In a week bereft of laughs, Saturday Night Live went a solemn route with the cold open: Jason Aldean, the artist who was playing the music festival in Las Vegas when the massacre happened, played a cover of I Won’t Back Down by Tom Petty, who died on Monday.
“When America is at its best, our bond and our spirit is unbreakable,” Aldean said, with real feeling. This may be a little hard to believe in a week when the president threw rolls of paper towels at hurricane victims.
ActorGal Gadot, star of Wonder Woman, was the host. Her enthusiasm seemed genuine, even if in part she was pressed in to action by the two Wonder Woman franchises that were trailed during the commercial breaks. Alas, Gadot is not very funny and nor are the people who wrote her monologue. The show was the first-ever broadcast in Israel, Gadot explained, before turning to the camera and saying in Hebrew, with English subtitles: “This might be a huge mistake … in every sketch they have me eating hummus.”
Leslie Jones came on stage to help, clad in the style of the Wonder Women who stalk Times Square. They discussed female empowerment: “You know how you take so many pictures with young girls who look up to you?,” Jones said. “I do the same with German tourists.”
Following a too-long parody of a commercial for E! reality shows, which I presume was paid for by E!, Gadot went on an online date with Keenan Thompson, whose revelation that he was playing OJ Simpson brought the first real laugh of the night. Gadot’s character explained that she was from Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the war dominated the 90s so much that she didn’t really know what else went on during that decade.
Thompson-as-OJ grinned: “When you’re dating someone, do you ever Google them?” When an onlooker in the restaurant berated him, Thompson said: “I’m sad to admit this, because when you look like I do in this country, people treat you differently.”
“You mean like racism?” Gadot said.
“Yes,” Thompson said. It was the closest the show got to the bone all night.
Mediocre sketches followed: Pete Davidson as gormless teenager Chad, Gadot as a lemonade-stand mirage in a desert, Aidy Bryant as a mother taking on a windshield repair guy perving on her daughter – OK, Bryant bashing the repairman’s head against the side of her sensible car was kind of funny.
Wearing a shirt in a hue that I’ll describe as deep pumpkin spice, Sam Smith sang Too Good at Goodbyes. During the previous commercial break, my husband pointed out the coincidence that Smith had to give Tom Petty a writing credit on his biggest-ever hit, Stay With Me, due to similarities to Petty’s I Won’t Back Down. Now, my husband exclaimed: “Who likes this guy?” To which I responded, “EVERYONE”. Sweet-smiling Smith nodded humbly at the screaming audience, who indeed all seemed to like him.
Weekend Update! Maybe it wasn’t too soon: Colin Jost and Michael Che were ready to twist the knives a little at some classic culprits: gun nuts, people who hate women, presidents who throw paper towels.
Jost analyzed the Las Vegas’ gunmans’ arsenal of 47 guns. “No one should own 47 of anything,” he said. “It’s illegal to own more than six dildos in Texas. If you own more than six dildos it’s a clear sign that you’re preparing for something awful.”
Michael Che suggested a gun buyback program: “For every gun you trade in, we give you one half inch of penis enlargements … If women want to trade in their guns, don’t. Keep your guns.”
Kate McKinnon joined them as Ruth Bader Ginsberg, throwing uppercuts and making puerile jokes. Davidson followed as himself, promoting mental health awareness and claiming that more airtime would help treat his depression.
Gadot was back in more sketches, playing a range of very pretty characters: Cinderella, rejecting a bad dress made for her by her mouse friends, then as an eye-patched criminal mastermind. Gadot exudes game-ness, but she was still the straightwoman: it was unclear whether she was really not funny or if someone at SNL had decided she wouldn’t be allowed to be.
Smith returned to sing Pray, now wearing a brown blazer with a striking hexagonal pattern. He did not mention Tom Petty.
Then, to Themyscira, Wonder Woman’s home: Gadot reprised her signature role, which she played pretty much like she played every other sketch in this episode: with the best of intentions. McKinnon and Aidy Bryan were friendly lesbians who landed hoping to find “les-es”. When they discovered the resident Amazons were all straight, Bryan remarked: “It’s like we’re in a porn but the plumber is just genuinely there to fix the pipes.”
The final sketch, in which Gadot played a talk show host in a blonde wig, felt like it could have been very funny in the mid-90s. It was inexplicable now. It felt like a relief for everyone when Gadot bade the official goodnight. That said, she’s an enthusiast:
“Thank you!” she cried, and I really believe that she was one person who had a good time.