Saturday Night Live: host Kim Kardashian West struggles to keep up
The second episode of Saturday Night Live’s 47th season opens on Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s testimony before Congress.
Senators from both sides of the aisle – including Dianne Feinstein (Cecily Strong), Ted Cruz (Aidy Bryant), John Neely Kennedy (Mikey Day), Lindsey Graham (James Austin Johnson) and Cory Booker (Chris Redd) – grill Haugen not about Facebook’s alleged misuse of private data and its role in spreading misinformation, but rather, their own social media hang-ups and online idiocy. Feinstein wants to know why Drake hasn’t followed her back, Cruz tries to figure out how to get people to stop bullying him in the comments, and Booker just wants to remind everyone he’s dating Rosario Dawson.
None of the impressions are very good – Johnson comes off more like Ross Perot than Graham, while Bryant’s Cruz continues to be among the laziest and least specific (and therefore ineffective) on the show – while the jokes about old people not understanding the internet are as dated as the reference to MySpace’s Tom (Pete Davidson). Worse yet is the use of popular memes towards the end. Seriously, what’s the point of doing a live comedy show if you have to rely on memes?
SNL’s debut last week dedicated a few minutes of Weekend Update the late, great Norm Macdonald. It was a decent enough tribute, but one which feels pitiful this week, given who’s hosting.
For those who don’t know, it’s widely suspected that Norm’s unceremonious firing in 1998 was the result of NBC executive – and OJ Simpson friend and supporter – Don Ohlmeyer being offended over the comedian’s remorseless roasting of Simpson throughout and following his double murder trial. Whether or not this was actually the case (Ohlmeyer claims he gave the order to axe Norm because he saw him as a drag on the ratings), it’s in keeping with the historical indignity that, less than a month after his passing, SNL would hand hosting duties over to a woman who rose to fame largely because of her family’s connection to Simpson.
Said woman is Kim Kardashian West, who hosts for the first time. Walking on stage in a skin-tight, pink velour jumpsuit, she switches between supposedly self-deprecating jokes (“I haven’t had a movie premiere in a really long time … I only had that one movie come out and no one even told me it was premiering …”) and insufferable self-aggrandizement over her social justice work and status as an influencer. She also targets some of the people who have floated in her orbit, including, yes, Simpson (“It’s weird to remember the first black person you met, but OJ does leave a mark … or several”) and of course, her ex-husband Kanye West (“When I divorced him, you have to know it came down to just one thing: his personality!”).
Despite being one of this era’s most famous personalities, Kardashian West is not, despite her best efforts, a performer in the traditional sense. She’s not Elon Musk awful, but she’s not good. As such, you’d think the show would try to write around her, but unfortunately, that’s not the case.
The first sketch has Kardashian West playing Princess Jasmine to Davidson’s Aladdin, who fears he’s not man enough for her – her list of former lovers include athletes, rappers and the King of Uganda – so he summons the Genie (Bowen Yang) and uses his third and final wish to ask for a bigger penis. Kardashian West’s start-stop delivery grinds things to an immediate halt, and it takes Davidson – never the strongest sketch performer himself – a while to get things back into motion.
The show quickly takes the spotlight off of Kardashian West and puts it on half a dozen other celebrities, including comedians Chris Rock and Amy Schumer, actors Chace Crawford and Jesse Williams, athletes Tyler Downs and Blake Griffiths, and WWE superstar John Cena, all of whom compete for Kardashian West’s affection on a Bachelor-like dating show. Her final choice comes down between Cena and dweeby longshot Zeke (a ponytailed Mikey Day). She goes with Cena – despite his being married – over the angry, baby-voiced objections of Zeke, who is forced to jump to his death in a pit of fire. Cena and Day manage to mine some decent laughs out of what otherwise proves a cheap and interminable use of celebrity walk-ons.
Next, Kardashian West and Aidy Bryant share a meal and discover they both pine for the other’s life. So, they do the only rational thing: use a magic clock to switch lives for 24 hours. Bryant loves her new life, which sees her mobbed by paparazzi, flaunt her body (especially her “massive bush”) in glamorous fashion shoots, and hang out with her famous family (Kourtney Kardashian and Kris Jenner, playing themselves), but Kardashian West is immediately depressed by her humdrum station. This is a decent enough premise that proves completely hollow. Neither Kardashian West nor Bryant’s life provide much fodder for jokes. Instead, it’s just another flimsy excuse to trot out some famous faces.
