SNL: Gwen Stefani, Peter Dinklage, Kate McKinnon (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in April 2016.

When Peter Dinklage is in a comedy setting, the two most obvious sources of humor are “Game of Thrones” parodies and cracks about his height. There are already plenty of examples of the former, and there is always the risk of being hacky or insulting with the latter. So in his “SNL” debut, the Westeros jokes are rare and have a whiff of exhaustion, while his size is basically only utilized for one visual gag. As for the rest of the episode, he is uniformly competent, but – with a few exceptions – he deserves more memorable roles.

CNN At This Hour – A modern habit of “SNL’s” political material is the variety of its news show parodies. Where 90’s “SNL” featured plenty of “Nightline” sketches, and “Hardball” dominated the early 2000’s, the 2010’s seem intent on taking on every CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News program. It is hard to understand why. “At This Hour” has hardly broken into the zeitgeist, nor is there anything about it that makes it especially fit to elucidate Donald Trump’s foibles. As for this sketch’s actual hook, it points out Trump’s misogyny and tendency to attract violence, but it does not do anything surprising with those qualities. C

Peter Dinklage’s Monologue – With a voice fit for an erudite villain, Peter Dinklage could very well be riveting expounding upon any topic in his monologue. But instead, he is forced to recite the bit written for him by George R.R. Martin (Bobby Moynihan). It starts off strong, going in an appreciably goofy direction with the hacky “how many Lannisters does it take to screw in a light bulb” joke. It is a groan-inducing, but fun, mashup of “Game of Thrones” and entry-level comedy sensibilities. But that is followed by just a rundown of other GoT tropes, without any significant integration into the “SNL” world. C+

Winnie the Pooh – With Pooh Bear receiving a pair of jeans on his birthday party, it appears that an intervention to get him to finally cover up is afoot. And it is, of a sort, but not from an especially trusted source. Pooh’s less whimsical cousin Denny the Real (Jay Pharoah) provides an alternate take on life in the Hundred Acre Woods, one in which being fully dressed is a stepping stone to a respectable life. His take is that this sylvan setting is basically a ghetto whose denizens should be striving to get out of it, which is an interesting idea, but with neither Pooh nor anyone else in the sketch willing to go along with it, it never really takes off. C+

Naked and Afraid: Celebrity Edition – A celebrity version of the Discovery Channel survivalist show is actually not unprecedented: James Franco and Seth Rogen have already appeared. Luckily, that does not break the premise of this sketch. The setup proves to be a boon for examining the persona of Leslie Jones, but Peter Dinklage does not come across as much more than her plaything. That is not necessarily a problem: their differences in size and energy levels provide for a few great visual gags. Ultimately, this bit feels too low-stakes to have much of an impact, which is weird, considering the high stakes of the show and of Leslie’s typical intensity. B-

Space Pants (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – Peter Dinklage’s performance as a Devo-style new wave act is pretty great, both in terms of comedy and music. Dink’s voice is not exactly that technically strong, but he can pull off the bass monotony necessary for the robotic beat (and Gwen Stefani takes it home on the final verse anyway). The mob scene in the foreground is mostly irrelevant, but it does help to have some people comment on the incongruity of this performance in this venue. Plus, starting the scene off with them instead of Mr. Space Pants allows for maximum surprise. A-

Glory Hole Restaurant – Once Kyle Mooney sticks that long, succulent loaf of bread through the hole, this sketch blows its load by spilling out its whole one-joke premise. But this is one of those times that “SNL” can actually get away with a flimsy bit, as it plays a game of chicken with the censors to see how much it can get away with really obvious visual suggestibility. It is not quite as creative as something like the bird family, but its boldness is impressive. Beck Bennett’s misunderstanding of the situation calls to mind Chris Kattan and Cheri Oteri’s Zimmerman couple, though this sketch ends too abruptly to head in that direction. B

HBO First Look: Game of Thrones Season 6 – With Bobby Moynihan bungling his way through his performance as a “Game of Thrones” dragon, the premise of this piece appears to be that motion-capture is not worth the hassle. But considering the progress in that field, that is hardly true, so the real issue is that this guy is just not very good for the role. His acting instincts are all wrong, and he does not account for the practical aspects of wearing a bodysuit. The ultimate tone is more just plain awkward than funny-awkward. C

