Host and Musical Guest Bad Bunny Is All Charm on a Fun SNL

Comedy Reviews Saturday Night Live
Host and Musical Guest Bad Bunny Is All Charm on a Fun SNL

And Your SNL Host…

“He’s funny, but nice funny.” “That’s how you gotta do it.”

Bad Bunny did much of his hosting this week in his native Spanish, and I was here for it. In his monologue (aided, sort of, by former host Pedro Pascal—more on him later), Bunny (and that’s how I’ve chosen to refer to the rapper, actor, and seemingly all-around cool guy) made fun of American TV’s penchant for glossing over non-English speakers’ words with the terminally lazy “Speaking non-English” closed captions. And while BB (actually, I like that better) certainly can hold his own in English, asking someone not completely fluent to host (and act as musical guest) for a live 90-minute national comedy show in the tongue he’s second-most comfortable in seems like a recipe for disaster on all sides. Saturday Night Live adjusted its formula to suit its host.

And the results were pretty darned delightful. BB has a flow in his songs and he has one in his Spanish delivery, and if SNL viewers are going to get all bent out of shape at having to either read a few subtitles or pick out the gist of a sketch from some pretty rudimentary Spanish, well, of course some of them are going to do that. As in the anti-Jost Update joke when Pedro Pascal rattled off some Spanish in his monologue last season, Saturday Night Live makes we monolingual watchers the butt of the gag, as in the telenovela sketch, where Punkie Johnson’s one-line character grinds things to a halt with her phonetically loopy readings. (Honestly, it’s the program’s fault for not differentiating between a Latina actress and a woman named Latina Jefferson.) Bunny and Marcello Hernandez (who had a huge night) make their actors’ hot-tempered brothers suitably amped up to soapy levels, complete with many, many face slaps and un-subtitled threats, with Punkie Johnson having fun as the in-over-her-head actress who can’t understand why everybody’s getting so worked up. Toss in the first of two cameos tonight from Lorne pal and rock icon Mick Jagger speaking some creditable Spanish as the brothers’ villainous dad, and the whole thing just sung with confidence.

BB himself was, honestly, sort of adorable all night, displaying a charm and even sweetness that worked to shore up the limited nature of some of his English-language roles. (When set loose in Spanish, he was a natural performer.) In all, the guy just comes off like a funny, confident, but self-effacing Saturday Night Live host, as game to throw on a nun or Shrek costume as to play up his cool guy cred. Hell, apart from this week’s promos, he didn’t even mention any of this.

The Best and the Rest

The Best: It’s not technically a repeater, so I’ll give “The Right Track” the top spot here, even if the setup is a clear callback to the Waffle House filmed piece from Saturday Night Live‘s last season. Here, Devon Walker and James Austin Johnson play out a clear homage to The Pursuit of Happyness in the foreground, while the subway car behind them teems with violence, street performers gone awry, rat attacks, and a smiling Kenan playing the world’s most creepy-friendly flasher. It’s just that juxtaposed joke, but it works thanks to how straight-faced Walker and Johnson play their wrenching confrontation and how unhinged everything in the background gets. I say it a lot, but JAJ is easily one of the best straight-up character actors the show has ever had, and Walker matches him beat for beat as the downtrodden, homeless father trying to convince Johnson’s cold business maven to give him just one chance. Neither the chaos nor the sincerity would play without the other for balance, and I found myself simultaneously moved, giggling, and overall impressed.

The Worst: The cold open was trash, but it gets its own bin, so I’ll reluctantly single out the nuns sketch as second-from-bottom. It’s not exactly a one-joke premise, as the seemingly obvious fact that its BB’s mustachioed Sister Teresa who’s been banging most of the all-too-eager sisters up in the bell tower is subverted when Mick Jagger pops back in in a wimple as the sexually rapacious Sister Kevin. The piece gave the entire female cast (plus non-binary Molly Kearney, here playing yet another mother superior) a chance to be funny—in theory. Here I’m going to note that Sarah Sherman needs to find another comic gear. I know her hiring was a bold step as far as Saturday Night Live makes them, and I’ve appreciated the singular weirdness she brings when allowed to do her stuff. But fitting into an ensemble is, as yet, not a skill Sherman has mastered. Going HUGE in an otherwise grounded ensemble piece is destabilizing—and a little unseemly. Anyway, nobody really nailed this one, although I liked BB’s earnest entreaties for the “beautiful monster” preying upon the chaste nunnery to reveal himself.

The Rest: Lots of assists tonight, with Fred Armisen showing up in “La Era de Discubrimento” as one of a pair of Spanish explorers (Mikey Day the other) whose gift to their monarchs upon returning from what they term “the new world” are met with understandable skepticism. A turkey is “a chicken with testicles on its face,” a warty pumpkin is “a herpes melon,” and Saturday Night Live‘s in-house llama (Pierre, as everyone no doubt knows) is “like a horse, but worse.” Played in subtitled Spanish, the sketch is a handsomely mounted chuckle from start to finish. I especially dug the low key vibe, with Marcello and Bunny’s regents’ disdain emerging in disappointed sarcasm. “Okay, next time lead with that,” Hernandez’s prince advises after the abashed Armisen finally produces a chest of gold. Naturally, tobacco, after a rough start, is the big winner.

