Kristen Stewart may have not seemed like an obvious choice to host Saturday Night Live, but aside from dropping an eff bomb during her monologue, she held her own throughout the night. The show didn’t ask her to do very much, allowing the cast and other celebrities (one expected, one not so much) to do most of the heavy lifting.
Standouts this week include a new addition to the show’s satirical take on the Trump administration, the culmination of a three-year story none of us knew was even unfolding, and the surprising return of one of the most successful hosts in the SNL‘s recent history. Here’s what people will be talking about until Alec Baldwin assumes full hosting duties next week.
Oval Office Cold Open
Trying to cover everything that’s happened in the two weeks since Trump took office would have been an impossibility. So this cold open chose to focus on Trump’s contentious relationship with various world leaders. While the calls themselves were funny enough (especially with each subsequent declaration of war), what really stood out was the show’s first in-sketch portrayal of Steve Bannon.
Rather than try and make up one of the Not Ready For Primetime Players as Bannon, the show opted to have Bannon look like the Grim Reaper. This metaphorical representation turned out to be a masterstroke: Rather than try to mimic his physical appearance, SNL chose to mimic his potential effect on global stability. The show depicted him as an undead Machiavellian mastermind, egging Trump on to do dumber and dumber things as part of a master plan only Bannon knows.
The kicker to the sketch, and the aspect that will probably send President Trump into the mother of all tweetstorms, was the insistence that Bannon, not Trump, is truly in charge in the White House. The visual depiction of Trump’s smaller desk, coupled with his almost immediate deference to Grim Bannon, painted the President as the puppet of yet another master. Grim Bannon is such a smart and immediately understood conceit that will have wormed its way into every news program by the time you read this.
Totinos With Kristen Stewart
When it comes to SNL, the word “continuity” rarely comes up. Sure, there are plenty of recurring sketches, but there’s usually a reset button in between occurrences. There’s a familiarity that’s bred from seeing the same characters/conceits multiple times, but they rarely build to anything over the long haul.
The Stefon/Seth Meyers Wedding sequence was one of the rare times in which the cumulative effect of the in-show interactions actually had a dramatic (albeit amusing) catharsis. Unbelievably, this sketch achieved the same effect. For the third year in a row, SNL did a sketch in which Vanessa Bayer’s unappreciated wife made pizza rolls for her oblivious Hungry Guys. Yet this time around, in stepped Kristen Stewart’s Sabine, who opens up Bayer’s (intentionally) unnamed character to an entirely new world of self-discovery.
There are so many amazing things about this. On a purely visual level, the shift between how the two women experience this encounter versus the prosaic framing of the men enjoying the game mere feet away is spot on. Flat visuals give way to soft lighting, close-up camerawork, and legitimately erotic sensuality. On a narrative level, it almost feels as if SNL has been building up to this moment since the very first version of the pizza roll sketch. Yes, this is a show that invents everything each week from scratch, but this is such an organic development that it’s easy to buy into the illusion of the long game. We all need to believe in something in this world, and I choose to believe that Vanessa Bayer was set upon this path back in 2015.
Sean Spicer Press Conference
Kristen Stewart generally held her own as host, but Melissa McCarthy showed how it’s really done with her go-for-broke performance as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. McCarthy’s skillset meets SNL‘s strengths so well that it’s almost always a home run when the two pair up.
McCarthy has played this type of overly belligerent character before on the show, but normally it’s done in pre-taped segments. Putting that much energy into a tiny space made it that much more uncomfortable, with the claustrophobic staging yielding a Spicer that was less political spokesman and more bull in a china shop. Everything McCarthy did was pitched to the back row of Yankee Stadium, never mind Studio 8H, but it was also done with specificity in addition to pure volume. From ingesting dozens of pieces of gum, to playing a game of Props, to physically attacking reporters with the lectern, McCarthy had the audience eating out of her hand the entire time. It was a combination of comic rage, on-point writing, and the perfect performer to bring it to life.
The only downside? If anyone else in the actual cast has to portray Spicer in future episodes, those will be hard shoes to fill.