Live from New York: Maya Rudolph’s chops can’t save this week’s disappointing ‘SNL’ 

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In a 2018 interview on “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” “Saturday Night Live” co-head writer Michael Che summed up the pressure of producing material for an “SNL” alum that returns to host: “Everyone already knows (they’re) good. So if it’s not good, it’s our fault.”

It seems that was the case on this week’s “SNL,” when Maya Rudolph, a former cast member and the show’s Kamala Harris for the 2020 election season, stepped in as host. The roster of sketches was unfortunately — and unusually, even judging by the season standard so far — lacking. The cold open, a faux competition show called “Snatched! Vaxed! Or Waxed!” took aim at spring break vacationers flaunting their ignorance of the pandemic, but the sketch’s gimmick was too tired to deliver many laughs. Brief asides about Spirit Airlines (“Don’t worry, we keep the windows open”) and day trips to the “Versace murder steps” fared better. 

Rudolph brought back her Beyoncé impression for a riff on the beloved interview show “Hot Ones,” but lazy writing meant it went underutilized. Rudolph’s work takes a backseat to the main game of the sketch: Beyoncé can’t handle the spice of the wings. Seeing as this is the same central gag as any actual episode of “Hot Ones,” the result is both an unoriginal take on the show and a weak showcase for one of Rudolph’s most well-known impressions. Props to Mikey Day’s Sean Evans, however!

The week’s musical offerings included “NFTs” — a rap featuring Pete Davidson, Chris Redd and musical guest Jack Harlow — which explained the cryptocurrency phenomenon to the tune of Eminem’s “Without Me” and relied mainly on trippy visuals. The stronger music video was definitely “Boomers Got the Vax,” where a collection of baby boomers bragged about getting the first round of vaccinations. It could have been shorter — the jokes about elderly people got a bit repetitive — but the lyrics showed off the night’s wittiest writing (“You in the parking lot eating out the trash, right? We in the booth reading menus with the flashlight,” crows Aidy Bryant halfway through).

Weekend Update” missed the opportunity to quip about the boat stuck in the Suez Canal, instead focusing on the media coverage of President Joe Biden’s first press conference and the shootings that occurred last week. Coverage of the latter spanned a couple acidic jokes about Republicans’ obsession with guns — “your political ads look like you’re running for president of ISIS” — and a more somber segment from Bowen Yang, who is currently the show’s only Asian cast member, on combating anti-Asian hate.

Rudolph’s version of Harris returned to host a “unity Seder,” which functioned as the vehicle for a string of now-overused political impressions — Bryant’s Ted Cruz, Cecily Strong’s Marjorie Taylor Greene — and a Martin Short cameo. “Barfly Awards,” a straightforward piece that followed an awards ceremony for bar regulars, allowed the cast to do a bunch of silly, drunken voices as they accepted awards like “Most Bummer Detail.” But “Choreographers,” which should have been a slam dunk with Rudolph and Kenan Thompson as a pair of eccentric Broadway mainstays, couldn’t focus its weirdness enough to find a comedic groove.

Most illustrative of the show’s failure to properly use Rudolph this week was “The Maya-ing,” a mockumentary about Rudolph reliving old “SNL” memories that also functioned as a “The Shining” parody. Is the joke the reenactments of “The Shining,” or the insider “SNL” references, or the overstated cameos from Tina Fey and Rachel Dratch? It was a hat on a hat (on a hat), and a wasted opportunity to riff on Rudolph’s plentiful legacy as a cast member.

Daniel Kaluuya hosts next week — hopefully he’s given more focused material!

Sketch of the week: “Boomers Got the Vax”

“Update” joke of the week: “‘Sesame Street’ has introduced two new Black Muppets to help explain racial difference to children. Which begs the question, are (the current) Muppets white?”

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