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Idris Elba on ‘SNL’: 3 Sketches You Have to See

“The Impossible Hulk,” a PowerPoint sketch and Pete Davidson’s rant on R. Kelly and Michael Jackson lead actor’s hosting debut

It’s good to know that even if named World’s Sexiest Man Alive by People, you can still get nervous performing live on television. Idris Elba did well in his first hosting gig on Saturday Night Live, but there were more than a few occasions in which he demonstrated just how hard the job is. The Luther star (and soon-to-be-baddie in the Fast And Furious spin-off film Hobbs & Shaw) shone whenever he was allowed to be silly, but often served as the straight man rather than the focal point of the humor.

That approach has worked in the past for Elba (including during an underrated run on The Office), but more often than not this time meant that he was the least impactful during the best segments. Ones in which he showed the most life (including sketches about the WNBA and Premier League) never really got out of first gear, even while he appeared to be having a blast. While every episode is a disparate series of comedic ideas shoved into a 90-minute episode, this one suffered due to a lack of consistent comedic point of view. Tonally and thematically, the installment lurched from one arena to another, rarely allowing comedic momentum to build. One step forward was often undone by one step back.

There were still good sustained aspects that people will be discussing during the show’s current three-week hiatus. Until Sandra Oh hosts when SNL returns on March 30th, here are the segments people will be discussing.

Powerpoint

Putting aside the fact that the receptionists in this sketch seem to have been transported directly from the 1970s in terms of their skill set, this is the perfect low-concept sketch concept to let Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant once again blow the doors off Studio 8H. The two have been a potent pair for years, but in the last two episodes, they have really made a solid case for being the one-two backbone the show needs on an ongoing basis.

The SNL audience really, really, really likes these two together, and when it clicks, it harkens back to the absolute best female comedic pairs the show has ever produced. They work well with other members of the cast, but there’s a unique camaraderie here that’s genuine and makes even a mediocre punch line sing. While the inept slides themselves are funny enough, it’s the increased self-loathing that really makes this sketch sing. “I am not diligent about brushing my teeth!” felt meme-worthy in the moment, but “There’s always more!” was instantly better and also will haunt the dreams of millions of people that watched this.

McKinnon has been the show’s most consistent performer and laugh-getter for a few years now, but a smart Hollywood executive should be finding scripts for these two in order to translate this chemistry to the big screen. For a show that traverses primarily in irony and satire, McKinnon and Bryant convey a beating heart that cuts across the program’s detachment and demonstrates why this show’s live aspect will makes it unique in the television landscape.

Impossible Hulk

This sketch gets included here not so much for its execution so much as the dialogue it will provoke. In the era of BBQ Becky and Permit Patty, this concept is rife with current cultural context. But while occasionally hinting at its origins, the segment mostly plays it safe, turning the aggrieved white woman (Cecily Strong) at the center of it into something to be coddled rather than scolded.

There’s no easy way to take all of the ramifications of weaponizing fear into a three-minute sketch. Indeed, providing a pat answer to this pervasive problem would be impossible. But making the questions more pronounced? The landscape that’s dramatized thornier? That’s a tall but executable order. All the elements were in play to do exactly that, which makes the blunted execution that much more frustrating.

Still, there’s a ton to unpack here, because the underlying current is so potent. For a show that often won’t go within a mile of anything resembling a cultural third rail, kudos to SNL for even attempting this. The sketch’s importance should be made manifest in terms of people discussing it, and talking about what wasn’t in it might be more useful than talking about what is in it.

Weekend Update: Pete Davidson on R. Kelly and Michael Jackson

Pete Davidson delights in offending as much as SNL as an institution often abhors it. His “can you believe they let me get away with this” grin probably has a shelf life that’s rapidly approaching, but for now still works wonders. The absolute glint in his eyes when the crowd overly groaned at his first connection between R. Kelly and the Catholic Church is something you rarely see in this iteration of the cast, and is why he can make a huge impact on a show even with limited screen time.

If “The Impossible Hulk” made brief feints at barbed commentary, Davidson’s monologue just leapt directly in to the cultural pool without first checking to see if it was filled with water. His abject refusal to equivocate clearly made the audience uncomfortable, but also clearly made them think. It’s hard to “read” silence, especially when you can’t see the people on the other side of the camera, but Davidson clearly (if uncomfortably) laid out the sheer tonnage of content produced by problematic people, whether music or automobiles. Davidson doesn’t dismiss the actions by these men, and the age-old “separating the art from the artist” argument is one that each person has to make for himself or herself. To his credit, Davidson doesn’t tell people NOT to consume this art, but rather simply makes a strong case for why he shouldn’t stop.

As a side note: The inevitable discussion of his current relationship with Kate Beckinsale was groan-worthy in an entirely different way. But hearing him list off approximately 5,672 examples of why folks only seem concerned about the age difference between two people when the woman is the older member of the pair was pretty great all the same. He probably could have gone on even longer, but SNL is only an hour and a half long. Look for the epic “We Didn’t Start The Fire”-esque remix on Spotify later this month.

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