Sam Rockwell is having a very good couple of weeks. He missed the Critics' Choice Awards on Thursday due to prep work for his appearance here, but that didn't stop him from following up his Golden Globe win with a second win for his work in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." It marks a pinnacle in a stellar career dating back three decades, so why not celebrate it with his first hosting appearance on "SNL."
All in all, Sam gave a solid performance on the night, though he'll probably be remembered most for being one of the few people to drop a clear f-bomb on "Saturday Night Live." The moment was indicative of how into the characters Sam gets, and it was part of a solid and committed performance. But it was, you know, also an f-bomb. Hopefully, people take the time to look beyond that for a very sharp episode that was socially aware, subversive, and more funny than not.
As usual, we're ranking all the sketches from worst to first, including the Cold Open and the regular "Weekend Update" segments. We'll skip the musical guests, because they're not usually funny - unless Ashlee Simpson shows up. We wrap up with a look at the cast-member who had the strongest week. Also, in these early episodes, we'd like to see if the new kids are getting any screen time. "SNL" recently added Heidi Gardner, Luke Null, and Chris Redd as featured players.
Lil Pump - "Tucci Gang"
Sam Rockwell performed alongside Pete Davidson's rap character in costume as Stanley Tucci. If you think "Gucci Gang" is an obnoxious song, maybe it just needs more Stanley Tucci. It's kind of a clever homage to the character actor; all those stars we know if we see their faces, but can't seem to remember their names. The drawback is that it gets that damned tune stuck in your head as much as the original does, and it wasn't really all that funny. It was just kind of there. Oh, and Sam proves once again he's got some moves. Watch out, Hugh Jackman, there may be a new "Greatest Show on Earth."
Kyle Mooney portrayed the life-sized doll that can replace your absent boyfriend, while Heidi Gardner played the female counterpart. While we only got one line from Heidi -- "Are you mad at me?" -- both characters were clearly leaning hard into stereotypes. While we can see some feathers being ruffled by that, there's enough representatives of those exact stereotypes out there for everyone to have seen this type of person. While it was weird and awkwardly funny seeing Kyle at home as the doll, we'd have rather seen him at the bar with her, so we can get a fresh take on the opening scene with Beck Bennett as the drunk bro ready to fight. The parallel would have made the jokes hit harder, as would seeing others interact with the doll.
This ad took a weird turn when Cecily Strong was announced as "not an actress" only to reveal she used to be one. The narrator put that part of her down at every turn, making her more and more desperate until finally she was smoking again and offering to do nudity for a chance to act again. The banter between Cecily and the narrator was funny enough, but it didn't really go anywhere. There could have been so much more hilarity in the sketch, but it never really came together, which could be why it wound up in the final slot of the night.
Sam Rockwell as Captain Hook had little trouble convincing the Lost Boys to join his crew, but then he worried that it was a bit weird, him encouraging young boys to hang out with him on his boat. His adult crew bailed on him, and after Kate McKinnon's Peter Pan showed up threatening to stick his smaller sword in Hook, the captain had enough. The jokes were funny, but this one leaves you thinking a bit as well about what it's saying about looking at a classic story through our 2018 lens.
The Department of Health during a routine inspection at NextGene Labs has some serious questions about what looks like a man with a dog's head. The sketch wins because the dog is absolutely adorable, feeding himself a sandwich, solving a Rubik's cube and even making phone calls. Sam Rockwell had a ball playing the mad scientist that created it, but really it's about the dog. The dog was awesome! Unfortunately, it was really only about the dog.
This sketch was about being woke to the current events, but you know still being E!, so... The E! co-hosts wore #TimesUp pins and attempted to break down the Globes looks, but it was a disaster as everyone was afraid to say anything potentially controversial. "She looks empowered?" "She definitely looks as good as a man, if not better?" Melissa Villasenor was the lone voice of reason, not hating on straight men and actually being willing to say that someone is beautiful. Kate McKinnon gave another inspired impression as Frances McDormand, where she was again bleeped for saying no curse words. We loved the take on the struggle of a network like E! trying to not be offensive, but still do what E! does best, like tear down women's fashion and show women fighting each other for our entertainment.
The Science Room with Mr. Science
So this sketch had the potential to be cute as Sam got frustrated with his dim-witted students, but now it's going to be known as the sketch where he said, "You can't be this f-cking stupid!" on live TV. He was clearly into his character, but didn't remember where he was performing. To their credit, everyone rolled with it, because there wasn't much else to do ... the damage was done. The premise was simply that they were dumb and he got mad, so they certainly sold that. It was funny enough, but alas it's now in the shadow of that f-bomb.
