Saturday Night Live recap: Several fun surprises in Keke Palmer's hosting debut

Salutations Conehead nation. SNL in Review is back, and ready to give you what you need: unfiltered takes on what those court jesters on the island of Manhattan have been ginning up for our amusement this past week on Saturday Night Live. What more could anyone ask for?

Tonight's host is former child star, singer, and all-around talent, Keke Palmer. It's getting chillier on the East Coast but, for Palmer, the heat is on. This week alone, the 2022 New York Film Critics Circle awards named her its surprise Best Supporting Actress winner for her performance in Jordan Peele's blockbuster sci-fi thriller, Nope and it was reported she'll star in upcoming action comedy film Moxie. So, in a career that's already two decades in (Palmer is still 29), she's only hitting her stride.

I am joined tonight by former SNL cast member Ellen Cleghorne, who says Palmer "was heaven in Nope."

Cleghorne adds: "Palmer is multi-talented and I hope someone is writing a musical sketch for her [tonight]. Her singing voice is legendary. Speaking of which, her role on the HBO show Legendary is all the shenanigans I am here for." The former SNL star calls season 3 of the voguing reality competition "bingeworthy," adding, "Palmer's role as one of three judges lets us see another side of the Hollywood A-lister. Sharp witted and fearless, she has also danced and sang on the show that has seemed to inspire Beyoncé's new Renaissance album."

Keke Palmer makes 'Saturday Night Live' hosting debut with musical guest sZA
Keke Palmer makes 'Saturday Night Live' hosting debut with musical guest sZA

NBC Keke Palmer makes 'Saturday Night Live' hosting debut with musical guest SZA

Let's see if tonight's episode can sustain Palmer's week. Her musical guest is SZA, who is making her third appearance on the show.

Cold Open

James Austin Johnson is back as Mitch McConnell, with Kenan Thompson as poor dim-witted Herschel Walker. He's under siege: the Georgia run-off is this Tuesday. There's a lot of obvious, eye-rolling jokes about how stupid Walker is. And like, yes, he's a clown. But despite Thompson's efforts, he can't quite make this dog hunt.

Cecily Strong is Marsha Blackburn with Mikey Day as John Cornyn. JAJ's McConnell is technically sharp. This is mostly serviceable and leaves me lukewarm. It's not a cameo-riddled mess, a cold open reeking of desperation, yearning to go viral — it's slight and modest. Gets a shrug from me.

Monologue

Palmer is out here discussing astrology. She's a Sagittarius, same as me! But also – big news! She confirms her pregnancy, showing her baby bump on air. She jokes that she tried to keep rumors under wraps until the check clears for her liquor sponsorship.

She talks about her first big role in Akeelah and the Bee. She jokes about Laurence Fishburne yelling at her on set. Ellen Cleghorne shares that she loved Palmer in that movie "mainly because my daughter's name is Akeyla. Nevertheless, Palmer was so good in that film and in my opinion she shifted the universe on how Black girls were perceived. Cut to 2021 and we had our first Black girl win the Scripps Spelling Bee. Non-fiction. Real talk. Zaila Avant-garde, a 14-year-old from New Orleans, stepped into the space carved out by Palmer whose realistic portrayal of Black girl excellence in the face of adversity was noteworthy." Really well-said, and a testament to Palmer's already-impressive longevity, and what her success represents.

This monologue is charming, good energy. Palmer also does a decent Aziz Ansari impression. Acting since the days of Nickelodeon and Disney appearances, she mentions she always wondered who she might be like if ever given the chance to do comedy on this stage. Would she be like Maya Rudolph, Eddie Murphy, or Kristen Wiig? The answer: She would be herself, Keke Palmer.

Forceington's Ridge

It's an old 1984 episode of Forceington's Ridge. Cecily Strong is brilliant as Alexia, really captures that archetypal lead in shows like Dynasty and All My Children. Sandrine (Palmer) joins her in her mirror shot. They fight, and obvious stunt doubles are used. The timing is scrambled and Palmer is not very good in this role. SKIP.

'Big Boys' music video

It's Cuffing Season! An ode to the thick gents who can provide warmth and comfort during the cold winter months. Meh, kind of cute — Cecily seems a little out of place here. It's fine. Fun moment: A photo of jacked movie star Chris Pratt is replaced by chubby Andy Dwyer.

Drake PSA

Drake has written hit after hit about women who have wronged him. Now, these women are unionizing. Ego Nwodim is Courtney, who left Drake a voicemail about a car payment and wound up as an interlude on an album. These women have been exploited, even ones who do not even know the melodramatic, sad boi rapper. Now, it is time they organize and stand up for themselves. I love Heidi Gardner saying "Shawty" to giggles. Palmer is especially funny here — complaining about the famous "Kiki, do you love me?" lyric from "In My Feelings." That song ruined her life and she wants justice!

