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‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: The Best and Worst of Selena Gomez’s Hosting Debut

Getting back into the first-time host groove, this week’s “Saturday Night Live” brought in “Only Murders in the Building’s” Selena Gomez to do the hosting honors.

Host: Selena Gomez

Selena Gomez’s monologue was quite charming, and by the end she had the live audience eating out the palm of her hand as she sang the “Barney” theme song. Seriously. She even bust out a solid Miley Cyrus impression, making for the first of two great “accent” moments in the episode from her. (The other was in “Irish Play.”)

Then after revealing the advice she got from her legendary co-stars and friends Steve Martin and Martin Short, Gomez set out to do what all “SNL” cast members hope the host will do: She tried to find romance. While the live audience definitely seemed to want her to end up with Punkie Johnson, sadly, that was not what the sketch “Intuition” ended up being about.

The point is, it was a strong monologue, from someone who’s been doing this since she was seven — and it showed.

Both “Bratz Dolls” and “A Peek at Pico” were easily sketches that could go on to be recurring features, though the latter — in all its “Bronx Beat”-esque glory — would require another Hispanic host to work alongside Melissa Villasenor. (Villasenor has even talked on her podcast about doing the bit with the right host, which Gomez ended up being).

For the former, the premise of Bowen Yang, Aidy Bryant, and host Gomez as Bratz dolls come to life whenever a girl’s parents get a divorce is easily something that can be replicated in the future. Especially as Bratz dolls still exist, despite being “sexy dolls for pre-teens.” The first sketch of the night, “Bratz Dolls” was also perhaps one of the few sketches that actually had Gomez ham it up. (“Irish Play” and, in its own way, “A Peek at Pico” also fell into that realm.)

Also, Yang, Bryant, and Gomez’s riffs on the Bratz theme were catchy as hell. As were Villasenor and Gomez’s “That’s sad.”/”That’s good.” responses in “A Peek at Pico.”

“Baby Monitor” was as weird a 10-to-1 sketch as there’s been on “SNL” in a minute, so it was understandable when Gomez completely broke during it. (Post Malone fumbling his one bit and then breaking was not as good.) Yang and Sherman as Gomez’s character’s weird twin baby siblings, doing weird twin baby siblings things as Gomez tries to party with her high school friends is a solid weird premise. Everyone’s reactions as Gomez continued to play it cool — while also being a little weirdo herself, giving babies chocolate and bread — worked for this bizarre sketch. That’s really all you can ask for with a 10-to-1 sketch.

Best Sketches of The Night: “Irish Play,” “Old Enough! Longterm Boyfriends!,” & “Inventor Documentary”

Unlike the cold open, “Irish Play” took a current event — in this case, the “Take Me Out”/nude Jessie Williams fervor — and provided an interesting take on it that wasn’t just about one thing. Yes, despite Yang saying, “What time is it? Dong o’clock. Aah ooga,” the “Irish Play” sketch wasn’t just about the penis part. Instead, the premise of an Irish play — directed by a Kenan Thompson character — performed by understudies with only 30 minutes of rehearsal time was something pretty rich. From the “Irish” accent work from Cecily Strong and Gomez — whose character was struggling with an Australian accent — to the harried Thompson, ultimately deciding to just do the play all by himself, “Irish Play” was delightfully chaotic. This was an episode of very weird sketches, and this was the most focused of all that weirdness.

Worst Sketches of The Night: “Johnny Depp and Amber Heard Trial Cold Open,” “Three Daughters,” and “Guidance Counselors”

On one hand, “SNL” taking a break from the standard political premise that a sketch starting with the MSNBC logo is much appreciated. (Again, the cold open from Benedict Cumberbatch’s return episode last week was a much-appreciated take and twist on the political premise, as it also had more of a perspective than all the other impression parade cold opens combined.) On the other, that’s pretty much the only thing to appreciate about this sketch. Despite the sketch’s constant insistence that anything about the Depp/Heard trial is “fun,” it’s really, really not, and it felt bizarre for that to be the route taken for Cecily Strong’s judge character at any point, let alone the whole sketch. Poop humor, in general, is definitely a mileage may vary type of thing, but as “SNL” decided to go at this current event as straightforward as it possibly could instead of with any subtlety, it was all just especially unpleasant, no matter how hard Kenan Thompson tried.

The only interesting thing about the sketch was that it’s surprising “SNL” hasn’t had Mooney do more Depp impressions over the years. Not that it’s at all good — it just seems like the kind of thing “SNL” would try to constantly do, whether it works or not. (By the way, Baby Yoda returned to Weekend Update this week.) So it’s absolutely shocking he hasn’t done a bunch of Jack Sparrow bits, as they’d be just as irrelevant as the premise from the “Three Daughters” sketch.

