Written by Mark Henely and Melissa Jouben
Saturday Night Live – Benedict Cumberbatch and Solange
Guest Host: Benedict Cumberbatch
Mark: Benedict Cumberbatch came into SNL this week in a weird situation because appearance should be hotly anticipated, but he feels like an afterthought. He’s hosting SNL the night his Marvel Superhero movie debuts at Number 1 in the box office, but he still feels like he is being overshadowed by next week’s host, Dave Chappelle. Benedict Cumberbatch is a huge movie star, but Chappelle is a comedy icon and his return to the mainstream comedy world is newsworthy. Seriously, the people I sat down to watch this with were surprised to hear that Chappelle didn’t host this week because all of the buzz around SNL has been about Chappelle.
Melissa: I should be clear about something before I begin: I’ve never seen Benedict Cumberbatch act before. I’ve heard of him, I know all about him and his fan base, and I know he’s supposedly very good and talented. I’m not here to cast doubt on whether that’s true or not. Again, I’ve never seen his work. But I did watch last night’s episode of Saturday Night Live, which was the worst of the season so far. Whereas the Lin-Manuel Miranda episode grew on me after the initial viewing and endeared me to him a little bit, this episode only added distance between me and Cumberbatch. It never sounded like he wasn’t simply reading off a cue card. He didn’t look like he was having fun. Some of the blame can probably be directed at the writers who played to his strengths for sure, but also didn’t give him a whole lot to work with. The episode started strong with the “Koohl Toilet” pre-recorded sketch which I thought he did a fine job in, but then I realized that he was going to carry that same energy into everything else and I lost interest. By the way, when I say the episode started strong, I’m not referring to the monologue, which I’m ignoring. I knew they were going to make him sing a sensual song for it and I just couldn’t bring myself to care about it. I’m not bashing Benedict Cumberbatch as a man, or an actor, but as an SNL host he certainly didn’t bring it. He certainly didn’t look like he wanted to, either.
Mark: I want to jump in and agree with Melissa about the monologue and disagree on a few other points. He clearly was unable to deliver a monologue, so they gave him a song to sing. It was a low point for the show, but it’s the low point of the show for a lot of non-stand up comedian hosts. I didn’t think his performance on the show was particularly bad, but I did forget most of the sketches by the morning. He was competent, but he didn’t have any tricks up his sleeve. He couldn’t rap like Miranda or do spot on impressions like Arianna Grande did last year. I don’t think he embarrassed himself, but I think this will be the most forgettable episode of the year.
Mark’s Favorite Sketch of the Night: Why is Benedict Cumberbatch Hot?
Mark: In my favorite sketch of the night, Beck Bennet tricks his fellow cast mates, Vanessa Bayer and Aidy Bryant, and guest host, Benedict Cumberbatch, into participating in a game show called “Why is Benedict Cumberbatch Hot?” It’s a fun premise because Cumberbatch is one of the strangest looking handsome guys out there and because it shows a lot of humility on Cumberbatch’s part to participate in it.
The thing that really makes this special is that every performer individually looks good and furthers their own brand. Beck Bennet plays a super insecure version of himself who is totally OK with putting people on the spot and making them uncomfortable to possibly get a compliment. Bayer and Bryant just have to deliver simple lines about finding Cumberbatch hot, but each one does it in their own ways and both ways are very funny. Lastly, Cumberbatch looks incredibly kind and charming in it.
