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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Jennifer Lopez, Rockettes
Jennifer Lopez, Rockettes
Screenshot: Saturday Night Live
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“I like it when it’s mean but not about me.”

“I’m not an actor, I’m an [everything] star [and also very attractive]!”

Jennifer Lopez is 50. That’d be a rude thing to start of a review with, if Jennifer Lopez hadn’t come out for her monologue resplendent in a form-fitting tux (later quick-changed into that dress), told everyone she’s 50, and then run down exactly how successful and busy she’s been in this, her 50th year on this earth. (New upcoming album, new movie, Super Bowl halftime gig, fulfilling every Bronx girl’s dream of getting engaged to a Yankee, and so on.) Indeed, the whole episode followed up on the giant humblebrag that was the monologue (including Beck Bennett’s audience member literally losing his head over the whole “She’s 50?!” thing), piling on sketch after sketch predicated on the idea that Jennifer Lopez is a very, very attractive and accomplished woman. Not bragging if it’s true.

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Lopez has hosted SNL before (although not since 2010), and she’s certainly a capable actress. (Her performance in Hustlers might not eclipse her still-stellar turn in 1998's Out Of Sight, but she’s getting the Oscar buzz.) And if there’s a knock on her here it’s that she’s game, but not entirely comfortable onstage. The monologue was on rails right from the start, which kept the host at a certain remove, and the abrupt segue to the Rockettes Christmas musical number has a certain 1970s movie guest star sheen to it. Indeed, since I’m as old as Lopez., it put me in mind of Raquel Welch’s lone outing as host, in that the entire show from start to merciful finish was one long exercise in paying homage the guest star’s physicality and wattage. (Favorite anecdote: Bandleader Paul Schaffer being assigned as Welch’s fawning babysitter while the cast and writers tried in vain to come up with ways to make the wooden Welch look funny, and answering Welch’s queries about which of her indifferently sung torch songs should be her big number. I can hear showbiz lifer Shaffer’s voice telling her soothingly, “I don’t know Raquel, they’re all fabulous.”)

Luckily for everyone, Lopez is not Raquel, in the sense that her diva star power comes yoked to actual talents, even if, again, live TV doesn’t really seem to be her thing. The succession of sketches whose joke was all about how freaking gorgeous and, yes, fabulous Lopez is could have been off-putting, if she weren’t so in on the joke. (Look for the “J Lo. is fabulous” counter in the review to come.)

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Best/Worst sketch of the night

Another way Lopez defused some of the potential eye-rolling tonight was allowing herself to be upstaged by other performers. Sure, that repeatedly happened in sketches where the joke was “Jennifer Lopez is far too pretty for [premise],” but it kept working just fine. (JLo. is fabulous #2.) The surprise home makeover bit pivoted around Kenan Thompson’s host Becker Cheeks, as he was consistently unable to process the seemingly inexplicable marriage match of Lopez and Mikey Day’s Smurf-loving dweeb. The SNL template of goggling and pointing at how weird [sketch premise] is has no better salesman than Kenan, whose underplayed bafflement emerges in increasingly bemused asides. (“He’s into Smurfs?!,” he blurts upon seeing Day’s Brainy Smurf tramp stamp.) Still, the gag was built on pandering to just how amazing Jennifer Lopez is (she’s a human rights lawyer, had to ask Day three times to marry her, is willing to accept an open marriage, but just for him), while pounding away on Day’s incomprehensibly cocky mediocrity (Bennett’s carpenter plans for accessibility, assuming Lopez must be blind, while Bowen Yang’s equally baffled interior designer has to do a quick size check on Day’s penis, finding no answers there, either). Not a killer, by any means, but Kenan made it work, finally working himself into a confusion-stroke.

Along the same lines was the 1950s movie parody What Do You Figure Is Goin’ On In That House? Helped out with a lot more weirdness, the bit saw Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant chomping into some Joan Crawford-esque scheming as a pair of evil stepsisters, and Lopez getting to goof around a little more as the stunningly gorgeous sister who they’ve convinced is a grotesque attic-dweller. (JLo. is fabulous #3.) With a soldier-suitor on the way to call, the two mean sisters take turns either attempting to kill the other or convincing Lopez’s breathy bombshell that she’s a horrible goblin (which is why they’ve covered all the mirrors). It’s really Aidy and Kate’s sketch, as they ham it up in arch melodramatic style, all the while unspooling increasingly absurd machinations designed to keep Lopez under wraps when “the corporal” gets there, only to realize they’re just making her more ludicrously sexy. Trying to trigger her shellfish allergy only nets Lopez fuller lips, but the joke that they try to convince her the lobster she smooches is actually what a man really looks like is the funny part. And if there’s no turn to the joke (Lopez is still hot), the abrupt “Her!” from Bennett’s suitor immediately upon entering and seeing Lopez is a solid laugh to end on.

