Saturday Night Live Review: Ariana Grande Hosts
Ariana Grande is shiny haired and beautiful and also fully believes in ghosts and one time licked a donut in a display case, and honestly, I’m kind of a fan of her whole weird vibe. Additionally, I enjoy how she has a tiny speaking voice and a huge singing voice, like Sister Mary Robert from Sister Act. And although tonight’s sketches were a little hit or miss, Ariana handled her hosting/musical guest double duty fairly well. Let’s dig in!
Cold Open: CNN reporter Jake Tapper cuts between coverage of Donald Trump’s rally with Ben Carson and an interview with Bernie Sanders. Listen, I was going to miss Jay Pharaoh’s Dr. Ben Carson impersonation as much as the next SNL reviewer, but I would have rather never seen him again than watch another former Republican candidate throw his support behind this orange monster who won’t go away. Admittedly, though, it was nice to see Pharaoh’s “positively turnt” Carson one more time, even in dire circumstances. We also got some standout Trump digs, my favorite being Trump yelling at his crowd who had just attacked Ben Carson, “Guys, what did I say? Not this one! This is one of the good ones!” But I will continue to point out every time SNL takes a dig at Trump this season: not only was the decision to have him host an offensive and blatant attempt at high ratings for a show that will never get cancelled anyway, but it was also fairly short-sided. Perhaps the gang at SNL assumed Trump would be dropping out of the race soon after his hosting gig (Ah, October 2015: a simpler time), but clearly they were wrong. So now they’re stuck mocking him more and more scathingly every week while the tell-tale heart of the ratings boost they gave him beats beneath the Studio 8H floorboards.
The standout of tonight’s opener, though, was Larry David’s return as Bernie Sanders, apologizing for his followers ruining everyone’s Facebook feeds (PREACH) and bragging about how his voters are “a very diverse group of white people. I’ve got supporters of all ages: 18 year olds, 19 year olds. . . That’s it.” This felt like the first time David’s Sanders impersonation had delved into the details of Bernie’s demographic, rather than focus on his cheap and grumpy old man vibe. But sometimes there’s nothing wrong with just making a joke about his weird vibe, particularly when that joke involves him immediately removing his suit post-interview to reveal the pajamas he always wears underneath (“that’s why my suits are so big”) because “it’s bedtime, you idiot.” B+
Monologue: Ariana Grande announces her intention to finally accomplish her ultimate goal: being involved in a real, adult celebrity scandal. Okay, fine, I’ll say it: I ENJOYED A MUSICAL MONOLOGUE. Partially because it is much more sensible to do a musical monologue with a host who is also a musical guest, and partially because it was a pretty fun and charming concept. Ariana sold it with her doe-eyed deadpan, and the cast members popping in throughout were genuinely funny, with Pete Davidson’s look of instant fear upon Ariana suggesting they smoke crack together, and Kenan’s lament that after being “on this show for thirteen damn years” people still ask him “once a week, ‘Where’s Kel?’” (“Oh I loved you guys!” Ariana replies, “Do you keep in touch?” “A LITTLE BIT!” shouts Kenan). Other than Grande’s opening line, “I’m Ariana Grande, and I’m a singer, not a Starbucks drink” (that sounds like a line an SNL writer would write for a fake cheesy comedian), this was a good opener. B+
Hillary Clinton Millennial Ad: Hillary Clinton makes an appeal to millennials by claiming she has the same platform as Bernie Sanders . . . and then the same hometown . . . and then the same clothes and hair . . . until finally she appears to have transformed into Senator Sanders in a desperate bid for young voters. There’s not much to say about this except that I thought it was great. Though Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton impersonation has always revolved around the concept that Hillary is desperately willing to adapt to please voters, specifying that right now she mainly has to convince young people that she is essentially a female Bernie Sanders was a great update, and her slow descent into a full-on physical and vocal Bernie Sanders transformation was just the weird touch needed to pull it off. A
