Ronda Rousey’s recent defeat at the hands (and feet) of Holly Holm at UFC 193 was a major upset for the former women’s bantamweight champ, but her performance as the host of “Saturday Night Live” was a triumph. Even if this success was due to the cast–along with a few high caliber cameos–really pulling together to make it happen.
The cold open, the recently established dumping ground for throwaway political sketches, was the best use of this opening position thus far this season. But it really had to be. Ever since Sarah Palin endorsed Donald Trump, it was like a guarantee that Tina Fey would be back for an appearance this week. Maybe Trump’s bid for the oval office really is the conceptual joke that we hope it is. Fey delivered Palinesque nonsense like, “they stomp on our necks and say, ‘what’s the big dill? Take a chill pill, Dill.” as Darrel Hammond’s Trump provided fourth-wall-breaking commentary about how nuts she is. “Two Corinthians short of a Bible,” he said. Then Fey won the sketch when she provided her own commentary to the audience, saying that she was only stumping for Trump because he promised her a place in his cabinet. “I belong in a cabinet because I’m full of spice, and I’ve got a great rack,” she said.
Rousey began her monologue by sincerely congratulating Holm, before Beck Bennett and Taran Killam interrupted to provide sports programming commentary on the monologue, while Kenan Thompson acted as Rousey’s monologue coach. It was a smart way to not make Rousey do any heavy lifting on her first appearance of the night. I mean, she could do some really heavy lifting, literally speaking. You see those pipes? Her arms are like tree trunks! But the monologue turned into an assist-fest, with Kate McKinnon joining as Justin Bieber, and then the cast and Selena Gomez joining to do a song-and-dance routine behind her. It was a fun bit, but they missed a huge opportunity by not having Kate McKinnon‘s Justin Bieber snuggle up to the real Gomez.
The first proper sketch of the evening was brilliant. Cecily Strong announced nominees for best actor at the Screen Actors Guild Awards., and it became increasingly apparent they were shunning the black nominees, who obviously turned in way better performances than their white co-stars. This sketch worked on so many levels, from Killam’s hilarious generic Stallone character to the slow unveiling of
Next up was “Love Struck,” a well-tempered spoof of mean teen movies. Bennett, the popular jock of the school, lured Rousey to the gym for what she thought was a date, only to learn that Vanessa Bayer, playing Bennett’s popular girlfriend, turned on the lights with the intent to shame her. The sketch expertly utilized Rousey’s quick physical reflexes for some amazing slapstick violence.
“Bland Man” was a parody of dating shows like “The Bachelor” that rose above cliché by dabbling in it. The tagline of the show was “One bland man, 25 long-haired women,” and as Killam sat on a bench, his suitors came and sat next to him and they all said things like, “Mmmmmm, I like this” and then talked about what they liked about their previous dates: hot air balloon with the cast of “Chicago Fire,” race car to an improv class, etc. Then another contestant would come along and say, “can I steal him for a sec?” The combination of repetition and smart, quotable lines — like Cecily Strong saying, “all the girls hate me, just because I’m so mean to them” — made this bit worthwhile. Gomez had another cameo here, this time, ending the sketch in an obvious, but funny enough way.
Gomez’s performance of “Same Old Love” was dramatic and fun. And she hit all the notes! Performing live isn’t always her strongest suit. Wearing a black dress, while a horseshoe of turtlenecked dudes sat and snapped behind her, Gomez got into it. What the song lacked in adventurous melody, she made up for in style.
“Weekend Update” was back in fighting shape this week. The political skewering was easy, but it was on-point. Colin Jost set up how Palin had endorsed Trump. “Either that or she saw an open microphone and decided to say all the words she knew in random order.” Michael Che delivered keen commentary on how the Oscars tried to counter claims of racism by featuring more black actors as presenters during the ceremony. “So the Oscars are solving racism by making black people present white people with gold?” Bam! Leslie Jones was also on fire during her guest spot, talking about how she knows how to romance Leonardo DiCaprio. (The secret is a ham sandwich, by the way). She also won points for calling Jost a “sexy-ass blizzard.” She explained it was because “I just wanna plow ya!” Thompson brought back his Willie character, which was as funny as ever, though he didn’t break any new ground with it.
Next up was a courtroom sketch where Pete Davidson played a high school student who was testifying against two hot teachers (Strong and Rousey) he had a ménage à trois with. Though this setup was a little insensitive, as young men can legitimately be sexually abused by female teachers, Davidson, who plays a very convincing teen, made it funny. Plus, he and Thompson really brought out an awesome almost forgotten Denzel-ism. “Mah man!”
The ensemble was in full force for the next sketch, Avengers-type superheroes with egos so big that they need to introduce themselves and talk about their powers before thy fight crime. It was utter silliness, but it was fun. Aidy Bryant won this one!
The cast used the ensemble formula again for a town meeting sketch. Bryant was highly quotable here as well, McKinnon did a spot-on angry Irish woman with a Rockstar Energy Drink problem, and Kyle Mooney, who up to this point hadn’t seen much screen time, shined as a Scandinavian-ish musician whose demo is available at Papa John’s.
Gomez began singing “Hands to Myself” on a bed with satin sheets. Her voice seemed more strained than in the previous number. Plus the dude she was dancing with looked more doofy than sexy. There was another ménage à trois thing going on here, but when Gomez delivered the line, “I can’t keep my hands to myself, I mean I could, but why would I want to?” it came across as way too hokey to be hot.
The final new sketch of the show was LOL-level silly. The Good Neighbor guys, Bennett and Mooney, fielded an invite from Rousey to a party at her house to watch the game. They asked ridiculous questions to her increasing frustration, as it became more apparent they had no idea how to socialize with another human being. It was a good example of why this episode worked so well. Rousey had a few lines as the straight man, but the cast were able to really indulge in ridiculousness. “SNL” doesn’t always need a host to kick ass. Sometimes the show just needs an ass-kicking host to chill out and let the cast shine.