‘SNL’ Braves the Blizzard with Ronda Rousey

©2016/Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC

Despite it being the day of the second-biggest blizzard to ever hit NYC, the show went on as scheduled at Saturday Night Live, where first-time host and former UFC champion Ronda Rousey did a solid job doing something other than beating the crap out of people on camera.

Not since Louis C.K. hosted the show during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 has the show had to face such bad weather conditions, but Leslie Jones went out to the roof garden at 30 Rock before the show to prove that Winter Storm Jonas wasn’t going to stop SNL from going live at 11:30pm. Tina Fey also braved the storm to give us an obligatory Sarah Palin update, we saw the return of a controversial teacher sketch, and Ronda Rousey’s performance made me feel a little better about the fact that she’ll soon be attempting to resurrect the perfect 80s movie Roadhouse. A little.

Rousey succeeded with a lot of support from the cast, as is usually the case with professional athlete hosts. SNL also decided to re-run the Tinder parody Settl in the 10-to-1 spot in lieu of a new sketch, the second time they’ve done so this season. Also worth noting: If Donald Trump really does get the GOP nomination (God help us all), Darrell Hammond should just be added as a featured player.

Here’s a look at everything else that happened. Next week the show is on hiatus, but on Feb. 6 we’ve got Larry David (!!!) hosting for the first time, so you know that’s going to be a good one.

Sarah Palin Cold Open

When the real-life Sarah Palin spent 20 minutes on a rambling endorsement of Donald Trump in Iowa on Tuesday, it was essentially a pre-written SNL cold open. All they had to do was get Tina Fey in some glasses, and dial up the nonsensical rhyming, and they had a sketch. Of course, Darrell Hammond had to once again bring back Donald Trump, a character he seems to have officially stolen the reins of from Taran Killam, which I’m totally fine with. The format of the press conference was a little awkward with all the disjointed side commentary, and Trump mugging for the camera. I would have liked to see Trump and Palin interact more, but both do their respective jobs of making fun of Jeb Bush and dissing the “lamestream” media. Trump sums up Palin perfectly: “She just says whatever she wants. It’s like her mouth starts driving before her brain gets in the car!” and Palin doesn’t do such a bad job herself: “I’m just here ‘cause he promised me a spot in his cabinet. And I belong in a cabinet, ‘cause I’m full of spice and I got a great rack.” Hopefully the real Palin will post on Facebook about it.

Ronda Rousey Monologue

As I mentioned before, athlete-hosts rely on more cast support than professional actor hosts, and Ronda Rousey got plenty of it in her monologue. Last week, Adam Driver delivered a particularly weak opening, so this was a much more effective use of the host. After admitting it was the only time she has been on live television “without getting punched in the face,” Rousey quickly congratulated Holly Holm on beating her in November, joked about having brain damage, and then went on to mock SNL monologue tropes such as audience applause lines and breaking into song. Taran Killam, Beck Bennett, Kyle Mooney, and especially Kenan Thompson played the funny support, and some lady named Selena Gomez also came out at the end. One thing is true: any excuse to bring out Kate McKinnon as Justin Bieber is a good one.

Screen Guild Awards

Following last week’s amazing Golden Globes sketch, I was excited to see another awards show parody. This half-live sketch was SNL’s response to the ongoing #OscarsSoWhite backlash in Hollywood, showing only white male actors winning awards for movies with far more powerful performances by black people (and in some cases, winning for roles as important as “White Man With Camera”). Taran Killam does a solid Creed bit and Michael Che makes a rare non-Update appearance as a young Thurgood Marshall. If your volume wasn’t up high enough at the end during the applause, you might have missed a quiet VO tag announcing, “Coming up next, the award for Best Male Director! I mean, Director.” There would be more to come on the subject during Update.

