Kate McKinnon debuts brilliant Wilbur Ross while McAvoy proves game for anything, including dressing down as sexy (?) "Narnia" faun Mr. Tumnus.
We're not sure if it was the kilt or the Scottish brogue energy, but James McAvoy's tenure as "Saturday Night Live" host turned in one of the strongest episodes of the season.
Everything was amped up from its usual level, which meant the cast was finding laughs through their performances and delivery even beyond the humor of the writing. It's a testament to an extremely positive vibe and energy that must have permeated the week.
We can only attribute that energy to McAvoy, as the host and musical guests are the only things that change week to week. But whatever it was, it's a welcome development as we found ourselves smiling and laughing throughout the night. Even the worst sketch brought laughs with it.
In fact, the "worst" sketch of the night wasn't even bad. It was just not as strong as the rest. And yet, somehow, the audience didn't seem to believe in their host as evidenced by their uncomfortably tepid response to his monologue. Maybe the accent was throwing them, but it was hard to watch. Thank goodness they warmed up.
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.
As usual, the faun Mr. Tumnus welcomes people to Narnia, and James McAvoy's take on him was doing the same but it was "lazy Hermione" white girls who grew up on "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and have an odd crush on him. So yes, this got uncomfortably sexual for a sketch about a children's book character before culminating in an inevitable twist. Probably the weirdest thing was how cool Tumnus was about the whole thing, indicating he gets it a lot. There was a solid idea for something funny here, but it never seemed to really quite get there.
MONOLOGUE - James McAvoy
Okay, what was up with that audience? We thought James McAvoy was absolutely charming coming out in his kilt and making jokes about being Scottish ("Scotland, that's the part of England that is north of the Wall) and being mistaken for Ewan McGregor, but this audience was dead silent almost throughout. They were absolutely brutal to him overall, though he finally got a cheer after he lost his place on the cue cards and then said, "Messing up gets a laugh" ... because before he said it, they weren't even encouraging in that way. The poor guy, he was doing just fine, but he was getting no energy back from the crowd.
Air Traffic Control
We thought maybe they were going to do something about issues at the airports due to the government shutdown, but instead we got a sketch about how difficult James McAvoy's Scottish air traffic controller is to understand as one of Kylie Jenner's brand integration guys (pointless-but-fun detail) has to land a plane. So basically it was a way for James to use all the Scottish lingo and expressions he could think of to pack his speech so densely that Mikey Day would have no idea at all what he was saying. McAvoy was laying it on even thicker than his usual accent, and his earnestness really turned this very thin premise into something that had us laughing.
James McAvoy and Heidi Gardner were every obnoxious couple who go on vacation and think they've soaked up enough culture from the area to become instant experts, this time having just returned from "N'Awlins." Only Kenan Thompson's character was from there, so he kept refuting their claims and trying to shut down the idiocy. Heidi really shined in this sketch, being so ridiculous and different from the brilliant ditz characters she usually winds up laying, showing another facet of her comedic talents. She's soon going to have to step up into a lead female performer role on this show, and she's proving she's up for the task.
Leslie Jones tries to bring a little street cred with a rap about her newest neighborhood in the Upper East Side, but it's a far cry from Compton, Spanish Harlem or Bed-Stuy. A hip-hop ode to a far whiter and more privileged way of living with subway trains that don't smell like urine and cabs that show up immediately. We loved Kate McKinnon's "west side" verse about staying at home with her cat because it was so nonsensical it both made didn't fit at all and brought the whole piece home. It was definitely better than McAvoy's equally nonsensical German bread baker verse.
James McAvoy is Mr. H, a teacher trying to connect with an underachieving student on the streets, portrayed by Chris Redd. It was almost the classic inspirational movie scene, except Chris' character, Marcus, really wasn't all that bright and while Mr. H wanted him to come back to school, he also wanted to score some shrooms. We loved Marcus' friends -- and client -- giving him crap for his low SAT scores, as well as Marcus wanting to believe Mr. H thought him genius. They all played this to the hilt with only the writing betraying that Marcus is average at best, and well below that in math, making this a perfect parody of a tired film trope.
I Love My Dog
We didn't expect a rap song about dogs to turn into a rap battle, but that's what happened when Ego Nwodim countered Chris Redd, Pete Davidson and Kenan Thompson with her love of bunnies. "I don't give a shih tzu," she rapped. It was some clever stuff throughout, punctuated by James McAvoy as the DJ who took things way too far, threatening to maim and murder people who didn't respect the dog. Once again on the night, a sketch was ratcheted up to 11 and the extra dose of lunacy made it even better.
