And Your Host…
Emma Stone is one of those rare Saturday Night Live hosts so good that, in another, less-remunerative timeline, she’d be leading the show’s ensemble. As it stands, the current star of The Curse and Poor Things star will have to be satisfied with merely popping by to steal an episode every few years and, as of tonight’s show, joining the esteemed ranks of SNL’s Five Timers Club, a gag that’s taken off into something like actual esteem. (Oh, and as Stone noted, she also found husband Dave McCary at the show—not, as the joke would have it, a wine-sipping Lorne Michaels.)
With fellow female Five Timers Tina Fey and Candice Bergen joining for the monologue, Stone played straight woman for the most part, although she wouldn’t stay out of center stage for long. The old pros, for their part, landed a few soft jabs at the show’s checkered-with-misogyny history, Bergen noting that progress has meant the women’s wing of the FTC has grown from a “small quiet place to cry” to a slightly larger one. (Stone’s contribution was producing a joint and a vaccination card from her supposedly new smoking jacket, leading Fey to first suspect, then disqualify, Five Timer and noted anti-vaxxer Woody Harrelson as culprit.)
The show that followed saw Stone, once more, livening up every sketch, easily segueing from peerless straight person (the game show sketch) to go-for-broke character comic (the Mama Cass sketch, easily the best piece of the season). Stone’s success on Saturday Night Live only points to how mercurial a gig hosting is—there are plenty of supremely talented performers (comic or not) who simply wilt under the live TV lights, while others seem to soak up the SNL radiation like Superman. Stone is of the latter camp, clearly relishing the unique challenge the show presents and bringing her undeniable confidence and charisma to whatever the show throws at her. Yeah, she’s that good.
The Best and the Rest
The Best: I already spoiled this one, but the Mama Cass sketch was pure joy, on several levels. The first shouldn’t be a source of relief and delight, but the fact that Saturday Night Live didn’t toss in one fat joke at the expense of the prodigiously talented late Mamas and the Papas singer was a major surprise. No offense to SNL, but the introduction of the premise had me fearing the hacky worst. Aside from that, though, this was a showcase for pretty much everybody involved. Chloe Troast donned the muumuu as Cass and once again made a very strong pitch to be the show’s next Cecily Strong with her pitch-perfect live renditions of Cass’ enduringly lovely “Make Your Own Kind of Music.” As noted, the relief was palpable as it became clear that the sketch was going to go in a completely original, unexpected direction, spinning off from Troast’s impressive vocals to Stone as a 1970’s music producer, complete with salt-and-pepper merm, ascot, and creepy mustache, whose pep talk about the song quickly shifts into a presciently disillusioning forecast of its incongruous legacy.
Noting how “Make Your Own Kind of Music” will be very popular, then “everybody’s gonna forget about it for a long, long time,” Stone’s gravel-voiced mogul then promises the crestfallen Cass that, some 40 years in the future, the song’s lilting uplift will be repurposed into an ironic slo-mo montage anthem in everything from bloody zombie flicks to bloody hooker-revenge flicks, to, finally, a 2024 horror flick about a resurrected Joan of Arc returning from the dead—to seek bloody revenge. Despite Cass’ protests, Stone then enlists yes men Andrew Dismukes Mikey Day and Bowen Yang to help demonstrate, acting out each gory scenario, with the confused Cass crooning her sunny empowerment anthem each time for juxtaposed cinematic effect.
I love this sketch. Everyone is outstanding in it (Troast is a revelation, once again), and there’s a smartly acid commentary on the movie and TV cliché of using a feel good song of yesteryear for dramatic/darkly comic friction. (Honestly, it’s one of those observations that makes something click that you hadn’t realized you were aware of.) And the third go-‘round, where Stone urges Cass to redo the song “like a haunted child” to accompany her depiction of the zombified Joan is the rule of threes done perfectly, segueing into an actual, smart and adept ending, where the whole sketch is revealed to have been a trailer for and upcoming (and bloody) Mama Cass horror flick titled Mama (with Troast holding an evil smile in revenge for her music being so cruelly wrenched from its original sweetness.) Nearly a perfect sketch.
