Talent is helpful, sure, but when it comes to hosting “Saturday Night Live,” enthusiasm goes a long way, too. In his second time as “SNL” host, Jason Momoa proved charming once again in that, “I’m just having a good time,” way that he seems to bring onscreen and off. His looseness and extreme comfort in the spotlight may not have made for the most precise job delivering lines in wordy sketches, but it really didn’t matter.
This week’s sketches made good use of Momoa’s sex-symbol status and his physicality, and if there was a flubbed line or mistimed moment here and there, Momoa breezed right past it, whether he was playing a club bouncer with a wandering thick Cuban accent, a tipsy pilot in the middle of a Hudson News Thanksgiving parade at Newark airport, or a fiance presumed dead and who has returned from being lost at sea.
Even a sketch that felt a little late to the zeitgeist, like the filmed song about seemingly depressed men who are actually thinking about the Roman Empire (we were talking about this two months ago) was well-served by Momoa’s brio. The last sketch of the night was a good example; a taxi driver (Momoa) gets bad news on a call from a doctor while a passenger (Kenan Thompson) just wants to avoid the conversation. Momoa dug into the sillier jokes even when they didn’t work and never lost his cool, even after the sketch overstayed its welcome. Unflappability is a great skill to have as host and it’s hard to imagine Momoa flapped on live television.
Elsewhere, the Please Don’t Destroy boys (they’ve got a new movie on Peacock) are trying to order ramen while dealing with John Higgins’ breakup. Nicely paced, it was a step up from the last few. And this week’s musical guest Tate McRae sang on the Roman Empire sketch and performed “Greedy” and “Grave.”
This week’s cold open again featured Mikey Day as president Joe Biden and it’s hard to say if the impression is working. It’s still early in the season, but the jokes about the president’s age and flip-flopping and Day’s breathy portrayal are feeling repetitive. In this sketch, Biden discusses his meetings with Chinese president Xi Jinping, referred to by Biden as “Roman Numeral Eleven,” but is upstaged by Tian Tian the panda (Bowen Yang) — formerly of the National Zoo — who takes questions from the White House press corp. Tian Tian discusses visiting America and being “alluringly asexual.” “How do I panda express this?” Tian Tian asked, before discussing why he’s uniquely qualified to unify the world by virtue of being Black, White and Chinese all at once.
In his monologue, Momoa promoted his upcoming sequel, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” sharing that he wanted to be a marine biologist growing up, but it wasn’t really possible in Iowa. He moved back to his native Hawaii, got into surfing and ended up on “Baywatch,” which he called “The B-word.” Then he talked about Mananalu, the water company Momoa started to fight single-use plastic bottle usage. He said the name means “Suck it, Dasani.” The very short monologue included Momoa saying how much he loves life; given the way he lift-hugged cast members and jumped up and down at the show’s closing curtain, it’s easy to believe.
Best sketch of the night: The past resurfaces in ‘Old-Timey Movie’
“SNL” is hit or miss on sketches that rely on a visual effect or camera stunt as a premise, but this one, in which old footage of “Wizard of Oz” author L. Frank Baum (Michael Longfellow) on a New York street is aired on PBS, works. The gimmick is that because frame rates were lower when the footage was shot in the early 1900s, everyone looks like they’re moving too quickly, mouthing words at lightning speed and walking in quick motion. Momoa and Day play two men who notice the camera and goof around. It’s a lot of silly physical comedy, but it’s very funny and well-executed.
Also good: Charna Lee Diamond, a tennis player you’ve never heard of
Either you like Sarah Sherman‘s weird, dark sketches that often air toward the end of an “SNL” episode, or you find them a huge turnoff. This one, a filmed piece that looks too carefully crafted to run so late, is about a little-known tennis player named Charna Lee Diamond, who, like Billie Jean King, challenges a man to a battle of the sexes match. The 1969 match ends disastrously with some violent sight gags in between testimonials from sports commentators and Diamond’s tennis opponent (Momoa). A nice touch: “SNL” veteran Chris Parnell narrates the piece.
‘Weekend Update’ winner: George Santos still can’t stop lying
As of late this season, “Update” has been featuring only one cast member sketch per episode, but this week it offered three, including one on suspended NBA player Draymond Green (Devon Walker) and another about the backup guest musical duo Remember Lizards (James Austin Johnson and Andrew Dismukes). But the best was Yang as Rep. George Santos, a public figure whose real-life deceptions are tough to top as comedy. This week, Santos faces possible expulsion from Congress (“Well, then, girl expul me!”) and pretends to be on a call, where he agrees to be in “Lady Marmalade 2.” Santos also claims to have invented being gay, as well as Anna Kendrick’s “Cups” routine. One thing’s certain about Santos: we’re going to miss Yang’s take on him when he’s gone.