‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: First-Timer Claire Foy Gets Safe but Solid Debut

With Damien Chazelle’s “First Man” and Netflix’s “The Crown” under her belt (please note her lack of mention of the poorly-received “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” as it’s apparently a lost cause), Claire Foy is a natural pick for a first-time “Saturday Night Live” host. But of course, as this season has proven, “natural pick” doesn’t always ultimately mean good pick.

Just to be clear: It does mean “good pick” here.

Host: Claire Foy

Claire Foy’s monologue is pretty to the point, and it shows quite a bit of confidence they don’t make her go with the audience Q&A or musical monologue to kick things off. Instead, she makes a solid Brexit joke (with a comparison to current United States politics), segueing into her “I’m only taking the jobs that Americans don’t want.” (an okay joke that’s made better with the Ryan Gosling-based punchline).

The girl power finish to the monologue is the only thing that doesn’t quite land — yay, more women, but it’s not as though this episode reflects that point. In fact, the “Morning Joe” sketch with Melissa Villaseñor as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — arguably someone who would be included in the “yay, more women” sentiment — ignores such a point in favor of a “aren’t the struggles of millennials funny?” point.

With the end of the year coming and all the year-end lists your favorite critics have to compile — and yes, it requires being aware of and knowledgeable about a lot of content… at least, if you do your job right — this Netflix sketch speaks so true to life. Honestly, just as a person who wants to watch anything on Netflix, this is also true to life. The bit about there only being 12 movies worth watching out of the thousands available? That’s it. That’s Netflix. (The only thing missing in this sketch is the struggle of determining if the movie on Netflix you think looks interesting is super mumblecore or if it’s just basically softcore porn.)

This sketch only features a little bit of Claire Foy (with the teen version of “The Crown,” “Saved by the Crown”), but the whole thing is great. The gritty “Family Matters” (because of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”) finally has Carl Winslow (Kenan Thompson, of course) get rid of a very Stevil-looking Urkel (Chris Redd); Leslie Jones provides a better alternative to “Comedians in Cars…” with “Leslie Jones in a Van Getting Batteries;” and all of one person’s favorite British show, “Kennymeade Depot,” gets some love. But the pièce de résistance is the fake Entourage movies (like “Medellin” and the timeless classic “Queens Blvd.”) being on the docket. Outside references to “I am Queens Boulevard” will never not be hilarious.

Foy as a disaffected American teen is strangely entrancing in this “Dad Christmas” sketch. Plus, Aidy Bryant’s role as, basically, a spokesperson for “Dad Christmas” is just the right amount of surreal, and then she cranks up the humor with the “Last Christmas” song parody.

Also, this sketch might just be too true (see: the place in Florida nowhere near a beach)…except for the cool dad part of it at the end. Merry Christmas, everyone.

“Good Morning Goomah” is pretty much “Bronx Beat” with a mob mistress twist, but it’s got a couple of things going for it. The first is Foy channeling her inner Marissa Tomei in “My Cousin Vinny” for this sketch. The second is her reaction to mobster Peter Davidson being completely crappy to her — after all the trying to show she’s a tough chick — when she screams, “Why are you so perfect?!” to his very imperfect character.

Best Sketch of The Night: “The War in Words”

How quickly this goes from a sketch that doesn’t seem like it will be anything special to causing laughter to the point of tears. Really, as soon as Foy’s Margaret gives her first very flippant response letter (“James — sounds dreadful. Love, Margaret”), it is off to the races. The growing frustration of her husband James (Mikey Day) and continued flippant-turned-oblivious (the photograph bit is beautiful) nature of Foy’s Margaret is just the sort of good build that “SNL” doesn’t usually seem concerned with creating in their sketches.

By the time Kenan shows up as Henry (“James — Henry is the man in the photograph”), the audience has lost it and for good reason. Considering how much the cast breaks for pretty weak sketches, it’s strange but also a joy (so as not to ruin the flow) that’s not the case here for something genuinely great.

Worst Sketch of The Night: “Morning Joe” & ”Charlie’s Grandparents”

While both Foy and Villaseñor (whose ability to change her very distinct voice when necessary really is quite impressive) are fully committed here, this sketch doesn’t really rely on anyone but Alex Moffat and Kate McKinnon giving it their all. (Kenan Thompson and Mikey Day are also here.) Plus, it’s the same joke every time — and it’s never been a particularly funny one — that is only happening again because the real Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough finally got married. May this sketch stay dead and buried. (It won’t, will it?)