A focus group looking at Charmin's Super Bowl ad got off to a rough start when Kyle Mooney thought the bears were real. We love this cross-section of American idiocy, with Kate McKinnon as the SJW ashamed of being white, James McAvoy as the frat guy (stereotype) who has a better idea and Kenan Thompson as the intellectual jackass who shows off constantly. And yet, they are all equally as stupid and annoying as Kyle, who just wants to know how you got those bears to do that.
How did we know that Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney's fighting brothers would return after their riotous debut earlier in the season with Liev Schreiber as the father hosing them down for misbehaving. Yes, literally. James McAvoy took over that role as the stepfather. And it was still hilarious and very much like obnoxious kids and then it got way too real when Beck told Kyle that dad tried to abandon him and James didn't deny it, saying that nobody at the adoption agency wanted him so they had to take him back. It was an awful thing to tell a child and the whipped cream on a terribly brilliant and terrible sketch.
This latest "Bachelor" parody continued the "Can-I-steal-him-for-a-sec" rapid-fire run-through the women of the cast we've seen in these parodies for years, with James McAvoy sitting in as the latest single fella in search of love on a television show and these barbs were sharp. The girls were the usual lineup of trash, with a special shoutout to Ego Nwodim who knew she would only have time to say goodbye because she was black and had short hair. We lost it when Kate McKinnon stole time with him by luring Aidy Bryant away by shaking keys at her. Even "Bachelor" lovers can recognize some of the worst of actual contestants in these loving(?) homages.
COLD OPEN - Tucker Carlson
Alex Moffat captured a lot of Tucker Carlson's smug self-righteousness, but it was Cecily Strong's simmering rage as Jeanine Piro that really set this sketch off on the right foot talking about how honored government workers have been to work without pay.. Her vehement "I know!" when he told her she was the best was the perfect exclamation point to an impression getting stronger and stronger. Then Kate McKinnon dropped in a new one as U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and she was so daft and hilariously out-of-touch with the working class we immediately fell in love with this character. Finally, Steve Martin was over-the-top and looked like Ben Stein doing a Robert De Niro impression as former Trump aide Roger Stone. And while the content was sharp throughout, it was the wildness of the characters that made this the best "Cold Open" we've seen in a long time.
Colin Jost and Michael Che brilliantly trashed Trump's nonsensical talk about the wall and the liberal's equally ridiculous response of euphoria and victory after he temporarily reopened the government. They then took potshots at LaGuardia Airport and Spirit Airlines because they're low-hanging fruit, and we still laugh. They then went all in on Roger Stone because he's a new public figure and there are just so many jokes. And they made them all.
Chris Redd was full of animation and indignation and not much else as Soulja Boy hustling video game knockoffs. He certainly wasn't full of information knowing nothing about the government shutdown and declaring he was going to be the first black president. Michael Che could barely keep it together with Chris going so broad with his impression but it worked really well. Especially when he seemed to actually be asking for legal advice about copyright infringement.
In non-Trump news, the guys made fun of a Catholic prayer app and the University of Oklahoma blackface scandal. Michael Che recommended rather than allowing them to withdraw, make them attend more school. "Every time these kids do something racist they should have to do another year in an even blacker school," he said. Colin Jost then joked that the collapse of the Sweetheart conversation heart candies was because of #MeToo, but it's really just a matter of timing.
Finally, Che's fake neighbor and would-be lover Cathy Anne (Cecily Strong) same out comparing Trump's obsession with the wall to a heroin addict, and acting a bit like an addict herself. She was all over the place and totally hyped up, and as a result this is the funniest she's ever been. And there was a bit of truth about our struggles during the shutdown and the dangers of opioids from sources that have nothing to do with Mexico in the middle of her ranting and raving, which is pretty accurate for most raving lunatics. All in all, this was the strongest "Update" of the season.
Another extremely well-balanced episode for the main cast, with standout performances from Kate McKinnon, Chris Redd, Cecily Strong and Heidi Gardner. Kate's Wilbur Ross was a work of genius, while Chris' Soulja Boy was an unexpected treat.
Heidi didn't give us any impressions, but her sketch work was stellar this week, but the edge has to go to Cecily Strong for taking Jeanine Piro to the next level and killing it as Michael Che's unhinged neighbor Carrie Ann. She featured in three of the top four sketches of the night and deserves this non-award that she'll probably never hear about.
"Saturday Night Live" airs Saturdays at 11:30 p.m .ET on NBC.