Amy Poehler leads a surprising number of guest stars, including Sharon Stone, Allison Williams, Tony Hawk, President Biden and the “Property Brothers.”
After a long winter hiatus, Aubrey Plaza proved more than capable of carrying lead roles in sketch comedy on “Saturday Night Live,” but packed her episode with guest stars anyway.
Perhaps the most logical one was the return of her “Parks & Recreation” co-star Amy Poehler, to the place that made her. The pair even reprised their “Parks” characters for a surprising “Weekend Update” appearance.
All those guest stars overwhelmed the night a bit, but the biggest problem was that despite all those weeks off, the writing was not nearly as sharp as it usually is coming out of a hiatus. That said, the cast was amped up and really delivered, elevating the material as best they could.
We’ll talk more about it later, but we also appreciated that some of those who’ve not seen much this season really got a chance to show what they’re made of, like Molly Kearney and Devon Walker. We finally feel like we have a sense of the growing identity of the current cast.
As usual, we’re ranking all the sketches from worst to first, including the Monologue, Cold Open, “Weekend Update” and any sketches that were cut for time but made their way online. We’ll skip the musical guests, because they’re not usually funny — unless Ashlee Simpson shows up. We wrap up with a look at the cast-member who had the strongest week.
A fun idea to lean into the apparent gay love for “M3GAN” by offering up a quick sequel just for them. Logistically, we’re not sure why they needed to make a new doll for it, but it was fun seeing both Chloe Fineman and Aubrey Plaza all dolled up, so to speak. It was a little odd that there were basically no horror elements to it, even with the joke about how she slays … and slays. Instead, we were set in a gay club and the gays were just loving her. That was kind of it. Even an surprise Allison Williams cameo (referencing “Girls,” no less) didn’t do anything to give this a point. It was as if they didn’t bother to flesh out anything beyond the initial hook.
James Austin Johnson was perfectly cast as this private eye, as his narration work was a spot-on pastiche of these classic detective films. Aubrey Plaza also makes a great femme fatale. It’s just too bad the material didn’t back up the quality of their performances. Sharon Stone was a fun surprise, but wasn’t able to elevate the sketch above the writing. There were hints at jokes, like Aubrey’s penchant for older man, but nothing was really explored to a comedic punchline. Instead, it was just kind of there, which is also how it ended.
Cold Open: NFL on Fox
A bit of a chaotic mess, it was fun seeing some fresh impressions for the new year. That said, Molly Kearney did not really have us convinced in their take on Terry Bradshaw. His mannerisms are more frenetic and quick-paced as is his delivery. It was nice seeing Devon Walker get a showcase as Michael Strahan, and he did admirably on the job, while James Austin Johnson nailed another vocal impression, even if physically he’s nowhere near Jimmy Johnson. As for Mikey Day’s Howie Long and Kenan Thompson’s Curt Menefee — they were just Mikey and Kenan with different names.
But the highlight, of course, was Bowen Yang’s take on Congressman George Santos, who lied his way into another gig as a sideline reporter. The lies about his game stats got a little boring, so we were actually happy when they cut away from him, only to return with him as his Brazilian drag queen persona. This time, the stats were drag queen accurate. While not as funny as it should have been, it was at least a different take for a political cold open, and Bowen’s sliminess was very well presented.
This one-joke premise grew pretty thin and grating pretty fast, even if it was based on true events. The only truly funny part came after Drew and Jonathan Scott were introduced as judges alongside Tony Hawk, with the latter screaming out bizarre responses to questions posed to him like the contestants were doing through the whole sketch. Kenan Thompson cracked a couple of times at his joke about ranking women and Aubrey Plaza’s repeated screaming of “France,” like the real Miss Universe contestant, but they needed to expand the premise of this sketch beyond, “Wasn’t it weird how the Miss Universe contestants all yelled their country names? Let’s do that.”
A funny enough premise with Devon Walker ad-libbing lines to ensure everyone knows he’s straight during this HIV commercial shoot set in a gay club, but our favorite moment came with Aubrey Plaza’s ad-lib (at least, we think it was) after she accidentally worried about her salad getting cold, and how she stuck with that narrative. Her characterization as the director was a little odd, hunched over and speaking very curt, but we did get a kick out of her tearing down Mikey Day’s dancing each time they cut. The ending played it a little straighter (no pun intended) than we expected.
Monologue: Aubrey Plaza
Aubrey had an actual video of President Biden acknowledging her as the most famous person out of Delaware in a monologue that was biographical with injections of her trademark “weird” humor (like the reveal of her parents). She talked about working as an NBC page on the “SNL” set and decided to once again give a tour. It was sweet that she invited two current pages (we’re guessing) to help get her jacket on for this bit.
The page tour gag was hit-or-miss, as in the skeletons in the closet visual gag fell completely flat, but we did get a laugh out of Kenan Thompson asking her for a coffee as if she was still a page (because he’s been on the show so long). It was silly and playful, but perhaps the best moment was when it became clear just how special it was for her to be back hosting the show she used to (badly) work for.
With the sequel blowing up the box office, an “Avatar” parody was perhaps inevitable. Ego Nwodim was pretty funny as the queen crying and just being a little bit too extra, but it was clear that Heidi Gardner and Aubrey Plaza were having the most fun as the Jersey girls in disguise (badly) as Na’vi. We also got a kick out of Kenan Thompson trying (and almost succeeding fully) in breaking Mikey Day as he tried to point out the very, very obvious fact that these two women playing pickup basketball and wearing Earth clothes are the spies. It was a cute moment with two veterans just having a bit of fun in the midst of a sketch.