The rap battle sketch sees Mikey Day (no stranger to the genre) as overmatched white rapper Walter Whiteboy going up against Bad Bunny’s champ, El Fuego. The comedy switcheroo is that we never see Bunny actually rap, as Day accepts his crew’s advice to point out his own shortcomings before the more successful El Fuego can, leading to a whole lot of embarrassing oversharing. Kenan, as the emcee, is a sniper of underplaying as ever, popping in to helpfully suggest Day bail before revealing more beyond his secret cousin-dating and superfluous testes. (Four—two above, two below.) Bunny’s locked and loaded El Fuego, meanwhile, is so taken aback at Day’s self-immolation (“If you need someone to talk to, I’m here”) that he can only respond with a hug and a Good Will Hunting-worthy, “It’s not your fault.” Do we need to see more of Mikey Day rapping? I’ll say no, but this one ended up in a far sweeter and more gently amusing place than I imagined.

There’s no denying the Please Don’t Destroy triumvirate are getting bigger crowd pops since being added to the opening cast intros, and, unlike last week’s swing and miss, this short was back in their wheelhouse. Ben, John, and Martin are in their tiny Saturday Night Live office where they belong, this time left baffled by host Bad Bunny’s unexpected visit in full Shrek makeup. BB is charmingly offhand as he waves off the guys’ wary questions as to whether he wants them to write a Shrek sketch for him, right up until he brings out his A24-owned script for another Shrek movie, complete with Donkey’s shocking cancer diagnosis and Shrek himself sacrificing himself in a sun-bound space pod. Throughout, the host continues to feign indifference to the whole enterprise, even as he demands the guys climb into more or less realistic supporting cast costumes. (John balks at playing the role of Michael Jackson in the Bunny-penned screenplay, but eventually they’re all on board.) Not as rapid-fire surreal as some of PDD’s best, but all the more endearing for it.

Weekend Update update

Jost and Che anchor Update like the two coolest kids in school, which, to be fair, they sort of are at this point. Their political stuff (this being a fake news roundup in a world aswim with ready targets and all) continues to underwhelm, but I’ve never had the sense that either were gunning for the Daily Show desk anytime soon. Still, their chemistry is now butter-smooth, they’ve each minted their own brand of snark, and they clearly relish baiting the Saturday Night Live audience with some cheeky button-pushing. I especially liked Che luring the New York crowd into cheering on the WNBA champion New York Liberty before calling out the whooping “phonies” for not knowing that the Liberty just lost the title to the Las Vegas Aces this week. Jost and Che could be more ambitious, but they’re not. That’s their brand. They’re funny.

The ongoing Jada Pinkett Smith parade of self-revealing talk show appearances was bound to get the Ego Nwodim treatment, so here it was in the only correspondent piece of the night. Ego doesn’t really have a Jada, but her performance is as serenely strange as Pinkett Smith’s current confessional streak is, and Ego’s needed a decent solo piece this season. As on-point as this Jada’s reference to “cucking my millionaire husband” might feel, the whole public celebrity breakdown angle leaves a sour taste.

Recurring Sketch Report

When Pedro Pascal came in for the monologue assist, I knew that the disapproving mom sketch would see The Last of Us star strap into those oversized breasts and lipstick again. And, as nice as it was to have a Saturday Night Live season premiere free from rehashed premises, I gotta say this bit still works. With BB on hand initially as visiting Marcello Henandez’s judgmental auntie (Chloe Troast plays the unsuspecting white girlfriend Marcello’s brought home this time), the sketch was humming along at a nice, familiar clip. And then Pedro showed up and he and Bunny rattled off the sisters’ Spanish put-downs of the septum-pierced Troast with seamless glee. Even Troast’s non-speaker  can intuit how things are going from the sisters’ references to Starbucks, “nepo-baby,” Trader Joe’s, and “flat butt.” (Pascal’s mom bemoans the prospect of little “Tyler and Haley Gonzalez.”) In the end, the ladies are won over by Troast’s insistence that Marcello doesn’t eat enough, but not before we’re once more treated to Pascal imbuing his protective mother with some truly hilarious mom-logic. After Troast lets slip Hernandez’s recent depression diagnosis, Pascal’s mom imperiously asserts, “He just likes the dark!” and recounts her long-ago advice to her sensitive son concerning depression, “Don’t do that! Do something else!” And there’s a bit of business that made me want to applaud—disdainfully and deliberately tossing Troast’s gift of Dansk cookies in the kitchen trash (“Ah, so thoughtful not to make them yourself”), Pascal’s mama carefully sweeps her sewing supplies into the emptied metal canister and places it primly on the counter.  Raucous and rollicking, the sketch works perhaps even better the second time, and if Pascal steals the show, Bunny can hang.