Then there’s the return of Pete Davidson’s Chad, where the joke is always that Chad’s diffidently grimy slacker charms are catnip to women and men who are way above him. (JLo. is fabulous #4.) As herself, rehearsing on an empty stage, Lopez is fatally smitten by roadie Chad, who, as ever, displays literally no redeeming qualities as a potential romantic fantasy object while responding to every tortured come-on with blank-faced, noncommittal agreeableness. Never as good as the first time, Chad yet always amuses, with Davidson’s role as inexplicable lust object seeming to hinge on some real-world self-parody, which lends the gag some juice. As templates go, it’s not a bad line to hang some silly gags on. While Lopez looks away in anguished temptation, her talk of making love to Chad on the stage cuts to Chade completely nude and ready, only to return a moment later with him quickly redressed upon her deciding not to. Chad doesn’t seem bothered either way. Throw in an A-Rod cameo, realizing that he just can’t compete with Chad, and that’s two guest-flattering gags for the price of one.

To be fair, there were a number of non-fabulous JLo. sketches, out of which the Potty PM commercial was the best. I’m all for the advertising industry skewering of SNL’s scatological product ads, as a rule, but this one, for a pee hose contraption that lets you whiz in your sleep, seemed destined to die a death. At least until it was revealed to be a Kyle Mooney special once Lopez turns up to ask how the product is supposed to work for women, and Mooney’s pitchman freezes up before revealing his complete and woeful unfamiliarity with how a human woman’s body works. It’s the sort of unexpected twist the bit needed, and the escalating panic of Mooney’s blithely ignorant inventor keeps tossing out increasingly outlandish details concerning the depths of his male bafflement. “A flap?,” he guesses feebly when Lopez asks how the alarmingly huge penis-cone is supposed to attach to female parts.

The ad for the mall-set Hoops earring kiosk gave Lopez (alongside Melissa Villaseñor) a crack at one of the show’s reliably funny local TV ads sketches, and both actresses made it work just fine. The jokes about the ubiquitous huge earrings being painfully irresistible to grabby-handed babies, the perfect accessory for taking off when about to throw down, and just the thing to make any woman look “like a rapper’s accountant” were anchored by Lopez and Melissa’s low-key character work. And the more out-there details helped push the sketch over the finish line, especially the choice of random words to hang inside the hoops (“diabetes” was my favorite), and Lopez’s promise that the hoops’ indeterminate metal composition would make the wearer’s ears “the color of money.”

Lopez, Davidson, Redd, and Kenan all took a shot at musical sketch glory and missed with the rap carolers bit, in which their intrusive singers demand cash from wealthy white homeowners in recompense for their inexplicably Home Alone-centric “late 1990s-early 2000s” rap. The mix on everyone’s vocals made the lyrics tough to parse in time for the jokes to land, and here’s to a City High shoutout, but there’s a queasy tinge to the asshole white family’s conviction that the carolers are only there to rob them turning out to be true (thanks to a DaBaby cameo). Still, Lopez, Kenan, and Redd were into their performances (Pete was present).

The store sketch was the host at her most uncomfortable, since she was expected to just be one of the gals staffing the counter at rural Wisconsin’s most heavily accented hardware emporium. Still, as she, McKinnon, and Cecily Strong took turns mangling the regional mannerisms, they managed to toss in a few funny touches, especially at the expense of the visiting “citiots” who don’t secure their trash in bear country. Even that clowning around wasn’t buoying things appreciably, so why not throw in a guy in a bear suit, actually mangling Chloe Fineman’s spooky “Rapunzel-slash-Nell,” who came with the store, and who scurries around fulfilling orders like a hellful ghost from The Ring. If your sketch isn’t taking off, at least get weird with it. Props.

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Weekend Update update

Usual caveats that SNL should either sharpen up its political comedy in the face of ludicrously mock-able national crisis or just bail on it entirely aside, it’s always energizing when Jost or Che seems appreciative how how well the other is doing. It was Jost’s turn tonight, as Che tipped his cap to his partner getting bigger laughs for marginally tougher material.

