SNL: Drake, Leslie Jones (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in May 2016.

Drake now finds himself in a select crowd of entertainers who have not just pulled “SNL” double duty as both host and musical guest, but done so multiple times. His first double threat gig was a highlight of Season 39, so in terms of potential hosting quality, he is a fine selection. But what about timeliness? He certainly remains big in the music world, but he is not quite as huge in the culture at large the way other repeat double dippers (Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus) have been. But he has the acting chops, so when it gets down to it, who cares? As for the material he is given, it represents a whole range of ideas, some of which work quite well, and others that only work sporadically. All in all, the expansive effort is appreciated.

Donald Trump Vice President Selection – There is not much to make fun of Donald Trump this week (at least, not much new), although the “Joey Pepperoni” quip points to a goofy path that could hold up for the future. So instead, the focus is on the mogul’s VP selection, which could offer new targets for humor, save for the fact that most of the candidates floated are casualties of this election cycle and thus have already been mocked. But sneaking George Zimmerman’s name in there is sharp and the right sort of dangerous. Otherwise, this is just putting down Chris Christie for being nakedly opportunistic, which is way too obvious and not pathetic enough to really make an impact. C+

Drake’s Monologue – Drake debuts his new ditty in which he laments his status as a constant subject of Internet memes, and anyone over 40 likely has no idea what he is talking about. Despite the esoteric premise and the sameness of yet another musical monologue, this routine is fairly inventive, especially when the memes start becoming more immediate. The in-studio captions harken back to the playfulness of 70s “SNL,” when titles were placed under random audience members right before the cut to commercial. That formal experimentation (much more than the song composition) is what makes this a winner, especially the “When You Got a Great Show” outro meme (it is always nice when a standard feature of the show is messed around with, even just a little).  B

Premium Rent-a-Car – Sketches about bad service are a comedy staple, and it is a little surprising that they are not more frequent. Everyone’s got a horror story, after all. With that said, this subgenre needs to go beyond the rudeness into truly shocking, or bizarre, territory. There are hints of that with the receptionist’s backstory (his girlfriend’s pregnancy test result was “neither”) and the eccentricities of the manager played by Jay Pharoah, but only hints. C+

American Ninja Warrior – Bobby Moynihan is certainly going to give it his all as someone who embarrasses himself and his whole town over and over again, which is why this sketch is not so easy to dismiss out of hand. He is giving a performance that is worthy of a stronger joke, one that is not so straightforward and hopeless. Looking at it another way, if you are going to go hopeless, you might as well go as extreme as possible. The peeing in the pool is a peek at what that direction could have looked like. C

Sexy Kinda Evening with Dennis Walls – This episode features three sketches in a row after the first commercial break, and the thing they all have in common is the same obvious joke repeated over and over. Dennis Walls (Drake) is a sexy MC who seems like a nice enough guy, but he has a fatal inability to remember his director’s name. This leads to his downfall, as well as the predictability of this sketch. The sight gags and set design are fine (especially the tiny saxophone), but this is all just a case of “a little sabotage here, a little sabotage there.” On the other hand, the PBS introduction, in which Leslie Jones completely blocks her co-host Kyle Mooney, suggests something more unusual that could have been. C-

Office of the Speaker of the House – Beck Bennett’s Baby Boss (that exact moniker is not used, but it is appropriate, considering both the job he is angling for and the man he is positioned against) is back, and this time he is branching out to a new field, which is a smart way to give a recurring character new life. It is still the case that even though he is only said to have the body of a baby, he also demonstrates the behavior of a baby. It is okay if the actual premise of a character is different than the stated premise, so long as it is funny. (The discrepancy can still stick in some people’s craw, though.) There is kind of a hint about Dick Patterson might actually be less of a baby than the real candidates (his hands are bigger and stronger than Trump’s, after all), and it is wise that that is not stated directly, but this is still mostly Beck doing his physical comedy thing. B-

Drake – “One Dance” – Believe it or not, this is currently the Number 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100. That is probably on the strength of online play, which is appropriate, coming from a guy who worries about being one big meme. The stage appears to be the box from his “Hotline Bling” video, which is on brand. The decision to have his two dancers come on so late into the song is an interesting choice – not necessarily good or bad, but certainly memorable. As for the actual music, it is typical Drake: thoughtful, downtempo, and cleanly produced. B

