Saturday Night Live opens with former president Donald Trump (James Austin Johnson) addressing the people of East Palestine (“Not a great name”), Ohio following the devastating toxic train derailment that’s thrown the city into turmoil. He’s come bearing McDonald’s and bottled water, but it doesn’t take him long to lose focus, going on a tirade about Rhianna’s Super Bowl performance (“It was all arms”), Pete Buttigieg (“We call him Pete Butt – there’s no way around it”), and popular TV shows Schitt’s Creek and Yellowstone.
Later, he brings out Emily Kohrs (Chloe Fineman), the weirdo foreperson of the grand jury investigation into his alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election, whose shameless public statements have thrown a monkey wrench into the prosecution’s plans. Fineman brings things to a screeching halt by mugging to the nth degree. It’s her most annoying performance so far, which is saying quite a lot.
Woody Harrelson marks his fifth occasion hosting, but alas, there’s no Five Timers jacket waiting for him. The self-described “redneck hippie” lays on the folksy charm, speaking briefly about his “purple” politics (“The red in me thinks you should be allowed to own guns, the blue in me thinks … squirt guns”), before delivering a loopy story about getting high in Central Park that is so convoluted it’s hard to believe the actor isn’t currently stoned out of his gourd.
In the first sketch, Harrelson plays a convict being visited by his wife. Their conversation behind a two-way glass is constantly and rudely interrupted by a running commentary from two sassy, pessimistic corrections officers (Ego Nwodim, Kenan Thompson). The third straight segment in a row in which all the humor comes from long-winded rambling. As with the cold open and Harrelson’s monologue, the mostly silent crowd reactions make it painful to watch.
In a new Please Don’t Destroy video, Harrelson consoles a crestfallen Ben, who’s worried John and Martin are hanging out without him. Harrelson convinces him to join him on a stakeout, where his fears are confirmed – and then some. He discovers that not only are his best friends lovers who’ve raised a secret family, but they’re holding auditions to replace him (they eventually settled on Harrelson).
In the next – extremely one-note – sketch, two buddies go on a rollercoaster ride. Harrelson’s wimpy character freaks out at first, only to have a blast, while Thompson’s braggadocious Air Force veteran immediately passes out from fear. He tries to regain his manhood by riding it again with his wife (Nwodim) only to once again loses his cool, crying and peeing himself.
Next, Harrelson plays the proud, hard-ass commander of a nuclear submarine with the unfortunate name “Mr Dingleberry’s Goochballon ASDFJKL; 6969” – the result of an online pole that the Navy hoped would raise their engagement numbers but backfired on them. Another overlong, overly convoluted sketch, this one at least gets points for referencing the action classic Crimson Tide.
In a commercial for colon cancer screening device Colon Guard, Harrelson speaks to Thomas, the boxy cartoon mascot who is far too excited to have him “unload” a stool sample inside him. Things turn dark when more boxes show up and threaten him. A great turn at the end reveals that it’s all just a drug-induced hallucination.
Weekend Update’s Michael Che invites NBA analyst and Hall of Famer Bill Walton (Johnson) to the desk. Walton claims to be psychic, able see “what is, what was, and what shall be”. Che tries to make him prove it by asking if the Lakers will end up in the playoffs, only for the New Age-y Walton goes off on a spiritual rant. Johnson’s impression is dead-on as usual, but the material leaves a lot to be desired.
Later, Colin Jost brings on Gina Bianchi (Heidi Gardner), “a woman with four daughters and one son.” The high-spirited mom doesn’t have the time of day for her girls – all doctors – but she can’t stop bragging about her beloved baby boy Anthony, a 38-year-old psychopath who constantly robs her (sometimes at gunpoint). It’s yet another rendition of a Gardener’s go-to character – she often defaults to a New Jersey accent – but she makes the most of it.
Next, Mikey Day plays a movie director who must break the bad news to the cast of his obesity drama, The Hippo, that production is shutting down. Everyone takes it hard, particularly the lead, who gained 460lb for the role. A very clever idea that takes the piss out of Darren Aronofksy’s Oscar-baity The Whale. It says a lot about that film that Harrelson’s fat suit looks about as realistic as Brendan Fraser’s.
In the gauzy closer, two tuxedoed men (Harrelson and Bowen Yang) lazily lift weights in “the most beautiful gym in the world”. Their conversation quickly become flirtatious, but the performances remain so deadpan as to be stilted.
If the show ended there, it would have been disappointing, but we get a nice stinger during the sign-off when Scarlett Johansson pops in to present a Five Timers jacket … to musical guest Jack White. Combined with a nice insert paying tribute to the late, great Richard Belzer, who served as the warm-up act and an extra in the show’s first few seasons, things close out on a high note.
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