It was the best of shows, it was the worst of shows.
There aren’t many episodes of Saturday Night Live that have only incredibly great or incredibly bad sketches, but Sandra Oh’s first time hosting yielded essentially only those two results. The first twenty minutes or so were so dire that you could actually hear the audience squirming. The show correctly itself smartly after that, but then nose-dived again in the final third. The “Kremlin Meeting” sketch had such an amazing premise (Putin is actually damaged by the Mueller probe more than Trump) that it’s an incredible shame that the material couldn’t live up to it. “Electric Shoes” just made everyone wish they were watching “What’s Up With That?” And as for the cold open: Well, the less said about that the better.
Let’s put aside the negatives and focus on the positives: even with all the dead space last night, there wasn’t enough room below to put in Cecily Strong’s incredible “Weekend Update” performance as Jeanine Pirro. That might ultimately turn into Strong’s most compelling impression to date, and one that SNL should continually employ as it struggles to deal head-on with dramatizing President Trump onstage. For those of you that only watch SNL online in segment-sized chunks, you can watch these three segments, have a grand old time, and start sharpening your Game Of Thrones sketch predictions before Kit Harrington hosts next week.
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What on the surface feels like an ode to the classic Black Knight sequence of Monty Python And The Holy Grail ultimately turns into one of the more subversive sketches of the season. On one level, there’s the dark comedy of seeing Sandra Oh’s bystander get shot in new and progressively violent ways. By underneath that, there’s a potent message about those that truly suffer when moronic men decide to wage petty war against one another.
Heck, let’s go even one level below that. Oh’s character isn’t just a damsel in distress that is the unintended victim: She is someone that continually has to placate the men while she loses pints of blood by the seeming second. From the outset, she insists that they don’t give her a second thought, and that their emotional pain pales in comparison to literal lost limbs. The men, for their part, never understand the cost of their squabble. For them, all’s well that ends well. Meanwhile, Oh’s character’s bloody corpse ends up at the bottom of a lake. A flesh wound, indeed.
Oh primarily played the straight role in this week’s show, but with Tishy she demonstrated just how far she could have taken things. Tishy would have been completely at home in the mid-90’s era of SNL, a character that someone like Cheri Oteri or Molly Shannon would have been proud to originate. Still, Tishy works in a way that only Oh could concoct, which makes it so instantly memorable. In a week in which so many sketch premises never quite left the starting block, Tishy killed from minute one, providing a much-needed jolt for a crowd desperate to laugh.
Unlike “The Duel,” there are no layers to unpack here. There’s simply a vision of the future in which a woman with a perpetually broken arm wreaks havoc on a shy man’s life. Tishy not only plays to the back of the house in Studio 8H, but would play to the back of the house were this staged in Wembley Stadium. This Halloween, you might even see someone dressed up as Tishy at your Halloween party alongside a David S. Pumpkins. It’s the kind of character that should absolutely make a re-appearance even if Oh isn’t actually hosting the show, a bolt of pure energy that reminds people why they watch SNL.
Kate McKinnon disappeared for a long, long stretch last night after the cold open, but made her reappearance count here as Louise, an 85-year old horn dog trying to get her co-workers to check off items on her sexual bucket list. Without McKinnon unlocking the magic way to say the word “kiss,” this sketch would be an interminable slog. Instead, thanks to her Indiana Jones-esque archeological dig into her own vocal chords, a journey that the scientific community would have deemed as egotistical folly, we get to enjoy another sublime McKinnon creation.
Whereas Tishy was turned up to volume 11, Louise speaks in hushed tones that make both those in-sketch and those in the audience lean forward. While you can’t believe what Tishy says, you can’t be sure of what Louise utters. Her coworkers naturally resist for a while, but once the proverbial floodgates open, Louise is suddenly incredibly verbose about her wants and desires. I don’t know which of the SNL writers concocted this, but I’d like to buy whoever wrote the phrase “six-way Spider-Man” a tasty beverage of her or his choice. That is a ridiculously unique and evocative phrase, one that ricocheted around for a few second before landing in my brain. (Not unlike a bullet shot by a poor marksmen in a duel.) The fact that it appears that the version online is the dress rehearsal, which omits this line entirely, makes me wonder which universe from Into The SpiderVerse this version of the sketch originates.