Kids’ Choice Awards Preshow: Two red carpet hosts and a behind the scenes host at the Kids’ Choice Awards red carpet attempt to announce the beginning of the official awards ceremony, but the countdown clock in the screen keeps resetting itself to longer and longer intervals, leaving them awkwardly trying to come up with material to fill the dead space. I feel like this sketch was constantly building to something that never happened. Modern SNL tends to like its sketch endings over the top (this can be both good and bad), so I guess I just assumed this would end with one of the hosts vomiting or something. Instead, they just all looked nervous and then posed in a consistently (but not increasingly) dramatic fashion. The sketch had its moments-- namely Bobby Moynihan’s crew member revealing that he wishes he got to make the slime, but his only job is to put a straw fedora on Blake Shelton-- but it never felt quite complete to me. Also, if we’re going to have Kenan and Ariana discuss their Nickelodeon pasts in the monologue, how do we put Taran Killam in a Nickelodeon-based sketch without discussing his star turns on the Amanda Show?! The Moody Point truthers are out there! C
Not a Feminist Song: The women of SNL have gathered to write an anthem for feminism, but they gradually realize that is a very tricky proposition, so they settle for something less political. Ladies of SNL killing it again with another music video. It’s interesting to watch the two major descendants of the Lonely Island Digital Shorts be the absurdist Good Neighbor shorts and the more streamlined ladies’ music videos. Both work well, and it’s kind of fun to see two different groups taking two different ideas from their recent predecessors (Good Neighbor as “Lettuce,” and the Ladies as “I’m on a Boat,” if you will). This was another great entry for the female cast, from the tampon commercial aesthetics of the video to their increasingly nervous lyrics (“here’s a bunch of lens flares/ and an old woman’s hands/ not to call a woman old/ or judge a woman’s hands/ ‘cause a woman should not be reduced to just her hands”). My only complaint is that I felt like the lyrics could have gotten a bit more specific-- maybe they could have had the girls sing about specific girl power topics covered in female music, then backtrack on why it wouldn’t work. The funniest part of the sketch to me was that weirdly specific moment about the old woman’s hands; it might have been nice to have a bit more of that specificity throughout. A-
True Tales From the Sea: Three shipwrecked sailors are saved by an equal number of mermaids, but one sailor is disappointed to learn that his mermaid, unlike her beautiful sisters, is “65% blobfish,” with the face to prove it. This sketch was very silly, but it had two heroes who carried it through: 1. The SNL makeup department, who transformed Kate McKinnon so thoroughly into a “35% woman, 65% blobfish” that for a hot second I got excited, thinking Jon Rudnitsky (New Guy!) was popping into the scene (No such luck. Sorry, New Guy!) Alas, it was Kate McKinnon, looking honestly terrifying, but impressively so. 2. Kate McKinnon, a national treasure we must all work to protect, better than we protected the national treasure the U.S. Constitution in the movie National Treasure. I mean, the name Shud (sp?) alone is stunning, but McKinnon’s deadpan delivery of every weird line (“A blobfish has two mouths: one for breathing and one for food absorption”) really brought it home. B+
Weekend Update: Update contained quite a few solid jokes tonight (listed below in the thoughts!) as well as two very good guests. First was Cecily Strong as “The Drunkest Contestant on the Bachelor.” She gave some of the best comedic drunk acting I’ve ever seen (not always an easy feat!), and her frequent demands for attention paired with her constant insistence that she wasn’t crazy was a frighteningly accurate Bachelor contestant impersonation. Also appreciated Colin’s insistence, in response to the contestant’s flirtation, that “If Leslie Jones finds out about this, we’re both dead.”
Our second guest was Bobby Moynihan’s Riblet, who I think is best served by minimal explanation and analyzation. That is a compliment, by the way; Riblet’s appeal is based in how random he is, with his tenuous high school relationship to Che, his voice, his pigtails. You have to let it wash over you like the rain. (Sometimes, though, I do like to imagine the late night writing session that led to the creation of Riblet. My current theory is that Bobby Moynihan found some of those click on cheerleading ponytails in a drawer somewhere and stuck one on each side of his head, and the rest is history).
