"Saturday Night Live" delivered its strongest sketch first this weekend, threw in a few well-received cameos and gave its enthusiastic host, Natalie Portman, a very uneven mix of material.
It was basically a standard episode, but musical guest Dua Lipa was fascinating to watch and undoubtedly helped her career.
To start, "SNL" skewered President Donald Trump and his favorite program, "Fox & Friends" on Fox News Channel.
"I'm saving the economy, destroying ISIS and right now getting my daily Intelligence briefing — from you guys," Trump (Alec Baldwin) told the "Fox & Friends" hosts.
Alex Moffat as Steve Doocy, Heidi Gardner as Ainsley Earhardt and Beck Bennett as Brian Kilmeade were playing to an audience of one, Trump, and gushing their approval.
Trump took a bow for his State of the Union Address. "You know a lot of people are saying, including Paul Ryan, that it was better than Martin Luther King's 'I Dream of Jeannie' speech," Baldwin said in hyperbolic mode.
The sketch also featured White House communications director Hope Hicks (Cecily Strong) sharing this workplace insight: "There are no real jobs here, you know? Every day feels like when a group of strangers suddenly work together to push a beached whale back into the sea." The line will resonate with anyone who has read Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury."
"SNL" transformed Portman's opening monologue into promotion for the Winter Olympics — NBC's coverage starts Thursday night. Kenan Thompson, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones kept interrupting Portman to grade her work. Portman was a good sport, but the monologue was a thankless bit.
In her very best sketch, Portman turned a celebrity interview into a music video in which she furiously rapped. She also gave birth (a priceless sight gag), sounded off on "Star Wars" and rattled off words that were bleeped. Andy Samberg made a cameo.
A clever Revolutionary War sketch pitted New England Patriots fans against Philadelphia Eagles fans. Tina Fey was among the Philly fans. Portman and Rachel Dratch were among the Patriots fans boasting about Captain Thomas Brady. A colonial leader (Bennett) urged the Eagles fans to be cool, but tiring of both obnoxious groups, wondered if there was a way both teams could lose.
The other sketches fell off as the night unfolded. Portman was Eleven in a send-up of "Stranger Things" featuring other figures like her — Jones was 50, because she's 50.
In a bawdy skit spoofing space movies, Portman was a human getting intimate with an extraterrestrial (Bennett), whose face was his backside and vice versa. She spent that sketch talking to his buttocks.
Portman was a Kids' Choice Awards co-host who lost her voice and a bar patron talking to a lusty woman (a gung-ho Aidy Bryant). Portman reprised Jackie Kennedy in a sketch of first ladies — Hillary Clinton (McKinnon), Michelle Obama (Jones), Martha Washington (Bryant) — appearing to a dissatisfied Melania Trump (Strong). It was a great idea, tepidly staged.
"Weekend Update" repeatedly zinged Trump but more original was Colin Jost revealing a movie sequel title: "Passion of the Christ 2: I Still Know What Jews Did Last Summer." Brigitte Bardot (McKinnon) and Catherine Deneuve (Strong) appeared to respond to the #MeToo movement. But McKinnon's makeup and stares were more memorable than the dialogue.
Charles Barkley will host the March 3 show, and hip-hop trio Migos will be the musical guest.
The next time Portman hosts, she deserves better.
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