Published Mar 11, 2018Sterling K. Brown is a two-time Emmy winner, for The People Vs. O.J. Simpson, and This Is Us. For his first time hosting Saturday Night Live, he dove deep into his extensive bag of tricks as a character actor, appearing in nearly every sketch and pre-tape in the entire episode, and his efforts elevated a pretty good week.
The Cold Open
A parody of the trainwreck Bachelor finale features Cecily Strong as rejected candidate Becca, and Kate McKinnon as Robert Mueller, who has to break it to Becca that he can't give her what she wants: a Trump indictment on collusion. He just has stronger feelings about obstruction. It's essentially a recreation of the viral breakup, substituting political disappointments, a premise that's a little thin without a stronger break from the surreal source material.
Sterling K. Brown plays up his reputation as an emotional character actor in a short, fairly funny monologue, earnestly choking up at the prospect of hosting SNL. He riffs off of his hit TV show, announcing a spinoff where a black family adopts a white child, called This Us? When Leslie Jones arrives to move it along, he gets her emotional as well.
Celebrity Family Feud
One of the reliable regulars for a string of celebrity impressions, this Oscars edition of Celebrity Family Feud features winners vs. losers. McKinnon's Frances McDormand is smiling but not happy, and has two words for everyone: burlap dress. Jordan Peele (Chris Redd) explains that after a few years, he had to move on from sketch comedy to pursue other creative projects, prompting a great pause from Kenan Thompson as host Steve Harvey: "You do? How many years?" On the losing side, Common (Brown) keeps breaking into verse that Harvey alternately calls a TED talk set to music, and a combination of church and school. A reliable joke delivery mechanism.
This Is U.S.
A pre-tape parody set in the White House, This Is U.S. stars Sarah Huckabee Sanders (Aidy Bryant), Ben Carson (Brown) and a drunk, shirtless Jared Kushner (Pete Davidson) and involves a whole lot of crying. As the voiceover promises, it's "like This Is Us, but without the parts that feel good." It's a great gag based on the title alone, and is filled, I'm sure, with accurate references to a drama I've never seen.
The Shrek Argument
At a dinner with parents (Bryant, Beck Bennett), daughter (Melissa Villaseñor) and beau (Brown), Bryant expresses her love for recent Oscar winner Coco. This sets off Brown, who rapidly escalates an argument that Shrek is the greatest animated movie ever made, and calling any objections bullying. The whole thing rests on the performance from Sterling K. Brown, and it's… fine.
It Came From the Woods
A group on a camping trip encounters a Sasquatch in this pre-tape. Sterling K Brown, because he's watched a lot of nature shows, guides Mikey Day's interactions with disastrous results. It's a lot of premise before it devolves into some quite funny physical comedy-violence against Day, as the Sasquatch escalates ways to humiliate him.
Waify New Romantic James Bay offers up a fairly light and largely empty pop confection called "Pink Lemonade" that's only notable because of his resemblance to '80s icon Feargal Sharkey, which, based on that reference, prompted in me the kind of age-related tangent that late-night TV watching encourages.
He follows that up with "Wild Love," which is decidedly not wild; he is standing on a glass floor that reveals a deep, lit cavern beneath the stage — a feature they should take advantage of more often.
Colin Jost and Michael Che continue to make comedy hay from the Trump administration, which is of course the anchor of why "Weekend Update" has been SNL's most consistent feature in a creatively up-and-down season. The proposed meeting between Kim Jong-Un and "whoever's President in May" dominated before Eric and Donald Trump Jr. visited. There wasn't anything new to Alex Moffat's Eric mirroring the hand movements of brother Don Jr. (Mikey Day) and randomly blurting out daddy's indiscretions, but playing with a pop-up book with pretty fun. A truly welcome surprise came in the form of meteorologist Dawn Lazarus (former cast member Vanessa Bayer) to update the East coast weather situation with some of her signature gibberish forecasting and "hap." In 2004, Dawn Lazarus would have had her own spin-off movie and I would gone to see it.
Black Panther Deleted Scenes
Black Panther (Chris Redd) visits his ancestors on the astral plane, including recently deceased BBQ-ing loudmouth Uncle Umbutu (Kenan Thompson), whose antics are ruining the afterlife for everyone else. It's a pretty typical sketch highlighted by Sterling Brown and Leslie Jones nearly breaking when Kenan spits out a bite of "lion meat burger."
Beck Bennett is at a checkup with doctor Sterling Brown, who gets way too interested in Bennett's love life while taking a medical history. His over-the-top enthusiasm escalates until he's insisting that Bennett commit to a long-term relationship and he's sent off with a suit and flowers. Brown's committed performance makes the most of what's here.
In one of the funnier sketches of the night, Cecily Strong gives a great performance as a Southern Christian script supervisor who's called upon to read lines with Sterling Brown as he shoots his closeup scenes in a movie. Because of her "upbringing," Strong self-edits the curse-laden script, which constantly throws him off. When he can't look at her, she puts a bag over her head and when he's shooting an emotional scene alone, she badly sings the wrong words to Adele's "Hello" because it will play over the scene. Great job.
Rock n' Rap
Kyle Mooney stars in a pre-tape as Chris Fitzgerald, a rock fan who prompts people to declare rock music's superiority over rap in a series of street interviews. Even as a character piece, it has a kinda ugly, racially charged undertone, even as it turns into the idiot brainstorming about putting rap and rock together "for the first time in music history."
In an extremely silly final sketch, Melissa Villaseñor is dying from a fatal accident that turns out to have occurred at a Nickelback show, and she's only gathered her family together to hear her final words: the lyrics to "How You Remind Me." An appropriately bizarre conclusion.
Pre-order James Bay's upcoming album Electric Light on standard CD and deluxe red vinyl bundle via Umusic.