That SNL’s own template for The Daily Show only spent about three one-liners on the looming impeachment scandal would be baffling if it didn’t smack of editorial decision, but Jost got some traditionally Che-esque gasp-laughs tonight with a couple of them. The joke from Catholic Jost about Trump just “being moved to another parish” by the church for all his ongoing sins had some zip on it, and if his joke about Rudy Giuliani, GOP lapdog Devin Nunes (R-CA), and over-the-top Russian goon Lev Parnas turned on essentially calling them retarded via a Forrest Gump joke, it at least laid out the newest(?) blatantly corrupt and incompetent wrinkle in the Trump-GOP-Russia saga in some detail on national TV. Same goes for his cutaway joke about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s seemingly-forgotten blackface scandal—as with the cold open, turning a Trump joke into a Trudeau slam is some questionable targeting. But fair is fair—don’t do blackface, dipshits.

Kate McKinnon brought out her Nancy Pelosi for some Christmas prayers on behalf of Donald Trump, as her recent dust-up with bad-faith baiter James Rosen of Sinclair Broadcasting (or “Breitbart Ryan Seacrest”) allowed McKinnon to ply some mannerism-mockery of Pelosi’s staring eyes and sonorous scolding while simultaneously smacking Trump around nearly as ably as does the real House Speaker. Accused by Jost of prayerful passive-aggression, McKinnon’s Pelosi explained patiently that some of them were just plain old aggressive, which tracks with the overwhelmingly positive response to a Democrat finally slapping around a right-wing “journalist” trying to spin impeachment into a partisan issue. And if McKinnon occasionally looked and sounded more like a Christine Baranski character than Pelosi, her prayers had some snap to them. Telling off those criticizing her for holding Trump accountable for all the treason and such, McKinnon compared it to a lifeguard getting blamed for alerting bathers that a “rich kid took a dook in the deep end,” and beseeched God to teach Trump that the Golden Rule “isn’t a sex thing.” Continuing on to pray for the Trump Organization, since it’s still run by Eric (“Yikes.”), and wishing a gay, black baby on noted GOP lickspittle-bigot Lindsey Graham (R-SC) just capped off a pretty satisfying bit that mixed character work and on-target satire for a change.

And then there was Beck Bennett’s return as Jules. Oh, Beck, buddy, I like you. I really do. And getting a recurring character is a feather in the old SNL cap, I get that. But there’s a fragile, easily missed line between parody-insufferable and just plain insufferable, and Jules always stumbles right over it. The joke that the rich ne’er-do-well Jules’ (who lives in his dad’s pool house after a last-straw cocaine incident) performative wokeness is just hot air from a dilettante layabout smacks less of trenchant satire than serviceable character work in service of a lame concept, and, again, I feel my will to tolerate Jules equally nil on either level.

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“What do you call that act?” “‘The Californians!’”—Recurring sketch report

Jules. Pelosi. Chad. Trump. I don’t know why Reese De’What didn’t introduce What Do You Figure Is Goin’ On In That House?, but I’m not here to complain about SNL choosing not to return to any particular well. Putting almost any repeater in the ten-to-one spot seems like a cop-out, though. See below. Then there’s . . .

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“It was my understanding there would be no math”—Political comedy report

Kenan’s Darius Trump remains a one-joke premise that’s outgrown its aging Empire inspiration, but also remains one pretty potent, quick-hit joke. That the star of Them Trumps finds his similarly slimy dealings tolerated only until the public realizes a black president can’t get away with that sort of shit in America never changes, but it doesn’t really need to, since Kenan’s on the case. Making philandering, double-dealing, self-serving treasonous influence peddling, and the like the provenance of only white would-be billionaire creeps stays fresh, the sameness of the gag always refreshed by the bluntness of the punchline.

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After that, if you’re going to toss Alec Baldwin’s gassy Trump back out there for the cold open, might as well call in some favors, I suppose. While the opening crawl went on too long in Phantom Menace-style over-exposition mode in setting up a sketch about world leaders being caught on-camera mocking the hell out of an American president for being a bloviating dimwit, the sketch itself did bring out Paul Rudd (as Emmanuel Macron), Jimmy Fallon (as Trudeau), and James Corden (as Boris Johnson), which at least brought some recognition applause to the enterprise. The joke of the NATO cafeteria being home to high school-style cool table vs. dorks drama might be a crafty satire of the debasement of international political discourse under the influence of noted abusive toilet-tweeter Donald Trump. Or it might just be an easy joke that questionably casts Trump as the picked-upon underdog, bedeviled by the bullying world leader jocks whose captured laughter at Trump’s incoherent, dangerous nonsense is portrayed as just them being big ol’ meanies.

