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‘SNL’ channels ‘The Bachelor,’ more in Trump-less episode

Sterling K. Brown and Melissa Villaseñor in the

Sterling K. Brown and Melissa Villaseñor in the "Saturday Night Live" skit "Family Dinner: Shrek" on Saturday, March 10, 2018. Credit: NBC / Will Heath

Sterling K. Brown hosted Saturday’s edition of “Saturday Night Live,” and in other good news, Alec Baldwin did not appear as President Trump in the cold open. Free from POTUS, and the self-inflicted agony that Baldwin must go through every time he puts on that wig, “SNL” flexed its creative muscles in other new and novel ways last night.

To cover this edition as quickly and efficiently as possible so that you can get on with your Sunday, let’s assess some key elements and sketches, with grades.

COLD OPEN: “The Bachelor” season finale offered a target far too broad to miss by any late-night comedy show last week, and “SNL” inevitably found its way there too, in this split-screen setup in which Kate McKinnon played special counsel Robert Mueller, and Cecily Strong played “Becca.” (As you know, Becca Kufrin was dumped by Arie Luyendyk Jr., and . . .) Informed that Mueller probably doesn’t have Trump “on collusion,” he then told Becca, “I think I need to explore the possibility that I have a stronger case with other stuff,” like obstruction. The news is a shocking blow to Becca, who — struggling through tears — says, “but you indicted 13 Russians, and like everything that happened in the Seychelles was nothing?!”

Mueller: “No, the Seychelles were amazing . . . ”

She asks, “Do you have any good news for me?” Mueller: “Do you own American steel? Otherwise no.”

In principle this setup was funny, onscreen, considerably less so. The problem was that the Becca/Arie scene played out over long, awkward silences, and the Becca/Mueller scene played out over long silences too. Long silences can be the black hole of comedy, unless there’s a killer comeback line, or the silence lends itself to the comedy in some organic way. In this case, it didn’t much at all.

Points for trying, anyway.

Grade: C+

BROWN MONOLOGUE: “I have a rep for wearing my emotions on my sleeve, and I promise I won’t get overwhelmed because . . . ” umm . . . sniffle . . . He then of course gets emotionally overwhelmed by the fact that he’s hosting “SNL.” Good monologues always need to play off an actor’s most obvious trait — even if they have to go broad in the process — and this one worked especially well for that reason. Brown’s characters almost always tear up, and he even wept as N’Jobu in “Black Panther.” Everyone got the joke, and Brown hammed it up like the good sport he is. As monologues go, this was a clear winner.

Grade: A

“CELEBRITY FAMILY FEUD” SKETCH: One of “SNL’s” — and Kenan Thompson’s — sturdiest recurring sketches is, of course, this one, but Saturday’s had a smart twist, as Oscar winners vs. Oscar losers. This naturally gave Steve Harvey / Thompson a chance to mangle Guillermo del Toro’s name (“Guido del Taco”); Kate McKinnon as Frances McDormand got to offer an insight into her sartorial preferences (“burlap”), and Chris Redd as Jordan Peele managed to set up the best line of this entire “SNL” edition. “Sketch comedy is great,” he tells Harvey / Thompson, “but at some point, you have to move on after a few years.”

Thompson / Harvey: “How many years?”

For the record, Thompson joined “SNL” in 2003, and last fall, at the start of the current season, became the longest running cast member in show history.

Over all, this was a solid “Feud.”

Grade: B+

WEEKEND UPDATE: As always, “Update” had too much material from last week, but wisely kept its impulses in check by focusing on just a few obvious targets. The May meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un presented itself as the most logical one. Colin Jost observed that a possible nuclear war was in the balance, and these talks will be held “by the only two guys connected on Dennis Rodman’s LinkedIn page.” Michael Che more succinctly added: “The talks are risky. Well, duh.” Eric and Donald Trump Jr. — Alex Moffat and Mikey Day respectively — made another one of their dumb-and-dumber appearances. Poor Eric seemed a little more out of it than usual, but did blurt out a funny line about dad’s true feelings about the news media.

Overall, a decent “Update” if not a riotous update.

Grade: B

DIGITAL SHORT: “This is U.S” . . . the number one drama in America . . . the show critics are calling like ‘This is Us,’ but without the parts that make us feel good.” Best part of this, meanwhile, was that it gave Brown a chance Brown to channel Ben Carson, and McKinnon to revive Kellyanne Conway. The better part was that it was a particularly good way to forge a tie with “Us,” and still score plenty of points. This was the smart, funny short that worked far better than the cold open.

Grade: A

OVERALL: Brown kicked it up nicely for this edition, and while some of the sketches were genuinely bad (“Family Dinner: Shrek” and especially “Doctor Love”), a few were pretty good: notably “Black Panther New Scene,” and “Dying Mrs. Gomez.” At least one — “Sasquatch” — was dumbgood. So on balance, fans, we have a winner.

Grade: B+

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