Gwen Stefani – “Make Me Like You” – It is a little odd that Gwen Stefani is singing a frothy love song focused on “a feeling [she’s] not used to.” She is in her mid-forties, she has been married and had a few kids, and she has been singing about affairs of the heart for much of her career. But of course, that spark of attraction, when strong enough, retains the power to feel like falling in love for the first time. Or it could be that an unexpected person causes the feeling, and that is why it feels so now. She really dials into the internal tension in this number, and that is what sells it. B

Weekend Update – The major focus for the team behind the desk this week is once again, Donald Trump, because … he’s Donald Trump. He inspires a lot of “Do we have to?” but also plenty of “How can we resist?” The biggest challenge is actually finding a fresh angle on the latest controversy. Che rises to that challenge, with his “sexist says what” bit distilling just how outrageously unpredictable the Donald is. Michael and Colin’s Grade: B
Weekend Update: Pete Davidson – Anyone can point out that Hulk Hogan’s $140 million settlement from Gawker sounds unreasonably high, but it somehow sounds a little more meaningful when Pete Davidson says it. His thoughts about the silliness of professional wrestling are similarly sensible, but not unusually astute. His words on sex are much more his unique wheelhouse. Also, that cut to Colin waving may be a little technically unsound, but it is delightfully off-kilter. B-
Weekend Update: David Ortiz – Kenan’s impression of Big Papi has always been esoteric, nonsensical, or both. His obsession with gluttonous lunches and knack for fastidiously listing everything he consumes are hardly jokes and more signs of Kenan’s comedic insanity. As he gets into his spiel of made-up services that he is sponsoring, a different interpretation emerges, in which this routine is just a dada experiment in which a loosely connected string of randomness unspools for as long as Michael and Colin (and the audience) can bear it. B-

Reef View Honeymoon Suite – Here is an example of a sketch that probably thinks it has explained itself better than it actually has. The joke could be that the first body is in fact not dead, but just intrepid enough to hang out underwater to sneak a peek of the honeymoon couple. A moment of intimacy being disrupted by a corpse or by a peeping Tom is a workable premise either way, but it is tricky when it is not clear which is which. The presence of a second body floating in the water seems to confirm death, but then the question becomes why the Bahamian reef is so deadly. It is disturbing, and also confusing, leaving little room for laughter. C+

Vacation Nightmares – Every once in a while, “SNL” decides to splice Scandinavia with American entertainment and release the culture clashes therein. This iteration does not reach the dizzy heights of Norwegian Actors’ Playhouse, partly because the accents are way off. At least the “Danish” (which sounds more a Swedish caricature) of Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant’s recreation actors is meant to be horrible. The scene starts off chintzy, but the laughs start pulling up as they go even more wildly off-script, incorporating invisible props and unnecessarily throwing the word “Danish” around (“My Danish phone is ringing”). B

Gwen Stefani – “Misery” – Gwen’s constant refrain of “put me out of my misery” makes herself sound like a beloved pet or grandparent requesting euthanasia. Considering the intense emotions related to love, it makes sense that she would be inspired to repeat that sentiment over and over again. There is almost something casual about it (especially given her classic look of jeans and midriff-baring top) that makes this song feel both innocuous and alarming. B-

Peterson Realty Company Retreat – It is a bit disorienting when the jerk in a sketch totally gets his way, and then the scene ends right at that moment. Mr. Peterson (Dinklage) is so deadset on getting a magician to back down on a joke so as to protect his reputation. Thus in total control of the situation, he decrees what is or is not funny. It is an interesting quickie examination of possible psychosis, and it is troubling how much the unhinged guy wins. C+

Notes & Quotes:
-Scottie Nell Hughes is probably too obscure for Cecily Strong’s impression of her to make a lasting impression, but her use of Missy Elliott’s “Work It” lyrics in defending Trump is memorably loopy.
-Dinklage congratulating people who do not recognize him on not being nerds is rather misplaced, considering that nerd-bashing is outdated and “Game of Thrones” is one of the most popular shows on TV. Maybe there is supposed to be a hint of irony there?
-“When I say, ‘space pants,’ you say, ‘are intergalactic space pants.’”
-“I can’t remember anything other than what I’m looking at right now.”
-Hillary Clinton’s closing line at the Apollo, according to Che: “Republicans need to wash they ass!”
-What is on Investigation Discovery after Vacation Nightmares? “Wives with Knives,” followed by “Husbands with Hus-Guns.”
-“My Danish ding-dong is huge, bitch.”
-“What? Do you dress the same as your wife?” “Yes, I do!”