‘SNL’ Season 48, Episode 10 Recap: Aubrey Plaza

Photo: NBC/Rosalind O’Connor/NBC

Playing a breakout character on a hit sitcom can be both a gift and a curse. Everyone now knows who you are, but they also know who they want you to be.

For many years, in viewers’ eyes, Aubrey Plaza was her Parks and Recreation character, April Ludgate. She was an irritable, over-it misanthrope, prone to withering sarcasm; essentially MTV’s Daria for a new generation. (It didn’t help matters that once she played Daria in a viral College Humor video, or voiced the titular character in 2014’s Grumpy Cat movie, a project I wouldn’t know how to explain to a young person without being even more embarrassed of my generation than usual.) In the years since, however, Plaza has been doing the difficult work of torching her former typecasting without the telegraphed intentionality of a Disney star now working blue. She slowly built up a stable of varied performances in dark, hip indies she produced herself, such as Ingrid Goes West and black bearalong with the occasional fratty comedy and the lesser of two recent Child’s Play reboots (the movie, not the show.) Plaza has worked so steadily and accrued so much goodwill that her hosting SNL for the first time in 2023 feels bizarrely beautiful.

It also feels right on schedule.

Between starring in timely critical darling Emily the Criminalthe inaugural release from her production company — and eating up a meaty role in The White Lotus, the closest thing to a monoculture hit we now have, 2022 was Aubrey Plaza’s year. Those two parts were so distinct and different from each other that one need not even bother pointing out that they both feel like entirely different species than April Ludgate. Plaza has so successfully shed the skin of her dela first defining character that it’s almost as jarring as it is nostalgic to see her dela revive Ludgate for a reunion with her Parks co-star Amy Poehler in the middle of hosting SNL.

While the episode gave Plaza the chance to let loose as a wide assortment of weirdos, it also played at times like a perfunctory checklist of all the pop-culture and political detritus of the month-plus since the last episode aired.

Here are the highlights.

When he hosted the show last month, Austin Butler had an adorable and touching story about why getting to do so was a dream come true. Unfortunately for him, that story did not involve having once worked as a page at Saturday Night Live, so Aubrey Plaza wins. (She also once played an NBC Page on an episode of 30 rock.) She spends the bulk of her charming monologue giving viewers a tour of the studio, complete with the same kind of made-up factoids she has mentioned in interviews she used to lay on audiences when she was giving those tours for real.

Nobody could accuse Miss France, Eva Colas, of holding anything back in her moment of truth. Nor would they accuse anyone involved in the SNL sketch based on that moment from last week’s Miss Universe pageant — “one of several shows still on the air where we rate women,” as Kenan Thompson’s host character puts it — of doing so either. Plaza brings something to Miss France’s disturbed screeching that makes a one-note joke funnier than it should be. Meanwhile, Tony Hawk, who is also there for some reason, gets in on the shouting game with gusto.

Considering that Chloe Fineman debuted her daffy Jennifer Coolidge impression in the previous episode, this sketch seemed like another showcase for her in its opening moments. Instead, it turns out to be a corrective of The White Lotus’s staggering (and deliberate) lack of Blackness; all the decadence, all the intrigue, none of the foolishness. While it doesn’t have the satirical edge of a Black Jeopardy sketch, it’s fun to imagine the characters from HBO’s privilege-skewering hit unwinding in “the Kirk Franklin Lounge.”

The schlocky surprise hit M3GAN has just enough actual horror to transcend being more meme than movie. However, it’s still campy enough that the gay community immediately claimed it, and for good reason. There are many directions to sketch about this development could have gone in, but “what if M3GAN but gayer” is probably the right choice. (Or at least it’s probably the only choice with poppers jokes and dueling M3GAN death-drops at a gay club.)

At this point, Nelson Franklin, Harvey Guillén, and Jon Lovitz have all played George Santos, the Talented Mr. Ripley of congressmen, in various late-night television appearances. Now, Bowen Yang has joined their ranks since there was no way SNL could have possibly let the goofiest political story in recent months slip by unremarked upon. After popping in during the cold open, claiming to be “the first African American quarterback to dunk a football,” Yang returns during “Weekend Update” with another barrage of outlandish lies. As we continue discovering new and even more ridiculous things he’s lied about pretty much every day, it’s hard to heighten the inherent joke of this preposterous impostor. However, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel to make fun of George Santos. Not when you can have Yang’s Santos claim his grandparents were the ones who told Anne Frank, “you should be writing this down,” anyway.

• Turns out Aubrey Plaza was indeed voted the most famous person from Delaware back in 2018.

• Meet-cutes rarely involve being on ketamine, parole, and fire, so congratulations to the game-night newbie couple played by Plaza and Mikey Day for breaking new ground.

• The morning announcements sketch is a return to habit for Plaza, who played a never once before in 2017’s comedy oddity The Little Hoursdirected by her husband, Jeff Baena.

• “Unholy” makes its way to SNL in a Sam Smith and Kim Petras performance after being preceded in December by a sketch that used it as a recurring motif.

• If James Cameron doesn’t make at least one of his many impending avatar sequels about the Maricopa County MILF Hunters and their perfect butch haircuts, so I really have to ask whether the most bankable director in movie history knows what he’s doing.

• The real fun of the HIV-commercial sketch isn’t the central joke, which is the Devon Walker character’s chipper gay panic, but the hurried director, played by Plaza, whose quirk is eating a hot salad so hot it burns the roof of her mouth.

• It’s incredible how well Plaza fits in the role of film-noir femme fatale in the episode’s final sketch, but perhaps not as incredible as the fact that her character misses the way her deceased husband “really knew how to stink up a chair.” It’s also nice to see Plaza reunite with Sharon Stone over a decade after she and the original femme-fatale star had a little moment together on the red carpet.

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