As for the Willy Wonka sketch, it’s so bad that it doesn’t even get Honorable Mention status: It’s truly tied with “Morning Joe” for worst, even though “Morning Joe” is mostly bad because it’s a recurring sketch that’s never been good. Really, technically “Morning Joe” is actually the Honorable Mention.

While the “Grandparents” joke is bad, it’s also just a case of it getting so loud it’s actually nonsense. The sketch devolves into LOUD NOISES, with “SNL’s” historically bad audio mixing all of a sudden appearing in sketch form. Whatever song Kate’s singing is completely drowned out; and while that’s the intent for the story of the sketch, it’s still something they clearly wanted the audience to hear.

Oh, and the show literally did a Willy Wonka/Charlie’s weird, poor family sketch just two seasons ago — with Kristen Stewart — that was actually a funny, smart take on that. (Dumb can be funny. This failed on that front.)

Best Male Performer: Kenan Thompson

“Officer Winslow” Kenan, “HSN” Kenan, “Henry” Kenan. Kenan isn’t necessarily all over the episode, but he is prominently featured in three of the best sketches of the episode. Also, leave it to Kenan not even attempt a British accent during “The War in Words.” You do you, Kenan.

Best Female Performer: Cecily Strong

On the one hand, Claire Foy and Cecily Strong’s roles in the “HSN” sketch should probably have been reversed, so Foy would have one hell of a manic sketch performance to hang her hat on with her first time hosting “SNL.” On the other hand, Foy already has a great (albeit understated, for obvious reason) performance in this episode via the aforementioned Best Sketch of the Night, and Cecily just absolutely kills here. Then Aidy Bryant (who is right there behind her in this week’s Best Female Performer designation this week, to be fair) shows up, sounding like a Sugarbaker woman, and it’s truly a beautiful thing.

Also, Cecily snapping in the “All I Want For Christmas” number is a really good bit (in a number which thankfully doesn’t go full “Hallelujah”), slightly reminiscent of Jessica Chastain’s breakdown in last season’s “What Even Matters Anymore” sketch.

Final Thoughts

Well, Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump is back. And somehow, the lip-puckering has gotten even more out of control. That’s all the “impression” even is anymore — that’s pretty much all it was before, but it’s lost all sense of even being adjacent to good after all this time. Then there are of course the celebrity cameos, with Ben Stiller as Michael Cohen and Fred Armisen as the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; the latter at least provides some reluctant laughs with Beck Bennett’s Vladimir Putin and their BFF status and elaborate handshake.

Any problems with this episode honestly aren’t on Foy’s part. The aforementioned Worst Sketch(es) of the Night and the return of Baldwin Trump are also right there. Then with Weekend Update, there’s Leslie Jones’ stumbling all over her Weekend Update set (and her roofie joke on “All I Want For Christmas” — really?) and the usual Weekend Update jokes falling flat (which is really just bombing at this point, as Che steamrolls his way to the next joke after his first bomb, only to do the opposite with the second bomb, the waxing joke). In Che’s defense though, he does have a good bit when he lists 50-somethings who look better than Leslie, with Leslie trying to fight him…especially once he says “Judge Judy.”

And Beck Bennett’s new Weekend Update character (as “Jules, Who See Things a Little Differently”) is almost a highlight, but given the anchor he interacts with (Colin Jost, who also can’t do a good Russian accent), the bit ends up lacking a self-awareness: When Jost says, “I’ve never hated anyone this much” about this entitled rich guy character who is skating by on just that, that’s after he’s incredulously said “Dude!” in response to the Jules character. Is this the first-time an earnest “Dude!” has been uttered on Weekend Update?

The tribute to George H.W. Bush though — on World AIDS Day, of all days — is even more toothless than expected, as Jost calls him “a warm and gracious man who understood the power of laughing at yourself.” (So if Trump could laugh at himself, everything would be fine then, right?) You know, you don’t have to speak ill of the dead: You can just not mention them at all.

Overall, this is a solid, safe first-time episode for Claire Foy. She does a few accents, showing her range on that front like Adam Driver did, of course so she can keep getting hired in America, and while she doesn’t quite go as weird as Liev Schreiber, she thankfully isn’t as flat as Awkwafina. She’s also given material to work with, even if she’s not the standout of each of her sketches; again, this is the first-time, so there’s always next time. And the time after that. (She even got a “cut for time” sketch with Beck and Kyle Mooney, which is pretty much a badge of honor.) As for first-time musical guest Anderson .Paak., while the pairing seems strange on paper, both “SNL” newbies make a good first impression.

Grade: B

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