Political Comedy Report

The Trump cold open is back. [Hold for applause. And we’re holding, and we’re holding. Aaaand that did not work.] I love James Austin Johnson’s Trump. I truly think he’s found the way into what is a deceptively tricky impression, keying in on the on-trial insurrectionist and former president’s tendency to speak as if his mind were a particularly unstable AM radio dial on a bumpy road. (As an aside to Lorne—have Tony Atamaniuk host and see what his Trump and JAJ’s Trump can cook up together. Just saying.)

Anyway, we get Gym—sorry, Jim Jordan, with Mikey Day doing his signature not-impression, snapping phones in frustration and fending off unwanted support from fellow GOP pariahs in Bowen Yang’s George Santos and Chloe Fineman’s Lauren Boebert. As someone viewing the current House GOP’s rake-stepping dysfunction with a queasy mix of schadenfreude and worry that grinding the government to a standstill is all in their traitorous 2024 playbook, the shots here are awfully, not to say irresponsibly, lame. Points to trouper Fineman for okaying an on-screen boob-grab (she’s at a performance of Aladdin this time), but with the sheer mountain of horse shit the real-life characters are buried in up to their treasonous necks, choosing the jokes they traditionally choose for these things represents a surrender to innocuous sub-mediocrity. Nothing more to say, really.

Not Ready for Prime Time Power Rankings

Let’s give it up for Marcello Hernandez, who not only had what I think was his first recurring Saturday Night Live character ever, but was pivotal all night long partnering with BB and deploying his own bilingual comedy chops to very good effect.

James Austin Johnson would rank higher if the cold open weren’t such a shambles around his always-amusing Trump.

Nice outing for Punkie for a change.

Three central roles for Mikey Day, who continued his streak of being competently inessential. The Jim Jordan thing wasn’t his fault, and the rapper sketch was his strongest in a while. This is Day’s eighth season, if anyone’s counting.

On the featured player scorecard apart from Marcello: One line for Michael Longfellow, a sizable role for new kid Troast, Devon Walker smashed a straight role, and Molly played another blustering nun.

10-to-One Report

The sketch about the corporate takeover of a certain organic-branded lip balm company sketch (hey, nobody’s paying me product placement money) is so low-key gentle in its comedy that it’s tempting to say it lets down the vaunted (by me at least) last-sketch standards. Still, it’s odd enough in its unassuming way, with Bad Bunny politely interrupting the worried post-takeover staff meeting to gush about the very nice man his daughter is marrying. (The too-good-to-be-true suitor’s name’s Jeff, leaving me to wonder if it’s an homage to the departed Tim Robinson.) Bunny is, again, sweet as his exec just wants everyone to know that Jeff is a really good guy, eventually winning over his colleagues, apart from Mikey Day’s CEO. Day slots into so many “Okay, let’s cut the foolishness” roles that it’s become something of a cliché if you look for them, but at least the exasperated boss does admit the admirably cuckoo secret formula to the company’s bee-related products. If the new company motto isn’t, “We grind up the bees and turn them into ChapStick,” then they’re missing out on a winner.

Parting Shots

Earlier this month, the NFL Thursday game in my market (hello from Maine) seemingly mistakenly broadcast only the Spanish-language telecast on my local affiliate for the first quarter. I, with my four years of long, long ago high school Spanish, dug it. (It’s not like I have a burning need to hear what Tony Romo has to say.) It reminded me of the George Carlin bit about growing up in New York and hearing the Yankee coming from Spanish-language stations, being delighted to discover he could pick out enough to understand the action. (“Dos y dos, that’s the count and you’re home free.”) What I’m saying to all those bound to complain about there being so much Spanish on tonight’s episode—lighten up and get over yourself. It’s a big world.

I liked the little gag of Andrew Dismukes’ priest hurling drops of holy water at the explorers’ bumpy pumpkin.

Guests on hand tonight: Fred, Pedro Pascal, Jagger, and Lady Gaga, enthusiastically introducing Bad Bunny’s first musical number. While that might signal a team effort to prop up the host, honestly, everyone just fit in rather seamlessly.

Next week: I’m not saying that comedian Nate Bargatze is the least-recognizable host in Saturday Night Live history, but I guarantee plenty of people thought his name was pronounced “Barzgate” until Darrell Hammond introduced next week’s show. Musical guest is Foo Fighters, who may be the most recognizable on that front.

Dennis Perkins is an entertainment writer who lives in Maine with his wife, the writer Emily L. Stephens, and their cat, (Special Agent Dale) Cooper. His work has appeared in places like The A.V. Club, Ultimate Classic Rock, and the Portland (Maine) Press Herald. You can find him on Twitter, where he will anger you with opinions, and Instagram, where you will be won back over by pictures of Special Agent Dale Cooper.

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