Saturday Night Live: Maya Rudolph can’t save below average episode | Saturday Night Live

The penultimate episode of Saturday Night Live’s 49th season happens to fall only a few hours before Mother’s Day, so, as has been an off-and-on tradition over the last couple of years, the show forgoes a traditional cold open so that the cast can introduce their mothers. The moms get saddled with cornball jokes about their offspring or, in a few cases, topical figures such as Tom Brady and RFK Jr, which they deliver with stilted nervousness.

In the past, these segments have been eyerolling, but mostly harmless. But something about this one feels particularly egregious. Perhaps it’s the caveat from Kenan Thompson about how, “with so many upsetting stories in the world right now, we thought … we’d hear some heartwarming stories from our moms instead,” making this the second cold open in a row that goes out of its way to dodge the issues.

It also just feels so damn infantilizing, something you would expect from a middle school theater kids, not professional performers on the world’s most famous comedy program. Say what you will about the legacy of SNL alumni, but can you ever imagine Chevy Chase or Gilda Radner or Eddie Murphy or Norm MacDonald stooping to this?

The worst segment of the season, which is saying a lot.

Maya Rudolph returns to her home turf to host. She’s greeted by several members of the cast, who not only wish her a happy Mother’s Day, but declare her “MOTHER.” Next thing you know, Rudolph is flanked by a troupe of backup dancers, donning a sparkly, skin-tight jumpsuit, and vogueing around the set. This is one of those increasingly prevalent SNL bits designed not to garner laughs, so much as cheers and applause from people in the audience who recognize online speak.

The first sketch sees the return of Rudolph as Beyoncé – in full Cowboy Carter mode – to the popular viral talk show Hot Ones. Her last time at the table did not end well (“This was the only thing I attempted and did not slay”), but she’s ready to giddy up and go again. She puts down the first wing with no problem, but by the second one – doused in Sgt Sphincter’s Volcanopeno Sauce – she’s pouring sweat and speaking in tongues. By the third round, she’s angrily doused the host in milk and gargled $6,000 dollar body lotion. The continuity and slapstick escalation makes this the rare case of a sequel sketch being superior to the original.

A New Please Don’t Destroy skit sees Martin, John, Ben and their significant others enjoying a triple date night. Things grow tense when one of the women suggests a game where everyone shows the results of their Instagram Explore pages. The other women are all for it, since their results are all cute puppies and fun recipes, while the boys coldly refuse to play. The women assume that their results will be nothing but ass pics and Sidney Sweeney, but it turns out they’re all in the thrall (financially and sexually), of an erotic self-help guru named Unessa Confidence. The setup is great, but this feels like a missed opportunity to explore some of the various bizarre rabbit holes of young men’s Instagram obsessions.

A message from public school teachers to students sees them throwing in the towel: “Y’all won. You rude and you nasty. Not only can you not read, you’re on drugs and spectrums that did not even exist in 2006.” Testimonies from various tired teachers, alongside their tiny tormentors (played by actual kids) paints a picture of the post-Covid school system as a Mad Max-like wasteland of savage, surreal cruelty. A funny – if reactionary – premise, it suffers from having no structure or momentum.

British Cavemen is an educational show on Nat Geo that shows the habits of English-accented neanderthals of the ancient past. This seems like the type of sketch that could work if pre-filmed, with actual sets and decent costumes, but as it is, it’s just a lot of loud, obnoxious mugging.

As if the cold open wasn’t enough, we get another Mother’s Day message, this time in the form of a pre-filmed short in which Rudolph’s bedraggled mom is constantly picking up her awkward tween daughter from sleepovers, sometimes making ridiculous excuses about midnight funerals and gay emergencies, other times simply quoting MIA songs and throwing cicadas in the other parents’ faces. Unnecessary, but at least it has actual jokes.

Musical guests Vampire Weekend perform their first song of the night, then its on to Weekend Update. Paying off a line from the cold open, Colin Jost welcomes on the segment’s first guest, RFK Jr’s Brain Worm (Sarah Sherman). The worm follows in the footsteps of Kevin Spacey by endorsing the third-party candidate and national embarrassment, who “looks like a packet of chicken worms left out in the sun” and “if someone left Bruce Springsteen in the oven too long.” Nothing against Sherman or co, but this is one of those cases where the real story is so insane as to be beyond satire.

Later, Jost brings on A Woman Who Says She’s Not Mad (Heidi Gardner) to give recommendations for Mother’s Day gifts. The aggressively passive-aggressive guest furiously scrolls her phone, folds laundry, and harangues the hosts, eventually revealing that the reason she’s mad is because she thought she was supposed to host. Gardner has become a stealth MVP of Weekend Update, with her appearance being the highlight of the episode.

A sendup of recently unearthed footage of actor Faye Dunaway snapping at cast and crew while filming a commercial in the ’90s has Rudolph playing a coffee-mad diva running amok on set, ordering people off set at random and farting up a storm. A welcome bit of scatological silliness.

Vampire Weekend returns for their second set, then the show honors National Nurses Week with a message from some of America’s nurses. While two nurses from maternity and oncology wards speak about how much their job fulfills them, a pair of Jamaican-accented nurses from senior care explain how “90% of my job is cleaning up a grown man’s dookie. The other 10% is sponge baths, which is somehow worse.” This is pretty much the same sketch as the teachers and Mother’s Day ones from earlier in the show.

Things wrap up with a commercial for Lanzetti’s Lawn Care, who promise low prices and guarantee that they’re landscapers “will not get with your wife”. They’re employees are a collection of “hopeless, sexless, socially awkward zeroes”, such as one guy who “speaks in every voice but his own”, and another who “likes to do cringey, ‘what-ifs’.” Eventually, it’s revealed that the company policy was borne out firsthand-experience between the married owners, which almost lead to homicide. A good sendup of specific types of male losers, with a nice little turn at the end. This could have gone longer.

Despite expectedly strong hosting from Rudolph and a couple of bright spots, this episode still made for one of the season’s lows. There was simply no getting over that treacly, embarrassing cold open. Between this and last week’s weak episode, it seems like season 49 of SNL is destined to go out on a sour note, but they still have one more episode to turn things around.

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