After two so-so efforts to start the season, Saturday Night Live finally delivered the first must-watch episode of season 47 this weekend with host Rami Malek and musical guest Young Thug. Early in the episode, I feared it would be the opposite—Malek has a stilted way of speaking and incredibly specific performance energy, which has worked well in intense shows like Mr. Robot. His “resting villain face,” as he put it in the Monologue, is great for playing antagonists, but would it work for live comedy or would it just seem out of place?
Thankfully, his actorly energy ended up working more often than not, especially in a pair of episode-ending sketches that were the best of the season so far. My favorite was Mattress Store, in which Malek and Aidy Bryant are a couple who are very committed to role-playing while shopping for a new mattress.
I also loved the 10-to-1 sketch Angelo, a surreal showcase for new featured player Aristotle Athari that felt fully-formed, like a character Athari maybe used to audition for the show. Malek got to shake some ribbons and really lean into his weird presence as Angelo’s improv partner Todd, and Daniel Craig cameoed as a confused patron.
Craig also showed up toward the end of another favorite sketch of mine, Prince Audition, in which Malek and Kenan Thompson (playing themselves) auditioned to play Prince in a Jordan Peele biopic—it mostly consisted of them making funny faces and gestures to the opening lick of “Kiss,” and it worked like a charm.
Malek was my least favorite part of Bug Assembly, but that barely mattered because this sketch was an unbelievably hilarious showcase for Bowen Yang as Daddy Long Legs.
Celeb School Game Show was a really fun chance for lots of the cast to show off some good impressions. That included Chloe Fineman’s freakishly accurate Jennifer Coolidge, James Austin Johnson’s terrifying Adam Driver, Melissa Villaseñor’s brilliant Kristen Wiig, Bowen Yang’s saucy George Takei, Mikey Day’s effervescent John Oliver, and Chris Redd’s happy-go-lucky Lil Wayne (who thinks he’s on a completely different game show). To top it off, Rami Malek played Pete Davidson and Davidson played Malek; neither was very good at doing an impression, but it is true they sort of look alike.
Of course, it wasn’t a perfect episode—there were at least two sketches that did not work for me at all. Despite there being lots of “good” (a.k.a. horrific) NFL material to work with, The Football Press Conference Cold Open fell flat (it didn’t help that Colin Jost is such a dull presence in sketches), though Alex Moffat, Heidi Gardner, James Austin Johnson and Kenan Thompson did their best to make it work.
And the big country parody song Squid Game, which I imagine will be the most popular clip of the week online, was my least favorite kind of music sketch—a plot summary of an insanely popular piece of culture with little in the way of jokes.
There were three cut-for-time sketches this week, two of which should have been in the episode: the best was Please Don’t Destroy-Rami Wants A Treat, the second sketch from the show’s new writer troupe. It was even better than their SNL debut last week—they really got how best to use Malek—and it is confounding that this two-and-a-half minute sketch didn’t make it to air.
Superhosts, in which Malek and Cecily Strong play incredibly needy, possibly psychotic Airbnb hosts, had tons of good lines and moments, though I at least can understand why the show needed to cut a five minute sketch.
And the last one was Brutal Marriage Movie, a pre-taped parody of TV shows and films depicting disintegrating heterosexual marriages (most specifically Scenes From A Marriage and Marriage Story). This one was solid, and many other weeks probably would have deserved a spot on the show, but didn’t quite bring anything more to the premise other than slightly exaggerating the excruciatingly overwrought drama.
There were three guests on Weekend Update, and one was one of the highlights of the entire show this week: Bowen Yang played A Proud Gay Oompa Loompa who came on to talk about Timothée Chalamet’s role as Willy Wonka, but instead had to deal with being outed by on national television by Colin Jost. This is among his best Update performances yet, right up there with his Titanic Iceberg character from last season.
Chris Redd appeared as himself in a bit that was meandering and confusing at first (he was talking about blimp drivers?) until it became clear that this was all prelude to a very funny callback to something he said in February 2020.
And also good was hypnotist Linus Minus (Mikey Day) bringing Kenan Thompson, playing an SNL security guard, to give a hypnosis demonstration. Three-for-three on Weekend Update guests this week! I told you it was a good episode.
Young Thug, whose great new album Punk came out last Friday, performed infectious single “Tick Tock” (with Travis Barker pounding away on the drums) and “More Than Anything,” featuring Gunna and fun. singer Nate Ruess.
Next weekend, longtime cast member Jason Sudeikis will return to host for the first time, with musical guest Brandi Carlile also making her debut.