Welcome back, dearest Coneheads, to SNL in Review: 2020 edition. It’s a new year, and a new decade. Well, in the latest nod towards history, technically this is the kickstart of Saturday Night Live’s sixth decade in existence! And who better to marshall in this new era than one of the most exciting actors right now, returning host Adam Driver.
Recently, Driver received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his work in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, costarring another frequent SNL host (and Colin Jost fiance) Scarlett Johannson. He also wrapped up his tour of duty in a big-budget tentpole franchise, with the release of the final Skywalker Star Wars last month. (Though, candidly, the poorly received The Rise of Skywalker — despite being released a little over 30 days ago — feels like it came out so long ago. The world has moved on, despite Driver being great as Kylo Ren.)
Driver has already appeared in (at least!) two classic sketches during his previous stints on the show: “Star Wars Undercover Boss” and his role as grizzled oil tycoon Abraham H. Parnassus in “Career Day” during Season 44’s season premiere. Let’s see what our capable comedy overlords — and dedicated writing staff — give him tonight!
I am joined tonight by former SNL alum, and pioneering FaceSwap comedian, Jeff Richards. Jeff claims to have enjoyed Rise of Skywalker more than most: “Easily the best Star Wars yet. Loved the stars in this one. Super bright, nighttime-like. Adam Driver displayed awesome emotion throughout. Caitlyn Jenner was extraordinary.”
Live from [wherever you watching, ya’ll], let’s get into it!
And we jump right in – cue applause – to SNL’s glimpse at the impeachment hearings. Beck Bennett is the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Cecily Strong’s Susan Collins returns.
“Jealous?” hisses Jon Lovitz, cameoing as Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz. (If you had an SNL alum popping up in the cold open on your bingo card, hats off to you! Shot!) Dershowitz is summoned to Hell, where Kate McKinnon’s podcast host Devil is a major fan. “I used to let nobodies into Hell, now it’s just influencers!” I like the goofy setting pivot. Lovitz is a legend – outside SNL40, I think his last appearance on the show came in 2011, during Dana Carvey’s monologue. (Fact check: their cast was the best.) People don’t give him enough credit — like Eddie Murphy, Lovitz was a singular talent on the show as it was facing cancellation. His brand of characters kept SNL afloat as it entered a second Golden Age — props.
Tonight’s host, Adam Driver, pops up in Hell as Jeffrey Epstein. What’s he doing there? “Just hangin’!” he says. Bowen Yang, the subject of an excellent Maureen Dowd profile today, plays the creator of Baby Shark. Other Hell residents: Flo from Progressive (Heidi Gardner), Mr. Peanut (Mikey Day.) Lots of topical digs. Bennett returns: Mitch McConnell uses Hell as a sauna, and takes political advice from Satan. Final gag: soulless Mark Zuckerberg, like Dershowitz, is very eager to do the Devil’s work.
Driver opens the monologue proving his chill, a reference to his intense reputation.
“I’ve acted so much — and so hard!” he concedes. “I’m not an intense guy, I’m very chill!” Driver always feels just a smidge condescending to be here. He’s game, no question, but it comes with a serious actorly air. There’s not a ton of people with his chops who play in SNL’s playground these days so I’m not complaining.
Driver asserts he hates red carpet PR, as he’s bad at smiling. He then heads into the audience, claiming to be killing time to avoid playing in a dated transphobic 10-to-1, before creepily staring into the camera — an instant meme. He riffs about kissing Johansson in Marriage Story meaning he’s basically kissed Colin Jost — very chummy joke. I wish the show would resist such easy moments.
Jeff Richards recently posted his take on Adam Driver on his Instagram: “I just yawned and in the middle of the yawn I started talking. That’s how I arrived at my impression of him.”
Tonight’s musical guest is Halsey, who previously appeared on January 13, 2018 as the musical guest. She also pulled double duty as the host and musical guest last February. So we know she can do sketches. Will she appear tonight? Get your popcorn ready.
Driver is a polite dad entering his daughter’s basement sleepover. It seems one of the girls clogged the toilet with their sanitary pad, before escalating the situation severely. McKinnon’s Megan — doused in toilet water — is the culprit. She refuses to fess up, and loves Mark Harmon.
The sketch turns into a Spartacus situation.
Note: an audience member reacts immediately to the sight of Adam Driver in a blond ‘hot dad’ hairdo. “It happened again! Just like in church but worse.”
Undercover Boss Kylo Ren Part 2
“Let’s intern!” says Kylo Ren-as-Randy. “OK, Boomer – right?” This is a fine sequel, but pales to, say, what Robot Chicken did during the prequel era. Some diminishing returns, especially given Ben Solo’s arc in the last movie. Serious question: will this be we last see Driver as Kyle Ren, ever?! It easily could be! HUH.
Del Taco Commercial
Kyle Mooney and Chloe Fineman are actors in a taco commercial. “Ah man, I’m all out of cash!” Beck Bennett and Driver deliver bizarre line readings. Great to see Mooney in the center of a sketch, playing off Bennett. “Put your shirt over your he’d like Cornholio,” demands Driver, which is a great reference. This is so specific and character-based, it’s hard to resist.
