Dua Lipa’s SNL Picked Up Steam as It Went Along

Here’s a little observation, bordering on an axiom, which has slowly developed over the years—as in, approximately half a century:

When Saturday Night Live returns from a hiatus, the first show back struggles to find both its rhythm and sketches that are well conceived and consistently funny.

SNL’s return last night carried with it a special challenge, because the last show before the break, hosted by Ryan Gosling, was arguably the funniest of the season, with one sketch, the Beavis and Butthead unaware look-a-likes, now the most-viewed clip of the current season.

And so, when the cold open tiptoed into risky territory, trying to find a way to get laughs out of the divisive and decidedly unfunny protests against the war in Gaza, a familiar sense of “oh it’s that hiatus issue” set in.

It even seemed as though the writers were sending a signal about their own uncertainty about the choice of topic for the open by including in the voice over during the set-up of an episode of “Community Affairs” on NY1: “Later, a recap of Hope Hicks emotional testimony in Donald Trump’s hush money trial.”

A message maybe? That was the other way we could have started the show?

Somebody surely noticed that Dua Lipa, this week’s host, could be easily made up to look like the glamorous Ms. Hicks.

But no, the sketch played out looking to leaven the events at Columbia University with a take about a father, Kenan Thompson, being all for students standing up for what they believe—except not his own daughter for whom he was paying $68,000 a year in tuition.

Kenan, virtually always great, sold it well; but it was still a bit of a jarring a premise for big laughs.

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Lipa’s following monologue relied on a familiar format: taking questions from the cast posing as audience members. But she was bursting with energy and charm, which always works.

First sketch: A return engagement for Devon Walker’s “Young Spicy,” who first appeared on the show just over a year ago when Ana de Armas hosted. This time, Lipa and Ego Nwodim played the two voice actors helping Spicy record his new producer tag. Passable, not inspired.

Next: A pre-taped pastiche of British horror film set in 1890’s. Visually cool-looking with Lipa as heroine and Sarah Sherman made up as a Phantom of the Opera horror figure; but mostly weird.

Next sketch, a South Carolina morning show pair exposing their ignorance about the reignited rap battle between Drake and Kendrick Lamar: OK.

Overall, a first pod of modest success.

After that things started to get rolling. Bowen Yang and Marcello Hernandez as “Sonny Angels” tiny dolls, a homoerotic homage to the tennis threesome in “Challengers,” had fun visual effects, and strong laughs.

Then, a second pretape; a commercial with the theme “It’s There for Us,” all about a “big-ass aluminum tray of Penna alla Vodka,” served at every conceivable event. (I attended an event two days ago where it was served from, yup, a big-ass aluminum tray.) “Loved by none, but tolerated by all, because it’s not that good. But it’s not that bad either.” Bullseye.

Lipa’s first song, her newest single “Illusion,” measured up to her promise to defy her earlier meme criticism for lazy dancing.

The upward momentum of the show was then juiced big time by a big-laugh version of “Weekend Update,” which, in the now signature assessment of one of its all-time stars, had everything:

Hot topic jokes, edgy “whoa-inducing” jokes, and three guest commentators, including a surprise cameo.

The topical jokes went straight to Kristi Noem’s puppy hit job, including how her killing spree may have hurt her chances to be Trump’s VP—though anchor Colin Jost suspected Trump would fully support “killing disobedient pets.” (cue photo of Mike Pence.)

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There were several about Trump’s trial, including how he passed a post-it to his lawyer with a simple message “Can’t pay you.” Co-anchor Michael Che wondered how Trump could complain that none of his supporters are in court: “What about all those cops?”

One whoa-joke was about Trump promoting an agenda to focus on “anti-white racism.” Jost: “Thank God. My people have suffered long enough! Sorry, Che, but time’s up.”

In another, Che cited a story about massive amounts of prosciutto being recalled for not being inspected properly, which caused him to admit he was surprised because he thought “prosciutto-inspector was an Italian slur for gay.” And Jost talked about a nude cruise that is going to offer “pickleball, cornhole—and also games.”

Che annotated a report on “National Masturbation Month” by saying: “So stop knocking on my dressing room door.” Big whoa.

The two elaborately costumed cast members as guests were Hernandez as “Cricket 7,” Noem’s latest dog hoping not to be shot in the face; and Chloe Fineman as JoJo Siwa, the one-time Nickelodeon kid star who has lately advanced to wild-child stage, which apparently means “KISS”-style make-up, spikey costumes, pretty explicit videos, and lots of citing that she’s an “artist.”

The surprise appearance came from Jerry Seinfeld who has been so ubiquitous promoting his Unfrosted movie (he was on a different live show in LA with John Mulaney just 24 hours ago) that he credibly appeared as a “man who did too much press.” He wanted to help people who are struggling with too much press addiction. “I’m talking to you, Ryan Gosling.”

Very funny “Update.”

But that’s not all. The show hit the closing stretch with maybe the edgiest sketch of the season, a pregnant Nwodem visiting a gynecologist named “Fat Daddy” who carried over his previous skills as pit master at Fat Daddy’s Barbecue Palace. That led to a personal exam that was apparently finger-licking good. It was so out there it had most of the players near breaking and ended with a faux headline: “SNL in Hot Water After Fingerlickin’ Bad Sketch.” There was a reason this one played late, but it killed.

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There was even time for a comeback closing sketch featuring Andrew Dismukes and James Austin Johnson’s “Soul Booth” duo trying to turn a phone number into a jingle. Lipa’s Brooklyn accent was funny.

So much for well-rested writers falling off their game. This edition found its rhythm late, but piled up points throughout its last hour.

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