How Did Aziz Ansari Do In His Saturday Night Live Debut?
The Master of None comic got political, sexy, and silly in a winning turn.
The sketches didn't all land perfectly, but Aziz Ansari as guest host turned out to be a good return to form for SNL this week after some wobbly business with Felicity Jones and Casey Affleck in recent weeks. I may be a little biased on Ansari's behalf; a performance of his from a few years ago is in my top five all-time stand-up sets, and I liked the first season of Master Of None a lot. On this show, Ansari got to show some range, from a monologue that captured some of the brilliance of his stand-up, to some silly character work, to some material about sex ("Bedroom" was also an opportunity for Melissa Villaseñor to do her Owen Wilson impression, even if the timing wasn't perfect), to specific stuff about pop culture. Maybe there was no David S. Pumpkins breakout sketch (though they sure tried with "Pizza Town"), but it was a really good debut overall.
Best Sketch Of The Night
We haven't seen Bobby Moynihan on the show a whole lot the last few weeks, which is a shame because as all sane people know, he is a delight! This sketch, "Five Stars," seemingly inspired by the Black Mirror episode "Nosedive," feels like the sketch of the show that most closely matches Aziz Ansari's brand of humor; you could imagine it as a bit on Master Of None. The sketch, about a Uber driver and passenger trying to emotionally connect in order to score mutual five-star ratings, goes the absurd route you expect, but it's just short enough not to overstay its welcome, and though you can see the ending coming a block away, it still made me bark out loud with laughter.
Most On Point
Just as with the Dave Chappelle episode from November, the timing of this monologue, the day after Donald Trump's swearing in, made for a smart, inclusive, and oddly healing run from Aziz Ansari. He wrote about Trump back in June, and given those fears, it feels like a generous bit of comedy. Just as Chappelle asked Trump to give people of color a chance, Ansari asks formerly closet racists to maybe go back in the closet a little bit instead of being so emboldened.
Most Beck Bennett
SNL has really gone all-in on Beck Bennett this season. I like the guy a lot, I think he's very funny and pretty versatile, but the cold open featuring his familiar shirtless Vladimir Putin impression is evidence that this strategy can backfire. A little Putin in an Alec Baldwin-driven Trump sketch can be great. An entire sketch of Putin with no Alec Baldwin (maybe he was busy this week?) is way, way too much. The only thing that saves this from disaster is Kate McKinnon's Poor Russian Woman. But yeah, we get it, Putin is in control and he has a nice torso. We don't need to see it every week.
Most Pop-Culture Topical
This interrogation over someone only thinking La La Land is fine, not great, tickled me and, as with the sex-talk sketch and "Five Stars," felt expressly written for or by Aziz Ansari. The ambivalence from white people about seeing Moonlight ("I just can't get myself to go." "Yeah, just 'cause I know it's gonna be a whole thing.") rings true.
And Now, Leslie Jones
I get that there's some Leslie Jones fatigue and that, as this "Weekend Update" bit points out, her segments tend to wander, but I enjoyed her take on Hidden Figures and appreciated that the whole thing wasn't predicated on sexual overtures to Colin Jost.
Let's Move On, Please
I don't get the show's fascination with Kellyanne Conway. It feels like SNL has only been able to approach Trump from four angles: Conway, Trump himself, Putin, and Melania, and all of those angles are super-worn out at this point. Conway in particular has been a mushy target; the show doesn't seem to know if it wants to portray her as fame-hungry, as in this week's fantasy dance number; as self-aware enough to know her soul is shriveling; or just a pathological liar. The lack of focus isn't Kate McKinnon's fault; she does admirable work here, but it speaks to an inability to pin down a way to approach a characterization in the writing, and that's usually deadly in sketch comedy. It's especially hard to stomach this and the maudlin, shaky "To Sir With Love" closer given that Donald Trump guest-hosted SNL just over a year ago.