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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Zach Vasquez

Saturday Night Live: host Keke Palmer underserved in ho-hum episode

Keke Palmer on Saturday Night Live
Keke Palmer on Saturday Night Live. Photograph: YouTube

Saturday Night Live returns from hiatus with a sketch about Republicans game planning the special runoff election in Georgia. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (James Austin Johnson) and Senators John Cornyn (Mikey Day) and Marsha Blackburn (Cecily Strong) meet with imbecilic and scandal-prone nominee Hershel Walker (Kenan Thompson).

They want Walker to buckle down and focus on his message, which to him is less about inflation and jobs, and more about “vampires and werewolves”. After Walker falls asleep during the meeting, the leaders go with Plan B: locking him up in McConnell’s panic room until after the votes are counted.

One of the slightest and most forgettable cold opens the show has done in a while, this is pure filler.

Actor, presenter and singer Keke Palmer hosts. The Nope star recounts her experiences as a child actor, including getting yelled at by Laurence Fishburne during a scene she filmed as a child in Akeelah and the Bee, which caused her mother to jump in and threaten to “whoop Morpheus’s ass!” Then, in what must surely be a first for the show, Palmer confirms pregnancy rumors, excitedly showing off her baby bump to wild audience applause.

On the classic soap opera Forceington’s Ridge, Strong and Palmer play rival heiresses who get into a wild brawl over men and property. The fight is conducted by obvious stunt doubles, the blatantness of which is the joke. However, the jankiness, intentional or not, feels clumsy, and combined with a lot of breaking, it makes for an annoying time.

Palmer, alongside musical guest SZA and several members of the female cast, star in a Christmas-themed rap video about their desire for “big boys” during cuffing season. Several large, bearded “bears” provide them with warmth, love and lumbering dance moves. While there’s not much in the way of easy fat jokes here (overall, it’s very body positive), there’s also not much in the way of laughs either.

A public service announcement from “thousands of [rapper] Drake’s exes and showtys” announces the formation of a new union: The United Tingz of Aubrey. Palmer is an especially fervid member, since “that Keke Do You Love Me? song ruined my damn life!” Mileage on this one will vary on your familiarity with Drake’s romantic (real or imagined) escapades.

A new employee training session at New York’s first Hello Kitty store turns upsetting for two team members when it’s revealed that the brand’s mascot is not in fact a kitten but rather a human little girl. They grow only more confused and upset when they learn that Hello Kitty’s boyfriend is actually a cat, that her weight is “measured in apples”, she’s in third grade despite the fact that she’s 48 years old, and is “raceless”. A funny idea, the sketch loses the thread when it turns into an impromptu rallying cry for New Yorkers at the end, although a surprise appearance from Natasha Lyonne pops the crowd.

Then, Thompson and Palmer reboot Thompson’s beloved ‘90s Nickelodeon sitcom Kenan & Kal, now called Kenan & Kelly. Initially, the new series hits the same broad, silly notes as the original, but once Palmer starts gunning for an Emmy, she introduces gritty elements into it, such as a surprise pregnancy angle, deep-seated familial trauma, and the shocking murder of original cast member Kel Mitchell. It’s a fun nostalgia trip and it’s nice to see the original duo reunite on Thompson’s turf, but like most of the sketches so far, it’s all set-up and lacks any core idea to ground things.

An ad for a new deal at Arby’s – five sandwiches for just $10 – confuses costumers, who struggle “to understand the physics” of how so much roast beef can be sold so cheaply. They do the math using the going rate for roast beef, which leads them to question “where are you getting the meats?” It’s beset by fumbled blocking and a disjointed ending.

We then move on to Weekend Update. The segment continues to be a showcase for newer cast members this season, bringing freshman featured player Michael Longfellow back to the desk to talk about his experiences as a child of divorce. The comic describes some of the perks of divorce, such as new family members “of different genres” (including a nudist stepfather), as well as his father’s not-so-surprising success as a divorce lawyer. It’s not a star making turn by any means, but Longfellow has solid chemistry with Jost (probably because they share a similar smarminess).

The second Update guest is a very upset President of the Peppa Pig Fanclub (Sarah Sherman), who’s apoplectic over plans to introduce a same-sex Polar Bear couple on the show. She admits that the idea is cute … “until they anally enter each other!” She eventually reveals that her horror stems from her own experiences with anal sex (“It hurts!”). Sherman’s bizarre mannerisms and gonzo delivery once again steal the show.

Next, Palmer plays an expecting mother of twins at an OB/GYN appointment. An ultrasound reveals her soon-to-be born kids – Yang and Sherman, reprising the freaky baby characters they debuted last season – smoking cigarettes, dancing like maniacs, using their mother’s IUD’s as pogo sticks, and ordering Uber Eats.

A sketch about a Christmas choir practice at an all-girls’ school is just an excuse for Palmer to show off her impressive vocal talents.

Things conclude with an overnight flight in which Palmer and Ego Nwodim’s attendants celebrate some milestones while revealing that both the plane and the captain are super old. Much like the plane at the center of it, the sketch just kind of peters out.

While not a full stinker, this episode was marred by a lack of focus that caused sketches to veer off course. Palmer acquitted herself fine, but outside of her celebratory monologue, she wasn’t given much to work with. That said, Sherman’s Update segments continue to be a bright spot and something to look forward to.

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