With a few exceptions, athletes tend to be rather limited in their usefulness on “SNL.” Just having the host play him or herself or some variation in every sketch can solve this problem. But Ronda Rousey and/or the writers concede this point and give her very little to do throughout the night. Thus, she does not really affect the overall quality of the episode one way or the other. There are a few great sketches, a few okay ones, and some recurring sketches that seem to be hiding their recurring status.
Trump Rally – With Sarah Palin’s typically loopy endorsement of the Donald dominating this week’s election coverage, it felt like a no-brainer to bring Tina Fey back home (so long as she could make it through the snow). Back in 2008, there was the sketch parodying the Katie Couric interview of Palin, which was basically just a recreation of the original. The same approach could have easily been employed again this time around, but it ends up just being the jumping off point; she mentions the “bitter clinging” and adds some new rhymes and free associations (“Mom, 2 Broke Girls, and Three Men and a Baby” is a highlight). In addition, the asides from Trump serve as an astute, though not especially deep, commentary. B
Ronda Rousey’s Monologue – When a non-actor hosts, the monologue usually does not require much of them, resulting in especially corny premises. That appears to be what we are getting with the recently dethroned UFC champ, as her intro takes the form of a fight, complete with commentary and a coach in the corner. But it proves to be sharper than expected, with Rousey pointing out the cheapness of applause lines and trotting out a popular cast member’s impression for no reason. The ending with Selena Gomez does not quite have the same kick, but it does not last long enough for that to really matter. B+
Screen Guild Awards (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – Taking on #OscarsSoWhite, this awards show parody is at first a little too facile, but then its increasing ridiculousness creates a comic situation that succeeds well enough on its own. It is not like some random white nobody who accidentally wanders into frame is getting nominated instead of worthy minority actors at real awards shows, but it is a hilarious concept, and an absurd exaggeration of reality. The actual issue of diversity in the film industry is much more complicated, but the simplistic point this sketch makes is acceptable comedy. A-
lovestruck – If “SNL” is going to have Ronda Rousey host, they might as well have her punch somebody. That could be the punchline, but a punch is not a punchline; it is a punch. The two might have the same oomph, but to different ends. In this case, as Rousey’s fist meets Vanessa Bayer’s face, it is not the conclusion, but the turning point. That is key. The physical response to verbal abuse is a nice twist, but Bayer’s effort to push through with her vitriol while staggering around is an even better one. B+
Bland Man – This “Bachelor” parody has the same format as the one from the Blake Shelton episode from last season, but this edition takes an even harsher approach to the minutiae of the reigning dating show franchise. Everyone is devoid of personality, and the dates are designed to be silly in a way that prevents any real connection. It is the dates, though, that do have personality, even though they do not make any sense (taking a race car to an improv class, a hot air balloon ride with the cast of Chicago Fire). It is frantic sketch, but its energy sells a lot of one-liners. B