June 16, 2024

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The Best and Worst of Lizzo’s Hosting Debut

This week’s “Saturday Night Live” saw Lizzo join this season’s ranks of first-time hosts, pulling double duty a la Billie Eilish. (Next week’s “SNL” will actually be a rerun of this season’s Eilish episode.) Lizzo had been on “SNL” as just a musical guest before, which allowed for the excellent “Aidy B & Cardi B” follow-up, the cut for time “Aidy Bizzo & Lizzo” sketch. Now as both host and musical guest, Lizzo was able to play more than just herself throughout an episode, showing off that charisma that’s made her such an undeniable star.

Host: Lizzo

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One thing about Lizzo is that she radiates positive, fun, light energy. As Aidy Bryant realized in “Aidy Bizzo & Lizzo,” that type of thing is empowering. That radiant, empowering energy was obviously present in the opening monologue, where Lizzo talked about being “50% that bitch, 10% boss bitch, and 40% flute playing, band nerd bitch.” (For those watching unfamiliar with Lizzo, that last one — as well as her mention of her TED Talk about twerking — at least set the stage for the penultimate sketch of the episode. Although, if you were unfamiliar with Lizzo, you probably didn’t expect the flute playing and the twerking to go together like that. To quote the Black Eyed Peas, “Mazel tov!”)

While the “bitch” count bit of the monologue wasn’t the strongest aspect of the whole thing, it also thankfully wasn’t the meat of the piece. Instead, the monologue was set up to show just how psyched and grateful Lizzo was to be hosting the show, with that excitement clear in every sketch, whether she was breaking or not.

After last week had yet another game show parody, immediately cutting from the monologue to the “Trivia Game Show” sketch (with the game show “Guess That”) seemed like it was time to buckle in for another dud. It’s not that game show sketches are inherently bad on “SNL” — quite the contrary, actually — but as mentioned in last week’s review, after this season’s Zoe Kravtiz episode, each game show sketch since has had yet to be even a fraction as funny as the terrific “Word Crunch.” “Trivia Game Show,” however, was the closest, especially once both Ego Nwodim and Chris Redd’s characters joined in on Lizzo’s character’s piling on of Kenan Thompson’s host. It was clear where the sketch was going to go on Lizzo’s end as soon as she gets her first answer wrong, but it was once Nwodim got in on it with her — about Thompson being the “Mayor of Game Town” — that things really got off the rails in the best way. In fact, as much as Lizzo anchored this sketch, Nwodim almost stole it with this exchange:

“Have any of y’all been on a game show before?”
“I was on ‘People’s Court’.”
“That’s not a game show.
“Then how come I won money?”

While the sketch suffered from the typical “SNL” problem of not knowing how to end a sketch, Lizzo’s character being the type of person who always says “the craziest stuff be happenin’ to me” (and hopping on social media to chronicle that) actually tracked.

“SNL” doesn’t really care about being a sketch show that holds up well, so it’s not surprising that it went back to the TikTok sketch well introduced in the Billie Eilish episode. (Despite the format apparently being used for those pulling the host-musical guest double duty, it didn’t actually lean too much into the musical guest component for either.) If nothing else, this version was stronger than the original though, and it also brought Aristotle Athari out from the “no episode appearances” purgatory he’d seemed to be in. (He’d go on to be in a couple of other sketches in this episode.) Thompson popping and locking becomes even funnier after having seen Redd do a much better version of it later in the episode, and speaking of Redd, his T.I. doing standup comedy bit is perfect with just a few seconds (as he unnecessarily uses the word “expeditiously”). But the TikTok sketches, while they capture this moment in time well (and surely work even better if you’re actually familiar with TikTok), don’t quite hold a candle to “SNL’s” standard impression parade sketches.

All that being said, Bowen Yang’s terrible cover of “Tom’s Diner” was almost reason enough to do this sketch in the first place.

Between the “Black Eyed Peas” and “Six Flags” sketches, this “SNL” wasn’t so much concerned with being relevant to right now as it was being relevant to what millennials are still obsessed with right now. (And “Steve’s Beanie Babies” is a sketch that could fall into that category as well.) After all, the “Six Flags Guy” (“Mr. Six”) commercials lasted from 2004-2010. This sketch wasn’t quite the “SNL” impression parade, but it was an excuse for the cast (starting with Sarah Sherman, who got really into the old man aspect o
f it all) to dress up like Mr. Six and dance to the instrumental version of “We Like to Party!,” so… It was good? Really, the sketch kind of transcended both good and bad. Mikey Day once again played the straight man who gets frustrated no one (in this case, his date, played by Lizzo) is acknowledging how weird everything was, but he also ended up joining the “community” of Mr. Sixes in the group dance at the end. It was definitely an unexpected premise, given the first date set-up.

