After the NFL playoffs went into overtime, the Internet was buzzing with speculation that emo Kylo Ren was destroying the green room at 30 Rockefeller Center. Stakes were high with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”star Adam Driver‘s hosting debut. After all, this was the first time somebody involved in a “Star Wars” film was to host the show while promoting said movie. (Natalie Portman didn’t host until 2006, when she was promoting V for Vendetta, nearly a year after “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” came out.) Also, the possibility of the cast creating some magic like this or this made for high expectations. For the most part, Driver delivered, with most of the laughs coming toward the end of the show.
The cold open has become the go-to slot-in for debate parodies. There wasn’t anything extraordinary going on with this one, although the premise was strong, with Cecily Strong stating that the rules would be more like a game show, and if candidates dropped below 3 percent in the national polls, they would be removed “Showtime at the Apollo”-style. Though the joke didn’t dictate the game of the sketch (it should have!) Kenan Thompson delivered a good callback before the big “Live from New York!” Taran Killam also had a good one-liner as Ted Cruz when he said his smile is the same expression he makes when he’s peeing.
Driver’s monologue was good-natured and delivered a few light laughs: “Please, please, go see it,” he said of Star Wars. “If this one does well, they might make another.” Then members of the cast kept storming the stage trying to persuade him to reveal secrets about the next Star Wars films. The highlight was the inimitable Leslie Jones, who said she hadn’t seen Star Wars, but she wanted to tell him how much she loved him in “Good Will Hunting.” “How many times do I have to tell you, I’m Adam Driver, not Minnie Driver!” Har har.
Up next was an NFL parody, featuring Pete Davidson as a young quarterback who gets his legs crushed in his first pro appearance. Driver and Beck Bennett star as the commentators, incessantly showing instant replays of the injury, even though they promise they won’t. Its overuse of repetition was hilarious. The best phrase of the sketch: “The nauseating reality that legs could bend like that.”
The next sketch, about Kylo Ren in “Undercover Boss: Starkiller Base,” is what I’m gonna call the Feed Sketch — you know, the sketch you’re going to see in your feed the most next week. Driver played his “Force Awakens” character going undercover — with little success — as Matt, a radar technician. The combination of Star Wars references with how well they executed the parody of the actual show was what made this work. Also, big ups to Leslie Jones again, when she was instructing Darth Vader’s heir to the Dark Side on how to rewire the calcinator so that she could have her muffin.
Driver played Aladdin in the next sketch, riding on a magic carpet with Strong’s Princess Jasmine. It was an easy sketch, but its unpredictability and irreverence was welcome. “I think I just pissed this little thing I’m wearing,” said Strong after getting bonked in the face by an enormous bird carrying a fish. The tone of this harked back to what was so funny about the first time we ever saw Toonces.
Next up was “America’s Funniest Cats,” with Driver playing a pervier version of Tom Bergeron that the producers continue to mistakenly call Finn Raynal-Beads. Kate McKinnon and Strong played hostesses from the French version of the show, who are in the throes of existential angst. It was dumb, but fun.
Singer Chris Stapleton was up next with “Parachute.” The performance was okay, but not exactly an invitation to new fans. He has catchier songs and more rocking songs, and there were too many people on the stage who didn’t seem to be necessary. Maybe he was inspired by Springsteen’s massive E Street showing on the last episode.
“Weekend Update” was rusty this week, with Colin Jost and Michael Che losing some of the well-oiled momentum that they had built up during the first half of the season. Their jokes seemed too geared at entertaining each other, rather than the audience, with Che promising that he’ll always enjoy masturbating in Jost’s office. Guest appearances from Pete Davidson and Vanessa Bayer were also unremarkable. We’ve seen Bayer’s Laura Parsons character before, and it’s funny, but the joke of a 12-year-old reciting inappropriate news was not enough to lift this “Update” out of its amateur feel.
Driver and Strong played anti-bullying advocates talking to a classroom about “social puppeteering,” something which they used to do a lot of when they were teens. The teens they’re talking to don’t know what “social puppeteering” even is, and when they find out they’re quite intrigued. This was a great late-in-the-show moment, where the ridiculousness runs rampant, especially with that one hour delay, courtesy of the NFL.
The moment this sketch was over and Fred Armisen appeared onstage, it was obvious he was going to pay tribute to David Bowie. His eulogy was fitting, and the clip of Bowie performing “The Man Who Sold the World” as a mannequin with an enormous plastic tuxedo, being carried up to the mic by Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias seemed like a pretty strong reminder to Chris Stapleton that he’d better step up his game.
The next segment, a pre-taped sketch of kids watching their parents thank them in their “Golden Globes” acceptance speech and then telling them to go to bed was hysterical. This should have been earlier in the show, and Driver doing a Liev Schreiber dong wag needs to be a gif soon!
Chris Stapleton played “Nobody to Blame” as his second shot at winning a brand new audience. Well, if he doesn’t gain new fans, he’s at least got a motto to fall back upon.
We’ve seen the premise where Aidy Bryant’s character prevents porn-flick setups from being any more than bad acting and even worse innuendo, but Adam Driver nailed it as Dr. Rockhard. And the fact that Bryant unwittingly interrupts gay porn from happening was even funnier, because she played oblivious so well.
Adam Driver closed the show with a shout-out to the troops serving overseas, reminding us, as he did in his monologue, that he’s a former Marine. It makes it hard to dislike the guy, doesn’t it? Throughout the show he proved an affable host; he was game for whatever the writers threw at him and again, including the Liev Schreiber dong-wag thing. I would have liked to have seen a Lena Dunham cameo, so we could have seen Driver in Adam Sackler mode, but the Star Wars sendup definitely delivered. Plus, the fact that the other characters he played were so random speaks to what was fun about this episode.