Jason Momoa’s Charms Buoy an Otherwise Soggy Saturday Night Live
The Aquaman star returns with another endearing outing.Photo by Rosalind O'Connor/NBC Comedy Reviews Saturday Night Live
And Your Host…
“This might be the most fun these people have in their entire lives.”
Jason Momoa is bulletproof. Apart from the burly Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom star looking like firearms would, indeed, be worthless against him, the guy is such a big bundle of energy and goodwill that criticizing him seems irrelevant. Sure, the DCEU is a misguided, sludgy chore, and Momoa is prone to stumble through a live line or two, but, as evidenced in his scene-stealing turn in the latest Fast and the Furious movie , the lug is just engaging as hell . Hosting SNL for the second time, Momoa was effusive in praising the show and everyone involved, and his in-attendance mom for introducing him to Saturday Night Live when he was just a (presumably) enormous child. In the goodnights, he promised to be back before sweeping everyone in sight into bear hugs, and, as pedestrian as some of his material was tonight, I’ll look forward to it.
The most Momoa-esque SNL sketch tonight saw the actor strip to the waist and hurl a besotted Chloe Fineman around like a ragdoll after besting a similarly shirtless Andrew Dismukes in a farcical push-up contest. As Fineman’s ex-beau, whose five years on a deserted island have turned him into, well, Jason Momoa, Momoa’s Laird is as serene as he is predestined to steal Fineman back from human-sized and rightly insecure hubby Dismukes, dousing himself with wine with the excuse, “I forgot how to drink out of a cup.” As in all of Momoa’s live sketches, the big guy’s a little shaky on commanding the dialogue, but, as the one beefy joke of a one-joke sketch, he’s pretty funny.
The Best and the Rest
The Best: See “The Rest.”
The Worst: See above.
The Rest: I smiled a lot during this episode of Saturday Night Live, but, scanning the rundown afterward, I’ll be damned if I
can pick out a single sketch that bobbed up above a sea of “all right.” It was that sort of show—matching its game but unremarkable host, the night was sort of pleasantly average. So, in a multiple-way tie:
Momoa did his best character work (as in putting on a dodgy Spanish accent and playing someone other than big hunky guy) in the bouncer sketch, where he and Marcello Hernandez worked up a nice little head of steam. With Momoa’s blunt enforcer unable to couch his doorway rejections in anything but the bluntest, Drax-like terms (“You are an ugly person”), the sketch skates by on its lack of malice. Momoa’s hulking bouncer just doesn’t have it in him to lie, even as he attempts various metaphorical routes to get around the real reasons he can’t let people in, and he and and the diminutive Hernandez make a decent team. He can’t even maintain his own tortured mantra, explaining to a confused Michael Longfellow, “I just said that because I’m like a Spider-Man.” Nothing special, but it was that sort of night on SNL.
It may not have signaled the most confidence in Saturday Night Live‘s host that his first sketch saw him in a silent movie, but if you’re going to let Jason Momoa mug in old-timey fast-motion, it’s at least going to warrant a chuckle from me. The oddly specific setup about a PBS special unearthing lost footage of L. Frank Baum writing The Wizard of Oz is just eccentric enough to click, with Bowen Yang’s filmmaker irritatedly sniping at host Heidi Gardner in the breaks. The footage itself is just Mikey Day and Momoa (as a passing businessman and his “large friend”) spotting the novel new movie camera and getting in the way just as it looks like we’re going to get some insight into the author’s process. Yang’s explanation that, “these people didn’t know what was good or interesting yet,” is offered up as the reason for the shenanigans, but that’s actually more rationale than the sketch warrants.
Yang and Ego Nwodim teamed up in a pleasantly indifferent airport sketch, a supposedly televised annual Thanksgiving day parade from inside Newark Airport. The airline employees introduce each passing stereotype of holiday traveler, from Chloe Fineman’s lady with three service dogs she clearly doesn’t need, to James Austin Johnson’s nice father ineptly coping with his bratty child (some stage parents let their little girl say “Screw you, bitch!” on live TV), to Marcello Hernandez leading a phalanx of gay flight attendants who will not be spending Thanksgiving with their judgmental families. Momoa pops in from the Chili’s bar as the on-the-make pilot Captain Gary, which is right in his wheelhouse, while Kenan steals focus as “the TSA agent saying the same thing 12 different ways.” (To be fair, reminding ten thousand people a day to take out their laptops must fry a few circuits.) The piece gave everybody on SNL something to do, at least. It was nice.