“Steve’s Beanie Babies” was the kind of sketch where you almost wanted to learn more about the lives of these characters, because both Andrew Dismukes and Lizzo’s characters (Steve and Annette, respectively) were all types of weird. And Lizzo clearly realized that, as she broke throughout the sketch. From the Beanie Babies to the “objectively perfect Mario” to the prop glass of wine, Steve and Annette were just a couple of weirdos… who unfortunately didn’t end up together.

Where “Six Flags” transcended good and bad, “Steve’s Beanie Babies” was more definitively on the good side of things, while also being on the very weird side of things. Thankfully, the writers realized that, because of that, it made sense for it to also be one of the shorter sketches. The “tragic” end to it all was also the perfect end to such a strange sketch in the first place.

Best Sketches of The Night: “Black Eyed Peas” & “Please Don’t Destroy – Lizzo Has Writer’s Block”

The thing about the “Black Eyed Peas” sketch is that “SNL” had already mocked “Boom Boom Pow” and “I Gotta Feeling” back when it was at least slightly more relevant to do so, with the underrated “Our Time! With Taboo and aple.de.ap.” sketch back in Season 36 (in 2011), which fell very, very flat at the time. (And wow how things have changed in “SNL,” as apl.de.ap was played by Thompson… and Taboo was played by Andy Samberg. For reference, Taboo is Mexican-American and “Our Time!” even acknowledged that.) Yes, even the “PEOPLE IN THE PLACE” bit. That was integral to the “Our Time!” sketch.

But here’s the thing: Thompson (now as will.i.am), Yang (as Taboo), Redd (as apl.de.ap), and Cecily Strong (as Fergie, nailing the “PEOPLE IN THE PLACE” bit) made the sketch work. Everyone knows Black Eyed Peas lyrics (pretty much post-”Where Is The Love?”) are absolute nonsense, and the sketch examines that, getting no deeper into understanding it, yet at the same time, fully understanding it. It was all so amazingly vague. While Lizzo commanded most of the episode as host, this was the one sketch where she didn’t really get to do that — and it was not a problem. Both she and Aidy Bryant played the straight man producer characters in this one — though Lizzo got to do a little bit of out Fergie-ing Fergie for a moment — but Bryant’s was the one who got to get the most give and take from the others.

At no point during the sketch did anyone note how the title “I Gotta Feeling” (instead of “I Got a Feeling”) makes no sense though, but it seems that the world will never try to right that wrong.

Of course, the “Let’s Get It Started” (which was always objectively a better version of the song than the unedited “Let’s Get R—” version anyway) bit of the sketch didn’t work, timeline-wise — as it came out in 2003, years before those other big singles — but if the episode had cared about the timeline of Black Eyed Peas relevancy, the sketch wouldn’t have even existed in the first place in 2022. Because the sketch had to “flashback” all the way to 2008 in order to exist. 14 years ago. This is a sketch about something from 14 years ago.

And yet… it still hit. Kind of like those Black Eyed Peas songs.

If you took nothing else away from this episode, hopefully you took away the fact that Lizzo clearly liked working with Andrew Dismukes. The Please Don’t Destroy pre-tape was their first “pairing” of the night, and it informed us all of one very important thing: Andrew Dismukes has killed (musical acts whose new songs aren’t good) before, and he’ll gladly do it again. Which was the best way to put the pressure on Lizzo and the Please Don’t Destroy boys, with Lizzo’s writer’s block and need for the boys to write her a “Black woman anthem.” Clearly, Lizzo didn’t get the message that she’d gone to “Three Sad Virgins” for help, but they ultimately got it done for her. While there was plenty of breaking and cue card reading in this episode from Lizzo, a pre-tape like this Please Don’t Destroy sketch allowed her to show off her chops when it comes to the whole acting thing, in general. The way she played off the guys continued Please Don’t Destroy’s hot streak when it comes to interacting with the hosts but also highlighted Lizzo’s chemistry with other performers, outside of the live sketch environment.

Unfortunately, Lizzo did not choose “Horny Zookeeper” as one of her two musical performances, but still, Dismukes allowed her to live another day. Good for Lizzo.

