The most enthusiastic and energetic host in recent memory, Willem Dafoe brings manic glee to everything from Belle's extremely lonely father to an aging intern to himself hawking male enhancement products.
Has there ever been a human being more excited to host “Saturday Night Live” than Willem Dafoe? And then to pair that enthusiasm with actually being pretty great at it? Why has it taken so long!
This is Dafoe’s first-ever time hosting, but after the tour de force of energy and great character work he gave in those 90 minutes, here’s hoping they don’t wait nearly so long to invite him back. He’s already right up there among the best-ever celebrity hosts, as far as we’re concerned.
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It didn’t seem to matter what they threw at him, Willem was eager to sink his teeth into any role, any material, and he knew how to play for laughs and when to really deliver like an actor … in service of the laugh.
An already strong night got a surprise injection of fun and laughter when the real Peyton Manning dropped by to prove once again why he’s among the best athlete hosts the show has ever had. He was impassioned, bizarrely specific and brilliantly hilarious in his “Update” appearance.
All in all, this was one of the stronger episodes of the season, with the only genuinely weak spot coming in the obligatory political cold open. Can we vote now to stop making those obligatory? Trump is gone so politics isn’t nearly as good for comedy fodder. You’ve already got “Weekend Update” to handle this material, so we don’t have to shoehorn it into the opening!
As usual, we're ranking all the sketches from worst to first, including the Monologue, Cold Open, "Weekend Update" and any sketches that were cut for time but made their way online. 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.
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Cold Open: Russian Disinformation
The pacing was way off on this sketch, with no moment more awkward then the slow lead-in to “LFNY.” Honestly, the sketch didn’t pick up until the first live-action TikTok was shown. All the fake headlines and memes were just not funny and it dragged on and on. On top of that, Ego Nwodim was clearly disinterested and reading cue cards, with Alex Moffat not much better. It was as if they knew this material was pretty flimsy. James Austin Johnson’s Biden tried some witty one-liners, but those mostly fell flat, too. We were hopeful that Chloe Fineman’s teen social media expert would bring it home, but that didn’t work out, either. This might have worked better with a quick set-up and then just flipping around Russian social media to see these different short clips (it worked for the recent classic TikTok sketch). We do have to admit we got a kick out of Pete Davidson's Aaron Rodgers and Chris Redd's Jake from State Farm hammily shilling for Russia and then accidentally butchering their own jingle.
The song itself was a little silly, but executed well enough. It was Willem Dafoe’s totally unexpected addition that finally breathed some life into what was until that point a bit of a yawner. But even that was nothing to the perfectly executed pratfall a few moments later. It still wasn’t a great sketch, and Willem was actually a little off on his lines a few times which was a rarity for him on the night. Honestly, it might have worked better without the song conceit at all, as we were enjoying the idea of him as an older intern eager to prove himself.
Monologue: Willem Dafoe
It started with his cameo last week and then his joyous promos before carrying right through to his entrance. We can’t remember the last time a host was so excited to be doing “SNL.” He never even really said it, but that enthusiasm was infectious. His monologue was all about his “over-acting” tendencies (he’s not subtle like Nic Cage and Al Pacino). Not all of it landed beautifully, but we did love the pic of him reading. They mined a few laughs from a couple (Aidy Bryant & Mikey Day) from his hometown of Appleton, WI got most of his movies wrong and challenged him to slip into his Wisconsin accent. We’re still dying at his deadpan response to them actually getting it right that he was in “Speed 2.” We’re all still trying to forget, Willem.
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Badminster Dog Show
We can’t help but wonder if having Melissa Villasenor’s dog the one afraid of “spoken Spanish” was an in-joke as they didn’t play it up, but we saw it! Poor Melissa really botched her lines there, too, and you could see her frustration as she left. Aidy Bryant and Willem Dafoe were charming as the announcers, delivering lines about how awful the dogs are with pep and faux energy. Aidy’s little reveal about them was so random we were totally into it. Overall, though, the piece went on a bit long and we didn’t get as many fun dogs-do-random-things moments as we usually get when “SNL” trots out the real animals. Kate McKinnon and Andrew Dismukes clearly had the most fun with his “monster.”
Beauty and the Beast
A great showcase for Willem Dafoe to ham it up as Belle’s father doing what it is that you do when you find you are home alone … and you are very, very lonely. No, it’s not that. It’s even weirder than that. Once again, Willem is clearly having an absolute blast hosting the show, as he goes all in with this one. The material is pretty funny, but his performance is what really makes it sing. And while we appreciate the costuming on all of the classic “Beauty and the Beast” dishes, et al, it was all ultimately unnecessary as they didn’t really bring much in added value to the sketch beyond what Chloe Fineman’s Belle and Pete Davidson’s Beast were already doing.
Good Morning Columbus
We’ve seen this basic sketch before, but it was still funny seeing all the clever ways Mikey Day -- who is such a good straight man -- and Willem Dafoe could say innocent things that immediately sound awful under the context of the wrong book title, “Blowing Yourself.” Honestly, we expected more interruptions from Bowen Yang and Ego Nwodim as the newscasters when the graphics kept making things worse. Bonus points for the hilariously brief sportscast by Andrew Dismukes, not wanting to blow a good flow, so to speak.