The Please Don’t Destroy team is on every week these days (what with having the first Saturday Night Live movie on big screens in a dozen years or so), which isn’t a bad thing, even if nothing they’ve done this season has matched their initial breakout energy or originality. Here the joke is that Ben and Martin can’t put aside their craving for delivery ramen after John’s girlfriend breaks up with him overt the phone. There are some clever little touches, as when Ben uses his comforting hug to swipe John’s wallet, but, compared to some of their best, rapid fire absurdity, this piece stays chummy and rather ordinary.
The two filmed pieces were typically crisp and well-shot. I wasn’t sure where the dissatisfied husband music video premise was going, but the swerve to a rap about the Roman Empire was a solid glimpse into the middle-aged male mind. Momoa, Kenan, and Mikey Day get to don togas and armor while they happily explain that all their dreaminess comes from thinking about aqueducts, painted statues, and the fact that Hadrian was openly gay. It’s a cleverly silly diversion about the fact that we all overthink what our partners are thinking (dudes just want to imagine Romulus “sucking on a wolf’s titty” and crapping unashamedly in a row), with the piece’s irritated wives turning to their equally distracted sons for backup. Cue dinosaur rap, segueing back into Roman talk, at least until Ego’s fed up spouse furiously slaps her mind-wandering hubby back to the present. (“You’re acting like the Visigoths right now,” Momoa retorts.) The wives have their own running digression (astrology), but even there, Momoa’s chastened husband pops in to remind the women that the Romans were totally into that first. I’m all for Saturday Night Live putting ridiculous effort into an offhand, silly premise, and the writing, performances, and even the singing here (Troast has those pipes!), are all top-tier.
The other filmed sketch revisited the famous “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, only to assert that Sarah Sherman’s trailblazing Charna Lee Diamond broke down the sport’s misogynistic standards first. Again, these SNL shorts are exceptionally well-mounted, here mirroring the 30 for 30 style as experts and historians opine about the legendary but overlooked Diamond’s legacy as the first female player to challenge a male pro. Sadly, we eventually discover why Diamond herself is not among the talking heads, as we see the first serve from Jason Momoa’s gargantuan chosen opponent blasts straight through Diamond’s stomach like a cannonball. Saturday Night Live generally gives its more massive male hosts a sketch suited to their outsized physicality, and this one’s not bad, as Momoa’s horrified player sheepishly asks his dying opponent if he should serve again. (And there goes Diamond’s head, with dutiful ballboy Devon Walker rushing in to scoop up the severed noggin.) It’s all about the shocking carnage, with some leavening in the doc’s revelation that Diamond was the lowest-ranked player in the world at the time, and the unnecessary reminder that Momoa’s Ronnie Dunster is preposterously huge.
Weekend Update update
It’s is clearly Saturday Night Live edict that the ongoing Israel-Palestine war (you know, the biggest and most contentious news story of the day) is simply not going to be touched with a ten-foot pole. What’s left is the usual, above-average delivery of some average Update material, with Jost and Che doing their thing. Jost takes a dig at himself (worrying that Elon Musk’s latest floodgate-opening racist Twitter policies might put his thumbs-up picture next to some of that dying site’s ubiquitous white supremacist content), and Che playing to his own reputation for “just kidding” misogyny. Apart from those, there were the requisite—wait for it—”Joe Biden is old” jokes, followed by some more energetic stuff once the anchors decided they’d put enough time into politics for the night.
Very long Update on SNL tonight, with three desk pieces. First up was a return of Bowen’s drolly pathological George Santos, spouting bored-sounding lies and, at one point, pretending to take a Thanksgiving dinner invitation from Martha Stewart on a swaddled baby. As the farcical term of the serial lying, brazenly scamming Republican congressperson seems headed for long-overdue oblivion, it makes sense for Yang to trot out some of the latest Santos whoppers (using campaign funds to pay for OnlyFans content just the most salacious of this grifting weirdo’s myriad misdeeds), and the character’s a good fit for Yang’s favored delivery.
I was a bit shocked when Che’s lead-up to NBA outcast and noted head-locker Draymond Green didn’t introduce another Kenan Thompson character, but Devon Walker did fine. I mean, he’s no Kenan (who usually has these sports figures on lock) but it’s nice to see Walker get some desk time, and the conceit that infamous enforcer Green is utterly unapologetic about trying to choke out opponent Rudy Gobert (and keeping an ominous enemies notebook) pokes the expected fun at a guy who really seems to enjoy cheap-shotting people. (“That’s where his nuts at!,” Walker’s Green responds to Che asking why the Golden State forward notoriously hits people in the groin during games. Again, I think Kenan would have made the character pop more, but I can’t begrudge the new SNL guy getting some playing time.
