Sydney Sweeney Fronts a Largely Successful and Female-Forward SNL

In case some people made it through the first couple of days of the month without realizing March is officially Women’s History Month, Saturday Night Live surely raised a few consciousness-es in this week’s edition, which was determinedly, and largely successfully, women-centric.

Not only because of the host and music guest—Sydney Sweeney and Kacey Musgraves—but also the many sketch spotlights for female members of the show’s cast. Most of the female players got substantial airtime and it was an especially busy night for two, Heidi Gardner and Ego Nwodim, who got star turns in sketches and as especially high-concept interviewees in Weekend Update: a woman with tips on how to age gracefully and a mysteriously (though not to her) pregnant eel.

But of course the show, as always, rose and fell on the performances of the host; that focus is extra acute when it’s a first-timer center stage.

The easiest way to determine how confident the writers and the boss, Lorne Michaels, are in the comic moxie of a new host is how many sketches are entrusted to her/him. Sydney Sweeney was all over the show this Saturday, and not as background characters. She was, decidedly—and sometimes emphatically–out front.

That point was stressed from her first moment on stage in the monologue, where she appeared, looking winsome in a white gown with plunging neckline. Sweeney is just now emerging as a break-out star in movies like “Anyone But You” and even a memorable Rolling Stones music video. In most of her performances she presents a cute persona and traffic-stopping figure.

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This combination was definitely part of the inspiration for the sketch writers. In her appealing (if slightly nervous) monologue, Sweeney talked of the power-point plan she formed when her parents drove her 19 hours to LA to try to make it as an actress. The power point graphic involved totally formulaic ideas for her to land some commercials and make it to some auditions. But, she said, if all that failed she had “Plan B: Show Boobs.”

Plan B was most on display in a sketch about waitresses competing for tips at a Hooters restaurant (yes they went there). Sweeney’s character cleaned up, to the tune of thousands, from a table of besotted guys, while the more modestly asseted other servers, Chloe Fineman, Sarah Sherman and, improbably, Bowen Yang—got a pittance. Sometimes comedy involves exploiting the obvious.

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Sweeney also played, among others, a cheerleader on the make flirting with Air Bud, the basketball-playing dog, a social–media savvy aide to police who could track killers on her phone in seconds, and herself as the unexpected sex partner of the secretly not-gay Yang.

Her performances were smooth, not too obviously cue-card dependent, and she played sportingly with her sex-object image, though some historians might question the precise fit with women’s history month.

In terms of laugh quotient, none of the sketches approached the level of the show’s 50-year constant, Weekend Update, which scored hard laughs with some well-crafted material, some political, some just edgy

The political jokes landed more solidly than the effort in the cold open, a mock version of CNN’s Inside Politics show, which brought out a string of impressions of Biden advocates swearing the President is actually an alpha male. Everyone from California governor Gavin Newsom (Michael Longfellow) and Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (Nwodim’s first appearance) to basketball bad-boy Draymond Green (Devon Walker) extolled Biden continuing vitality (“he dunked on me!” Green attested).

The exaggeration was the point, but it basically confirmed the entrenched comedic take on Biden: he’s old.

Much funnier were Update’s many shots at Donald Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell—as well as Biden.

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Trump showing up at the Texas border set up the joke that this proved the border really is “being swarmed by criminals and rapists.”

Biden being declared “fit as a fiddle” after his physical set up “in that, he’s old-timey and held together with strings.”

A repeated photo of a grinning McConnell inspired a series of “seen here…:”

“Walking out of a theater after watching ’12 Years a Slave’;”

“Catching up on news from the Middle East;”

“After arranging a blind woman’s furniture;”

“Watching a single mother sell her blood for diaper money.”

Michael Che pulled in his usual total of “oohs” at edgy jokes like Nikki Haley having to quit the Republican presidential race because “the dishes are piling up at home.” And how Staten Island is holding a separate St. Patrick Day’s parade for the LGBTQ groups banned from the regular parade because “sadly, on Staten Island, LGBTQ stands for Lets Go Bully The Queers.”

Again women stood out, as Gardner’s woman aging gracefully made cracks about plastic surgery and showed off binder clips pulling all her skin into her back. Nwodim truly killed as Charlotte the Stingray eel somehow impregnated without a male eel in her tank. She pinned Che as the culprit, “Mr. Weekend Update and his latex allergy.”

Was it an Immaculate conception? “Yeah it was Immaculate. In that you immaculated. Then I immaculated three times back to back.” And so forth, to bouncing-off-the-wall laughs.

Even a historian would have been laughing.

Next week another new show, with Josh Brolin as host and Ariana Grande providing the music.

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