TV Recap: SNL — Ronda Rousey, Selena Gomez

Written by: Mark Henely and Dan Gagliardi

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The Host:

Mark: I was really excited to see Ronda Rousey host this week’s show. I am a big fan of her beating up on people in the UFC, but I wasn’t sure if she could pull this show off. She is incredibly charismatic and is presumably looking to transition her popularity in the UFC into other areas of the entertainment industry (especially after her brutal loss to Holly Holmes), so this night could be very important toward the rest of her career.

Ronda isn’t a complete stranger to acting. She was in Furious 7 and Expendables 3, but those movies really only required her to pretend to beat people up. Sure, she had to deliver a line here and there, but she’s never had to perform live comedy before. How was she going to handle the monologue? Could she hold a sketch together? Was she funny at all?

Now that the show is over, I think it is safe to say that her hosting job was a success. It wasn’t because she was a secret comedic genius, but because SNL used Ronda in a very smart way. They never left her exposed. She was never required to deliver more than three or four lines in a row without a cast member coming out and keeping her on track. And, to Ronda’s credit, she didn’t insist that the entire show be about her. The cast really got a chance to do what they do best  and carry the show, while Rousey fans got to see her be charming and not screw up the show.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Ronda Rousey" Episode 1694 -- Pictured: (l-r) Singer Selena Gomez, mixed martial artist Ronda Rousey, and Cecily Strong on January 21, 2016 -- (Photo by: Dana Edelson/NBC)
Photo Credit: Dana Edelson/NBC

Dan: Anyone watching SNL on a regular basis feels a tinge of dread when it’s announced that an athlete is going to host. I know I feel this dread. I feel it, despite the fact that athletes will always make more delightful hosts than, say, a musician-turned-actor who is deeply amused by himself. An athlete makes their living by committing their body to the task at hand, and always in front of a live audience. And, so far removed from their element, there tends to be a vulnerability to them that’s always endearing, if not charming. That said: Ronda Rousey seems very uncomfortable gesticulating with her arms, and unlike Mark, I think she has only the charisma of someone who beats the shit out of people for a living.

I also love non-entertainer hosts because it all but guarantees that the monologue won’t be that most beloved of crutches: a protracted musical number. Even so, they found a way to squeeze in a few bars in what was otherwise a solid monologue bit that allowed Ronda Rousey to hang out with the cast effectively.

The advantage of having Rousey, specifically, as a host was that they could use her line of work as an excuse to play around with physical comedy, like in the first pre-taped segment.

Maybe Ronda Rousey is my ideal host. (I don’t mean that, of course. Drake is my ideal host.) She had a good attitude, never trying to milk her peripheral roles in sketches for more than they were worth. She was written in as a supporting player—a line here, a line there—and as a result the writers seemed freer to write in weird bits of dialogue that any member of this stacked cast will knock out of the park. (Think in the “Bland Man” sketch when Aidy Bryant explains that her young son “always has a ton of cash and he won’t tell me where it’s from.”) I like hosts that blend, and Rousey was very good at it.

Weekend Update:

Mark: Weekend Update was a bright spot of the show as usual, but the brightest part of the whole section was Leslie Jones. Leslie Jones is incredible. She is the real deal. She is incredibly charismatic and she could be hilarious while talking about anything. She had a segment with Weekend Update host, Colin Jost, where she jokes about having sex with Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s a simple premise and it didn’t really have a point, but it was funny every step of the way.

Dan: I’m a big fan of Michael Che and Colin Jost in tandem. They improv off of each other between jokes so often and so well that when they dip into extended bits where they tagteam a topic, it’s not only natural, but welcome.

Leslie Jones, as she often does, made me laugh like an idiot. She’s unstoppable. Her energy and her poetic raunchiness (she does, from the bottom of her heart, call Colin Jost a “sexy-ass blizzard”) can sell me on just about anything she says—including an Inception joke in 2016.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t dedicate a few words to Kenan Thompson, who, as the hopelessly optimistic Willie, explained with such joy and exuberance to Michael Che that everyone eats rock salt. The Willie segment is a perfect example of the screws being so precisely tightened on this episode. Whereas, in the past, a one-joke character like Willie can easily overstay his welcome, he got in and out without any time for me to wish he’d leave.

