When Drake first hosted Saturday Night Live two seasons ago, he showed tremendous promise. It’s sometimes difficult to predict how someone will do before actually hosting, but Drake demonstrated both charisma and a complete commitment to every concept in his initial hosting duties. Often, he would take subpar material and make it worth through sheer force of will. There are several ways to successfully host SNL, and that’s one of them.
Drake needed a lot of willpower tonight, because the material was much worse than it was back in January 2014. That’s the danger of a live show such as this: Even with a great host and this solid cast, there are weeks in which ideas either refuse to flow or simply can’t come fully together. There were scattered highlights throughout the evening, but few moments that will make any Season 41 “Best Of” reel. Let’s get to what people will be talking about this week.
Dennis Walls & The Cookies
I like the idea of a “Duck Amuck” rip-off in which the director of a Seventies PBS show intentionally messes with the head of his show’s star. I like Drake in the world’s best/worst moustache. Everything’s in place for a silly, stupid sketch to produce some laughs.
And yet, despite the amusing premise, it really never goes anywhere particularly interesting. In terms of pranks, “switching stools” isn’t exactly subversive. The tiny saxophone is fine, but a sketch like this needs a build in order to truly land. A spinning bed isn’t it: If anything, it harkened back to Will Ferrell vomiting on a similar set-up while singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” If anything, I wanted to know more about the back-up singers played by Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong. Given how infrequently these two are paired up, I wanted to see more interaction between them.
Black Jeopardy With Drake
Were the past two iterations of this sketch funnier? Probably! OK, almost definitely. But there’s still plenty of life here, especially as Kenan Thompson finds extra notes to play with his bemused-yet-exasperated host. If the “Celebrity Jeopardy” sketches focused on the ever-evolving hostility between Alex Trebek and Sean Connery, “Black Jeopardy” focuses on its own unique point-of-view within the context of SNL itself.
A sketch like this simply wasn’t possible as recently as the front half of Season 39, but since then has certainly made efforts to diversify its cast. This has opened up opportunities for new comedic voices in front of as well as behind the camera. The show’s work is far from complete in this arena, but a sketch like this demonstrates both the political and comedic potency of including voices largely absent in the SNL history.
Having Drake instead of Louis CK and Elizabeth Banks changed the dynamic somewhat, but the sketch’s central conceit still held true. Drake’s Canadian character Jared still played the role of “character unaware how best to answer these trivia questions,” but from a different outsider perspective. He’s someone that prefers the comedic stylings of Rick Moranis over Eddie Murphy, but from a geographical rather than racial perspective. The slam on Drake’s credibility as a rapper was a little on the nose, but overall this was another solid entry in a series that is an integral part of this iteration of the show’s repertory.
Weekend Update: Leslie Jones On Following Your Dreams
Both Kate McKinnon and Jay Pharoah had really solid segments during “Weekend Update,” and Colin Jost’s “bathroom bill” might be the best single joke “Update” has delivered all season. But special attention has to be paid to what Leslie Jones does each and every time she appears during this part of the show.
Part of what makes Jones unique is her biography, so leaning into it here makes it effective both from a comedic point of view but also a sympathetic one. As the oldest cast member, one can’t help but root for her late-career renaissance. She’s part of “The New Old” both in terms of a generation that favors yoga over drinking Scotch, but also a much-needed voice in an area of pop culture that all too often ignores anyone over 40 years old.