“Maybe it’s a metaphor for being different or ugly or stupid or gay,” McKinnon’s “very normal” character guesses, trying to get to the bottom of the fairy tale trope of there being a “weird” sister. Along with her early talking about one of the sisters possibly being weird on purpose, it seemed like there was a chance that “SNL” was trying to do something with the “Three Daughters” sketch, even if it wasn’t especially funny. But that wasn’t the case: It was all just five and a half minutes of denial of weirdness, only to reveal weirdness, because… That’s just how it is? (The weirdness was a literal bubble butt, by the way. Because…?) If any sketch felt like it was stretching for time, it would have to have been “Three Daughters.”

Also: At no point during the sketch was the fact that McKinnon wasn’t even doing an accent considered part of why she was the weird one. Instead, it just came across like she didn’t want to put in the effort of doing an accent. Because at no point in this sketch was there ever a bit that explained why anyone would want to put effort into it at all.

And with “Guidance Counselors,” it truly seemed as though there was no there there. As nothing as a sketch could be, really, with Yang and Nwodim’s guidance counselor characters absolutely not landing. In fact, the audience’s silence during the sketch — especially at the end, when all the student characters decide to get into modeling — ended up speaking volumes. Unlike the other two sketches, with Yang and Nwodim at the helm, it really felt like there was potential — and then the premise kicked in. Again, there was really nothing there, especially when it came to the posing bit. The students’ lack of real pushback also didn’t help, so there was really no inertia in the sketch at all. So it’s worth noting, that where “Three Daughters” was too long for its premise, “Guidance Counselors” was the shortest sketch of the night at just under three minutes. Perhaps with more time, the sketch could’ve provided more — but it didn’t provide much with the time it did have.

Best Male Performers: Kenan Thompson & Mikey Day

While this week was filled with Kyle Mooney, it’s worth noting the sharpshooting performance of Thompson and Day. Both actually crossed paths in “Old Enough! Longterm Boyfriends!,” in what can strangely — as they were both playing men in their late 30s — be described as an adorable moment. But Thompson’s work as the very frustrated director in “Irish Play” and Day’s work as a titular longterm boyfriend were standouts of the week. In fact, while Day deserved praise in last week’s episode for his consistency as a performer (where some could call it one-note), it’s worth noting that “Old Enough! Long-term Boyfriends!” actually took him out of that wheelhouse and comfort zone of the type of characters people always say he plays. And even though that character type returned in “Irish Play,” it was an understandable reaction to the situation, paired nicely with Melissa Villasenor’s “missing the point”-style reactions.

Best Female Performers: Aidy Bryant & Sarah Sherman

Bryant’s performance as Dina Beans in “Inventor Documentary” was absolutely electrifying — terrible pun intended. While the pre-tape sketch provided Steve Martin as the “star” — Archie Gizmo, inventor of the whoopie cushion and dozens of other gag gifts — both Martin and Gomez gave the floor to Bryant for this sketch. Bryant was the perfect choice for such an absurd sketch and as “God’s perfect fool.”

As for Sherman, with “Bratz Doll” and “Baby Monitor,” she was one of the more featured cast members in this episode. But her most important contribution to the episode was as a Field Correspondent on Weekend Update. This feature provided a twist on her “THIS JUST IN” Update features in a fresh way, while still maintaining her war on Colin Jost. (And then her “correspondent and best friend” Michael Che got to hit us with the “THIS JUST IN,” just for good measure.) Sherman dropping her “nude” and rolling with it was a truly great moment of messing up and breaking, in an episode with a number of far less earned breaking moments.

Final Thoughts

The greatest takeaway of this episode was how weird it was, from top to bottom. The exceptions were, strangely, “Old Enough! Longterm Boyfriends!” — with Gomez’s understated tiredness also worth noting — and “Intuition” — which was a nice feature for Punkie Johnson. (Gomez’s dry reactions as she went on to ridiculously destroy Chris Redd’s character’s stuff was also a nice touch.)

But while it made sense to go that route, as Gomez could very well excel and thrive in those types of sketches, the episode surprisingly didn’t do a lot to allow her to. In “Three Daughters,” both she and Nwodim — as the non-weird sisters — were given absolutely nothing to do. In “Inventor Documentary,” while Bryant was the center of it all, Gomez’s host character was basically just there. “Guidance Counselors” didn’t work for anyone, but as the central model of the character, she truly just had to stand around for most of it.

This episode took swings, and when it did them with the host in mind, it was pretty interesting, if not always the funniest thing. (“Baby Monitor” truly does exist on its own plane.) But in an overall strong season, and especially after last week’s Cumberbatch return, this episode both underserved Gomez and its regular cast.

Grade: C-

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