Aubrey Plaza was able to lean hard into her off-beat persona in this sketch where the classic party game took a dark turn with the clues she was giving to husband, Mikey Day, to guess some of her disturbing past. Mikey was great in how upbeat he was about all the increasingly terrifying truths revealed about who Aubrey is as a person, and how awful she is. We’re sure the way she mimed their daughter won’t sit well with some audience. We wish that she hadn’t had to rely so heavily on the cue cards as it did impact her performance, but there were a lot of specific details that had to be presented, so we get it. The ending also was a bit of a letdown as it just kind of petered out rather than end on a final metaphorical punch in the decency.
Can we just say, Andrew Dismukes absolutely nailed this personification of an awkward teenager frozen in stage fright terror. This sketch was all about the quirky personalities of the nuns, played by Aubrey Plaza and Molly Kearney. In what may be Molly’s biggest showcase yet, they really embodied a deeply devout — with apparently a secret past — nun afraid for their friend. Yes, it also appears to be similar to Molly’s characterization in other characters, but this was the most we’d seen them act, and there’s a real potential for them to figure this out and break out on the show.
Aubrey’s nun was in the midst of an existential crisis after “dying for two minutes” in the bathtub over the weekend, leading to some great commentary from her. Sarah Sherman was working the board for the morning announcements and was her typical over-the-top Sarah performance. The lines were a little funny, but she oversold them so much, they lost some of their impact. Overall, though, it was a fun piece that demanded you pay close attention to all the little details in the dialogue.
Of course, Colin Jost and Michael Che first went in on all of George Santos’ alleged lies, as well as pushing back against a claim he got away with lying because he’s so well-dressed, and dipping into allegations he performed as a drag queen. We did get a chuckle out of Che’s birth certificate joke about President Biden’s classified documents scandal. Their summary of the Biden and Trump classified debacles bringing Hillary Clinton in got a great crowd reaction. Che got an even bigger response for is joke about a possible DeSantis v Trump battle.
They missed an opportunity to have Bowen Yang’s George Santos come out with a hoodie and suit jacket — or otherwise deplorable fashion choice — but it was fun seeing him back for a second time on the night. Bowen plays it so slimy, we wanted to wash our eyeballs after watching him. This time, he was nonstop with outlandish fabrications, creating a great banter back and forth with Jost. Bowen was perfect in this role, a little whiny, a little condescending, a little defensive, and a little b—-.
After a very dark joke about China’s population decline, Che saved it with the perfect punchline for how they can reverse this — and we’ll give pop culture aficionados just one guess what that solution is. Later, Jost went for the lowest-hanging joke possible when talking about Kevin Spacey’s appearance to accept an award, while Che and Jost touched on race a bit with racy jokes about the name change for Squaw Valley and San Francisco’s reparations proposal.
It was a hoot seeing Aubrey Plaza return to her “Parks & Recreation” character of April Ludgate and even better when Amy Poehler returned as Leslie Knope. Unfortunately, we weren’t as enamored with Poehler’s thinly-veiled references to her own time as a “Weekend Update” co-host, alongside Seth Meyers, nor when she took over the desk to tell one nice joke herself. Aubrey was reduced to a segue to bring in Poehler and none of it was nearly as funny as both of those fictional characters can be.
An ingenious parody of “The White Lotus” with just one change; the staff at the hotel are all Black, and thus they’re already fed up with this nonsense. Aside from all the Black cast members, Aubrey Plaza leans into her Puerto Rican roots to find a hilariously over-the-top bartender who’s sassy and takes even less s— than the rest of the staff. The white cast played the rich guests, but aside from Chloe Fineman’s spot-on Jennifer Coolidge, none of them were particularly memorable. For sheer depth of presentation, variety of interactions and even the police arrival at the end, this was everything you want in a parody with a complete vision. Dare we say, we’d watch the hell out of this spinoff!
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
We’re not sure if it was intentional on Aubrey’s part or just the way things worked out, but she really gave opportunities to the two featured players who’ve had the least to do as both Molly Kearney and Devon Walker had their biggest nights yet. Both of them showed up, too. Molly was great as a nun, if not so much as Terry Bradshaw, while Devon brought enough laughs as the awkward guy in the HIV ad and clearly had fun as Michael Strahan.
She also shared the lead with different performers in almost every sketch where she led, giving spotlights to Mikey Day, Kenan Thompson, Heidi Gardner, James Austin Johnson, Molly and Devon. It created a pretty balanced episode as far as appearances and lead roles, which was refreshing. This was the first time we got a true sense of the makeup of this new cast after the exoduses of the past six months.
It didn’t make our job any easier, though, picking the standout performer of the night. Kenan was the workhorse, performing as the glue in almost every sketch on the night, while Mikey appeared almost as much, but mostly in his straight-man roles. For sheer quality of performance, it came down to Ego Nwodim, Chloe Fineman and Bowen Yang, with Ego getting the edge.
She owned every single scene she was in on “The Black Lotus,” with the strongest character work of the whole sketch. She had us dying as the Na’vi queen, and managed to hold her own in smaller roles throughout the night whether playing it straight or screaming as a Miss Universe contestant.
“Saturday Night Live” returns next week with host Michael B. Jordan and musical guest Lil Baby.