When you're working with one of the premiere actresses of her generation, you expect greatness, but when you're working with her on "Saturday Night Live," you can get a little worried. Plenty of dramatic actors and actresses have bombed on the show simply because they're unable to go where the funny is. Comedy is a different beast than dramatic acting, and some can't make the transition. Others can find the funny in playing it serious, and that's what Jessica Chastain did.
The silliest she got was under Kenan Thompson's tutelage as an awful director, but at other times her earnest seriousness was played for laughs, and it worked beautifully well. She was great opposite Pete Davidson's moronic Chad character, and as a dizzy host of a Google Talks session, but her most inspired performance came as host of an inane game show, and yes we're as surprised as you about that.
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, then wrap up with a look at the cast-member who had the strongest week.
MONOLOGUE - Jessica Chastain
As an outspoken advocate for women's issues, we expected Jessica Chastain to tackle the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements, and she didn't disappoint. She took a few pokes at female stereotypes in a musical bit to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Women's March on Washington. We learned that only the president and Leslie Jones can say "pussy" and get away with it, which actually sounds about right. And we learned that Melissa Villasenor is still trying to find suitable husband material. Mostly, though, we learned that the men of "SNL" are pretty woke, too, as Beck Bennett explained that he believes the man's role in this situation is to just listen, and he has some ideas about that. There were clever moments, but we were kind of hoping for more funny ones to go along with them.
What at first looked like a sketch about the income inequality in a law firm took a quick pivot to reveal that Leslie Jones and Jessica Chastain are actresses performing a scene under the direction of Kenan Thompson. While the subject matter is serious, Kenan is looking for cartoonish responses to the emotional beats of the scene. We've seen this character before, but it's always fun when an actor of Jessica's caliber is willing to ham it up for these moments. The sketch was otherwise pretty shallow, but hey, at least it acknowledged that income inequality is a thing.
COLD OPEN - Trump Physical Results
"It's my expert medical opinion that the president's got a rockin' bod, and the perfect amount of cushion for the pushin', and if given the chance I would." Beck Bennett said in the press conference cold open. Aidy Bryant returned as Sarah Huckabee Sanders to talk a bit about the wall, but the bulk of the segment was on the president's physical and mental exams. Mostly, it was about Bennett, as Dr. Ronny Jackson, being not only overwhelmingly impressed by the president, but also perhaps a little turned on. It wasn't a deep dive into anything really, with only a passing mention of the government shutdown before getting to the signature opening line, which made it feel like they missed an opportunity to really give us something meatier.
Jessica Chastain stars as the doctor who kept Chad alive in the next chapter of his "okay" adventures. These bits could wear thin because Chad is such an imbecile, but putting him opposite an actress of Jessica's caliber as she goes all in as the doctor who's fallen for him is inspired. As long as they keep coming up with these dramatic settings to drop Chad into the middle of, the character will continue to work.
Kyle Mooney portrayed Chuck Bezos, interviewing delegates from some of the finalist cities for the company's new headquarters. Beck Bennett and Jessica Chastain went all in with Boston stereotypes for their pitch, even bringing in Alex Moffatt as a disinterested Casey Affleck. Leslie Jones and Kenan Thompson brought in Aidy Bryant as Paula Deen for Altana, while Mikey Day dropped in as Pitbull with the Miami delegation. Unfortunately, the sketch was little more than city stereotypes. That could have worked if they were going anywhere with it, but the best it could come up with was Bezos declaring his love for Alexa to close it out. As the president would say, Sad!
Jessica Chastain is the overly perky host of this discussion on bullying that somehow never completely gets upstaged by the fact that Mikey Day's character looks like Bart Simpson. And yet, that is the entire point of the sketch. By downplaying the fact that this is dominating everything else happening, it kept the comparisons and jokes about it funny, even when Leslie Jones had to leave the set her producer character was laughing so hard. Even better, the sketch knew when to exit before it wore out its welcome; a great benefit of the show's newer format with fewer commercials and sketches bleeding into one another within the same segment.