The Worst: I get that visiting VIP’s like Stone deserve a recurring character, but the posters sketch? Stone essays the squeaky-voiced pinup on dreaming student Marcello Hernandez’s bedroom wall (apparently a real online influencer, although life’s too short), and while she’s clearly into it, the sketch is one of those half-formed ideas that really never needs to come back. Mikey Day’s David Beckham keeps getting chided for not looking as good as the real soccer star, Kenan gets to say “dookie” as an MMA fighter, and Ego is a stern-voiced Assassins Creed knockoff. Not offensively bad, but deeply unnecessary. Stone commits, but her efforts are as no-doubt accurate as they are sort of annoying. According to the tag, Marcello gets an F-minus on his physics test, while I’ll dip down as a C-minus for this one.
The Rest: It’s always a contest to see who’s going to be the go-to game show host on Saturday Night Live, what with the show perennially deciding that that’s the one can’t-miss sketch template and all. Kenan’s always great at it, and James Austin Johnson’s always solid (at essentially everything, nailing the sidekick announcer role here), but it was Michael Longfellow’s time to shine tonight as the host of the suspiciously tortoise-centric “Question Quest.” As see later on Update, Longfellow’s deadpan has a thrillingly unpredictable dark edge to it, and here his host gradually reveals that the entire game show itself is merely a scheme to rid him of the ridiculously long-lived desert sulcata tortoise (named Speedy) that he’s been stuck caring for since childhood. With nonplussed contestant Stone unable to pawn off her newfound, centuries-long slowly-crawling burden on her fellow contestants no matter how desperately she tries, Longfellow’s host keeps the game moving, embroidering the bit with a series of gleefully malicious revelations about just what a lifelong chore Stone is taking off his back. (Meanwhile, SNL having secured an actual massive land monster in dedication to the gag, Speedy himself serenely munches produce in his plexiglass enclosure.)
Longfellow has presence when the show allows him the right role, and his host here is delightfully malign and petty, answering Stone’s protests that she doesn’t want to take on a weird pet who will surely outlive her with a taunting, “Then kill him, tough guy,” and happily revealing that nobody really knows how long tortoises live because “everyone who studies them dies before they do.” Toss in a funny little role for Punkie Johnson as a clueless contestant who’s desire for the huge turtle is thwarted by her loopy guesses at Santa’s reindeer (“Dahmer,” “the fat one,” “Roostifer,” and “Adolph” all miss the mark), and this one was the rare game show sketch that sort of proved that game show sketches aren’t, inherently, out of gas. Still—there are so, so many other kinds of sketches. Like, an infinite number.
The Vermont-set amateur pottery talk show saw Chloe Fineman, Heidi Gardner and Stone all pitching to make the next “Delicious Dish,” their glazed-over part-time potters serenely assuring each other that their mediocre collections of horrifying mugs and nondescript bowls are worthwhile. There’s a low-key ticklishness in the women’s collective buried desperation, as they drop clues that their beleaguered families aren’t really on board with the hobby that’s filled their homes and Christmas stockings with slightly misshapen clay ware. There’s a nice specificity to the women’s woozy banter, with Stone apologizing for being late with a matter of fact “We had to wrangle an opossum out of the compost,” and Fineman referring to the rash of “pony-tail fires” that have plagued the studio of late. There’s a thin line between punching down at these women for their single-minded crafting and subtly funny character comedy about the hobby-strewn struggle against suburban stagnation, and everybody here walks it nicely.
