Once again, Natalie Portman absolutely slayed as host of "Saturday Night Live." Honesty, can she just be invited regularly whether she has anything to promote or not? It's been over a decade since she was host, and she was just as brilliant then as she was tonight.
And apparently she was beloved by the cast, too, as she got Tina Fey, Andy Samberg and Rachel Dratch to return for her latest appearance. They were joined by Alec Baldwin, back after several weeks as Donald Trump getting his morning briefing from "Fox & Friends." Portman's commitment and talent as an actress elevate even the lamest sketches, meaning there were no complete disasters on the night, even though there were a few misfires. All in all, though, this was one of the best episodes of the season.
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.
Stranger Things 3
Natalie Portman portrayed Eleven, trying to find others like her, while Mikey Day was Mike ... and a little horny. She was looking for answers, and he was looking for a kiss, over the jeans stuff, anything, really, while we were just looking for anything funny. Other cast-members started emerging as different numbers, all with amazing mental abilities that got dumber and dumber, like making good chili (brain bleeds) or doing an okay Borat impression. Kenan Thompson's power was most needed by the end. He had the ability to get out of sketches, but it misfired badly here, along with the rest of the sketch
So Natalie Portman totally got to share a romantic scene with Beck Bennett's butt and, yeah, that was pretty weird. This "Star Trek"-like spoof saw Bennett's alien reveal that his face was his butt and vice versa just as Portman's captain was trying to seduce him. It was bizarre, but both actors were so committed to the "drama" of the scene that it still kind of worked. Bennett had to do a lot of butt flexing to communicate with his ass, but Portman was the one who had to snuggle with it, slap it and even go in to kiss it in the end. Yeah, this one was pretty weird, but strangely compelling.
Cecily Strong's Melania Trump calls on First Ladies past to help her process her new reality, with Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) the first to offer her aid. "People like me because they think, 'That lady look how I feel,'" Strong said. When she suggested that no First Lady had ever suffered more than her, talking about Trump's alleged infidelity, that was the cue for Kate McKinnon's Hillary Clinton to make her appearance. They were joined by Martha Washington (Aidy Bryant) and Michelle Obama (Leslie Jones), and yet with all that potential, and those great actresses, it turns out they didn't really have anything to say.
Aidy Bryant crashed a girls night takedown of the trouble with men drinking whiskey milk, neat, and she got very weird very fast. Why are most guys circumcised? What's wrong with a subway foot massage? Doesn't everyone catfish guys to get them in bed? Everything she said was awful, but Natalie Portman's character was kind of into it and inspired by her. In the end, Aidy proved to be the voice of reason to everyone except Cecily Strong, but it was the conviction of all the players that helped sell the otherwise thin premise. Bryant's Bunny was set up like a potential recurring character.
This Nickelodeon spoof featured Mikey Day and Natalie Portman on the "Orange Carpet," and the schtick was that she lost her voice, making her more awkward and kind of creepy-sounding than fun and peppy. Kate McKinnon was fun as Ellen DeGeneres. We weren't sure it was going to work until Portman came back with a vocalizer that made her sound like she'd just come up from the pits of hell. She startled Ellen and scared the crap out of everyone else. That was about all the sketch had to offer, but it had some chuckles.
A surprise Super Bowl sketch that featured the "Patriots of New England" celebrating a hard-fought victory on the battlefield of Revolutionary America. Rachel Dratch made a return to the stage with the over-the-top accent she had in those Boston sketches she did with Jimmy Fallon -- alas, he did not join her. Then, Tina Fey led the counter-argument delegation from Philadelphia. Kudos to the costuming department for incorporating Patriots and Eagles colors on Revolutionary garb so we could hate both of these fan groups equally. It's a good thing Pete Davidson came in with a piece of paper as he needed it to hide his complete inability to laugh as Fey, Kenan Thompson and Mikey Day went all in on their Philly impressions. Beck Bennett summed it up best: "They are the worst. Is there any way they both could lose?"
