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'SNL' recap: Natalie Portman returns to rap, spoof 'Stranger Things'

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

Natalie Portman’s first Saturday Night Live hosting gig way back in 2006 yielded “Natalie Raps,” which remains one of the Oscar-winning actress’s best screen performances and a high point for the former SNL supergroup the Lonely Island. It was their own personal Star Wars, if you will, a loving reference to the black-and-white rap videos of their childhood that became a modern-day pop cultural phenomenon. So when Portman returned for her second time as emcee, it was inevitable that we were going to see a sequel to “Natalie Raps,” even though Lonely Island’s membership, Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone, have all moved on to new creative galaxies far, far away from Studio 8H.

In Star Wars terms, “Natalie’s 2nd Rap” could never be The Empire Strikes Back or The Last Jedi … it just had to outclass Attack of the Clones. Thankfully “Natalie Raps 2” falls squarely into Force Awakens territory, a loose repeat that knowingly plays on everything we loved about the original, right down to Samberg’s cameo and Portman’s “No more questions” tag. We also got an update on the actress’s post-motherhood life, as well has her birth story, which involved some really chill kush and majestic water-breaking. But the video’s high point had to be seeing Portman in her old Princess Amidala getup, a bit of galactic nostalgia that actually made us want to revisit the prequels, Jar Jar Binks and all.

Worst Sketch: “Stranger Things 3”
The Internet has already decided that Millie Bobby Brown and Natalie Portman are basically the same person, so a Stranger Things spoof with the former Padme as the current Eleven must have seemed like a slam dunk. Too bad the writers spent more time scrolling through the Portman-Brown Twitter memes than trying to come up with better material than boner gags and fart jokes.

Best Ad Disguised as a Sketch: “Opening Monologue”
It’s a time-honored tradition for SNL hosts to hype their upcoming projects when they first take the stage. But Portman barely made any mention of her new movie, Annihilation — which comes out Feb. 23, for the record — instead expertly (and hilariously) shilling for NBC’s upcoming Winter Olympics coverage as Kate McKinnon and Kenan Thompson provided incisive mid-monologue commentary. And like the best ads, the monologue performed a valuable public service by reminding the nation that Leslie Jones will be sharing her expert opinions from PyeongChang. Consider us sold.

Best Drunk History Homage: “Patriots vs. Philadelphia”
Speaking of commercials for upcoming NBC sporting events, SNL brought back star players Rachel Dratch and Tina Fey to hype the network’s telecast of Super Bowl LII. The pair headed up opposing tribes of Revolutionary War-era New England patriots and fly Philadelphians united in drunken boasting about their battlefield prowess. Fifty years from now, Drunk History should do a boozy re-creation about how this sketch came to be.

Best “Weekend Update” Guests: Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve
McKinnon and Cecily Strong had a grand old time playing two grand dames of French cinema, back in the news for their less-than-popular views about the #MeToo movement and sexual harassment in the movie industry. These two may not be woke, but their presence perked up an otherwise listless “Update.”

Trump’s Return: “Fox & Friends Cold Open”
After taking January off, Alec Baldwin emerged from his burrow the night after Groundhog Day to reprise his Donald Trump impression for the first time since mid-December. And since we didn’t see his shadow, that means it may not be another six weeks until Baldwin’s next SNL appearance. And maybe then he won’t phone it in … literally. In the cold open, the actor rang up his friends over at Fox & Friends to chat about the news of the day, including a certain memo and the (not so) enormous State of the Union ratings. Calling in from his White House digs in the middle of his morning exercise — chowing down on a calorie-rich breakfast sandwich — Trump boasted about “saving the economy” and “destroying ISIS” before revealing he was also in the process of getting his daily intelligence briefing. His source? Fox & Friends, of course.

But this particular briefing proved to be a two-way street, as Trump shared some invented intel with the unquestioning hosts. He offered a ringing endorsement of his personal “house elf,” Devin Nunes, who did him a solid by penning “the greatest memo since the Declaration of Independence.” And as for the State of the Union, according to POTUS’s dubious sources, it nabbed 10 billion viewers — 3 billion more than actually exist on earth. Not only that, none other than Paul Ryan described his oration as being “better than Martin Luther King’s ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ speech.” A lot of it certainly felt like a rerun, that’s for sure.

Melania’s Return: “First Lady”
Later on in the show, Trump’s better half, Melania, got the chance to tell her side of the State of the Union, when she was visited by the spirits of first ladies past. The visitations started with Portman reprising her Oscar-nominated role as Jackie Kennedy, who commiserated with the current FLOTUS about philandering husbands. “Jack cheated on me with Marilyn Monroe,” Jackie pointed out, to which Melania replied, “She was in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes — Donald’s girl was in Guys Like It Shaved.” The party got bigger when Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton entered the room, followed by Aidy Bryant as Martha Washington and Leslie Jones as the eternally popular Michelle Obama. “My arms rule, I love vegetables, and I can be president whenever I want,” Michelle said to enthusiastic applause. Put that in a memo and release it!

Episode MVP: Beck Bennett
It takes a brave performer to talk out of his ass without blinking an eye. And Bennett heroically subjected his butt to a lengthy close-up in a “What the hell was that?” Star Trek spoof, “Alien Lover,” where Portman’s human officer cozied up to an alien colleague whose face was his rear and vice versa. Whether flexing his buns to simulate speech or using water to turn the seat of his pants into a puddle, Bennett committed to his part with cheeky intensity. If they ever reboot Ace Ventura, he’s a shoo-in to replace Jim Carrey.

Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. on NBC.

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