Either way, there were at least a few laughs, especially from the effortlessly watchable Rudd. Corden was actually fairly restrained (for him), as Johnson, his grudging acceptance at the cool table only coming about because he’s not quite as ridiculous as his American counterpart in racist buffonery. Throw in Kate McKinnon’s dorky (but invited to sit out of spite) Angela Merkel, still pining over Obama and debating whether or not to bring her flugelhorn, and at least it left Baldwin’s Trump the sketch’s fifth banana. (Even Alex Moffat’s sensible but excluded Latvian leader got more laughs than Baldwin.) The capper that the whole melodrama was part of First Lady Melania’s tone-deaf “Be Best” anti-bullying campaign at least tried to make some sense of the satirical muddle, but, if SNL’s plan for this both-sides regretted Baldwin experiment is to load up on the guests, then at least that’ll be worth a chuckle or two.

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I am hip to the musics of today

DaBaby is just fun as hell. Here’s to bringing the showmanship, what with the mime-ninjas, and the back-flipping dance crew, and someone I can’t but call, with deepest admiration, Handstand Twerk Lady. The Charlotte rapper’s two numbers were choreographed to the nines, and DaBaby triumphed over some mid-song mic troubles to remain a gleefully energetic ringmaster to all the movement around him. Can you have too much Handstand Twerk Lady? It seems not.

Most/Least Valuable Not Ready For Prime Time Player

Nobody was conspicuously absent tonight, which is refreshing. Heidi Gardner should be in more stuff, and it remains puzzling why impression-happy SNL is keeping its two most proficient celebrity impersonators on the bench in Melissa Villaseñor and Chloe Fineman, but at least all three got some welcome screen time. Chris Redd and Ego Nwodim, too, should be on more. (I’m blaming guest star-itis.)

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Kate had Merkel, Pelosi, and her over-the-top 50’s movie star, along with that Wisconsin accent, so she tallies up enough points to take the top spot again.

What the hell is that thing?”—Ten-To-Oneland report

Sure, SNL could be more adventurous overall, conceptually, but at least give us our traditional last sketch to marvel at the one sketch a week where someone’s weird ideas can get some just-under-the-wire airtime. Putting a middling recurring sketch at the end of a show is a guaranteed disappointment. Even something as reliably funny and occasionally inspired as “Whiskers R We” doesn’t truly belong on this hallowed, much-maligned ground. Oh well. The spin class sketch—apart from allowing Ego Nwodim t0 show what a relaxed and confident performer she can be when given a chance—was amusing enough once more, the parade of gung-ho would-be trainers letting slip one or two decently oddball details about themselves in their sweaty exhortations. Bowen Yang’s instructor takes inspiration from all the wrong celebrity murderers, Cecily Strong’s reveal that her vasectomy-having boyfriend only uses condoms “to be funny” raises questions, and Bennett’s Beef asks, “Have you ever been cheated on? It sucks—just ask my girlfriend.” I like that there’s, once more, a little frame around the bit in the form of Mikey Day’s completely unwanted pursuit of Nwodim’s fellow student (and future step-sister), but this just isn’t weird enough for weirdsville.

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Stray observations

  • Both the opening sketch and Che mentioned how Donald Trump’s recent attacks on climate change science involved complaining about how hard it is to flush away your crap in water-saving toilets. You know, because we are living in a world created when the worst comedy writer in history made a wish.
  • Che joking that Spotify most-popular artist Post Malone eclipsed last year’s champ Pre Malone is a rehash of an old Norm MacDonald Update line, but I laughed anyway.
  • McKinnon and Aidy’s jealous sisters reject Lopez’s suggestion that they make her ugly by stuffing a sausage into her mouth. “That seems like something.”
  • Darius Trump’s “Make America Swag Again” acronym is a sly little joke on its own.
  • Jost, on that Peloton ad, suggests a motto: “You’d better keep it tighter than the babysitter.”
  • Che suggests that the XFL is skipping the inevitable middle man and sending its new jerseys right to Haiti.
  • McKinnon’s Pelosi prays for God to put Trump under that Liar Liar curse, explaining, “C’mon, Lord, even you know that’d be funny.”
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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.

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