Mikey Day is very good at playing a straight man in ridiculous situations, and he got to work opposite Heidi Gardner and Jessica Chastain as two ditzy Los Agelinos trying to figure out how a buy-one-get-one taco deal could be split between them if one wants a chicken taco and the other a beef one. Luckily, this one didn't overstay its welcome and even better, it had an exist strategy as the women got upset when Mikey struggled to believe they were surgeons? Sexist much? Well, actually, it had more to do with the fact they're both idiots, but you know, potato/free taco.
As usual, Colin Jost and Michael Che got in plenty of good jabs about Donald Trump's first year in office, while Michael slipped in a great joke about the women's march and their pink vagina hats. If MLK had given his speech wearing a giant black penis hat, he might still be here today. Cecily Strong dropped in as porn-star-who-alleges-she-had-an-affair-with-the-president Stormy Daniels. She admitted she's not what we might expect, but she is the hero America deserves right now.
Alex Moffatt and Mikey Day have amazing chemistry, and they were great as Princes William and Harry, with Moffatt so square it hurt, and Harry not quite as cool as he thinks. Then, Kate McKinnon put another unexpected impression under her belt by taking on Robert Mueller to update us on the investigation. The makeup department did an amazing job of adding his jawline to her face as it looks flawless. Mueller couldn't talk about anything specific, so Kate just played up his excitement about what was about to go down. Her charisma carried the bit, as there really wasn't anything to say. If Mueller is actually successful in taking down Trump, though, we suspect a lot of eyes will return to this moment.
As soon as Heidi Gardner said, "Mmmm, I like this," to open the latest "Bachelor" parody, we knew we'd seen this before. It's a round-robin of the women of the cast (and Jessica Chastain) asking if they can "steal him for a sec" while Alex Moffatt's Arie tries to be overly romantic. While each of the Laurens was an idiot in their own way, a special kudos goes to Jessica's Lauren for being the inventor of the Tide Pod Challege. They "like this" and Moffatt "loves that" and Aidy Bryant really went for it, throwing her leg over Moffatt and then getting physically thrown to the ground by Jessica for one "steal." It was easily one of the most unexpected laugh-out-loud moments of the night. Somehow, even though it's just a series of women saying ridiculous things while Moffatt tries to sound sexy and interested, this one never got old.
What Even Matters Anymore?
We love that this game show sketch with Jessica Chastain as host was so disinterested in its own premise, it didn't even bother to properly introduce those playing, and actually dropped its own premise and characters by the end to get a little bit real about the state of the nation. The game was about the ridiculous things Trump gets away with saying and tweeting, because does anything matter anymore? Calling African nations "sh-thole countires"? That's fine. Cheating on your wife has to matter to his evangelical base, right? Nope. Trump is teflon! We loved how unhinged Jessica got as the sketch continued and everyone realized even the game show doesn't matter, breaking character to try and find some hope for the future. Spoiler alert: they couldn't.
This started as a shot-for-shot remake of the intro sequence for the Will Smith sitcom, but then it got to the second verse. Apparently, those guys "up to no good" in his old neighborhood were actually part of a very powerful gang, and they followed him out to his new home. We loved the contrast of the increasingly dangerous and serious action with the lighthearted tone of the rap delivery, with Chris Redd brilliantly going from perky and upbeat to terrified at the drop of a fresh beat. We were on the edge of our seat to see where this dark satire would deposit Chris by the end of it, and cheering for Kenan Thompson's badass Uncle Phil And we weren't disappointed by the increasing insanity before we got to that end. This is easily one of the show's strongest parodies to date.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Alex Moffatt and Mikey Day gave another solid one-two punch as the royal siblings, making it hard to decide who gets the honor. Alex was inspired as Prince William, but Mikey Day brought the swag factor as Harry. Mikey's straight man waiter helped sell that ridiculous free taco sketch, and his Burt Sampson character was just the right amount of put off, but we have to give the edge to Alex who really slipped into his roles this week. Aside from his transformative William, Alex was nearly unrecognizable as the ethereally stupid "Bachelor" Arie, who loved everything and everyone until he was told Jessica Chastain's hair was actually curly. To top that off, he practically stole the Amazon sketch as the completely disinterested Casey Affleck. His range continues to expand as he lobbies hard for a spot on the Repertory Players cast list.
"Saturday Night Live" returns next week with host Will Ferrell and musical guest Chris Stapleton, airing live coast-to-coast at 11:35 p.m ET/8:35 p.m. PT.