Melissa’s Favorite Sketch of the Night – Surprise Bachelorette
Melissa: This sketch was my favorite for a few reasons. One is that it was the only sketch of the night to make me laugh out loud. The sketch is a very simple concept – one that originated several decades ago in a little movie called “Weekend at Bernies.” The plot here is a little different. Aidy Bryant plays an eighty-something year old grandmother who is about to get remarried, and her younger female relatives throw her a surprise party. She immediately has a heart attack and dies, but none of them notice as they dress her up and invite two male strippers to dance and grind on her face for the night. It was genuinely very funny to watch Aidy Bryant do her best as staying limp and dead in the face with Benedict Cumberbatch (and later the Chicago Cubs) rubbed their junk all over her face. I liked the little bit of darkness in this sketch that get easily overshadowed by the silliness of it all. I love how close Benedict Cumberbatch’s junk actually does come to Aidy’s face. When they’re bouncing her head between their butts like a ping pong ball? Very good work. Aidy Bryant looked as dead as you can possibly look, but I can still tell she was in absolute heaven. And I mean, for Aidy’s precious Chicago Cubs to join in on the action? I feel like she pitched this idea herself. I feel like she pitched this so it could happen to her, and if that’s true then I love her for it. Get it, Aidy.
Melissa’s Least Favorite Sketch of the Night – Like, Literally Everything Else
Melissa: Believe me when I say that this episode is real optional viewing. Even for it being the last episode before the election, it didn’t deliver in any meaningful way. I can’t stress enough how the only sketches worth watching were in the first half of the episode, and even then, they seemed mixed in with clunkers. The second half of the episode was instantly forgettable. Sketches moved quickly and didn’t last long. They ended abruptly – in some cases it seemed like they ended before they were supposed to and music just filled the dead air. If you’re not going to listen to me and insist on watching, you might laugh at the initial reveal in “Meeting with Mr. Shaw” or at Cecily Strong’s song in “Gemma and Ricky,” but there was nothing in either of those sketches to really cling to. Considering I’m the one who usually loves sketches that move fast and make no sense, the fact I’m speaking out against this episode says a lot, to me, about how low the bar was set this time around.
Mark’s Least Favorite Sketch of the Night: Chicago Cubs Song
Mark: I don’t know if it qualifies as a sketch because it didn’t have any jokes in it, but I still want to throw shade on it. My least favorite part of the show was when the Chicago Cubs showed up on SNL with Bill Murray to sing an earnest original song about baseball. Now, I understand and I even appreciate that a big part of SNL is the spectacle of it all and having the Chicago Cubs and Bill Murray on the show was probably very special for some people, but it didn’t do it for me. I don’t watch baseball and don’t recognize any of these players.
I’m a big professional wrestling fan. In wrestling, there are frequently stars of bygone eras that will make appearances in the current product. Sometimes the stars will show up and just talk to the crowd, but sometimes they’ll come back and wrestle a full match (see: Bill Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series). The latter is infinitely more exciting than the former. But, in wrestling, it’s more understandable because these retired stars are sometimes too beaten up and out of shape to wrestle. But, comedians aren’t like that. So, anytime I see an appearance like Bill Murray’s where he shows up to do something other than comedy, I find it really frustrating. It’s self-indulgent.
Musical Guest: Solange
Melissa: When my sister saw Solange come on the screen she said something like, “Who cares about her? She’s not Beyoncé.” I sure hope that sentiment isn’t a common one among anyone who hasn’t heard her new album, because no, she is not Beyoncé. First of all, she’s not even the same genre as Beyoncé. And if she was, what she’s bringing to the table is something entirely unique and all her own. Solange has a stage presence that is understated yet commanding at the same time. One thing that I loved about her performances is that she manages to find a way between putting on a big production and putting on a big show. I think of past guests like Kanye West, who had a now famous meltdown over the fact that his super elaborate stage couldn’t be set up to his preferences, and I think about a performer like Solange who didn’t need that kind of showmanship to floor the audience. She’s going big, but with striking outfits and dance moves that draw your attention right to her and make it hard to look away. I think what I’m trying to say is that she’s a really good performer, with a great stage presence, and her album is one of my favorites right now.
Mark: It’s incredibly rare that a musical guest moves the needle for me. I didn’t find all that much exciting about Solange on SNL this week. Maybe it was a sound mixing error, but it felt like she was whisper singing. I’ll admit that the costumes that Solange and her band were wearing were cool, but I didn’t think there was anything in her performance that you would miss if you only saw a photo of her and her band.