James Austin Johnson and Andrew Dismukes essayed the roles of band Remember Lizards, revealed to be Saturday Night Live‘s emergency backup musical guests. It’s one long, very funny goof on Imagine Dragons’ “uplifting kids friendly hip hop/arena rock with a pump-up edge,” with the also-ran duo busting out some suspiciously Dragons-esque songs. Dismukes and Johnson are terrific performers together (their King Brothers Toyota was the best sketch of last season), and the relentlessly honest optimism of the never-was knockoff band is infectious stuff. (Sidenote: I’ve never given much thought to Imagine Dragons, but apparently they’ve attained Nickelback levels of industry disdain?) Sometimes just letting a desk piece run on the enthusiasm of the performers is an SNL winner.
Recurring Sketch Report
Biden and Santos on SNL tonight, but that’s it. I like this trend.
Political Comedy Report
I suppose Saturday Night Live moving from “Joe Biden is old” to “boy, the media sure can’t get past the fact that Joe Biden is old” at least shows some self-awareness that the show has neither the skill nor the will to truly engage in any meaningful political satire. So, progress? Mikey Day’s inexplicable run as Biden (over the eminently superior impressionist James Austin Johnson) aside, the cold open press conference about the president’s recent summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping said practically nothing, unaided by Day’s wan Joe. The sketch does nod toward the aforementioned media penchant for glossing over the current U.S. president’s accomplishments (the booming economy and jobs numbers get a shout out in passing), and the imminent threat posed by a second Trump term (literal concentration camps) in favor of hammering on the “Joe=old” theme, which would carry more weight if Update weren’t all about doing the exact same thing, as usual. And then it was Bowen Yang’s turn in a panda suit, the promise of a panda influx to American zoos the only other takeaway the press seemingly took away from this week’s meeting. I like Yang, and putting him in a silly costume is usually a good fit for his catty, offhand persona. Here Panda-Yang chewed some bamboo, made the expected Panda gags about mating difficulties, and that’s the sketch. Never has the “political cold open” on SNL seemed more perfunctory.
Not Ready for Prime Time Power Rankings
If we’re going by screen time, it was a big night for Bowen, Ego, Mikey, and Andrew. Dismukes made me laugh the most, though.
Chloe Troast only had a brief role in the Rome piece, but if she’s looking to position herself as the successor to Cecily Strong’s musical comedy slot, she’s on the right track.
Hey, Michael Longfellow had a couple of roles—I was going to send out an APB. Marcello and Devon had spotlight pieces, with only Molly getting left behind on Saturday Night Live this week.
In a nice, orderly show tonight, there was plenty of time to let the final sketch breathe, which was a welcome change. As a cabbie forcing his passenger (Kenan, straight-manning up a storm) to listen in on his increasingly alarming speaker phone diagnoses from his doctor, Momoa lacks the comic presence to really spin this one off into the weirdness it’s aiming for, but he’s funny enough. Kenan’s traveler can only beg for privacy (even breaking off the partition prop at one point) as we all overhear how Momoa’s driver suffers from everything from incontinence to herpes to something doctor Ego Nwodim refers to as the newly discovered “hepatitis gold.” Momoa’s cabbie accepts all this news with clueless good humor, munching on a handy plate of blood pressure-endangering ham and shrimp, and asking Kenan’s not-having-it passenger for a high five upon being told that the reason his diapers are empty is that he just craps right in his pants. More lines like Momoa mistaking the doc’s question about the number of drinks he has per night (“What’s that, like a holiday for cats?”) would have nudged this one in the right direction, though.
In the goodnights, Colin Jost held up a cue card reading “We love you Dana and Paula,” sending SNL‘s love out to Dana Carvey and Paula Zwagerman, whose son Dex died of a drug overdose on Wednesday.
I suppose this is a tangent, but how badly has DC screwed up its movie division? I was always a DC over Marvel guy, but I can’t think of a single DC film I’d watch over a Marvel one. (Except for The Suicide Squad, whose James Gunn pedigree at leqst gives me hope for the new DC Gunn regime.) As charismatic as Momoa is, his Aquaman being depictred as merely wet Thor is a complete failure of imagination all around.
Synergy or not, you’ve gotta love Momoa dedicating much of his brief monologue to his ocean conservation efforts. Go get ’em, Aquaman. Oh, and suck it, Desani.
There was a musical guest. She was named Tate McRae. There was lip-syncing. I got Jenna Moroney vibes. I have no further memory of this performer.
We’re off next week, so tune in for the Five Timers debut of Emma Stone, with musical guest Noah Kahan on December 2.
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 AV 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.