Saturday Night Live Review: Jessica Chastain, Troye Sivan

Kate McKinnon Jessica Chastain Cecily Strong on SNL
Photo Credit: Will Heath/NBC

Saturday Night Live: Jessica Chastain (host), Troye Sivan (musical guest)

Written by Mark Henely and Melissa Jouben

The Host: Jessica Chastain

Melissa: I was equal parts nervous and excited for Jessica Chastain to host SNL. Excited because I think this is a great opportunity for her to let loose and have fun, something she rarely gets to do in movies. Nervous because with the show’s recent trend of trying and failing at making worthwhile political and social commentary, I was worried that Jessica Chastain was going to step into something that would ruin her credibility. Chastain is one of the most vocally feminist women in Hollywood, and so far she’s been on the right side of most issues as they pertain to women today.

I would hate to see her be complicit in some sketch that painted a weird light on the Me Too movement the way sketches from past episodes have, because it would definitely get people talking for all the wrong reasons and result in Jessica Chastain losing her role model status. The monologue felt a little short, but I appreciated the fact that it pulled no punches. Chastain let you know what she was all about up top, and while my knee-jerk reaction was to bemoan another song and dance opener, I immediately changed my tune when I realized how personal and heartfelt it was.

Something that people don’t always remember about SNL is that the host ultimately gets to set the tone. They decide what they want to do, how comfortable they are exploring certain ideas, and sometimes even get the power to veto a sketch. I don’t know how vocal Jessica Chastain was in the pitch meetings and writer’s room, but her influence clearly shows in the final product. The sketches that did delve into political issues were so straightforward they almost didn’t feel like jokes – something they used to their advantage, which I’ll touch on later.

Chastain’s emphasis on playing characters that were never cruel and maybe occasionally a little dumb was ambitious, given her enthusiasm for playing characters outside of her comfort zone as well as her dedication to never betraying her morals. Maybe this episode wasn’t the most fun we’ve had in a long time, but it felt like a breath of fresh air to watch an episode that didn’t make me cringe at how overly politicized and problematic it was.

Mark: The word that springs to my mind when it comes to this episode is “dignity”. I’ve never before come away form an episode of SNL thinking about how dignified the host was. But, Jessica didn’t do anything to compromise her dignity. I didn’t come away thinking she was the funniest host ever, but I think for who she is within Hollywood, being the most dignified is more important.

Favorite Sketch of the Night – Fresh Prince

Melissa: I really can’t even explain this.  When it started, I was thinking, “Oh, is this going to be a shot-for-shot remake of the Fresh Prince opening credit sequence? I’m sure Kyle [Mooney] and Beck [Bennett] were behind this.” And I was fine with that! That would have been funny. The second it veered away from the song as we remembered it, though, I realized whatever we were in for was going to be a RIDE. It was severely dark at times, and at others light-hearted but still dark.

The whole thing is just dark.

What sells it is Chris Redd’s constant naïve enthusiasm and the catchiness of the Fresh Prince theme song, which is still catchy even if the words have been changed to describe stealing a cadaver from the morgue and using it to fake your own death. Enough words cannot be said about Chris Redd’s commitment and performance here. Every time he gets the spotlight he proves how capable he is and I won’t be surprised if he gets bumped to repertory player by next season. Jessica Chastain also has a great performance in here that lets her tow a line between silly and serious that I greatly appreciate.

Least Favorite Sketch of the Night – Car Hunk

Mark: Car Hunk is a recurring sketch that SNL does every year to parody the current series of the bachelor. A couple years ago, when the first one “Bland Man” happened, I felt the sketch was on point and very funny. While this wasn’t bad, it felt like they just used “copy/paste” and tried to use the details of the current season of “The Bachelor” on a format built for an older season. The result is a sketch that only works as a parody of the current season if you squint.

Melissa: If there’s one thing that people should know about me by now it’s that I have exactly the opposite of a soft spot for recurring sketches, especially ones that didn’t have a solid premise the first time around. The reality dating show with a constantly rotating selection of women has never really offered anything more than a few decent one-liners, and this one was utterly unmemorable. It’s a filler sketch, and nothing more than that.

Honorable Mention – What Even Matters Anymore

Melissa: I wasn’t originally going to talk about this sketch, but before I could sit down to right this review I saw it getting a good deal of traction online and I felt it appropriate to weigh in. One mention of it said that this sketch “broke the format of SNL,” which I don’t feel is entirely true – if you want to watch one of the best SNL sketches of all time that breaks the format in this way, by having the characters reveal they are in fact cast members in a sketch, find “The Killer Bees: Home Invasion.”

But onto this sketch: It starts as a standard gameshow premise, where three constants are asked to listen to the host (played by Chastain) list recent actions done by Donald Trump and declare whether or not they think it will matter to anyone, with the answer always being a firm no. Chastain’s character gets more and more exasperated and upset until finally, Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong break character to ask Jessica – the person, not her character – if she’s okay. They then reveal that Chastain built the set and wrote the sketch to deal with her deep frustrations over the state of the world right now, and it ends with a therapeutic group hug.

What I love about this sketch is that it addresses current events in a very head-on way, but it doesn’t turn around to make a joke about them. Everything is treated with a realistic and appropriate amount of gravity, the weight of which you can actually see taking its toll on Chastain as the sketch goes on. As such, the laughs are sparse for the first part of the sketch while the audience tries to make sense of what they’re seeing.

The premise eventually pays off when the reveal happens, and the jokes fly a little more freely, but the driving force behind the sketch as a whole is catharsis. In the same way the monologue served as a mostly heartfelt message about empowerment and solidarity, this sketch serves one main purpose: to, essentially, have a group hug and talk about how tired we are for a moment before we keep going. We aren’t masking our pain through jokes, and maybe that comes off as venting, but that’s ok every now and again and I appreciate Jessica Chastain and SNL giving us that reminder. Maybe by giving themselves a second to decompress, they’ll come back hitting harder than ever next week.

Mark: I think this was actually the most memorable sketch of the week, It perfectly captures how I feel about the hostage situation of a political climate we are in. A blatantly incompetent narcissist is President an we have to deal with until his supporters realize they have been had. Until they realize it, he gets to do whatever he wants and there isn’t a think we can do to stop it.

Musical Guest – Troye Sivan

Melissa: I truly do enjoy it when SNL books a musical guest that would never otherwise cross my radar. I was so shocked by how completely unfamiliar I was with Troye Sivan and his music that I googled him to see that he’s not only a musician but an accomplished actor, having acted in such movies as Spud, Spud 2: The Madness Continues, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine where he plays a young Wolverine.

My first impression of him during his first song was that I wasn’t sure if I dug his “sexy little weird boy” aesthetic, although the dance song he sang was pretty fun and easy to get into. His second song was a lot slower and sad. It reminded me of the kind of thing I’d listen to on repeat when I was in college and up at 3 AM working on a paper, pretending that the reason I was crying was because of how sappy the music was and not because of my stress level. I feel like I may be too old to be Troye’s target demographic at this point, but I definitely didn’t hate it.

Mark: As a grown man with a car payment, Sivan’s “sexy little weird boy” aesthetic is incredibly off putting. If I was as handsome as him, I would like to think I would not be so sad and to see him so sad with all that he has really bums me out.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

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