Benedict Cumberbatch stops by Saturday Night Live to host alongside musical guest Arcade Fire. At this rate, if you star in a Marvel movie, you might as well fit a week at Studio 8H into your schedule. This is Cumberbatch’s second time hosting, and things have changed since his first time in 2016 before Donald Trump won the presidential election and the show (and country) significantly changed. Benedict isn’t a comedian by any means, but he’s a good actor who commits hard, so he can definitely bring out the laughs – “Office Hours” from his first stint as host is now a classic. Also, SNL always hits a sketch or two out of the park during Mother’s Day episodes. Kristen Wiig’s “1-800-Flowers” sketch from season 38 is one of my personal favorites.
Last week, Politico leaked a draft of Justice Alito’s opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade, citing a 13th-century treatise. So, SNL brings us to 13th-century England, where Cumberbatch, James Austin Johnson, and Andrew Dismukes consider whether to outlaw abortions the way they’ve outlawed pointy shoes. Cecily Strong interjects to – as a woman nearly at the childbearing age of 12 – ask why abortion isn’t a woman’s choice since giving birth has a 50 percent chance of death. Cumberbatch reasons that’s why women are offered maternity leave: “When you’re done with 20 years of continuous maternity, you can leave.” Kate McKinnon stops by for the biggest laugh of the sketch when she’s mistaken for an ogre but is really “just a woman in her 30s” and looks into the future to see progress overturn abortion law only for progress to be undone 50 years later. However, she says women always have the choice to keep fighting. While it’s good SNL went after the biggest story of the week, the sketch gets stuck in the “it’s dumb to cite 13th-century laws” premise and stays parked there for way too long.
In his monologue, Cumberbatch says the writers initially pitched him a lot of Dr. Strange sketches, so he reminded them that he’s been in other films like Power of the Dog, though Lorne reminds him that no one saw it. Cumberbatch switches gears and says it’s an honor to host the Mother’s Day episode, and although his mom isn’t there (she preferred being on a beach in Greece over watching the SNL taping in person), he thanks her and his wife, Sophie, and shares cute stories of both of them.
Mikey Day and Ego Nwodim play Blue Bunny ice-cream representatives holding a focus group for their new flavor. Heidi Gardner and Cumberbatch play two somber westerners who are brought back to a simpler time every time they take a bite. (“The blood from her palms laced in the caramel ribbons in the ice cream. This is that. This tastes like that. ”) It’s an inspired choice to have two westerners play the same game as Benedict offers a similar reverie of the ice cream reminding him of a farmer’s wife with a heavy bosom opening her arms to him. “Okay tastes like Scooter’s mama. ”) Everyone opposite Cumberbatch and Heidi stays grounded in reality and elevates the sketch by reacting honestly (“ I just taste ice cream. Am I doing something wrong? ”). This is one of the best sketches of the year, and I could watch Heidi and Benedict go back and forth while Kenan and Melissa sit uncomfortably between them for hours.
Another strong sketch with a good premise and fun surprises. Cecily and Chloe Fineman play a mother and 17-year-old daughter as Cecily takes Chloe’s phone away for coming home drunk. Cecily scolds Chloe and claims to have never done any underage drinking, only for flashbacks of Cecily’s teenage years to show her binge drinking to Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping,” having multiple sexual partners, and failing a sobriety test. Kate enters as the grandmother, and although Cecily and Kate act as a united front of politeness and decency, flashbacks reveal their screaming matches and Kate screaming for David Bowie to take her panties in the ’60s. Cumberbatch enters as the husband / father, leading to yet another flashback that reveals Kate hardly “kept it in control.”
When the Chuck E. Cheese animatronic band is out of commission, an employee invites Reflection Denied, a very ’80s British band led by Benedict and Bowen Yang. The duo turns the kid’s show into an extravagant and artistic ode to pizza and birthdays (“Oh pizza pie in the pizza sky. Deliver me. Deliver me!”). This sketch is yet another reminder of how criminal it is that SNL doesn’t use Bowen more. We even get an Aristotle cameo, albeit a quick one without any lines. Of course, a singing sketch means we’re getting a Cecily appearance, and she appears as Katie Carrot, a member of the forgotten Chuck E. Cheese salad bar. (“Longing for contact, under clear plastic, broken disposable tongs.”) Putting Cumberbatch in the ’80s British techno-pop band is just an excellent idea.
The MVP this week is Cecily. She was fantastic in her dual roles in the “Just Like You” sketch; a sketch people will surely be sending to their moms on Mother’s Day. She seamlessly fit into the Chuck E. Cheese song and even rang out a few laughs in the overly simple “The Fainting Couch” sketch.
But Cumberbatch racked up a ton of points in his second stint as host, too. His performance was incredible, and the writers zeroed in on how to use him and should use a similar template for future hosts – all the best sketches utilized his unique strengths.
Overall, this was an okay episode. The retread “Mother’s Day Gifts” sketch wasn’t even close to being as good as the original, and “Chain Gang” and “Fainting Couch” sketches were way too simple. Not having Pete Davidson around has been a bit of a bummer. He’s even been doing other comedy shows in his time away. I understand SNL has changed drastically, but a beloved cast member at the height of his fame taking a two-month break feels not in the show’s spirit. As SNL nears the end of the season, I’ve changed my mind about whether or not people would leave. I thought nearly everyone would stick around until season 50, but now it feels like more than a few cast members have one foot out the door. You can probably guess who is leaving based on who took a long break to work on other projects this season. It wouldn’t be the worst thing since it might mean more airtime for people like Heidi and Chloe, both of whom showed tonight they have star potential.