The Powerball jackpot segment on a local news show is thrown into chaos thanks to a mix-up with the ball tubes. Instead of sending up the balls with the winning numbers, they shoot out an assortment of random things that have gotten sucked up in them: the ingredients of a sandwich, the contents of one of the news anchor’s wallets (which mostly contains condoms) and the mutilated corpse of a repair man. The timing is off throughout, but at least the show tried something weird and original.
The night’s musical guest is Halsey, who has become something of a fixture on the show. Backdropped by a sleek, futuristic set, they performed I Am Not a Woman, I’m a God.
On Weekend Update, Colin Jost leads in with more coverage of Facebook’s recent legal troubles, while also revealing that he was at school with Mark Zuckerberg when he created Facebook, because of course he was. Meanwhile, Michael Che notes that the company’s technical problems earlier this week “[forced] many Instagram addicts to fill their time with Twitter, TikTok or hosting SNL”.
To mark the beginning of the fall movie season, Jost welcomes film critic Terry Fink (Alex Moffat), who’s discovered a way to see as every film released during the year: he’s able to watch nine movies once by microdosing LSD. His reviews of No Time to Die (“Daniel Craig wows … until the third act when he bizarrely transforms into a 50ft-tall Catholic nun whipping me with my father’s belt!”), Paw Patrol: The Movie (“Director Charles Manson will have you standing in the aisles sweating buckets and screaming ACAB until the theater is quietly evacuated …”) and Venom 2: Let There Be Carnage (“Meryl Streep is flat-out awful as Venom herself, but it’s newcomer Jeb Bush who thrills and chills as a Time’s Square Elsa shoving me through the window of an M&M’s store!”) are as endearingly insane as they are hilarious. We need much more of this character at the desk.
After landing a very funny Nazi dig at Jost and his grandmother, Che invites the next guest, life coach Kelly Party (Heidi Gardner), there to explain the power of positive thinking. It’s hard to tell exactly what the deal with this big haired, seemingly coked-up character is – it seems like she’s supposed to be an 80s-style go-getter, except that her theme song is Icona Pop and Charli XCX’s I Don’t Care from 2012.
Then, in the lowest point of the night, Kardashian West plays her sister Kourtney Kardashian, starring as the judge on a new version of The People’s Court – or, rather, The People’s Kourt. She settles claims between various members of the Kardashian/Jenner clan, as well as some of their hangers-on, including a returning Kourtney Kardashian and Kris Jenner, Kylie and Kendall Jenner (Melissa Villaseñor, Halsey), Travis Barker (Mikey Day), Kanye West (Redd), Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly (Chloe Fineman, Davidson), and OJ Simpson (Kenan Thompson). Fans of the Kardashian/Jenner media monster will likely enjoy – everyone else will find it unbearable. As in the previous sketch in which she appeared, Kris Jenner is particularly terrible, completely flubbing her lines and delivery.
Along with the three additional featured players added to the cast this season, SNL also brought on three new writers: John Higgins, Martin Herlihy and Ben Marshall, who comprise the newly popular internet sketch troupe Please Don’t Destroy.
In a great surprise, the three star in a very funny digital short that revolves around new lines of hard seltzer produced by the likes of JCPenny (flavors include Men’s Jackets and Belts & Ties), Jiffy Lube and one their desks. It’s a perfect introduction to the troupe’s fast-paced, absurdist comedy, which, if used properly, could fill the “something different” spot that was formerly occupied by the likes of Robert Smigel’s TV Funhouse and the Lonely Island digital shorts.
It bears mentioning that the trio’s hiring brought with it some deserved controversy – Higgins and Herlihy are the sons of former SNL writers and producers – but it’s also important to note that their sketches managed to go viral over the last year on their own merits. Nepotism notwithstanding, they are a very funny and very welcome addition to the show.
Halsey returns to stage joined by legendary Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham for a performance of the soulful Darling. Then, in the closing sketch, Kardashian-West pitches Skims new shapewear line for “full figure” dogs.
It speaks to how little confidence the show’s writers and producers had in Kardashian West that they needed to bolster this episode with so many celebrity cameos and cute animals. They weren’t wrong to do so – while she wasn’t a disastrous host, she was by no means good.
Still, amid all the tiresome Kardashian/Jenner business and celebrity worship, new life continues to be breathed into the show, thanks to the introduction of the Please Don’t Destroy guys. Hopefully, as the season continues, they, along with Johnson and Sarah Sherman – both of whom were unfortunately sidelined this episode – will get more and more of the spotlight.