If you're vaguely familiar with Drake's music, or Toronto rap, or Degrassi, check this out!

Hello Kitty store

It's time to review the employee manual for new workers at a Hello Kitty store that's launching. Here's a weird twist: Hello Kitty is actually a human little girl. This, rightfully, confuses and weirds out some of the employees. Phillip (Bowen Yang) and Claire (Palmer) raise questions — this does not work for them. Things escalate, chairs are thrown. "She's raceless?!" cries Yang. This turns into a rallying cry for New York City. I guess this symbolizes how corporate safe and family-friendly and sanitized Times Square is. Suddenly, last season SNL host Natasha Lyonne shows up as herself. This is a point of honor for her, and Spiderman (Andrew Dismukes) and other NYC icons. Absurd.

Kenan & Kel reboot

This is fantastic. I have waited years and years for Kenan to embrace his Nickelodeon past — and here we are, almost 20 years in! He's even got the hair back! Palmer, who is gunning for an Emmy, has pitched a reboot for Kenan & Kel with her as Kelly. She accuses Kenan of impregnating her. Devon Walker gets to play Coolio and Ed from Good Burger, which is perfect late '90s pop culture porn. "The show is... not good," sighs Kenan. I won't even spoil the obvious cameo. But this rivals when Kenan appeared in an All That sketch on The Tonight Show.

Arby's 5 for 10 commercial

Five giant towers of roast beef. Think about that. How is this physically possible? There are a lot of pragmatic and logistical questions about Arby's meats, like where do they come from? How are they profitable? Things go off the rails. To top it off, Ving Rhames (Thompson) is the narrator.

SZA performs "Shirt"

"Shirt" is the lead single from SZA's upcoming second studio album S.O.S. She first appeared on SNL back on the Dec. 9, 2017 episode hosted by James Franco. She also made a cameo appearance with DJ Khaled during the season finale of SNL's 44th season.

"I fell in love with SZA when she collabed with Kendrick Lamar on 'All the Stars'," says Cleghorne. "I'm convinced she is like Keke Palmer, a real artist. I love her Nationwide commercial, too. I think she had an Old Navy commercial as well. I like her easy soulful delivery. She's a new era of Black feminist." Cleghorne is a fan of "Shirt."

Weekend Update

Good joke structure this week! The CTE joke about President Joe Biden is offensive and bad.

Child of divorce Michael Longfellow comes on to discuss the holidays. He makes a silly Airplane! joke and talks about the perks of having parents who aren't married to one another. This isn't working quite as well as Longfellow's first appearance.

Next: Peppa Pig fan club president Trish Dale (Sarah Sherman) is on to complain about the hit cartoon show introducing its first same-sex couple. She's hysterical about the characters entering each other anally. This is a funny, mugging spoof of socially conservative parents who target books and shows they find upsetting. And good twist!

Ultrasound

Keke Palmer is having twins — it's the return of the baby characters (Yang, Sherman) from the Baby Monitor sketch during the Selena Gomez episode last May. Cecily Strong is the sonographer showing Palmer what her babies are up to in the womb. Guess what? They are up to no good! Lots of body humor in this —including fetus hands reaching for McDonalds filet fish — beware!

Funny we have gotten three scenes featuring Palmer's pregnant belly this episode. They are really taking advantage.

Choir Practice

Dede and Dana always gets the solos at Christ Wound High. All the students are all synced up at this all Girls high.The new girl Kayla (Palmer) comes in and immediately rivals them. Indeed, Palmer crushes this. This is cute, short.

SZA performs "Blind"

Another moving performance. This song was teased when the music video for "Shirt" came out a few weeks back.

Hawaii flight

Denise and Sheryl get their millionth mile as flight attendants and that means a salary bonus. They're thrilled! As it turns out, the plane is old AF as well. They are carefree and exuberant, but their enthusiasm disturbs the weary passengers. Nwodim and Palmer are funny together, but this feels like a 10 to 1 afterthought.

Final thoughts

—Well, what did you think? Vote here or sound off below!

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—Thank you to Ellen Cleghorne as always!

—Want more SNL content from yours truly? Check out this piece: Adam Sandler recently earned a lifetime achievement award at the Gotham Awards so I took stock of how he used his Weekend Update songs as a blueprint for stardom. I had an opportunity to interview Kevin Nealon for this story – check out his book!

—Pretty Cecily/Kenan strong episode tonight! I had the Kenan & Kel spoof on my bucket list for Thompson. He can leave SNL if he wishes now!

—Love seeing Kel Mitchell on the stage. Did Palmer forget to thank him?

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