The Best and Worst of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hosting Return
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” star Benedict Cumberbatch stopped by Studio 8H this week to host “Saturday Night Live” for the second time. The last time he hosted was back in November of 2016, just a few days before Election Day. This time around, his hosting stint came off the heels of the leaked Supreme Court Roe v. Wade draft — while also being the Mother’s Day episode, which meant this episode also had plenty of material to work with.
Host: Benedict Cumberbatch
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Cumberbatch’s first time hosting provided the memorable “Why Is Benedict Cumberbatch Hot?” sketch, showing just how game he is when it comes to poking fun at his — let’s say, distinct — physical appearance. This episode’s cold open also continued down that path, specifically when it came to his — let’s also say distinct — smile. But the point of this monologue was more the Mother’s Day of it all, as Cumberbatch shouted out both his mother and wife. (While the cast usually gets in on the Mother’s Day spirit, that didn’t happen this time around.)
It was certainly a charming monologue, if not the funniest. But it’s also worth noting that it wasn’t actually Cumberbatch’s introduction into the episode: Instead, Cumberbatch ended up making the rare host appearance in the cold open. That choice was a good sign for the episode, actually, as there was no need to worry if he’d be warmed up by the end of the monologue; he was already warmed up to start the show.
Some could say the “Mother’s Day Gifts” sketch was, in fact, a gift. (It was also a sequel sketch to “Birthday Gifts” from the Regina King-hosted episode from last year.) Aidy Bryant’s increasing confusion and frustration throughout the sketch was great to watch — and the live audience clearly loved it — but things also worked as well as they did because of the straight man, nonplussed reactions from Cumberbatch, Mikey Day, Chloe Fineman, and Andrew Dismukes, who continues to make his comedic mark this season. The escalation of the juxtaposition between the version of the mom we see and the version all the Mother’s Day placards portray is the key to this sketch, to the point that the sketch’s abrupt ending actually works.
Who had money on this episode doing a sequel to “Koohl Toilet” from Cumberbatch’s first episode? “New Toilet” improved upon the original in terms of Cumberbatch’s unnecessary coolness — plus the inclusion of “Lean Back” — but this sketch definitely had to seem like it came straight out of nowhere had you not seen the original. Or at least if you’d not seen the Apple “1984” ad that inspired it in the first place.
Best Sketches of The Night: “Blue Bunny,” “Chuck E. Cheese,” & “The Understudy”
“This is that. This tastes like that.”
Sam Elliott didn’t care for “The Power of the Dog,” but maybe he’ll appreciate what essentially boils down to Cumberbatch’s impression of him in the “Blue Bunny” sketch. “SNL’s” focus group sketches — or sketch in a similar vein — tend to be a place where a lot of breaking happens, as the spotlight is usually shone on one or two very specific weirdos. In his case, it was Cumberbatch and Heidi Gardner’s gruff Western characters, full of hurt and — very specific — childhood memories. No one actually broke in this but not for lack of trying on Cumberbatch and Gardner’s parts.
Who knew Cumberbatch had such an impressive falsetto? As a matter of fact, who knew that “British ‘80s new wave band member” was the ideal look for him? At multiple times during “Chuck E. Cheese,” it seemed like the man was either going to spin the audience right round like a record or get down on his knees and pray. He unfortunately did neither, but both he and Bowen Yang — as well as their cast of features, including Aristotle Athari in his small blip of screen time for the week — provided.
It’s one thing for Chloe Fineman to be a master impressionist when it comes to outside celebrities — like, for example, Elizabeth Olsen — or even television characters, but it’s another for her to be like this when it comes to her fellow cast members on “SNL.” (It’s also interesting that Fineman has gotten such a good amount of screentime to show all this off, where Melissa Villaseñor — also a master impressionist in her own right — seemingly hasn’t really gotten that chance in her longer time on the show.)
Fineman’s Strong and Bryant impressions were especially, well, impressive here, but her failed attempts — her terrible Gardner impression and Ego Nwodim simply passing — also hit. (And truly, the Elizabeth Olsen impression was uncanny.)The button of Punkie Johnson being her understudy was the weakest part of the sketch, but it at least allowed Johnson to be in the episode at all.
Worst Sketch of The Night: “Chain Gang”
When it came to the choices the writers made for Cumberbatch this week, the “Chain Gang” sketch certainly wasn’t as expected as something like “The Fainting Couch” or his bit as himself in “The Understudy.” But you’ve got to admit: The song Cumberbatch, James Austin Johnson, Kenan Thompson, and Chris Redd were singing while breaking rocks was quite catchy. According to the sketch, it was sketchy enough for Cumberbatch’s character to admit he was a massive snitch. And honestly… it kind of was.
In a strong episode though, “Chain Gang” was simply the least strong sketch. It was also just barely on the right side of a strong sketch ending, as the warden’s wife stuff was a last-minute bit that the sketch easily could’ve taken or left.
Best Male Performer: Mikey Day
While many have noted Day’s typical role as the straightest straight man to ever straight man on “SNL” — always the one to say “O…kay” and realize how bizarre things are, like in the “Blue Bunny” sketch — he does deserve to be appreciated for his abilities as that particular member of the cast. Especially as it was that quality of Day’s that made “The Fainting Couch” even funnier outside of Strong’s impeccable physical comedy and the sketch’s dedication to being a contemporary “The Carol Burnett Show” sketch. Kind of like Strong splashing Colin Jost on Weekend Update when she’s doing her Jeanine Pirro impression, the crashing into Day’s trays (and then big bowl of soup), as predictable as it was, always worked — and Day’s performance was a large part of it.
Best Female Performer: Cecily Strong
Strong’s performance in “The Fainting Couch” was already mentioned, but she was once again a force of nature in this episode, with performances in the cold open, pre-tape “Just Like You,” and “Chuck E. Cheese.” Another Mother’s Day celebration sketch, “Just Like You” went the route of the cutaway gag (like in “A Girl’s Halloween,” also a strong Strong showing) for its humor, providing this beautiful exchange between Strong and Cumberbatch:
“What is your problem?!”
“You blew my roommate!”
“I thought it was you!”
As previously mentioned, Cumberbatch actually kicked off the episode by being part of the cold open. And it was the best cold open in quite some time — not just decent for being an “SNL” cold open but legitimately good. The key to “Roe v. Wade Cold Open” was that it actually had a perspective and was laser-focused on it: It wasn’t just a cavalcade of political “impressions” with no end in sight. Pointing out just how ridiculous it was to cite 13th century English treatises within a 2022 context, this cold open had a sharpness that is typically lacking in this part of “SNL.” (Truly, the way the opening voiceover said “over a thousand years ago” was more biting than just about every political cold open this season.)
Weekend Update, on the other hand, was comparatively lifeless. With McKinnon’s Amy Coney Barrett — that at least seemed to have slightly more effort than most of McKinnon’s impressions at this point — once again, Weekend Update lacked sharpness in its featured segment. While that sharpness was, of course, in the cold open, it’s not ridiculous to expect that in other pieces of “SNL’s” political comedy.
Really, the best thing about this episode was the range of sketches, as Cumberbatch is versatile enough that he wasn’t pinned down to just one type of sketch. From the father with a secret family in “Mother’s Day Gifts” to the new wave singer in “Chuck E. Cheese,” none of the sketches in this episode felt like they were retreading familiar territory. And Cumberbatch was 100% committed in all of them, to an impressive degree.
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