Emma Thompson has done so much as a performer at this point that it feels strange for this week’s Saturday Night Live to be her first time up as a host. From The Young Ones to Merchant-Ivory productions, from Jane Austen to J.K. Rowling, Thompson’s the kind of immediately recognizable star who just sort of seems like she’s already done this. But with the unflappable confidence of a total professional, Thompson jumped into a mostly strong installment of the show that allowed her to work with some of the most talented current and past members of the cast alike.
To the point of the latter, Thompson forewent a more traditional monologue in favor of a trios Mother’s Day riff on the gaps between what moms say and actually mean, with two other moms coming up to join her: best-ever Weekend Update hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. It’s one of the funniest segments of the night, by far, with each building on and finishing the other’s setups like they’ve been doing it together for years.
It also sets the tone for the rest of the night, which saw a number of sketches in which Thompson brought out the best in the cast as a scene partner. Sometimes SNL just gets one of those hosts who’s so good at every aspect of performance (especially live performance) that the whole show rises along with them. And for the most part, the penultimate episode of this season fit that bill.
This Week in Weird SNL
The late-season episode allowed the writers to cut a little looser than the average this week, with a few sketches excelling by allowing the cast to run with screwball material, both modern and enjoyably old-fashioned.
The best was the Chopped parody; for some reason, SNL‘s current writers room has a great ear for surrealist parodies of Food Network-style competition shows featuring a lot of flashy editing and half-apologizing by the chefs. Once Melissa Villaseñor starts running around with handfuls of loose sugar as a basket requirement, the sketch lets you know you’re in good hands, and it continues to race itself into madness until Beck Bennett threatens to eat a cat. Great stuff all around.
The similar shagginess of “Judges’ Court” gave it a lot of charm, particularly since it simply let Thompson, Kate McKinnon, and Aidy Bryant riff with their Judge Judies as a loose framework. McKinnon and Bryant are stellar at this kind of one-up patter, as it usually leads to one of those SNL situations where two cast members with an ear for what cracks the other turn it into a contest. There’s a lot of corpsing going on, but it’s because these one-liners are just that good, so what’s the problem?
And if you were hoping for a more traditional take on screwball energy, Thompson and Leslie Jones teamed up for “Etiquette Lesson”, which saw Jones playing straight man to Thompson’s increasingly violent take on Mary Poppins. Simple? Absolutely. Funny? Oh, yeah, especially around the point when the sketch goes for one of the most traditional comic standbys in existence: a pastry to the face.
The Perfect Mother(‘s Day)
Around Christmas, SNL delivered one of its best sketches of the season with “Best Christmas Ever”. It was a sweetly skewed take on Rockwell Americana, suggesting even while it skewered the holiday that the chaos of the family is the thing that makes it valuable. It was a more familiar kind of holiday diorama: Mom and Dad swearing and rolling their eyes, even as the day ends in contentment.
“The Perfect Mother” hit an equally hilarious and insightful note, as harried new-ish mom Heidi Gardner turns to her own mom (Thompson) for reassurance that it’s okay for her to constantly feel somewhere between panicked and exhausted. Thompson soothes her every step of the way, as flashbacks observe how hard it’s been at any point in time, ever, for somebody to parent a tiny human being who won’t stop screaming or shitting up its own back. 1-2 of these sketches a year is probably a sweet spot, but it’s a good and distinctive tone to strike for SNL‘s pre-taped material, and one worth bringing around every so often.
A Quick Word on Bailey Gismert
Actual YouTube channel full of Bailey’s reviews, please and thank you. The people know game-changing criticism when they see it.
Band of Jonas Brothers
Elsewhere in the episode, Sansa Stark’s husband and Sansa Stark’s brother-in-laws fused the past with the present in their performance, starting off with a balloon-saturated, energetic take on their new single “Sucker” after appearing in “Judges’ Court” as well. The bigger story, for those most concerned, came during a performance of “Cool”, where halfway in, they transitioned into “Burnin’ Up” for the old heads.
And if you, like this reviewer, went “wait, that’s dumb, that song isn’t that old”, the prominence of “Burnin’ Up” began 11 years ago. Time is inexorable, everybody.