Worst Sketches of The Night: “Throne Room” & “Orchestra”

“Throne Room” and “Orchestra” were the two weakest sketches of the night, though in the case of the former, that tends to always be the case when “SNL” decides to go the ancient civilizations route on sketches. “Throne Room” gets points for being on point in terms of specificity, as the sketch basically goes through the tropes of an orgy scene (or “sexposition” scene, in “Game of Thrones” fashion) in a swords-and-sandals-style epic. But even with the punchline of this all being for the child ruler, the sketch feels just as aimless as the other sketches of this type that “SNL” tries to do. Trying to bring a contemporary twist — with Strong and Yang as the “party planners” of this scene, complete with “ancient” headsets — to a scene set in 2,000 BC isn’t actually inventing the wheel. And that would still be the case even if it were a sketch about the invention of the wheel.

“Orchestra,” on the other hand, was funnier — especially in terms of character reactions — and naturally made use of Lizzo’s ability to play the flute and twerk at the same time, but after “Six Flags,
” ending a sketch with everyone assembling to do a big performance was just a case of been there, done that. While they were never quite the dynamic duo focus of the episode, this week’s “SNL” did allow for Lizzo and Bryant (or “Aidy Bizzo,” if you will) to have some moments together, including in this sketch. The reactions in this one worked, but the sketch itself was just kind of “there” in comparison to a lot of the other ones.

Best Male Performer: Kenan Thompson

At the top of “Trivia Game Show,” you could even see Thompson crouched down behind his podium, waiting for his special entrance. That’s commitment, folks. But Thompson once again had an episode where his very presence made everything funnier. Honestly, his wig in “Orchestra” was one of the funniest parts of the sketch, along with his facial expressions — he never actually had to say anything to be funny there.

Best Female Performer: Cecily Strong

Strong’s “PEOPLE IN THE PLACE” bit as Fergie in “Black Eyed Peas” solidified this choice, but it’s also worth noting her Marjorie Taylor Greene in the cold open — as it’s easily becoming another great political go-to for her, where others can just do the same impression for multiple characters — as well as her (and Yang’s) hosting in the “Throne Room” sketch. Strong’s endless versatility should never be ignored.

Final Thoughts

“SNL” gave Melissa Villasenor another Weekend Update this week, as Colin Jost’s driver (and aspiring stand-up comedian) Cesar Perez. While the “Mind of Mencia” bit of the character didn’t work — as it seemed the live audience blissfully neither remembered “Mind of Mencia” nor Carlos Mencia at all — the rest of the bit did. Poor little weird Carlitos. Villasenor has had plenty of features on Weekend Update, and for the most part, they’ve hit; yet she still is seemingly underserved on both Update and the show as a whole. Who knows if this character will return again, but hopefully Villasenor actually continues to get the chance to show off how funny — and much like Strong, versatile — she is.

Watching this episode, it was hard to miss that Lizzo both broke often and focused heavily on the cue cards. To be fair, in the case of the former, that’s a quality that is usually praised when a host like Ryan Gosling breaks. In fact, there were whole sketches dedicated solely to trying to get him to break. (And there is a difference between it being a host breaking and a cast member, as we all remember Jimmy Fallon’s constant attention-seeking in-sketch laughter.) So there was no actual problem there, especially when you consider just how weird some of these sketches were. (She truly lost it in “Steve’s Beanie Babies,” understandably.)

And for the case of the latter, reading the cue cards is one of those Lorne Michaels stickler things, where he doesn’t want people to memorize the lines and instead read from the cards. While some hosts are better at hiding the cue card reading, there are others who trip over the lines trying not to look like they’re looking at the cards. The important part was that Lizzo’s delivery was never a problem, even as she committed to looking at the cards.

Despite both of those points, Lizzo still felt very comfortable on an “SNL” stage, both in how she worked with the cast and the sketches that were written for her. There was a weirdness to the sketches and while they didn’t always work or weren’t always A-level material, there was a commitment. The episode itself was definitely catered to Lizzo and functioned as a serviceable intro, albeit not a high-quality offering. Compared to last week’s return episode from Jake Gyllenhaal, this episode also allowed the whole cast to do more, in general.

Also, this week ended up having one of the stronger cold opens in a while, as even when it pivoted to political jokes, it wasn’t so consumed by that aspect that it ended up not actually being funny. Perhaps the key to the cold opens was Yang in a bunny costume the whole time…

Grade: B-

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