This week’s episode of Saturday Night Live perfectly represents the theme of the sketch show’s entire season. It was an uneven night with some head-scratching moments. A couple sketches worked, but most didn’t.
Host Peter Dinklage gave it his all and impressed with high energy throughout the evening, but he wasn’t given many opportunities to shine. This has been the case in most of this 41st season. The actors and actresses to grace the stage as host have been hung out to dry by subpar writing a sketch premises.
The political cold open set its sights on Trump like so many cold opens before it. Look, I’m not saying Trump shouldn’t be the target of political satire, but you need to come up with a creative way to make fun of him when every late night show has him in the crosshairs on a nightly basis. Trump is sexist. We get it. Now come up with a new way to make that funny.
Dinklage’s monologue highlighted the success of Game of Thrones with Bobby Moynihan playing series creator George R. Martin. The monologue poked fun at George being in no rush to finish the next book and his apparent focus on the show over the book.
Once the sketches started rolling, it was clear that there wasn’t going to be a single water cooler moment from the episode. Each sketch reeked of one that would be seen later in the episode, maybe even one that would air at 10 to 1 o’clock. Things kicked off with a sketch with the cast from Winnie The Pooh. It was Pooh’s birthday who was played by Dinklage. Joining the birthday celebration was Pooh’s cousin known as “Denny the Real,” a straight talking bear played by Jay Pharoah. The street-wise Denny pointed out the ridiculous character’s in Pooh’s life, while trying to get him out of Pooh corner. The first sketch has so much riding on it. It needs to grab the audience and convince them to stick around for the following hour. This failed to do that on nearly every level.
The first sketch was followed by the first of two pre-recorded sketch of the night. It was a spoof on the show Naked and Afraid. The twist: it was celebrity edition starring Peter Dinklage and Leslie Jones. Maybe you have to be a fan of the actual show, but the spoof didn’t have any clever moments. It was Leslie Jones being her boisterous self and Dinklage trying to rebuff her advances. That’s a weak premise to build off of, but there wasn’t much building even attempted. Plus, there was some pretty poor product placement for Frank’s Red Hot in there.
The next sketch was the only one of the night that gave Dinklage something to do and made him the comedic driving force behind the premise. The scene was a meeting of mobsters and a classic Italian restaurant. The typical piano player who delivers ambiance was replaced by an 80’s-style, space-obsessed character played by Dinklage. The song was all about his “space pants.” Unfortunately, the sketch didn’t go anywhere after that. It was a good idea with a good premise, but nothing was added to make it a sketch. The Gwen Stefani cameo was a nice bonus, though.
The sketch involving glory holes was one of the edgiest SNL bits in recent memories. The sketch involved a double date with New Yorkers and friends visiting from out of town. The restaurant was a former sex club repurposed as an eatery. But one thing stuck around from the previous place of business: the glory holes. All the food was served through the holes, including long loafs of bread. The visual gag of Dinklage and Aidy Bryant chowing down on whatever food came through the hole was excellent. It was quite an adult premise even by SNL standards.
The second pre-recorded sketch as probably supposed to be the biggest talking point from the episode. It was a Game of Thrones spoof that gave a behind-the-scenes look at the upcoming season. The production was a spot-on replica of HBO’s docu-style, but, once again, the premise lets the moment down. The joke is that it’s impossible for the actors to interact with a guy in a mocap suit who has to be in the scenes as the dragons. Bobby Moynihan expressed some strong physical comedy moments, but the idea behind the sketch just wasn’t very funny.
Weekend Update has gone from being a grown-fest to the highlight of each episode. Jost and Che have found their groove after a very long, very bumpy testing period. It didn’t seem like they’d ever get there, but they have officially arrived. Both of their riffing between punchlines gave the SNL mainstay a personality that had been lacking for a season. Pete Davidson stopped by to talk about Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit, which was funny, but not very focused. But the best part was the return of Kenan Thompson’s Big Papi. I don’t know why his food-loving gibberish-spitting impression is so great. I just know it’s always hilarious. This one was no exception, but he did overstay its welcome for such a one-note character.
There was a lot wrong with this episode of SNL, but that’s not Dinklage’s fault. He gave his all to trying to breathe life into lifeless material. So many hosts have tried to accomplish this feat all season, but it’s not possible. The sketch material has to be there in order for SNL to thrive.