Love Struck

Ronda Rousey’s MMA skills were put to good use in the first pre-recorded sketch of the night, in which she played the new girl at a high school plagued by mean girls (and guys) who trick her into eating dog food on a fake date with Beck Bennett (he, by the way, would have easily fit right into any ’80s John Hughes movie). Vanessa Bayer plays a perfect “Queen Bee” bully with a little backup from Kate McKinnon, Sasheer Zamata, and Jon Rudnitsky. Last week there was a sketch about social puppeteering, and now this semi-PSA, so I’m guessing a few people on the writing staff had some peer pressure problems in high school (But then again, who didn’t?). But what I was really thinking while watching this is thank God Periscope didn’t exist for bullying purposes when I was a teenager.

Bland Man

Okay, full disclosure: I have never watched an episode of The Bachelor. But, this is exactly what I picture it to be like. Seven “long-haired women” (Vanessa Bayer, Kate McKinnon, Ronda Rousey, Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant, Sasheer Zamata, and Selena Gomez) rotate dates with bland man Dan (Taran Killam) who describes himself proudly as a man with “blue eyes, brown hair, and grey shirt.” The ladies bring a consistent stream of increasingly ditzy impressions, with each one making sure to say “I like this!” and needlessly explain what happened that afternoon. Sasheer Zamata wins for the most blunt introduction (“Well, I’m the black one…”) and Aidy Bryant has some pretty adorable children despite her one, gigantic toe. Selena Gomez once again caps off the sketch as herself and oh, and can I steal him for a sec? Theeeenks!

Weekend Update

I will say, this wasn’t the strongest Update in recent weeks, despite my love for pretty much anything Leslie Jones is involved in. Starting off with a blizzard joke at Lorne Michaels’ expense, the audience never really seemed to warm up to Michael Che and Colin Jost’s one-liners this week. Even a more innovative bit where Bobby Moynihan went out into the blizzard didn’t get a huge applause, and their material on Trump and Palin felt weak when compared to the newsworthy cold open. I also had to rewind a few times when Che called Trump supporters, “Window-licking waterheads.” Interesting word choice!

Better were Che’s jokes about the whiteness of the Oscars and their trying to make up for having all-white nominees by adding more black presenters: “So, The Oscars are solving racism by making black people present white people with gold.” I also liked when he pointed out how Spike Lee must feel about an all-white movie named Brooklyn getting nominated for an Oscar. And, apparently you can’t even say the NY Jets suck in a metaphor, or you’re going to get a few boos.

Leslie Jones came by to talk about Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, the weekend’s #1 film, but more specifically, she came to talk about how she can finally “have” Leo if she wants. And she wants. Any fan of Leslie’s stand-up knows her material on sex is amazing, and I could listen to her talk about serving Leo a post-sex ham sandwich all day (of course, Jost loses it when she mentions Leo washing off his junk in the sink). I don’t know which was better: Leslie’s pronunciation of “Kombuch-o juice” or her demonstration of a “laughgasm.” What am I saying, it’s the laughgasm.

For the second half, jokes about Bernie Sanders leading Hillary Clinton, a throwaway joke about Peeps and a dig at the Kardashians mostly fell flat, as did another check-in with Bobby Moynihan out in the snow. The biggest laugh came when Jost said, “Today was National Compliment Day… Dad?” because he clearly does his best work when playing up his vulnerability. We ended with a quick visit from Michael’s ridiculously optimistic neighbor Willie (Kenan Thompson) who coined the phrase “Squatters can’t be choosers” and other super dark aphorisms as he tried to cure Che’s winter blues. It doesn’t get much better than when he says, “It’s like the asbestos removal crew said: ‘My God, there’s somebody alive in here!’”

Teacher Trial

SNL made an interesting choice to bring back this sketch, which first ruffled people’s feathers for making light of female-on-male statutory rape last April when Taraji P. Henson hosted. This time, Ronda Rousey sat alongside Cecily Strong, mostly to feign embarrassment at Pete Davidson’s character’s praise of their illicit, three-way hookup. Otherwise, it’s essentially the same sketch as last time, with Kenan Thompson playing the comically supportive judge. He and Davidson’s performances are both funny on their own (“My man!”) but you can’t argue that it’s not an outdated, insensitive premise. Punching up is always preferable. At least it totally seemed like they would be found guilty?

