Live from New York: Regina King shines in her first ‘SNL’ hosting gig

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This week’s episode of “Saturday Night Live” tackled former president Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial (and acquittal), leaving us with a political cold open that was, sadly, lukewarm. Alex Moffat’s Tucker Carlson interviewed a series of Republican senators — Kate McKinnon as Lindsey Graham, Aidy Bryant as Ted Cruz and Beck Bennett doing an excellent Mitch McConnell — who gave their wishy-washy reasons for why Trump is innocent. The segment relied on lazy spoofs of current events; Graham’s reminder that we need to “free beautiful Britney Spears” and some slipshod parodies of Trump’s lawyers felt particularly disjointed. 

The rest of the show was, thankfully, energized by the presence of first-time host Regina King. In her monologue, she recounted Lorne Michaels’ hosting advice for her (“When in doubt, play the race card”) before Kenan Thompson stepped in as her hype man. It was a brief, punchy opening that preceded King’s vibrant performance as host. The best of this week’s sketches smartly called on King’s Oscar-winning acting chops, allowing her to commit to outsize characters. “What’s Your Type?” showcased King as a horny dating show contestant with a taste for cringey white guys — Mikey Day was a standout as one of the potential suitors. 

The simple premise of “Women’s Theater” — a feminist theater troupe’s idea of an “age appropriate” high school assembly is swapping the word “vagina” for “elbow” — was similarly elevated by King’s performance. King delivered lines such as “My secret South Carolina, my beautiful … elbow” with a spot-on approximation of slam poetry cadence. “70s Green Room” also wrung an impressive amount of laughs from an easy gag; King’s disco singer’s lists of demands contained some great nuggets from the writers, and Bowen Yang, one of the show’s most talented featured players, delivered as King’s fast-talking employee.

King took a turn playing it straight in “The Negotiator,” which was one of the night’s more so-so sketches. A cop accidentally eating a bunch of weed gummies before a hostage negotiation gives rise to a series of wacky hallucinations — though some of these were delightfully weird, the writing as a whole felt a tad unfocused and silly. “Gorilla Glue” was another dud, falling into one of the show’s worst patterns: recounting a viral moment with nearly no spin. The overlong sketch spends all of its time making fun of how dumb it is to accidentally put Gorilla Glue in your hair, which, while true, is not exactly a high-effort comedic take. 

A couple of ensemble pieces boasted sharper writing. “Pelotaunt,” a commercial for a Peloton bike that uses “patented passive aggression” to motivate riders instead of positive reinforcement, offered a roster of relatable barbs. “Birthday Gifts” took aim at the novelty signs that stereotypical housewives hang in their homes, as a group of friends shower Bryant with signs that bear increasingly judgmental slogans (“I am sexually promiscuous and my house is dirty”). The game heightens at a good pace, even if some bits, like signs that seem innocuous and then fold down, are repeated a couple of times.

Weekend Update” hit some roadblocks this week, as most of Colin Jost and Michael Che’s material about the impeachment didn’t land. Featured player Lauren Holt finally appeared in a solo piece as a relationship expert who gets dumped on-air, but the disappointingly underwritten bit did her no favors. McKinnon then served up another variation of her “crazy cat lady” persona as a child-eating witch who wants to get in on QAnon so she can find her next meal. This was ultimately a successful workaround for joking about a conspiracy that arguably fueled an attack on the U.S. capitol — McKinnon conspiratorially informing Jost that sure, she chows down on kids, but “these people … are weird” sells the whole thing surprisingly well. 

“SNL” returned to familiar territory this week in more ways than one, spotlighting a capable host and cutting a Kyle Mooney sketch for time. Let’s all just cross our fingers that the show doesn’t saddle next week’s host Regé-Jean Page with a half-baked “Bridgerton” parody.

Sketch of the week: “70s Green Room”

“Update” joke of the week: “The makers of Aunt Jemima products, which have been criticized for using racist imagery, are finally changing the name to Pearl Milling Company. Pearl Milling is the name of the white lady who owned Aunt Jemima.”

Grace Orriss covers television. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @graceorriss.