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Now I’m Up
Another great song from Chris Redd, this time about all those little things that wake you up inexplicably throughout the night. The twist of having Willem Dafoe and Heidi Gardner’s infomercial hosts invade the song was inspired and we would have actually enjoyed a little more of that, though Chris and Kenan Thompson were a lot of fun themselves. The bit with Kenan’s wife Ego Nwodim waking up after stabbing him with her toenail went nowhere, so it felt kind of hollow and unnecessary. Overall, though, it was an incredibly relatable message with a catchy hook.
Great escalation to even way beyond where we thought a product about getting “hard” might go. Willem Dafoe’s mostly-understated delivery was great, and the randomness of Mikey Day thinking he was “Sir Willem Dafoe” (“I’m not even British”) was just a deliciously silly detail. The awkwardness of these types of products was perfectly displayed with Mikey constantly trying to downplay that he’d have any need for it, while the actual presentation of the product -- yeah, it defies description. But in the best way possible, we promise!
Tenants Association Meeting
It looked like Punkie Johnson “left” after Chloe had announced she left as we saw her head cut in front of the camera in a rare camera blocking error -- unless Punkie went the wrong way. That was the only mishap, though, as this was one of this larger cast’s new staples of creating series of character vignettes one after the other and almost all of them worked tonight. Willem Dafoe nailed it as an old rent-controlled tenant lamenting the state of the city now as compared to when it was all pimps and whores, but everyone was fantastic. There were a few breaks, like Chloe Fineman struggling to keep it together when Kate McKinnon’s tiny old lady was pulling the mic down, and Sarah Sherman making herself giggle with her great delivery, but overall we enjoyed the diversity and personality of all the tenants -- which is impressive as we saw 18 people in this sketch!
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In response to the best economic growth since the Reagan era, Colin Jost got an audible laugh out of us when he said Biden is even now using Regan’s old catchphrase, “Where am I?” The graphic, the delivery, it was like butta!
There’s nothing better than characters so silly the cast can’t even get through them. Aidy Bryant was the one struggling (and failing) to keep it straight alongside Bowen Yang as an overly dramatic duo presenting trends that are in and OUT! This one was all in the presentation, with their heads pressed together for the “out” content, the obnoxious lines, the lighting and the sinister music making it so over-the-top it didn’t matter what they were saying, it was funny. The only weak part of this was that the closing visual was unnecessary.
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Shifting from politics, Micheal Che got a groan for pouring one out for Seabiscuit while Colin followed up with one of his own with a savage Lori Loughlin joke. Even the cat-eye glasses couldn’t save Che, though we choose to believe those were groans of appreciation as the boys had strong jokes this week.
Peyton Manning has been one of the better athlete hosts over the years and it was easy to see why as he did his homework and came prepared to break down last week’s big games, as well as reports that Tom Brady is finally retiring. At least that was what he was supposed to cover. With all the passion of an NFL analyst, Peyton had something else on his mind and it was comedy gold watching him unpack it!
Please Don’t Destroy: Martin’s Friend
This kid portraying Connor was on fire with this sketch; it would not have worked nearly as well without someone this strong in such a key role. The whole premise if the guys getting jealous over a kid was great, but we can’t get over almost every one of Connor’s lines. And his facial expression in the moment before he saved a life was pure gold. The dramatics, the nonsense, the randomness of Colin Jost at the end, this was another fantastic PDD piece. It’s amazing how much strong writers can do with such a flimsy premise.
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PLAYER OF THE WEEK
It was a surprisingly big night for a lot of cast-members as we had a ton of large ensemble pieces. After struggling with appearances all season long -- and all career long, if we’re being honest -- both Punkie Johnson and Melissa Villasenor had plenty of opportunities tonight, with Melissa sadly botching one of them pretty badly and Punkie badly reading cue cards at another.
Still, we loved seeing some different faces getting a chance to bring their best to the fore. It makes our job harder in the opposite way as a show like last week’s where everyone had literally one or two appearances. The average tonight appears to be four!
Chloe Fineman had a lot of great showcases, but mostly in straight woman roles, while Heidi Gardner showed off her physicality and ability to slide into different characters. Aidy Bryant was incredible bringing different energies to her various roles throughout the night, highlighted by her sinister silliness with Bowen Yang during “Update" and her surprised-to-be-married dog show co-host.
But for us, tonight’s MVP is Kenan Thompson. He’s the glue that holds this show together, and this week he proved that by really going in on a wide variety of different roles, from his sexed-up tenant to his just plain up singer alongside Chris Redd. He talked getting “hard” and watching weird. Honestly, the only piece that didn’t work for him was the Cold Open, and that didn’t work for anyone.
There have been episodes where it’s felt like Kenan was phoning it in, or giving the same energy and performance to each role. This week, though, it really felt like he was fully committed, wringing laughs out of even the smallest roles. It was what you want to see from your veteran, and the de facto face of your franchise, after Lorne Michaels.
“Saturday Night Live” returns February 26 with host John Mulaney and musical guest LCD Soundsystem.