‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: The Best and Worst of Jake Gyllenhaal’s Hosting Return

This week’s “Saturday Night Live” brought back a past host in “Ambulance” star Jake Gyllenhaal. Having hosted “SNL” 15 years ago, while Gyllenhaal wasn’t able to slot himself into this season’s first-timer narrative — though, just to be clear, if Maggie were to host, she would be a first-time — he was able to give a strong return performance.

Host: Jake Gyllenhaal

As mentioned, Gyllenhaal last hosted “SNL” 15 years ago — in 2007, when he made his debut. A quick rundown of the episode truly captured how dated this “topical” live sketch comedy show can be in the blink of the eye — as has always been the case, not just something that has become apparent in recent years. The monologue wasn’t funny, as it was pretty devoid of jokes, and the jokes that were there didn’t quite hit due to Gyllenhaal’s pacing.

Funnily enough, Gyllenhaal’s bit in the monologue about his image as a serious actor was the bit that his brother-in-law Peter Sarsgaard went with for his “SNL” monologue back in 2006. (Which serves as a reminder that Maggie Gyllenhaal has never hosted “SNL” at all. And that, also, if you go back to check out the Sarsgaard episode of “SNL” on Peacock, once you get over the shock that the episode — like many — has been cut to 20 minutes, you’ll have to deal with the shock of being reminded of Darrell Hammond’s recurring impression of Reverend Jesse Jackson. Yes, despite chopping an hour of content off of the episode, the blackface remains in the episode’s very first sketch.)

But one can’t deny that Gyllenhaal has pipes.

“SNL” continues to crank out the game show sketches, and this week’s offering was “Why’d You Like It.” Again, it was nothing too special, with a fairly simple premise — all of people’s reasoning for liking others’ Instagram posts is the possibility that it will end with sex — and enthusiasm from the contestant performers (Gyllenhaal, Chris Redd, and Chloe Fineman).

Again, Gyllenhaal has pipes. As do Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, and of course, Bowen Yang, as “Cabaret Night” reminded us. While the only time any of them actually sang in this sketch (as “The Singers Four”) was during the chorus, the chaotic nature of it all — even bringing up “The Real World’s” Eric Nies at one point — more than made up for it. It was a musical episode at times and each time was quite different.

In fact, the final sketch was proof of that musical difference, with “Truck Stop CD.” The best part of the sketch may have been the fact that Aidy Bryant’s character was treating the whole situation as though it was a compilation CD commercial, whereas Ego Nwodim and Kyle Mooney’s reactions suggested that it was… not. While “Truck You You Truckin’ Truck” is no Jackie & Clancy or “Country Roses,” “SNL” always finds a way to create an earworm or two out of a sketch like this. In this case, the earworm was “Ghost Trucker” — a song not about peeing.

Best Sketches of The Night: “Dream Home Cousins,” “Chucky,” & “Couples Counselor”

While Gyllenhaal and Mikey Day were the titular Dream Home Cousins (“Oh brother.” “Don’t you mean, ‘Oh cousin?’”) — and Gyllenhaal really pulled off the “Property Brothers” dead eyes — this sketch was 100% Heidi Gardner and Kate McKinnon’s. James Austin Johnson’s carved out a niche for himself on the show, but even he was on the ground floor compared to those two. (But at least he even appears on the show, which is often not the case for his and Sarah Sherman’s peer, Aristotle Athari.) As a pre-tape, “Dream Home Cousins” was one of a few sketches (another was also a pre-tape) that didn’t have any pacing issues. It also allowed McKinnon to get weird in a way that really works, like in the Billie Eilish episode sketch “Lonely Christmas.”

Sarah Sherman once described herself on Weekend Update as looking like “Chucky went to Sarah Lawrence,” so the “Chucky” sketch really brought things full circle for her. Considering the piling on of the at first unseen Janet character (Aidy Bryant), it was expected that her overhearing was going to be the focus of this sketch; instead, “SNL” went hard left with Sherman’s take on the evil toy Chucky. There aren’t many new jokes to make about the Chucky character — and “SNL” clearly knew that, as his stabbing Gyllenhaal’s disaffected HR character over and over again was considered old hat — but this sketch found a way to freshen it up.

“Couples Counselor” gave Punkie Johnson a much needed feature and served as a reminder that she always thrives when given the chance. The sketch was a showcase for Johnson, Gyllenhaal (with or without “the voice”), and then even Nwodim when she showed up with a Super Soaker. (Unfortunately, despite actually being in a sketch, Melissa Villasenor was the one performer who kind of just got lost in all of it.)

Worst Sketch of The Night: “Spring Flowers” & “Tombstone”

“Spring Flowers” was the type of sketch where one has to ask just what the writers were on when they wrote it. The sketch truly had offered nothing other than perverted Chris Redd, a bit they had to keep going to the well on as it was the only close to funny aspect of it all. A cute dog was in the sketch though.

“Tombstone,” on the other hand, was at least a sketch that worked in theory, doing a bit on the movie/TV classic of coughing into a handkerchief (and then seeing the blood) signaling impending death. The “Lights, Camera, Achoo” entry point was half-baked though, to the point where it was very easy to forget the framing device — and ultimately, it was unnecessary — until it returned at the end.

Best Male Performer: Mikey Day

This week primarily saw male cast members kind of being pushed to the background in favor of Gyllenhaal. But Day was able to push through in a couple of sketches — one of the best (“Dream Home Cousins”) and one of the worst (“Tombstone”).

Best Female Performer: Ego Nwodim

While the cold open was not exactly great — which isn’t new for “SNL” — it was a solid starting off point for Nwodim in this episode, as she was featured pretty consistently throughout. Nwodim continues on a weekly basis to show that she can carry a sketch either as the straight man or as an agent of chaos, practically in her sleep at this point.

A hat tip to Aidy Bryant though, because even though she wasn’t all over the episode, she was able to steal the show with her human punching bag performance in “Chucky” and her enthusiastic trucker music fan in “Truck Stop CD.”

Final Thoughts

After the past few weeks of pretty weak Weekend Update features, Bryant and Yang returned with a guaranteed winner in their now recurring Trend Forecaster characters. Melodramatic about every future and past trend, it’s hard not to love these two as they do this bit (and harass Michael Che). It was the cherry on top of an already solid Weekend Update.

Despite his “Serious Actor” cred, Jake Gyllenhaal knows how to do comedy, and he knows how to do weird comedy. This episode relied on that a lot, even if the sketches themselves weren’t necessarily the strongest of the season. (And two sketches were even cut for time this week, including “Serious Night Live” above.) Gyllenhaal thrives in this ability to do dead eyes and crazy eyes comedy, which is not as easy as it may sound.

Grade: B-

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