Saturday Night Live couldn’t have asked more from Jason Momoa. As with all great hosts, Momoa threw himself into every moment, and his natural charisma shone throughout. The show itself rarely met Aquaman’s energy, however, with a middling effort in the middle week of its December run. It stumbled badly out of the gate with a cold open that suggested Robert De Niro did not know he would be in it until two minutes before air. Momoa dancing to “Aquaboogie” a few minutes during the monologue slightly righted the ship, but it was inconsistent sailing from beginning to end.
When in doubt, the show put Momoa’s physique on display, and he seemed more than game to have all eyes on him. From opening a jar for Aidy Bryant in the monologue, going shirtless in a Game Of Thrones sketch, punching holes in multiple walls or twerking for Tiny Tim, he literally muscled his way into every moment he could. And why not? The self-proclaimed SNL nerd worked a lifetime for that moment, and seemed to have a blast reaping the rewards of that work. (The audience seemed to enjoy it quite a bit as well.)
Here’s what people will be talking about before Matt Damon hosts next week’s Christmas episode.
Elf On The Shelf
I was prepared for a sketch about the inherent creepiness of the Elf On The Shelf doll. Instead, the tables were turned as Momoa’s elf detailed the new exploits of the thirteen-year old boy he’s been assigned to watch. It’s a dirty, single-joke premise, but it happens to be an excellent single joke. SNL has a long, proud tradition of the single entendre (Colonel Angus, anyone?), and this fits nicely into that subgenre.
From a production standpoint, it’s not just interesting to see how seamlessly SNL can greenscreen the elves during a live show, but also apparently manipulate their voices in real time. Maybe I’m not giving Momoa enough credit here, but it doesn’t seem possible for him to sound like that without technological aid. That’s not a slam at all, but rather a recognition that this sketch works as well as it does because of the slick technical work supporting it. Call it Elvish Auto-Tune, if you will, but it bridges the gap between live sketches and the pre-produced ones in an interesting way. I’m sure the show has pulled this off before, but I can’t remember it working this well.
Khal Drogo’s Ghost Dojo
Is Kenan Thompson still underrated at this point? I ask because more than once an episode, he’s the glue that keeps a sketch from coming completely apart at the seams. The premise here is solid: let’s take the most popular show in the multiverse and do an SNL-esque talk show within that fictional world. But in trying to cram in too many references, coupled with some unfortunate timing/camera flubs, it was up to Thompson to keep the audience engaged with his seemingly improv’d meta-analysis. The ease with which he adjusts when things go wrong is easy to take for granted. At this point, he’s a solid candidate for first team all-SNL: While there are flashier sketches that would go in his highlight reel, this sketch is a great example of where his utility lies.
But let’s be honest: no one is going to talk about this sketch because of Thompson’s utility, but because everyone is starved for Game Of Thrones content at this point. There are probably already dozens of videos that analyze this sketch for clues about the final season. (“Here are seven reasons why “R+L=Khal On The Wall”) It’s the last show that everyone watches in the Peak TV era, and thus will be the sketch even people that normally don’t watch SNL will watch this week. And hey, if this sketch is what finally kills the Era Of The After Show, then this might be the most important sketch of Season 44 so far.
As noted before, Momoa’s energy didn’t dissipate all night, but this pre-taped sketch might have deployed it most effectively. A true ten-to-one sketch, this bizarre trip through a man’s attempt to impress his girlfriend’s parents still manages to keep one foot in reality. It does so by splitting the reaction to his plan down the middle: While the men are delighted, the women are horrified. Luckily, both sides get some comedic moments to shine.
Momoa’s middle-aged, pot-bellied patriarch revels in the game, mixing childlike wonder with increasing frustration. Beck Bennett’s audio tour through his hide-and-seek game invoked Paul Brittain’s Lord Wyndemere character, which was probably unintentional but still delightful. The final moments between the two–with Momoa’s awkward admiration for Beckett’s moxie and greased-covered torso–was too long, but in a good way. Every second it lasted made it that much more excruciatingly odd. Melissa Villaseñor and Heidi Gardner have the harder roles here, but their underplayed dismay grounds the insanity in a way that keeps it from flying off into the ether.
While “An Extra Christmas Carol” is more .GIF’able, and “Them Trumps” is more topical, this sketch is far more watchable. The former took too long to get going, and the latter ended just as it was getting started. “First Impression” is not only a sketch that will get broadly shared this week, but just might earn a place in next year’s Christmas-themed SNL special.