Photo Credit: Dana Edelson/NBC
Photo Credit: Dana Edelson/NBC

Favorite Sketch: Bland Man

Mark: I have a weird confession to make: I love reality competition shows. Survivor, Big Brother, all of it. My new obsession is with the Bachelor and, as a new watcher, I’m always struck by how bizarre the whole show is. Twenty Eight women leave their jobs and families for a few months to get a chance to date a guy. Not a rich guy, or an especially interesting guy, just a guy.

The “Bland Man” sketch really took that idea and ran with it. The game of the sketch revolved around bachelor, Dan, saying blandly positive things while his would-be-brides showed up one at a time to reference the over-the-top dates they went on that week and act overly emotional towards a man who barely knows them. When I watch the Bachelor, I always have the feeling that Ben Higgins and his women are genuinely trying to formulate real feelings for each other, but the scenario they find themselves in is just so absurd and unhealthy that it’s a wonder any of these competitions ever formulated a lasting relationship. This sketch captured the absurdity of the show in a new way and was absolutely hilarious.

Dan: There’s a magical thing that often happens at SNL with ten minutes left in an episode. A certain kind of sketch airs. If done right: it is bizarre, borderline nonsense, and you will wonder if you’re maybe running a high fever. Mark calls this 12:50 AM slot the “Will Forte slot,” and it’s where the finest comedy witchcraft can happen.

This week was no exception. Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney got the tragically rare chance to work as a duo in a live sketch, the premise for which is as simple as “a woman invites her two coworkers to a party,” but very quickly finds Rousey’s character having to beg Bennett and Mooney not to bring TVs to her house. I guess the whole show can’t be comprised of sketches like this, right? And maybe it’s better, so that the thrill of getting one is even greater? Sigh. I guess.

Least Favorite Sketch: Super-Hero Sketch

Mark: I really hated the Super-Hero sketch. The premise was that the city needed saving, but the local superhero team refused to save the city until they each introduced themselves and described their powers. The joke is that they are self-absorbed and that they each had useless powers. It felt like the kind of sketch that would be written by a first time writer who has never read a comic book.

Dan: The superhero sketch was a disorganized, boring affair. The premise was trite, the execution was lacking. Part of the joy of watching this show, for me, is that the cast often has to elevate sketches far above where the writing is at. In most okay-or-worse sketches, you can at least usually find some little nugget to carry with you (in the courtroom sketch, for me, it was Kate McKinnon theatrically moaning “Monsters” at the two teachers). But this sketch did nothing. I don’t want to talk about it.

Musical Guest: Selena Gomez

Photo Credit: Dana Edelson/NBC
Photo Credit: Dana Edelson/NBC

Mark: I wasn’t a Selena Gomez fan going in (and I still am not), but she performed well. Selena sang her first song, “Look Good For You” in a horseshoe of men dressed like Theater Professors (a lot of black turtlenecks) that were snapping their fingers like gang members in West Side Story. It was visual interesting despite being so goofy and really let the song itself pop. Selena’s second song, “Hands to Myself”, saw her singing in a nightie while a man and a woman groped her. It was pretty cool. Neither of these songs are particularly memorable. They are the kind of songs that make me zone out when they come on the radio, but she is charismatic and she makes these bland songs seem more interesting than they are.

Dan: Even in this pretty solid episode of SNL, Selena Gomez’s one dozen fingersnapping gentlemen was the silliest thing.

Pop music stage shows have been playing dress-up as “Art” with a capital A, and it’s exhausting. I refuse to forget that you’re Selena Gomez just because you found two interpretive dancers on craigslist to fondle your torso, Selena Gomez.

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***Mark Henely is a stand up comedian, podcaster, and comic book fan. He went to Rutgers University where he officially studied English Literature and unofficially studied Marvel and DC Comics. Now he has a podcast where he reviews the first appearances of Comic Book characters. It is called “Introducing… The First Appearance Podcast” and you can check it out on iTunes and Stitcher.  You can also follow Mark on Twitter @MarkHenely***

***Dan Gagliardi on Twitter: @asimplemachine***

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.