There was an uncharacteristic bullet at the end of last night’s Saturday Night Live cold open. The show has struggled when it comes to this frontline of comedy since Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey hung up their politico blazers with their Donald Trump and Sarah Palin impressions. This season, SNL has rightly sidelined the idea that President Joe Biden gives good material beyond affable thought-wandering. Last night’s episode opened instead with Mikey Day as a nebbish gunslinging Merrick Garland, coming for all the classified papers. The best joke of the sketch was Bowen Yang’s FBI agent, fanboying over the chance to search former president Barack Obama’s house: “He had 175 letters from Lin-Manuel Miranda begging the President to attend a performance of Hamilton! Beyonce called him on his cellphone, and he ignored it.” They were going to land the plane at a solid B/B- when Kenan Thompson’s FBI agent leaned into Day’s Garland. “Hey boss, when we done playing with your little papers, we going to head down to Memphis and make sure justice is served there too, right?” Thompson’s tone of voice was sharp and baiting, steeped in the angry, tired knowledge of another Black man’s death at the hands of law and supposed order. Last night’s cold open delivered a message beyond parody, something the form has been missing for too long.
Michael B. Jordan was last night’s beautiful host. The cut of his plum-colored suit, the dipping neckline of his shirt that seemed to cut mid-pec—the man is a vision. In some ways, his hosting debut reminded me of Kim Kardashian’s. Neither are silly. They are hard-working and disciplined, but their carefully constructed images will always take precedence over a laugh. There’s a tightness to Jordan, a terrifically compelling dramatic actor, and the writers served him well throughout the night, dressing him up silly, but trusting others to land the joke. Like Kardashian, he was going to do his workmanlike best.
“Tonight, Michael B. hosting,” he promised in his very good opening monologue, “Michael B. joking, Michael B. nervous, Michael B. vulnerable, but don’t worry, Michael B. aiight, because Michael B. in therapy.” He acknowledged the strain of his first public breakup, and endured the advances from the female cast members. “Aren’t you gay?” he asked Punkie Johnson, as she stroked his taut abs. “I am, but you Michael B. Jordan and I’m Punkie B. Curious.”
Jordan’s best turn of the night was as the State Farm Insurance spokesman Jake. Clad in his crisp red polo, Jake came to the rescue of Mikey Day’s clogged toilet, assuring the married father of two that State Farm would be by the family’s side, 24/7. But then Day comes home to Jake at night. Jake has taken his wife (played by Heidi Gardner) and their kids out for pizza. Then church. Jake is teaching his daughter the piano and playing catch with his son, who’s suddenly wearing a tiny red polo. Jake’s hand is on the small of Heidi Gardner’s back. How to get rid of Jake!? Jordan is a master of glower—chin tucked, eyes set—and Jake lets one loose when he finds a frantic Mikey Day googling Geico rates in the middle of the night. “Even if you find cheaper rates,” Jordan whispers menacingly in his ear, “we’ll match it.” Like a cuckolded George Bailey, Day finds himself stumbling on a bridge, cursing the day State Farm ever came into his home. Before he can jump, a beacon appears: Liberty, liberty Mutual to the rescue. A perfectly conceived, perfectly executed sketch from start to finish. No notes.
The show was wise to pair Jordan in sketches with its two finest weirdos. Sarah Sherman played a TV chef on Good Morning Today who had recently survived a runaway roller coaster ride. Her hair still stood straight up, her mouth plastered back, even the bow of her shirt was still frozen in flight. I could watch her choke on chianti, spit crostini crumbs, and scoop minestrone soup into her useless mouth for a full half hour. A game Jordan, as the similarly blown-back weatherman who survived the ride with her, ended up with a plate of spaghetti on his face, plops of red sauce touching the bottom of his lashes.