Saturday Night Live absolutely killed it four weeks ago with Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake. Not only was that the best episode so far, it also delivered the highest ratings in two years. When was the last time the ratings were that high? It was 2011 when Justin Timberlake hosted and Lady Gaga was the musical guest. Outside of the episode proving that people will watch anything with Timberlake, the bar was officially set for this season. SNL really entered the winter hiatus in the best way imaginable.
Now we are here with the first show of the New Year with Drake as the host and musical guest. Drake has performed before but this is his first time on hosting duties. Now just like Timberlake, Drake’s talent as a musician is undeniable. His legions of fans fawn over him every chance they get. However, unlike Timberlake Drake has never tried his hand at live stage comedy. Timberlake has proven that he can do that with ease. Can Drake? That was my big question coming into this episode. This was also the first episode for Sasheer Zamata, the first black female cast member since Maya Rudolph left in 2007. Due to the controversy surrounding SNL’s lack of diversity, the spotlight was as much on her as it was on Drake. Talk about trial by fire.
SNL came back from the winter hiatus on the right foot with a great cold open. Taran Killam lead as Piers Morgan and his guests contained Bobby Moynihan’s Chris Christie, Drake’s Alex Rodriguez, and Kate McKinnon’s Justin Bieber. Even the most casual news viewer knows why each of these people were being parodied so there’s no point in addressing it. What I will talk about is how McKinnon killed it as Bieber. She’s by far one of the funniest comedians on this show and her unashamed portrayal of this spoiled punk was pure gold. Definitely expect her to play Bieber again in the near future. Killam, Moynihan, and Drake were great too.
There have been plenty of musical numbers throughout this season and last night was no exception. This time we had another original piece titled “Resolution Revolution.” It was entirely about people making New Year’s Resolutions and then totally failing them after two weeks. Zamata anchored this bit as the main singer and she did a really good job. The song was as catchy as it was hilarious. I’m not sure who’s behind the direction and creation of these musical numbers but these songs absolutely rule.
My personal favorite of the night was definitely the “Indiana Jones Epic Adventure” skit with Drake as the typical, overly excited Disney World employee. Nasim Pedrad, who was dreadfully underused this episode, lead this bit as a woman named Rahat who couldn’t understand what was going on. Drake really bounced off Pedrad well despite her only repeating the same few lines (“I am Rahat!” and “This is my rice!”) and mostly staring blankly into space. Rahat spontaneously praying midway through the bit was when I laughed the most the entire night. The audience was almost completely silent but for whatever reason I really enjoyed it.
The “BET Before They Were Stars” segment right after the monologue was definitely a low point of the night. It was just another one of those skits with a whole bunch of celebrity impersonations thrown in. Once again, some really worked (Killam as Eminem) and some were just terrible (Jay Pharoah as 2 Chainz). It was also going for that absurdity factor to generate laughs (why else would we have Rick Ross on Teletubbies) but nothing really connected to make a completely coherent segment. Plus it looked like Kenan Thompson was incredibly bored playing Sway.
Back when Miley Cyrus hosted in October they did this “Morning Miami Promo” segment that had McKinnon, Moynihan, and Cyrus saying quick one-liners and then sitting in extended silence. It was terrible. Guess what? They brought it back with Drake! It was the exact same thing which made it as terrible as before. This has all signs of being a recurring segment now and that really makes me groan in agony.
Unfortunately the night didn’t end on the same high notes that it started off with. The last bit of the night was another pre-recorded segment from the minds of Beck Bennet and Kyle Mooney. These guys clearly have a knack for this sort of stuff and their talent has shown in their previous segments, but it felt like last night’s “I Know” was a throwaway. It had no high or low points. In fact, it didn’t even really take off at all. I really want these skits to do well but pushing them into the bottom hour of the show when everyone has basically tuned out is not helping. This is especially true when the comedy is almost completely absent.
I had absolutely no delusions that last night’s episode was going to reach the heights set by Fallon and Timberlake four weeks ago. That didn’t stop it from being a really solid episode overall. Drake was a terrific performer as always and his comedic abilities were really on point. Zamata really knocked it out of the park on her first outing too, already taking control of a few segments. Noel Wells got her first real chance to shine as Nancy Grace, and both Aidy Bryant and Vanessa Bayer had some real moments of brilliance. Bryant’s came during the Slumber Party skit and Bayer was unbelievable parodying Jacqueline Bisset’s incredibly long Golden Globes walk on the Weekend Update.
The show clearly has way too many cast members though as so many skits feature large groups to squeeze everyone in. Bringing in Zamata clearly filled a void but now we have ten repetory players and seven featured players. Some skits are clearly made for the purpose of cramming as many people in as possible and certain cast members STILL get cut out over others. It’s starting to get a little ridiculous. Yet despite the show basically being at max capacity, the writers are still able to produce enough gems to keep us entertained. It also helps when natural entertainers like Drake are able to blend into the cast with ease.