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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Zach Vasquez

Saturday Night Live: Kristen Wiig returns to steer season’s funniest episode yet

Kristen Wiig
Kristen Wiig. Photograph: NBC/Rosalind O'Connor/Getty Images

Saturday Night Live opens with March Madness post-game coverage, where the hosts, including Kenny Smith (Devon Walker) and Charles Barkley (Kenan Thompson) dismiss the boring men’s games in favor of the women’s tournament, which is “where the action’s at!”

They fawn over Iowa Hawkeyes star Caitlin Clark before turning things over to Kim Mulkey (Heidi Gardner), LSU Women’s sassy Southern coach who dresses like “The Riddler went to Talbots” and has “resting Q-Anon face.” One double-entendre about “Las Vegas women’s spread” later and things wrap up. Even by regular cold open standards, this is a big nothing.

Former cast member Kristen Wiig takes on hosting duties for the fifth time, which means she’s earned entry into the vaunted Five Timers Club. After some fun joshing with the band (saxophonist and band leader Lenny Pickett gets a killer line) and fielding questions from audience members Paul Rudd and Paula Pell, she’s dismayed to learn that Lorne Michaels has been handing out Five Timers jackets to just about everyone, regardless of how many times they’ve hosted. Matt Damon, Jon Hamm, Fred Armisen, Will Forte, Martin Short and Ryan Gosling all get their unearned jackets before sincerely inducting Wiig. A genuinely clever and funny send-up of the celebrity stuffed Five Timers sketches that have become a constant in recent years.

In the first sketch, Wiig plays Nina, a woman who refuses to play board games due to her fear of “getting Jumanji’d.” This leads to an argument between her and her boyfriend’s friend group over the “real” Jumanji v the recent remakes, as well as the rules of the fictional movie (“Jumanji is a series of jungle emergencies!”). Eventually, her nightmare comes true, with Forte showing up as a diabolical conductor who traps them all – save Nina, whom he spares – in train-set board game. An absurdly specific premise made even better by everyone (but especially Wiig and Andrew Dismuke’s) commitment.

Next up is a trailer for the latest “chilling new look at girl horror”: Pilates, the movie. Wiig plays the sinister trainer lording over a torturous, cult-like gym class (which includes model Kaia Gerber). As a send-up of Pilates training, I have to assume its accurate, but as a parody of modern rote horror it feels half-assed.

Hamm shows back up as a hotshot lawyer showing a colleague around his office. Their tour hits a snag when he introduces his secretary Trudy (Gardner, bringing back a character she introduced last season), an old-fashioned flibbertigibbet who anticipates her boss’s every need, but is only half right the time. In order to fix things, Hamm has brought on a second secretary, Tudy (Wiig). Unfortunately, she’s almost an exact clone of Trudy, so between the two of them, they get everything wrong all the time. The duo trade screwball dialogue and sexually charged slapstick while tearing down the set.

A party for the retiree Jerry (Thompson) goes off the rails during the final run of speeches, which sees Bowen Yang’s oddball tell a gory story about the accidental evisceration of his pet chinchilla, some inappropriate comedy from the company improv group (Rudd, Punkie Johnson, Chloe Fineman), an even more inappropriate rant from the office perv (Armisen), accusations of impropriety from Wiig’s oxygen tank-wielding co-worker, some unwelcome thanks from Damon (as himself), and an uber-morbid description of afterlife from the creepy, rightwing nephew of the event coordinator (Forte). A little sloppy narrative-wise, but Wiig, Damon, and Forte’s bizarro performances keep things fun.

Following the first performance from British singer-songwriter Raye, it’s over to Weekend Update, where Colin Jost compares the rare 4.8 magnitude earthquake that rattled New York earlier in the week to the time he saw his father naked: “It was a little scary, there was no permanent damage, and I’m going to remember it the rest of my life.”

Appropriately, their first guest is the Earthquake (Marcello Hernandez), who brags about throwing the whole city into pure chaos: “Move over guy who was punching women in the face – I punched the whole city in the face!” He is soon overshadowed – literally and figuratively – by Monday’s upcoming Eclipse (Thompson). The two-cut wrestling-style promos on each other, before deciding to team up in order to wreak havoc of Biblical proportions on New York. A fun bit of silliness that ends with a much-deserved dig at Mayor Eric Adams.

Then, Jost welcomes back old Update friend Aunt Linda for her take on recent hit movies. The ever-confused and disgruntled moviegoer trashes the likes of Barbie (“Hey, America Ferrera, save your speeches for women’s libbers – I love wearing a bra!”) and Oppenheimer (“Why would anyone make a movie about the guy who invented the microwave?”), but raves about Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie (“Dogs saving the world in uniforms? Here’s my alley and this film went straight up it!”). A fun return for one of Wiig’s most popular characters from back in the day.

A nice family outing at the go-karts is clearly the prelude to a divorce announcement. Unfortunately, the soon to be ex-couple tip their hand too early, leaving the young kids in distress. The longer they draw it out, the more some upsetting details – including infidelity and alcoholism – start to emerge. An intriguing premise that ultimately and unfortunately peters out.

After the second performance from Raye, the show concludes with an episode of the PBS music history show Sonic Pioneers, which covers the 70s French television program La Maison du Bang. Clips from the wild and wacky variety show feature cigarette-smoking children, a white funk act, a cringey mime, and lots of Wiig’s coked-up gyrations. Hard to say who this is meant to appeal to.

Despite flat bookends, the star power on display and Wiig’s assured hosting combined to make this the most roundly funny episode of the season thus far.

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