Jake Gyllenhaal SNL Sketches Ranked: Justice Jackson Gets Advice, Willow Smith's Surprise Appearance

It’s been 15 years since Jake Gyllenhaal hosted “Saturday Night Live” and he did not come to play!

Okay, actually, he did come to play — it was the whole point of his monologue — but he also came to slay, delivering one of the most consistently sharp and funny episodes of the season.

The focus of the show’s ensemble was shifted, too, offering more opportunities for some of the younger blood in the cast to shine, without ignoring the veterans. Punkie Johnson and Sarah Sherman, particularly, had strong nights with spotlight roles and they both killed it. We’re still giggling over Sarah’s look as killer doll Chucky.

As expected, the show offered congratulations to Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson on her hard-fought confirmation to the Supreme Court in a poignant cold open that featured Black pioneers before her, and a meaningful showcase for the show’s Black cast members at the top of the night.

In a surprise cameo on a night when Colin Jost went in (not too hard) on her father, Willow Smith dropped in for a surprise appearance with musical guest Camila Cabello for their first live performance of “Psychofreak.” Interestingly, there was no recognition applause — was she not recognized?

In a cute nod, and follow-up to his last appearance a decade and a half ago, Jake introduced tonight’s musical guest wearing a t-shirt with the names Ramona and Gloria on it. This is a continuation of the shirt he wore 15 years ago with just the name Ramona.

Then, he was paying tribute to his sister Maggie’s daughter with Peter Sarsgaard. Now, Maggie has two children, so he added Gloria’s name to the shirt for an adorable throwback and continuation of a sweet way to honor family.

As usual, we’re ranking all the sketches from worst to first, including the Monologue, Cold Open, “Weekend Update” and any sketches that were cut for time but made their way online. We wrap up with a look at the cast-member who had the strongest week.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that a song about the ordinary things in life was just kind of ordinary. Nothing about this really worked for us. Celebrating the little things, sure, but this piece got shouty and there was no individuality or personality on display from anyone. It was all very homogenous, except when Bowen Yang touted his chicken-cooking skills. Jake Gyllenhaal got hung up on one line so long trying to get it out they had to adjust the music, but even that wasn’t enough to make this piece funny or all that watchable. Maybe if it hadn’t gone on so long it would have been marginally more tolerable.

Jake Gyllenhaal came out and just kind of talked from the heart, explaining why he got into the whole idea of method acting in the first place until he finally realized that “acting is a really stupid job.” That’s not to knock it, but it’s all about make-believe and playing pretend and having fun, so maybe calm down, huh? He then proved he was having fun with it now by giving us a perfect callback to his last time on the show back in 2007 when the ladies of the cast accompanied him in a “Dreamgirls” performance. This time, they sang Celine Dion and he was so campy and faux serious, you couldn’t help but smile. He’s having fun, the cast is having fun, and we’re down for it.

To celebrate the first Black female Supreme Court Justice, this week’s “LFNY” was delivered by the four Black cast members of “SNL,” which has had its own checkered past with representation. It was a beautifully powerful statement that it’s about damned time — with still so much more to do. The sketch’s primary focus was Ego Nwodim’s Jackson getting some advice from some celebrated historical figures, including a brief walk-on appearance by Kate McKinnon’s RBG (though she left early to allow for the Black “LFNY”).

Then, it was Kenan Thompson as Justice Thurgood Marshall, Punkie Johnson’s Harriet Tubman and Chris Redd’s Jackie Robinson who came in to offer advice about breaking new ground as a person of color, and then be shocked and horrified about how much progress hasn’t been made since their time (except for Robinson, who was horrified about baseball salaries for personal reasons). A poignant and meaningful sketch for a pivotal moment in history, this was a classy way to open the show.

It’s always fun when they pull back the curtain and show a little of the production, as we got toward the end of this final sketch of the night. A compilation of different songs about the trucking lifestyle, we worried early on it was going to be all about peeing in cups, but they actually diversified things nicely. We also enjoyed the framing device of Aidy Bryant as a truckstop patron bombarding Kyle Mooney and Ego Nwodim with details all about her favorite music CD when they really aren’t all that interested. More silly than laugh-out-loud funny, it had its clever moments and never quite dragged. All in all, it was a solid capper to a very strong night.

Colin Jost countered the Oscars punishment levied on Will Smith — a 10-year ban — with an even better one, suggesting they make Smith host next year’s ceremony. In a shortened single segment, he and Micheal Che poked fun at the GOP opposition to Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation, Obama’s visit to the White House and even Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s missed opportunity at a “legendary ‘G.I. Jane’ joke” at the Grammys. We also appreciated Jost’s hilarious take on a personal injury attorney hitting four people in her car, as well as Che’s response to people getting sick eating Lucky Charms.

Aidy Bryant and Bowen Yang went in hard (and unnecessarily) on Kelly Clarkson songs in the gym, and even the sound you make when you almost sneeze but it doesn’t come out. Are you gonna orgasm or sneeze? That’s what Bowen wanted to know before the duo sent the whole concept to bed. These bits are repetitive and very silly, as many “Update” guests are, but at least the material was a little sharper than in previous appearances. “You are beautiful, but you are stupid,” Aidy told Che when he interrupted, sticking her finger in his ear (should have been her pinky).