The new Fox & Friends lineup offered a chance for Heidi Gardner to join Alex Moffat's Steve Doocy and Beck Bennett's Brian Kilmeade as Ainsley Earhardt. Cecily Strong and Chris Redd made fun appearances, but it was about the return of Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump, conversing with them over a cheeseburger in bed. He touted his 10 million State of the Union viewers, adding, "A lot of people are saying, including Paul Ryan, that it was better than Martin Luther King's 'I Dream of Jeannie' speech." The cast of "Fox & Friends" served as both his daily briefing and his daily affirmation, and it would be more disturbing that it was such a mutual lovefest if that part didn't seem a bit on the nose.
MONOLOGUE - Natalie Portman
Rather than come out and do something all about her, Natalie Portman offered a deconstruction of the traditional monologue. She opened by complaining about how pervasive NBC's Olympics teasing is. This led to a cutaway with Kenan Thompson and Kate McKinnon as Olympics commentators critiquing her monologue. They offered a slo-mo of a joke failing to land, before cutting to correspondent Leslie Jones, who stood right in front of Portman to ask why they make these tiny white actresses do stand-up comedy. Innovative and refreshing and masterfully performed by Portman, this was so much better than the same-old, same-old.
"At this point, if you want to get my attention the bar is set at Porn Star Spanks President With Magazine," Colin Jost said, dismissing the Nunes memo. Calling the four-page document "cherry-picked" from a longer 50-page effort, Jost compared it to movie studios cherry-picking positive sounding words from terrible reviews to put on their posters. The banter between Michael Che and Jost is improving, and starting to provide some of the funniest moments, like when Jost tried being a hype man and Che brought up asking Jost if his family had ever owned slaves. Successful "Update" duos have had great chemistry, and it's good to see these two finding theirs. Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong showed up as Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Denueve. McKinnon played the 83-year old Bardot a little confused and a lot controversial. It was bizarre and funny at the same time; especially when she compared breasts to the knobs on drawers and asserted that Jost was gay.
Pete Davidson then came out to lament that his Dockers Super Bowl campaign was filming as the Weinstein story was breaking, so he was on the street asking people to take off their pants (and try on Dockers) at the wrong time. He was followed by Kenan Thompson as Che's neighbor Willie, talking about heating his house with his oven, mistaking a corpse for a sex doll, and his ancestors saying, "You had us at free boat trip!" Yeah,they went there. This was easily one of the boldest and sharpest "Updates" of the year.
One of Natalie Portman's most famous sketches from her 2006 appearance was the Lonely Island music video about her that saw her drop some sick rhymes on an unsuspecting audience. With Andy Samberg long gone, we didn't anticipate a sequel. Once again, she dropped the mic on the game sounding just as current now as she did then. She talked about weird stuff like eating Tide pods, drowning her doctor when her water broke -- she didn't even push, she was busy blazing. There was so much to explore in these few minutes, it's well worth going back to over and over again. She even dropped back into her "Star Wars" prequels garb with "Say something about the motherf-cking prequels, bitch!" Samberg showed up for a quick cameo update of his character before Portman slammed a #TimesUp pin into Beck Bennett's forehead to show their (literal) impact. This was beautifully dense, awesomely directed and quite simply a flawless follow-up. Portman's still got it!
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
The laughs were spread pretty evenly throughout the cast in a very strong episode, with guest stars carrying several sketches through the night. Leslie Jones and Aidy Bryant both had great outings, but it was Kenan Thompson and Kate McKinnon who got the biggest laughs in a hugely successful "Weekend Update" segment, and it was Kate McKinnon who ultimately stole the show with her daft Brigitte Bardot impression. She was also on-point as Ellen DeGeneres, revived her Hillary Clinton and provided solid commentary during Natalie Portman's opening monologue.
"Saturday Night Live" returns Mar. 3 with host Charles Barkley and musical guest Migos, airing live coast-to-coast at 11:35 p.m ET/8:35 p.m. PT.