Weekend Update – Colin and Michael lead off once again with Trump, and this is perhaps the most straight-up incredulous they have ever been. While they certainly do not back down from the “publicist John Miller” story, their strongest stamp is reserved for Bathroom Bill, Restaurant Pervert (a stand-in for the phantom threat of trans predators). Overall, Colin is perhaps more on fire than he has ever been, coming down especially hard on Domino’s and its knack for keeping a loyal customer alive by proposing the new slogan “You Die When We Say You Die.” Colin and Michael’s Grade: B
Weekend Update: Olya Povlatsky – Kate McKinnon’s Russian villager would seem to be an ideal character to explore Donald Trump’s connection to Vladimir Putin, but she mostly focuses on more horror stories of her wasteland existence. This is all well and good, but she has hit a bit of a point of diminishing returns. But her most terrifying takes still singe, especially her explanation of how God has been treating her. B
Weekend Update: Leslie Jones – If there ever has been a time when it is essential for Leslie Jones to stay on point, it is when calling for hope to accomplish your dreams no matter what your age. And she does that, managing to be truly inspiring with her tale of tearing her ACL at age 48 while playing a ninja. Her reference to Cap’n Crunch is nonsense, but meaningful nonsense. B-
Weekend Update: Jay Pharoah – When Jay first played the secret rap summit, it was a clever solution for utilizing his stable of impressions. Redoing it does not add much, especially since each player in the story is not really integrated with everyone else. Drake’s appearance at the end is short and ephemeral, pulling off the gag as advertised and not much else. So the most striking moment is Colin butting in to request a rapper that he likes. It is doubtful that the real Colin is this vanilla, but he is playing the persona so well (instead of letting the persona play him, as used to be the case). B-

Black Jeopardy! (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – Now that Black Jeopardy! has made its points quite clearly with well-meaning white folks, it moves on to confronting the fact that African-Americans do not represent the entire black experience. Drake’s character almost confuses the issue, for while he is Canadian, he also inexplicably has a vague Caribbean accent and a whole Rasta vibe. This is not to say that Canucks have no reggae culture, just that what Drake is being asked to do is a lot for one character to bear. But he pulls it off, as he quite rightly expresses frustration at the BJ! regulars’ unwillingness to see his perspective. Of course, he ends up saying it in such a way (“you’re judging me before you even know me!”) that endears him to everyone there, which is how these sketches always conclude. While those resolutions may be predictable, they are also always cathartic. B+

Drake’s Beef – Blowing minor offenses way out of proportion is a time-honored tradition, and setting those overreactions to music is often a path to success. So Drake decides that he will get on the fun. The element that pushes this ditty over the edge is the series of repeated, inexplicable references to Josh Gad. B

Drake – “Hype” – Drake’s music is once again fine and dense and well produced, but the most interesting part is his staging. With the play of light and darkness in his box, there is a wild illusion of depth that is unlike anything Studio 8H has seen before. B

Wilson High School Spring Fling – Now here is a ten-to-1:00 sketch exactly how it should be: so strange as to defy description. Sure, we can describe what actually happens: Drake plays a dance chaperone who tries to inspire students to get out on the floor by telling tales of how a younger version of himself would have confronted the likes of Osama bin Laden and Ariel Castro, somehow to ultimately only just wistfully share a drink with them. But even that synopsis, weird as it is, fails to capture the singularity of this endeavor. It feels random, but not sloppy. It is a vision, and because of its freshness, we do not quite have the vocabulary to explain it. B+

Notes & Quotes:
-When it comes to deadpan exposition lines, Vanessa Bayer is the queen. (See the Rent-a-Car sketch: “You just turned and faced the manager door.”)
-“God bless you.” “He never has and he never will.”
-“Deer abortion is still illegal due to the landmark case of Doe v. Wade.”
-“Raw and delirious” is a somewhat fair description of Rick Moranis.
-The prizes on next week’s Black Jeopardy! are two tickets to the “Sister, Sister” reunion show!
-“Is this a Jakob Dylan convention? Cause all I seen is a couple of wallflowers.”
-“Are you crying because Osama bin Laden said that you’re a good guy?”