Super Crew

Every SNL needs a crazytown sketch, and this week it was a superhero introduction parody featuring just about the whole cast. The Super Crew consists of people who can do stuff like bend metal with their minds, like Ronda Rousey’s “Metallia,” and other people who do less useful things like, say, “I’m Noodle man!” (Pete Davidson). It’s as if they had a bunch of stray props and costumes lying around the studio and came up with each superhero’s based on that. Aidy Bryant was my personal favorite as Queen Aquata, with Jon Rudnitsky’s Fire Butt coming in as a close second. Plus, Leslie Jones flying in a harness! Because why not.

At The Club

The second pre-recorded sketch of the night was a new music video starring Jay Pharoah, Taran Killam, and Beck Bennett as three guys on the prowl, so naturally they’re rapping about their dicks. They try to pick up Ronda Rousey, Kate McKinnon, and Aidy Bryant (who all look incredible, BTW) by claiming their penises are boat-sized, rocket-sized, and “so black and big it was raised by Sandra Bullock.” Except for Bennett’s character, that is. His rap game is more about remaining fully clothed and distracting women from his genitals by promising oral sex. A few things worth noting: Jay Pharoah’s rap skills are definitely underutilized, we need to talk about Taran’s “sexy voice” and, between this and the “Hotline Bling” parody, Beck Bennett is the best bad-dancer on the show. Let’s just hope this sketch isn’t representative of his real-life dating strategy.

City Council

As we saw when Amy Schumer hosted back in October, watching this sketch is like spinning a character wheel and getting a random assortment of half-baked personas. Like last time, City Council members Cecily Strong and Bobby Moynihan have to entertain a parade of concerned citizens like Aidy Bryant’s Jan KRANG, who wants drones banned and has a great way of mispronouncing “mischief.” Kyle Mooney also brings back his Dutch rapper character MC Strategy, who has one of the most complex accents on the show, and Kate McKinnon plays an old Irish woman who was understandably banned from the senior center. Kenan Thompson, Pete Davidson, and Ronda Rousey round it out with a semi-awkward ending. It’s not my favorite recurring sketch, but hey, at least we got to see Ronda Rousey wear a tiny hat.

Football Party

Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney carry the last sketch of the night, in which two co-workers with little-to-no understanding of modern social engagements discuss going over to Ronda Rousey’s house for a football watching party that weekend. Rousey plays the straight man while Bennett and Mooney ramble on about their plans to bring a couple TVs, towels, dogs, and buckets to her home at 3:00 in the morning. I kind of hope this one was semi-based on someone’s real experience, because that would be one ridiculous story—maybe a better story than sketch.

So Shoot, What Else?

  • I like how Tina Fey’s Palin look has evolved over the years along with the real Palins, from the Bumpit-and-red-suit get-up to this sassier, sparklier Palin with nude lip gloss. They really ARE the same person.
  • Sadly, “Ghosts love me” wouldn’t even be the craziest thing (the real) Donald Trump said this week.
  • I laughed out loud when Vanessa Bayer’s shoe flew off after being hit with a basketball in the “Love Struck” sketch, but then it was on her foot again in the next shot. Oh well.
  • The most redeemable part of the teacher trial sketch was probably the bumper for HLN: “Headline news. Headline counts for two letters.”
  • Upon second watch, that Settl parody would be a lot funnier if it wasn’t just women who were desperate enough to get married to someone terrible. Just saying.
  • Sasheer Zamata and Jon Rudnitsky continue to not get much stage time this season.
  • Spotted during the goodnights: Bobby Moynihan’s robot face and Pete Davidson’s robot dancing.
  • I’m actually surprised that Selena Gomez hasn’t hosted the show yet.

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