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Saturday Night Live: Keegan-Michael Key’s Michael Jordan a dunk, rest of show… dank – The Guardian

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https://amp.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2021/may/16/saturday-night-live-keegan-michael-key-michael-jordan-olivia-rodrigo

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Saturday Night Live recap

SNL is struggling, limping into season’s end, unable to find inspiration after the Elon Musk embarrassment

Saturday Night Live opens with a special message from Dr Anthony Fauci, played by Kate McKinnon. “The patron saint of Purell” attempts to answer the public’s questions about the loosening of masking protocols: questions such as “What does that mean? “What the hell are you talking about?” “Is this a trap?”

Fauci has assembled doctors who minored in theater to act out everyday scenarios. Said scenarios include interactions with daytime barflies, white nationalist insurrections, subway masturbators, child snatchers and other weirdos, all of whom leave us with “more questions than answers”.


There are a couple of solid punchlines but it doesn’t speak well of Saturday Night Live at the moment that there’s almost no discernible difference between its parody of bad improv and the show itself.

Keegan-Michael Key hosts for the first time. The actor, who has an extensive background in sketch comedy, promises to make the most of this dream come true. To the tune of Everything’s Coming Up Roses he sings about everything he has planned for the evening: sketches, songs, costume changes, getting tattooed by Pete Davidson. He also fields questions from the audience, including one from a fan who confuses him for his former Key and Peele co-star – the Oscar-winner Jordan Peele.


In the first sketch, Key plays one of three high-school journalists covering the prom red carpet. They interview several fellow students, including a loser who scored a date with a much hotter home-schooled girl, a 14-year-old freshman accompanying his babysitter, “two dorks who banged”, a girl whose tan might count as a hate crime and a hot 23-year-old substitute teacher working as a chaperone. It’s overlong and overstuffed and none of the characters leave any impression whatsoever.

Next, Key plays Michael Jordan in a deleted scene from last year’s documentary series, The Last Dance. We witness Jordan’s obsessive need to win as he turns a friendly game of quarters with his genial head of security into an all-out decimation. By the end of it, Jordan has taken thousands of dollars from the poor working stiff, along with his pants, his gun, his glasses, his marriage and his dignity. It’s darkly funny to be sure, although it can’t help but feel like the show is playing catch-up to a pop culture moment that passed.

On an old episode of The Muppet Show, curmudgeonly audience members Statler and Waldorf heckle Kermit and guest star Lily Tomlin (Melissa Villaseñor, not quite hitting the mark), only for an intense security team to intervene, angrily warning them to be quiet before administering a vicious beatdown. Key has a couple of good lines – such as when he refers to Kermit as a “little dragon” and “Kramer” – but this feels like a wasted opportunity given the solid puppet work and set design.


A birthday party at TGIFs gets off to a sad start when the guest of honor, Gene, reveals that his wife left him that morning. Key and Cecily Strong play DJ Balls and Gemma, musicians hired to perform sexy songs to Gene and his now ex-wife. A few erection jokes notwithstanding, the premise is so loose and the humor so scattershot it’s hard to follow what’s going on. Strong’s incomprehensible British accent doesn’t help.

The night’s musical guest is Olivia Rodrigo. She performs her big hit from earlier this year, Driver’s License.

On Weekend Update, Colin Jost welcomes Liz Cheney (McKinnon), recently purged from leadership by fellow Republicans after she condemned Donald Trump. She’s baffled by the blowback, since she’s “everything a conservative woman is supposed to be: blonde, mean”. But she’s also optimistic about the future of the anti-Trump wing of the GOP, a sorry team that includes Adam Kinzinger, Chris Wallace, Dick Cheney, Anne Romney and her horses, Jared (Subway Jared, not Kushner), Omarosa, “five white women, maybe six” and Lisa’s Murkowski’s mom.

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Featured player Andrew Dismuski joins the desk, ostensibly to talk about his great grandmother although he riffs on topics including his Texas upbringing, Frasier and Disney Channel movies. Then Medina Spirit trainer Bob Baffert (Beck Benett) comes on to protest his Kentucky Derby winning horse returning a positive drugs test, an outcome he blames on cancel culture: “They’re trying to cancel him because he’s big and strong and white!” The smug sleazebag is right in Bennet’s wheelhouse.

A Kennedy Center tribute to George Gershwin sees three aged Broadway stars attempt a rendition of I’ve Got Rhythm, except they’re so over the hill they can’t remember how it goes, so they have to rely on a harried stagehand (Mikey Day, playing yet another exasperated straight man) to feed them their lines. How much enjoyment you get will depend on your tolerance for musical theater in-jokes.


Rodrigo returns and performs good 4 you, before the show closes with another overlong high-school sketch. This time, a graduation is thrown out of whack by a handful of loud family members in the audience. All are obnoxious, lazy stereotypes: talkative African Americans; poor white trash; stuffy Wasps.

This episode could have and should have served as a rebound following last week’s excruciating outing with Elon Musk, especially since it featured a host famous for sketch comedy. But instead of playing to Key’s strengths – particularly his talent for closely detailed character work, as glimpsed briefly in his Last Dance parody – the show had him hover on the edge of a bunch of baggy, interminable ensemble numbers.

Here’s hoping next week’s season-closer rights the ship, otherwise this final stretch of episodes is likely to go down amongst the worst in the show’s history.

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