Everything's changing for Sam Rockwell after that big win at the Globes. He went from a self-proclaimed "That Guy" in movies to a possible leading man. So he took his new status by the reigns in a high-energy dance number though the studio. He got to fight ninjas, kick Colin Jost through a wall and dance with Kate McKinnon. After Cecily Strong rebuffed his attempts to kiss because it's a whole thing and they had an HR meeting about it, Leslie Jones came out and dipped him. "Now you know I didn't go to that meeting," she said before planting one on him. It's little moments like these that cement the personalities of our favorite cast-members in our hearts, making us care about them, and thus the show more. While it started off shaky, the sheer fun of this bit carried the day.
The awkwardness kicked off right at the top in this clever sketch that subverted expectations. The setup is that Alex Moffatt's dad, Sam Rockwell, might be upset that he's bringing his boyfriend. In reality, it's that he recognizes the boyfriend, Chris Redd, who happens to be a porn star ... a gay porn star. Sam tried to place where he knows Chris, and the writers just milked the sexual innuendos to drive it home. Then they twisted it again by having Sam openly realize where he knows him from, talking calmly about how he's now going to get a divorce and step down as pastor and have to leave his family. "SNL" is notorious for having no idea how to get out of a clever sketch set-up, but this was just brilliantly executed, and the outro was brilliantly unexpected.
"Saturday Night Live" decided to slip some social commentary and thinkers in their 2018 premiere, like this one examining racism. Sam Rockwell balks at hitting up an ATM when Kenan Thompson stands behind him, leading to a discussion about racism and fear where Sam learns not to judge. But then the tables are turned as Chris Redd shows up with some friends and Kenan has the same fears. Only his are warranted, as Chris and his boys proceed to beat the crap out of him and mug him. The message is clear that you can't stereotype and judge people by the color of their skin, but at the same time, don't be blind to the type of people they are. Sketchiness knows no color. And prostitutes don't allow kissing. Life lessons, friends. Life lessons.
COLD OPEN - "Morning Joe"
There was a lot to unpack in this week's cold open, as there was a lot to cover in the world of politics. Without Alec Baldwin's Trump available, the writers went with the ever-reliable duo of Alex Moffatt and Kate McKinnon with the smoldering sexual tension of Joe Scarborough and Mika Brezinski. They got in a quick dig at Joe himself when Chris Redd came on to talk about Trump's "sh-thole countries," and Joe didn't even give him a chance to talk. Then it was time for the special guest round table, as Fred Armisen came out as "Fire & Fury" author Michael Wolff, followed by Bill Murray as Steve Bannon. Armisen mostly played himself, but got in some fun comments about the errors in the book. Bannon is apparently readying his next candidates, looking at great Americans like Logan Paul, Jared Fogel and Martin Schkreli, Leslie Jones even got to yell as Oprah Winfrey for a few seconds. It was almost too much, but deftly wrangled by Alex and Kate, it was a solid opening and a welcome return.
The new co-head writers of "Saturday Night Live" took NBC to task right at the top of the segment. Colin Jost said that NBC asked them to say "s-hole," but Colin just couldn't when the president can say "shithole" -- and so he said it, too. Michael Che got in on it as well. Those nations are a disaster because they'd been exploited by Western Society, he explained, so Trump "calling Africa a sh-thole is like you telling a kid you molested, 'Boy did you grow up weird.'" That was the edgiest joke of the entire segment, but it was also indicative of how sharp the barbs were. Leslie Jones returned as Oprah Winfrey, followed by Chris Redd as Stedman Graham ... and we mean followed quite literally. He was the perfect hype-man/yes-man, completely flummoxed when he was asked a question himself. Seeing Redd and Jones together makes us kind of hope Oprah does keep pursuing this so we can see more of their fun banter.
Oprah was followed by Aidy Bryant, who spoke humorously and passionately about the Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams pay disparity. "It would be so cool if it didn't take a week-long public shaming to do the right thing," she said of Wahlberg's ultimate donation of the $1.5 million he made for reshoots on "All the Money in the World." It was a sharp commentary, and the kind of thing "SNL" should be doing. Kenan Thompson was LaVar Ball, which has to be the easiest impression of all time. Just make absolutely no sense at all times. Let's just say, Kenan nailed it. "I told my kids the 'F' stands for Fenomenal! And yes, they're home schooled."
We almost gave this award to Chris Redd in the last episode of 2017, but there's no almost about it this time. Finally coming into his own this week, Chris was on fire. He killed it as Stedman opposite Leslie Jones' Oprah Winfrey, and had us laughing in fear as he took down Kenan Thompson in the ATM sketch. But he really brought it home as a porn star, turning the simple task of opening a wine bottle into a homoerotic fantasy. It's always nice to see the fresh faces of the cast as they find their comfort and take control of their careers on the show, and if this week is any indication, Chris Redd has a bright "SNL" career ahead of him.
"Saturday Night Live" returns next week with host Jessica Chastain and musical guest Troye Sivan, airing live coast-to-coast at 11:35 p.m ET/8:35 p.m. PT.