This week’s Saturday Night Live opens with a national security briefing at the White House. To address the increased prevalence of TikTok as an information source for Ukrainians under attack from Russia, President Joe Biden (James Austin Johnson) and Press Secretary Jen Psaki (Kate McKinnon) welcome several prominent content creators from the platform. Biden is desperate for their help, admitting “I understand Putin. I understand war. But there’s one thing I don’t understand: computer.”
The Tik Tokers, include an actor from the CW (Chloe Fineman), a rapper/prankster (Andrew Dismukes), singer and dancer Jason Derulo (Chris Redd), an alt-right child make-up artist (Aidy Bryant), a “ random middle-aged guy” named Charles F D’Amelio (Kenan Thompson) who the White House confused with teenage influencer Charli D’Amelio, and a guy who does stunts with a toilet plunger stuck to his nipple (Bowen Yang). Their advice on how to win the information war against Russia involves reading awful poetry, pushing Vladimir Putin down a flight of stairs and sending a roofer to assassinate him.
As bad a cold open as the show has done this season, this sketch is as easy and obnoxious as the social media personalities it’s attempting to ridicule. It’s also yet another example of SNL scraping the bottom of the barrel by simply regurgitating other people’s (bad) material. It’s unclear whether the show is attempting to make its audience laugh, or just clap like trained seals because they recognize the various references.
Zoë Kravitz hosts for the first time. The actor, currently starring as Catwoman in The Batman, is almost immediately interrupted by McKinnon, dressed up in the risque latex costume that Michelle Pfieffer wore in her outing as the iconic anti-hero. McKinnon mugs it up while introducing the “Cat Signal”, which brings out a rogues gallery of other feline-centric characters, including Eartha Kitt (Ego Nwodim) as the campy Catwoman from the ’60s Batman TV show, a mentally unbalanced New York City “cat lady” (Bryant), and obnoxious stand-up comic Katt Williams (Redd). Kravitz plays the straight man for all of it, ceding pretty much the entirety of his monologue to others.
This is followed by a wedding reception in which Kravitz play the maid of honor. Her toast gets off to a weird start with the casual mention that both she and the bride (Cecily Strong) have seen her dad naked, before going even further sideways as she remembers reveals the depths of her friend’s insanity and depravity, which includes a history of hate crimes (“She’s been a bit of a Bridezilla, and not just because she’s attacked a lot of Japanese people”), a string of dead boyfriends (“If nine of my last boyfriends killed themselves, I’d give up on romance But not Tanya!”) and a sexual history with “the whole Jackass gang”. The rapid-fire jokes and escalation of insanity, combined with the befuddled reactions from Kyle Mooney’s doomed groom and a quick, funny appearance from Martin Herlihy make it clear that this sketch was penned by the Please Don’t Destroy guys.
A commercial for Amazon Go attempts to sell the convenience of their “grab and go” model, but it is met with skepticism from Black shoppers, all of whom fear a trap. Then, awkward high school nerd Josh (McKinnon) attempts to woo the popular girl in his class with the help of his equally nerdy friend (Bryant). Despite his awkwardness and against all odds, he manages to seal the deal. It’s unclear what the joke is supposed to be here – at times, the sketch plays like a send-up of Nasa mission control room movie scenes, but it never fully leans into that idea.
In a scene from Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, Kravitz’s Princess is all set to plant a kiss on Redd’s Frog, until he reveals that “frogs don’t have a penis”. When she asks how his species has sex, he describes the process with the help of some graphic metaphors: “Who needs a straw when I can just throw the milkshake right in your face?” There are some decent lines throughout, but they can’t save how random and dated the whole thing is. What exactly is the point of parodying a moderately popular kid’s movie from 13 years ago?
A new Please Don’t Destroy video sees the guys hoping to surprise Kravitz by gifting her a kitten (“We thought it would be funny to get Catwoman a woman cat!”). However, they quickly lose the animal in their office (a place ungoverned by the rules of space, time or reason). Chaos ensues. Of late, the PDD segments have suffered from a little too much celebrity involvement (along with Kravitz, the crew is joined by her Batman costar Paul Dano, who’s living under the couch while researching an upcoming role in a movie “about three guys who suck ”). The dynamic work best when it’s just Ben, John and Martin. That said, this one is still enjoyably anarchic, overflowing with the cartoon logic that make these sketches so enjoyable. And to be fair, Dano’s weirdo energy makes him a pretty good fit.
Next, a mother and her kids watch some of their dad’s old home movies, only to discover a secret tape he recorded in the event of his death. In it, he confesses that he’s flat broke from blowing “his money on JB Smoove’s new sports betting app”, is in terrible health (“I haven’t drank a glass of water since 2003”), and has a secret daughter from donating sperm. It ends with him pitching his idea for a terrible movie idea called Dallas City Bouncers. It all goes on far too long, but Thompson’s performance as the dopey patriarch makes it worth the while, especially when he has to act like he’s being fast forwarded.
On Weekend Update, Colin Jost spoils for direct American intervention in Ukraine, saying “I’ve honestly thought about marching down to the nearest Army enlistment office and signing Che up.” A little later, he invites on film critic Terry Fink (Alex Moffat) to give his Oscar predictions. As in his previous appearances, the cheerful Fink has a hard time keeping the movies straight due to his liberal intake of hallucinogens (“The LSD helps me LS-See all these terrific films!”). He gives disturbed recaps of several of the nominees, including The Power of the Dog (“Benedict Cumberbatch rides high as the titular Dog the Bounty Hunter”) Encanto (“Feels worse than being on fire”) and Belfast (“Get the tissues ready as Johnny Knoxville and his band of idiots bop around town and torture each other’s balls in this Troubles-era tearjerker”). Moffat’s unhinged performance – particularly a prolonged existential breakdown that he sells entirely with facial expression – might be the best he’s ever given.
Then, Michael Che invites on lifestyle influencer Dan Bulldozer – Mooney, decked out in a ridiculously bulky muscle suit and fake beard, his voice made extra-deep with the help of a modifier – who brags about his flashy lifestyle and promotes his forthcoming book ( “It’s like Hemingway, but for guys”). Asked how he maintains a down-to-earth attitude, he attempts to answer by way of a long-winded parable about a farmer and his three daughters, but he loses the thread. So too does the bit, although it’s nice to see Mooney get the spotlight, as he’s been noticeably sparse these past couple of months.
Word Crunch is a game show where contestants have to find the words hidden in a letter puzzle. Kravitz’s contestant keeps guessing the word “Momhole”, before moving on to a full litany of filthy guesses. It’s a one-joke sketch, but Dismukes is very good as the flustered host.
Things close out with a sketch about Bowen Yang obsessing over a high school marching band’s version of Don’t Stop Believing. He becomes violently emotional when he plays the song, singing, screaming, dancing and yelling about Mario Kart. It’s all as tired, annoying and endless as Don’t Stop Believing itself.
Like last week’s episode, this outing had its ups and downs, although there were more downs this time around. Kravitz played things safe by mostly keeping to straight man roles, giving the actual cast all the opportunity to shine. Some of them – Moffatt, Thompson, Dismukes, the PDD guys – made the most of it. Others – McKinnon and Yang – not so much. The biggest takeaway remains SNL’s utter inability to mine anything remotely funny from social media. They need to put a pin in that ASAP.