The Please Don’t Destroy piece was another okay but not great outing this season, with a disclaimer that Emma Stone’s role had been mostly lost leading to some very dodgy AI replacement. Punkie Johnson continued to pop tonight, here essaying the host’s role in the sketch, even though, as previously and delightfully noted), Punkie knows precious little about the famous types who troop through SNL’s halls each week. The PDD guys’ brand of rapid fire absurd comedy hasn’t been firing on all cylinders this season, and this, for all its AI CGI silliness, was mainly remarkable for letting Punkie be Punkie, getting into her role enough that the openly gay star was willing to get it on with Martin (according to the sketch, Stone’s new beau). Johnson, with Stone’s visage unnervingly glitching in and out over her own, is a hoot, downing shots and preparing to mount Martin “like that one time in college,” proclaiming, “What? He looks like a lot of the women in my DM’s.” Punkie’s been sidelined for so long, it’s gratifying to see her personality emerge more this season. (Saturday Night Live always needs a Tracy Morgan.)
One of my favorite sort of SNL layered jokes is how thoroughly the show will throw its enormous resources behind somebody’s little doodle of a funny idea. Musical pre-tapes are a perfect place to do this sort of overproduced goof-around, and the music video tonight that saw Bowen and Stone sincerely dueting about their mounting depression and loneliness only to break out into a joyous chorus about the mood-lifting joys of doing outdoor municipal work in the nude is what I’m talking about. With Marcello and Chloes Troast and Fineman joining in, the brief bit is tuneful, energetically performed, filled with blurred out full frontal, and altogether frivolous, in the best way.
Tossed off in a less fruitful way was the final filmed piece, an ad for a Diet Coke face cream that’s just Diet Coke, and which, the ad’s spokeswomen promise, will join the river of said zero-cal beverage already coursing through the average modern women’s bloodstream. Impeccably produced as always, but, meh.
Weekend Update update
I actually thought Jost and Che were about to do a Gaza joke, but the zinger sailed right into Elon Musk-bashing (after the increasingly self-obsessed and meddling plutocrat’s visit to Israel), continuing Saturday Night Live’s “not with a 10-foot-pole” policy concerning the ongoing, deeply controversial bloodbath. Jost did revisit the fact that Musk’s increasingly anti-Semitic Twitter presence and policies made the visit with Bibi Netanyahu sort of a head-scratcher, but that’s about it. Here I shrug, repeat my well-worn observation that SNL really isn’t in the insightful fake news or political satire business any more, and commend Jost and Che for being glibly good at hosting Update. (Although Che seemed a little out of step tonight.) Oh, and don’t worry—Jost still managed a “Joe Biden is old” joke.
Michael Longfellow continued to have himself a night, donning another elaborate Update costume, this time as the snarky old school cigarette mocking the youth of today for all their vaping and whatnot. Longfellow’s very at home in these sort of roles, here mining the increasingly passé butt’s resentment for some tried-and-tested Jost-bashing. “Meet me? Yeah, okay,” Longfellow’s ciggie deadpans to Jost’s greeting, boasting that “my butt’s been I your mouth, like a million times.” He also tries to bait Jost into speaking the unfortunate nickname for cigarettes held by the British, taunting, “Relax, no one’s gonna take it out of context and make it a meme,” and showing a slideshow of all the cool celebrity smokers (Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, a quickly retracted Ron Jeremy) versus the lame vapers (Hitler, apparently). A high concept goof like this thrives on confidence and delivery, two things Longfellow is showing with increasing frequency.
Recurring Sketch Report
Apart from the posters, we had a return of the Kenan-led lounge band, here with Kenan’s scatting frontman Treece being backed by Stone’s Wisconsin-accented trumpeter and a flowing-haired Bowen on keyboards. It’s a homey, silly sketch that works because it’s Kenan, and because Treece’s stage banter is typically packed with absurdist details of his low-rent trio’s life playing equally low-rent ski lodges. Here, Treece, upon hearing that Stone’s ex-boyfriend has flooded their shared hotel room after escaping from “Mary Hutchins’ Women’s Prison for Men,” loudly bemoans the loss of his “size 12 Hermés suede scooter boots,” the words tripping from Kenan’s lips like little pearl giggles. Some cast members stay on Saturday Night Live too long. And then there’s Kenan, who, the occasional outside nostalgia project notwithstanding, is simply not only at home there, he’s filled out Studio 8H with a presence as warmly comforting as it is irreplaceable. Responding to Stone’s remorseful claim that she’s Treece’s best friend, Kenan’s response, “Well, I’m not your best friend—but, I will get there” emerges with the sort of freshness that can make even a recurring, pleasantly silly sketch sing all over again.
