After a subpar outing last week, Saturday Night Live produced what might have been its best episode of Season 43 this time around. A lot of that had to do with host Tiffany Haddish, who brought energy and excitement to each sketch. Even when the material wasn't terribly strong (especially post-"Weekend Update"), Haddish did her damnedest to keep things afloat.
Still, the hits far outweighed the misses this week. It's hard not to include sketches that involved surprise cameos from former cast members (Jason Sudeikis reprising his Joe Biden impression) or the greatest Kristen Schaal impression I've ever seen (bless you, Heidi Gardner). The Beck Bennett/Kyle Mooney/Leslie Jones/Colin Jost love quadrangle appealed to my love of comic continuity inside the SNL universe, but probably doesn't translate into mass appeal. What's left are three sketches that feature pure comedic gold along with undiluted rage.
As someone that spent much of his childhood trying to perfect the button combos in Mortal Kombat, I'm an easy mark for this sketch. But Haddish's Boo Boo Jeffries is also an instantly iconic SNL character, one that could easily appear in the next three episodes that she hosts. Too soon of a prediction? Probably. But her star is only rising at this point, and like other hosts such as Jon Hamm and Melissa McCarthy, you can already see excellent chemistry between actor and venue in play.
What pushes this sketch over the top isn't just the silliness of the conceit (a woman who doesn't like fighting is inserted into a fighting video game with all the herky-jerky movements of the 16-bit era), but the specificity of the character's backstory. Dedicating thirty seconds to Jenkins' fear of crowds makes no sense on paper, but somehow endears her to the audience. Throw in an all-time deployment of the word, "No!" after initially getting hit by opponent Scorponox, and you have a sketch that will be shared for weeks to come.
Weekend Update: Claire from HR
Cecily Strong has created a host of memorable characters since becoming a cast member in 2012. But often times, those characters are buried in a host of voices and affectations that hide her as a performer. That's not to say these characters are inherently bad: In fact, many are excellent. But there's something about her performance here as Claire that suggests there's a lot to be gained from Strong doing less and achieving far more.
Yes, her HR rep Claire is a harried mess that drinks Purell in order to get through the day. But there's something instantly relatable, vulnerable, exhausted, and outraged that puts a human face to a widespread crisis on national television for all to see. It's wrong to put too huge a burden on one performance to represent all women's outrage, but it's fair to say that Strong knocked this performance out of the park. Noting at the end that this isn't a sketch inspired by recent events but in fact reflecting an ongoing issue that's "actual reality for half the population," both Strong and SNL delivered a signature piece at a tenuous time.
Whiskers R We
On the opposite side of the spectrum from Strong's tour de force was the latest exercise in utter silliness, in which bad puns and cat chaos reigned supreme. Without doing heavy research, I'd wager this is at least the fifth version of this sketch. Originally a two-hander between Kate McKinnon and Kristen Wiig, this has evolved into a fun showcase in the ten-to-one slot for various female hosts to share the stage with a consummate SNL pro.
A lot of this sketch's success had to do with it going off the rails almost instantly due to an attempted feline insurrection: Haddish's "I got the pussy!" reaction, followed by her lifting the cats to the screen so the Standards and Practices department would not fine her, set the tone for everything that followed. By the time that bald cat Toby tried to attack both actresses after a particularly funny burn, those on- and offstage surrendered to the cosmic flow of things. Given that most of the post-"Weekend Update" material didn't fare very well, it was great to have this to end the episode on a high.