Tidal Streaming Music Headquarters: When several playlists on the Tidal site crash, it is up to Tidal intern Chloe to save the day by imitating the various pop divas whose stations have gone down. Ariana Grande is good at musical impersonations. You have probably seen her doing them on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. But now you can see her do them again-- and this time she’s wearing glasses! The concept here could have made a lot more sense-- I’m still not sure how intern Chloe singing spot-on karaoke saved Tidal-- but it is fun watching Ariana’s musical impersonations, and intern Chloe the secret popstar was a perfect character to utilize her Sister Mary Robert voices. It didn’t have many true jokes-- there were a lot more applause lines than laugh lines-- but I understand the impulse to put it in, even if it was a little spotty. B
Celebrity Family Feud: A group of celebrities, from Jennifer Lawrence to Tilda Swinton to Kevin Smith, gather to play Family Feud. It’s a bit of a cheap move to put on a celebrity game show sketch just to give cast members a chance to break out their best impersonations, but this one was worth it for Ariana Grande’s surprisingly impressive (and fairly cutting) Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence is a genuinely good actor and I think her “real girl” shtick comes from a genuine place, but I did appreciate Ariana’s takedown of skinny girls who often discuss eating whole cans of Pringles (fun fact, dear readers: I ate a half a can of Pringles as I wrote this review! That’s right: I’VE BEEN JENNIFER LAWRENCE THE WHOLE TIME!). As for other notable impressions, Taran Killam’s Quentin Tarantino made me feel super uncomfortable, so that’s how I know he did a good job, and also I’m pretty sure New Guy! played Scorsese, though I also thought he was Kate McKinnon as a blobfish mermaid so maybe don’t quote me on that. Outside of the Tarantino and Lawrence imitations (and Kenan’s consistently strange and excellent Steve Harvey), I didn’t find any of the other characters to be too much to write home about. But it was an overall pleasant game show parody, which is not great when done badly, but when done well enough is like the recently dried sheets of SNL.
The Sound of Music: The head nuns at Maria’s convent sing of their disappointment in her, not realizing she could hear them from around the corner. Maria then takes it upon herself to inform her sisters of the serious offense she has taken at their conversation. It surprised me to realize when this sketch was over that it was the last of the episode; it felt much less loose and/or unfinished than many final sketches do, and I think it could have played well earlier in the night as well. Ariana did really well in this one, with her angry rhythmic clapping providing hilarious character detail. Also, shout out to Aidy Bryant with that super dramatic final song line, and basically just consistently crushing her nun character in this scene. Overall, a genuinely fun way to end the night. B+
Quotes, Extras, and Final Thoughts:
I really appreciate Larry David’s commitment to pronounce Jake Tapper’s last name as “Tap-uh.” The devil’s in the details, my friend.
Why aren’t black voters more supportive of Bernie? ““Probably because I look like somebody who at one point told them, ‘Get out of my store!’”
Ben Carson discusses Trump’s black friends: “Omarosa, Dennis Rodman,” “The list goes on,” “Mike Tyson,” “The list ends.
Hillary recommends ”lending your support to the only outsider Jew in the race: Hillary Rodham Clinton”
For real, the people who do the pretaped stuff for this show are underrated. That music video looked amazing.
Thoughts on the Musical Guest: Ariana has a lovely voice, but more importantly those outfits. I would like a lot more information on that first outfit in terms of what appeared to be a coat made for a single arm. And the second one was basically a Halloween costume for Sexy Rachel McAdams in Spotlight and I was hardcore here for it. This has been Thoughts on the Musical Guest
Michael Che on Sanders’s campaign: “Bernie Sanders spent 48 cents per vote. It would have been a dollar, but he had a coupon”
Che shows a photo of a pro-Trump counter-protestor: “You won’t see me at some goofy nazi prom getting punched in the face by some strong-ass 80 year old racist. Look at this guy, he’s been dreaming of punching a black dude since the first time he heard jazz on the radio”
The Drunkest Bachelor Contestant opens up to Colin: ““I felt a connection with you, Colin, ever since I saw an opportunity to be on TV”
Intern Chloe garbles her way through Rihanna’s Work: “Was that ok? I truly don’t know what she’s saying.” Nor do any of us, Chloe.
Jennifer Lawrence on Family Feud: “They told me not to do a game show but I was like screw it, I can have fun, I’m a regular person”
Sasheer Zamata’s nun defends her use of Will of the Whisp: “Oh I didn’t mean it like that. I meant it like, “You’re my will of the whisp, girl!