Political Comedy Report
Oh, what will Saturday Night Live do without recently expelled Republican punching bag and easy target George Santos to kick around any more? Since Santos is likely retreating from the political stage to continue his life of catty chicanery elsewhere, Bowen Yang took the felonious little creep out for one last ride, his Santos berating the gathered press for picking on him (even though he called the press conference himself), and ultimately breaking into his own version of “Candle in the Wind” as a farewell. The jokes are all there for the plucking, with Santos complaining that he’s merely guilty of “loving too much/fraud” and referring to himself as “a proud, gay thief,” when not trying on one of several outlandish aliases.
It’s not that Yang’s not amusing in the role. Or that the absurdly crooked Santos doesn’t deserve the treatment. But there are so many possible targets out there that SNL’s repeated lampoons of this one admittedly ridiculous yet minor-league GOP grifter is emblematic of the show’s lack of satirical ambition and, dare I say, courage. There will be no blowback to a George Santos impression, especially since a hundred or so Republicans finally decided that the New York congressman was too fraudulent, even for them. But, you know, there are other jokes—the writers don’t even have to step outside of the Santos news cycle in the House. Like how the GOP leadership, fronted by ostentatiously preachy theocrat Mike Johnson, voted to keep Santos in power despite the little jerk’s many sins. Or how the House GOP only seems to disavow one of their own when their misdeeds coincide with gayness. (Remember Madison Cawthorn’s leaked sex tape?) Or how Santos himself pointed to Republican hypocrisy, albeit in typically self-serving manner, lobbing accusations of impropriety at his GOP colleagues as they voted to boot him from his seat. I could get into the fact that the people voting to expel one of their members for undeniable but ultimately petty grifting are, in many cases, the same Republican lawmakers who plotted to overthrow American democracy (and are still working on that). Or how Santos’ long list of sleazy misdeeds are dwarfed in number and severity by those facing the presumptive GOP frontrunner for president who is overwhelmingly fawned over by Republican officials. I’m just spitballing here. But, sure, let Bowen sing Santos’ way out of the SNL softball comedy news cycle.
Not Ready for Prime Time Power Rankings
Here’s something I don’t recall saying before: top spot tonight is shared by Punkie Johnson and Michael Longfellow. Establishing yourself on Saturday Night Live is a long an unpredictable race. Some break from the pack immediately, and some jostle their way up from nowhere to unexpectedly show flashes of promise. Here’s to theses underused players seizing their opening.
Chloe Troast is working her way into the race, too, with her singing side-hustle providing her an edge. Great work from her tonight.
Devon had a line or two, while I only saw Molly at the goodnights. Marcello continues to get booked on the reg.
The final two pieces tonight were a middling recurring bit (posters) and the Diet Coke ad filmed piece. The Mama Cass sketch was smart and weird enough to fill the 10-to-one slot, but if the show wants to allow some of that weirdo spirit into the rest of the rundown, I’m not going to complain.
I liked musical guest Noah Kahan’s folk-y singer-songwriter style just fine. (It’s always a good look when a performer actually ad libs something directly to the Saturday Night Live crowd.) Did anyone else get serious Paul Simon vibes from the guy’s voice? Not a complaint, but just wondering if Lorne (Paul’s best pal) noticed.
Tina Fey, on 30 Rock‘s 6 million per episode viewing numbers: “Was that good?” “At the time? No. But today? No.”
Other specific little touches from the pottery sketch that I liked. Fineman explaining that her unwieldy mug “never looks dirty because it never looks clean,” and Gardner’s oddly unnerving list of al the things her misshapen “foyer bowls” usually collect, including “four coins, one pill, one key that opens nothing, your husband’s wedding band…”
Next week: Adam Driver won’t get a jacket or anything, but he’s back to host for the fourth time, alongside musical guest Olivia Rodrigo.