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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Zach Vasquez

Saturday Night Live: Jake Gyllenhaal hosts a mediocre episode

Camila Cabello, Jake Gyllenhaal and Bowen Yang
Camila Cabello, Jake Gyllenhaal and Bowen Yang. Photograph: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

Saturday Night Live opens at the White House, where President Biden (James Austin Johnson) congratulates Ketanji Brown Jackson (Ego Nwodim) on her historic confirmation to the supreme court. Justice Jackson is happy to do her part, ie, “work twice as hard as a white man my entire life, and then spend a week listening to Ted Cruz call me a pedophile”.

Biden leaves her alone in the Oval Office and encourages her take in the weight of the room’s history. She calls upon historical barrier breakers for advice and guidance, including the late Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Kate McKinnon) and Thurgood Marshall (Kenan Thompson), “conductor of the underground railroad” Harriet Tubman (Punkie Johnson), and Jackie Robinson (Chris Redd).

This cold open plays like a high school history presentation with slightly more jokes, but little in the way of actual laughs. The problem is the premise itself: the culmination of these figures’ struggles in Jackson’s appointment to the court is cause for celebration, not satire. But since SNL is a satirical show, you have to question what the sketch’s purpose is.

Jake Gyllenhaal hosts for the second time in 15 years. The actor reflects on how much he’s changed in that time, before launching into a rendition of Celine Dion’s It’s All Coming Back to Me Now with backup from Nwodim, Cecily Strong and Chloe Fineman. Gyllenhaal gives the song his all, but the result is little more than a karaoke performance.

Why’d You Like It? is a game show that asks people to explain why they “liked” certain Instagram posts. Pressed to explain why he “did the double tap” for a picture of a hot woman when he could have just looked at it, Gyllenhaal’s nervous contestant eventually admits, “I guess some part of me thought that if I liked it she would see that I liked it, and then she would follow me back, and then we’d DM, and then maybe at some point she’d want to have sex with me.” (This does not amuse his girlfriend in the audience.) The other two contestants are initially confident that they’ll escape a similar humiliation, since the posts they liked initially seem harmless, but they eventually break down and reveal they’ve fallen into the exact same thirst traps. A sharp dissection of the shallowness of social media and the way it’s warped all of our brains.

Dream Home Cousins is a show on HGTV in which the design for a young couple’s dream home turns into a nightmare after the husband’s aged mother decides to move in with them. Instead of an “oasis of relaxation,” the house becomes cluttered with medical equipment, “large, ceramic statues of ducks in 1930s gangster outfits” and black and white photographs of “stern looking ancestors.” As the creepy, suffocating matriarch, McKinnon hits several of her most overplayed beats while failing to bring anything new to the table.

The Singers Four are a cabaret group (Gyllenhaal, McKinnon, Strong and Bowen Yang) who reunite on stage to sing a ballad about celebrating life’s small victories, such as meeting Z-list celebrities, not scaring or upsetting sexual partners, hating Hamilton “before it was cool” and owning a TV. It’s fitting that a sketch about accepting mediocrity should be so, well, you know.

Next, a group of flowers are excited for Spring, until they’re visited by a number of horrors, including horny bees, perverted weeds, urinating dogs and violent decapitation. This never plays as dark or shocking as it wants to be, and the high-pitched voices the cast use make it all very annoying.

This is followed by another high concept sketch in which possessed child’s doll Chucky (Sarah Sherman) attempts to stab several coworkers at the corporate office he works at, resulting in an HR intervention. A Sarah Sherman special, this feels a bit too random and rushed, although the effects work is effectively uncanny.

On Weekend Update, Colin Jost comments on the 10-year ban handed down by the Oscars to Will Smith, asking “Is that a punishment?” He suggests that Smith should be forced to humiliate himself by hosting next year’s ceremony. A little later, he describes Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s televised speech at Sunday’s Grammy Awards as heartfelt and impassioned but notes that he missed “an opportunity for a legendary GI Jane joke”.

The show Lights, Camera, Achoo! looks back at “some of the sickest performances in film history”. Tonight’s episode focuses on the tubercular cowboy Doc Holiday, as played by Val Kilmer in the western Tombstone, as well as a different actor in a lesser known movie from the previous year called Cough, Cough, Bang, Bang. A clip from the latter see’s Gyllenhaal’s Holiday interrupting a showdown between gunslinging rivals only to utterly disgust everyone by coughing, sneezing, farting and spewing blood and vomit all over the place. Gyllenhaal gives his best performance of the night as the “Patient Zero” of the old west in this slight, but enjoyably gross sketch.

A couples therapy session quickly goes off the rails when the therapist (Johnson) takes a phone call from her significant other and immediately goes on a furious rant, daring her partner to make good on her threats of gun violence, yelling “Come through bitch! It’s on sight!” The danger of the situation continues to escalate, with the therapist dragging the couple into the conflict against their will. The sketch is all over the place, but Johnson’s deranged outbursts and Gyllenhaal’s reading of sexually explicit text messages (which make use of lots of fish metaphors) in an ill-advised black female voice are the highlights of the episode.

Not half an hour after Colin Jost made several jokes about Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith, their daughter Willow joins Camila Cabello on stage for a performance of Psychofreak. This must have made for an interesting afterparty for the cast.

The final sketch of the night sees Bryant play a redneck trucker pitching truck-themed CDs featuring country standards, romantic ballads, spooky folks songs, and children’s classics, about peeing, running other cars off the road and picking up a hitchhiking El Chapo. It’s admirable that Gyllenhaal was so keen on musical comedy, but this isn’t any funnier than the other song-based sketches that preceded it. A thoroughly mediocre episode, the highs weren’t ever very high, but at least the lows weren’t egregiously low.

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