The Science Room
Driver is Professor Zachary Adams. Cecily Strong and Mikey Day are Lonnie and Josh, today’s young and inappropriate participants. “That is an awful conversation we just had!” cries a confused and upset Driver, disturbed by their stupidity. This is a good use of Driver’s tendency to express explosive rage – shout out his role on Girls.
It’d be nice if this called out John Mulaney’s Sack Lunch Bunch, now on Netflix, here. Similar homage, despite this having a familiar premise. Mikey Day tends to repeat concepts. You will remember Sam Rockwell cursed during a very similar sketch again opposite Strong and Day nearly two years ago.
“Take It Slow” music video
Chris Redd, Kenan Thompson, Halsey, and Adam Driver slow things down. This feels very “Dick in a Box,” very Lonely Island vibe. (Of course, Samberg and Timberlake were spoofing a specific type of early ’90s R&B.) “These guys are slow, slow,” says a disgruntled Heidi Gardner.
Halsey – “You Should Be Sad”
The release of Halsey’s third album, Manic, was preceded by the release of three singles: “Without Me”, “Graveyard”, and this first track tonight, the country-influenced “You Should Be Sad”. I love the acoustic feels here, though the choreography here and Halsey’s outfit do not seem to correlate to the song’s melancholy. “So glad I never had a baby with you” is a seething lyric. This has a distinct Taylor Swift vibe, peppered with early Avril Lavigne. I’ll be listening again on Spotify.
Colin Jost — who is releasing his memoir, A Very Punchable Face, in a few weeks — jumps headfirst into Trump jokes. (Forget bingo, we should take a shot whenever the Update guys land another punchline about the president!) They land a joke about Hunter Biden, quietly sowing an unfair narrative.
Michael Che — the subject of a blistering Outline piece by SNL critic (and Twitch personality) Jack Allison — claims he did not watch any Impeachment coverage this week, comparing it to an episode of Maury.
Seventh-grade travel expert Carrie Krum (Aidy Bryant) pops up to discuss winter vacations. Bryant last portrayed the boy-obsessed Krum last April, when she commented on Spring Break. Bryant just launched her new season of Shrill — such a joy to see her still on the show, killing it. “Everyone called me Slimer!”
To discuss the recent Oscar nominations, Melissa Villaseñor pops up with some original songs. “White Male Rage!” This is reminiscent of early Adam Sandler on Update, very fun. And Jost claims to have watched Joker every day as he works out, which tracks. (And he watched The Irishman alone on Christmas Day, which is a hilarious image. He’s a good sport.) The audience hollers during the Greta Gerwig callout too — her Oscars snub caused a stir online. In other news: Che lands a great joke about Mr. Peanut being cremated. The audience was all over Jost tonight. And finally, Update concludes with an image of the recently deceased Buck Henry, an absolute legend — writer, actor, essential early SNL host. RIP.
Medieval Times – New Jersey
Driver is Cameron Bistle, a deeply committed, SAG eligible red and yellow knight at Medieval Times, upsetting Mikey Day’s scripted responses. Cameron is racially insensitive, insulting Bowen Yang and Chris Redd as his fellow actors. So, again, as Driver referenced earlier in his monologue, he’s in intense mode — lashing out, hollering.
Netflix’s Cheer spoof
Heidi Gardner dominates this, but Beck Bennett and Chloe Fineman are also sharp as the Navarro College athletes. This has several great lines, really captures the show’s dynamic. Halsey shows up near the end of the proceedings and then. things. just. kind. of. end. This would’ve worked a lot better with a mini-plot to thread the otherwise solid parody.
Gardner comes back as a waitress closing up at a restaurant. She envisions Driver and Cecily Strong are the star-crossed Ketchup/Catsup bottles. “You dirty Hunt,” winks an embittered Strong. This is melodramatic, punny and a little embarrassing. I guess SNL learned no lessons from Kanye West’s bottle-centric appearance last season (when Driver last hosted). It’s good when the show gets weird — though I wish SNL would forego playing to the rafters all the time, and actually let Gardner and Driver play up the pathos. (Like: goofiness aside, I want to know about Gardner’s waitress. There’s a sadness there, a real character. Explore that outright sometime!)
Halsey – “Finally // beautiful stranger”
Another strong, country-flavored love ballad! This one reminds me of “You and I” from Gaga a tad. Halsey has such a strong presence, she totally captivates the audience.
-Soo… what did you all think? If you have a free moment, weigh in below — or vote here!
-Feels good to see Lovitz back in the fold. I can’t criticize his inclusion, even if it’s out of the cameo cold open playbook.
-It always feels like SNL is behind the eight ball in terms of the musical acts they book, doesn’t it? This is especially true with their recent selection of hip hop acts. How can they do better to capture the so-called zeitgeist? Rap journalist and novelist Paul Thompson has a few recommendations: “When I think about the most exciting live shows in rap right now, I think about JPEGMAFIA. SNL should also consider Roddy Ricch, the Compton native who has the biggest song in the country right now. And if the show wants to recognize what’s happening right in New York, they should book Young M.A, one of the most singular talents in the genre at the moment.”
-Of course, we will see if the show opts to book Eminem, whose latest surprise album has (naturally) courted controversy. It would be fun to see him joining Young M.A on “Unaccomodating.”
-Thanks to Jeff Richards – check out his new videos. They’re great!
-Join me next week for JJ Watt!