Every bit of characterization here was perfect, with James Austin Johnson slaying us as a milquetoast husband completely dominated by his overbearing mother, played with wicked glee by Kate McKinnon. Heidi Gardner rounded out the trio as the put-upon wife caught in the middle who gets nothing of what she wanted in her dream house. The changing designs from her vision to the “compromise” final version where all very well digitized and funny to watch, but this piece was all about the strength of the cast in their performances and in their roles. James continues to impress with his diversity beyond just impressions, which is encouraging to see.

More than likely intended as the 10-to-1 sketch, this was quintessential Kyle Mooney, from the awkward stilted acting to the behind-the-scenes exploration of his role on the show. We’ve actually missed our regular explorations of Kyle since he and Leslie Jones had a behind-the-scenes romance, but we were definitely digging this piece. It started wih the straight-up presentation of his awful “serious” piece, which had beautifully bad acting and writing, followed by a behind-the-scenes look at the making of it, with Kyle’s trademark sad sack persona front and center. After all these years, it never quite gets old as he plays it so earnestly. This was much funnier — and cringier — than expected, and it’s a shame it missed the broadcast. At the same time, it feels totally appropriate for it to not make the final cut.

Sarah Sherman was perfectly cast as an unhinged Chucky, here transplanted to a white-collar office position. The special effects to put her face on a doll were pretty solid, too, but she sold the humor of the character through her performance. We also got a huge laugh out of Aidy Bryant’s performance as Janet, the actual butt of all the mean humor of the sketch. This was absolutely absurd and could have fizzled out had it dragged on too long as the overall premise was pretty thin. But from the bathroom encounter to the HR meeting and out was the perfect length. We’re still chuckling over Janet in the corner.

A rare showcase for Punkie Johnson, she did a great job of shifting moods and emotions as a couples therapist dealing with her own relationship issues. We especially appreciated how tough she was on the phone, while cowering completely when a knock came at the door. Jake Gyllenhaal and Melissa Villasenor were great as the clients caught in the middle of her very angry tryst with girlfriend Ego Nwodim, escalating perfectly. Bonus kudos for the reactions to Jake reading texts between Punkie and other women in character and then being chastised for doing “the voice.”

Jake Gyllenhaal and Cecily Strong gave it their all in this faux dramatic piece as a miserable couple hosting a young couple at a dinner party. The escalation of their fight as Cecily wanted to show off her husband’s unexpected secret passion as an artist, blaming this for why they are childless, was handled perfectly by both parties, hamming it up delightfully. The only logical flaw was a scene where they were fighting over the painting and it was clearly pointing right at Andrew Dismukes and Chloe Fineman as the young couple, and yet they played it off as if they couldn’t see it. Maybe that should have happened behind them? Still, it was a delightful character piece with stunningly compelling and funny work from Jake and Cecily.

A high concept sketch with a lot of charming character, Chris Redd was great as the naughty flower joining Jake Gyllenhaal, Sarah Sherman and Cecily Strong in a flower bed. The foursome endured everything from Bowen Yang’s creepily sexual bee to dog urination, Kyle Mooney as a week who wants to “choke you a little bit” and even getting cut. It was optimism with a very subversive edge and it worked tremendously well. It was also cute when Cecily and Sarah made each other laugh a little bit at the ridiculousness of the whole thing. Once again, fun characterization and strong writing helped turn something so silly into a successful sketch.

A game show maybe we need in real life, the premise is simple. Kenan Thompson’s host throws up an Instagram picture the contestants liked and asks them the name of the show. So why? Kenan is so good in these devilish roles, and he was a delight poking and prodding the contestants to get to the root of why they liked something. We also loved Chris Redd’s confident “Pass” when it was his turn — and that it didn’t work. The whole sketch played with how people interact on social media with total strangers, and people they know or used to know, to get to the root of why we do what we do. It’s probably what you’d expect when you think of social media, but it was fun watching the contestants squirm … to Kenan’s glee.

A bonus piece from last week’s show that wasn’t uploaded until a couple of days after the broadcast, this was a familiar format for anyone who’s seen Aristotle Athari’s recurring Angelo character. Cecily Strong even returned as the excited superfan, this time marrying Alex Moffat, who was given the impossible position of suggesting songs. It would be nice if the format could change even slightly, but this retreads exactly Angelo’s previous appearances, including special guests (host Jerrod Carmichael as a drummer this time) and the way the sketch concluded. We’re glad Aristotle has a showcase, but the premise is wearing thin, leaving Cecily to bring the humor more and more.

What an exciting week for Punkie Johnson and Sarah Sherman, who both got showcase roles in big sketches. Punkie, especially, got to take the lead as an unstable couples therapist in a delightful performance, as well as her cold open run as Harriet Tubman. Sarah had us cracking up as a put-upon flower and a breakout performance as Chucky, making us very excited about her future.

Cecily Strong and Chloe Fineman were all over the show this week, with Cecily bringing some great performances as a flower and as Jake Gyllenhaal’s frustrated wife in the cut-for-sketch dinner with the dean sketch, but we’re going to give the slightest edge this week to Kyle Mooney because we felt his sketches on the night were just a bit stronger overall.

Both got a chance to shine thanks to the two cut-for-time sketches, but Kyle’s overall performance in his “Serious Night Live” piece was absolutely fantastic. Yes, it’s a schtick we’ve seen before, but it’s not easy to act so badly as he did in the “Serious” part and then deliver so authentically everywhere else.

Add to that his delightfully twisted role as a weed in the flower sketch and solid supporting work elsewhere on the night, and he continues to expand his repertoire behind that oddball 10-to-1 niche he’d carved for himself years ago, becoming a real asset and overall team player.

“Saturday Night Live” returns next week with host and musical guest Lizzo.

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