Photo: Rosalind O’Connor/NBC
Another week, another young Marvel star. This week we get Simu Liu, who first broke out in the Canadian sleeper hit Kim’s Convenience and whose Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has earned nearly half a billion dollars. Don’t get me wrong; I love Simu Liu — his comments on the abrupt Kim’s Convenience cancellation give him legendary status in my household. But it does feel like SNL this year has had to pick hosts before they’ve fully ripened on the celebrity tree. SNL is at its sharpest when they play with the hosts’ cultural baggage, and Kim Kardashian’s episode went so well she got a comedy tour and a new boyfriend. But with hosts like Liu, Majors, and Culkin, the sketches just have to be funny and original, and results have been mixed.
Cecily Strong returns as Jeanine Pirro as SNL goes headfirst into the Kyle Rittenhouse case. Credit where credit is due: this is a touchy subject, but SNL doesn’t sidestep anything. They bring on the Judge, played by Mikey Day, who accidentally calls Rittenhouse “my client.” They then bring on two liberals, an NPR reporter, played by Chloe Fineman, and a Howard University Law professor, played by Chris Redd. Chloe is shocked by the decision, while Chris is not. The Jeanine Pirro sketch again ends with James Johnson’s Trump doing a Pardon the Interruption-style rundown. “Speaking of New Rules, Dua Lipa is one of our best singers.”
Simu Liu exclaims that he’s Marvel’s first openly Chinese superhero and SNL’s first Chinese host. He goes into a really cool story about how he tweeted at Marvel in 2014 asking to be an Asian superhero and then replied to it years later when he was cast as Shang-Chi. He then goes into another fun story about how he had to dress up as Spider-Man for a kid’s birthday party, and a child that was kicking him in the shins told him he’s not Spider-Man. “Trevor, if you are watching, I just want to say you are right. I’m not Spider-Man,” says Simu. “I’m Shang-Chi, bitch.” How can you not love this man?
Simu knocks on Bowen’s dressing room, and they talk about how it’s the first time they’ve had an Asian host and Asian cast member on at the same time. It’s actually a big deal, and I’m glad SNL touched on it. The celebration soon becomes a competition, as SNL’s resident teen Andrew Dismukes shows up as a page to hand Simu and Bowen some awards. “First Asian man to deadpan on Splash Mountain.” This is the best sketch of the night, and the momentum never lets up, with Simu barely beating Bowen to be the first Asian man to do a Cher impression on NBC, and Bowen reminding Simu that no matter what he does, “I’ll always be gay.”
In the spirit of Lonely Island’s Jack Sparrow duet with Michael Bolton, Pete Davidson invites Marc Cohn to sing a “Walking in Memphis” parody about how crazy Staten Island is. “Yeah, we got 80 bagel spots, and every block has a pizza place.” While Staten Island residents might enjoy this walking tour of the fifth borough, this sketch is actually more loving than biting. I didn’t understand the Robert Loggia reference until I looked it up and found that he was born in Staten Island, and Method Man’s rap is just a rap with no jokes.
SNL brings back the dog head man, with Cecily reprising her role as a dubious government worker investigating why Mikey Day put a dog’s head on a man’s body. The best part of this sketch is once again watching every giggle at the dog, with Mikey again breaking at the dog’s hands.
Cecily is my MVP of this episode. She laid out some great jokes in her Jeanine Pirro sketch. “You may remember that I was in charge of investigating Robert Durst for murder back in ‘83. Well, folks, 30 years and one additional murder later, we got him!” She was also the only funny part of that interminable karaoke sketch, and her attempts to improvise through the dog eating its sandwich was a highlight. Sketch comedy isn’t really a hot commodity in the TV world, but Cecily is funny enough to have her own sketch show, à la Carol Burnett.
Overall, this was a rough episode, and that has nothing to do with Simu. I remember seeing a behind-the-scenes documentary about how SNL comes up with sketches, and in that doc, the writers sit in a room and pitch sketch ideas to Lorne and the host. What do they do now? Just read the TV Guide from past seasons? “My idea is the dogman sketch from two years ago.” “Oh, okay, my idea is the baking sketch we’ve done four times.” The baking sketch even had the same “my cake was so bad it opened a portal from hell” joke as Eddie Murphy’s baking sketch. If you’re going to re-do sketches, the jokes need to be completely different and surprising, like how in Timothy Chamelet’s baking sketch we got a butthole that spewed chocolate lava. Totally disappointing and does not portend well for the rest of the season.