagers’ phone cases.”

Of the noncommittal lapel pins, I most liked the one that just had a baby and a puppy under the word “No!”

Che on the lack of Trump supporters at his criminal election fraud trial: “That’s not true—what about all those cops?”

Che also referred to Saturday’s Kentucky Derby as horses’ Squid Game, which about sums up my thoughts on horse racing.

Next week: Maya’s back! Plus Vampire Weekend. Thanks for stopping by, Dua Lipa.

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