Jenna Ortega SNL Recap: Santos at Oscars, Waffle House Chaos in Season's Funniest Yet

After some fun promos this week, we had high hopes for Jenna Ortega’s hosting stint on “Saturday Night Live,” but she exceeded even those.

There were multiple sketches in this episode that could go down as all-time classics. It’s rare in the third of a streak of three episodes to have as much strong material as we got tonight, but we’re not complaining. It almost felt like a different show, with a renewed energy and playfulness throughout.

It was also a big night for some of the newer performers who haven’t really made their mark on the show. Maybe it was the lack of a political cold open that set us off on a path that felt a little fresher, but we found ourselves smiling and outright laughing more this week than we have all season.

The episode was so strong, you could almost forget Jenna welcomed “SNL” alum and her “Wednesday” co-star, Fred Armisen, to her big night, and even gave him the starring role in a “Freaky Friday” spoof. Not to mention there were no “Wednesday” parodies, and it was perfectly okay.

Jenna was game for anything, bringing a variety of characters and full-on commitment to each role. Whether she was a possessed kid, a TikTok star or a frustrated Marvel mutant, Jenna sold every performance, and seemed to inspire the cast to do the same. With more creativity, strong writing and great performances, we’re ready to rewatch this entire episode right now!

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’ll skip the musical guests, because they’re not usually funny — unless Ashlee Simpson shows up. We wrap up with a look at the cast-member who had the strongest week.

After some funny promos ahead of the show, we were surprised at how subdued Jenna was in this monologue. It was mostly played straight by her, talking about her career and her love of horror projects. She did get some funny jokes in along the way, like having a face people want to throw blood on, as well as her horror remix of a toothpaste ad she did at nine years old. Fred Armisen was far more playful as her “Wednesday” co-star when she briefly brought him up on stage. She had some fun with him, but so much of her piece was about how special it was for her to be hosting the show. It was earnest and sincere and sweet. She seemed comfortable enough up there, so while this didn’t offer much by itself, it suggested she was at least relaxed and ready to go. Little did we know how much better it was going to get!

We felt for sure we were in for a group “LFNY” but it didn’t happen — which was nice. We’re glad to see them straying away from that as it’s always been a special honor. Especially for newcomers, like it was for Marcello Hernandez this week as Mario Lopez. Eschewing politics for Osars, this was also a refreshing change of pace with Marcello and Heidi Gardner as red carpet hosts interacting with both celebs (like Chloe Fineman’s fun Jamie Lee Curtis and Mikey Day and Molly Kearney’s indecipherable Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) and non-celebs, like Sarah Sherman and Michelle Williams’ Jewish acting coach. They did a nice job setting up the final interview of the segment, with Bowen Yang coming out as George Santos pretending to be Tom Cruise.

This wasn’t the sharpest or funniest sketch, but it’s worth it to see “SNL” step away from feeling forced into a political colden open. That’s been weakening the opening most weeks for years now. There were enough fun moments, and great performances from Heidi and Chloe, to keep the energy up. Marcello clearly enjoyed having a cold open spotlight, though it was so obvious early on how nervous he was against a pro like Heidi. Luckily, he settled down a bit and was … fine. He put no character flare on the performance, like Heidi does, but was capable enough in a straight man role.

This one kind of petered out by the end, but we did enjoy the idea of Ego Nwodim as an upstairs neighbor who decides to just go ahead and perform an exorcism herself because this demon is interrupting her sleep. Ego is always a riot in these types of roles, not brooking any nonsense from Jenna Ortega as the possessed child. They got in some great gags with the demon’s insults and levitation. It’s just a shame the “vessel” portion of the sketch wasn’t nearly as strong. In fact, we were kind of hoping it wouldn’t be able to manifest through Kenan Thompson, as that’s how it appeared at first. Instead, we got a genuine “twist” ending that was just meh.

Such an odd concept for a sketch, but the cast pulled this one off with their portrayals of these different characters. In particular, Bowen Yang went all in as the law partner who got “tanked up” at Luciano’s and keeps going into it in lurid detail trying to get this oddball musical duo to bring that vibe to a musical jingle of the law firm’s phone number. Yes, that’s the concept, and it’s definitely relatable as anyone who has ever watched legal ads that sing their phone numbers. Even more remarkable, as ridiculous as it was, by the end they actually landed on a way to sing the phone number that was pretty catchy.

A role the “Wednesday” in Jenna Ortega was born to play. The macabre and absurd anecdotes she shared after video clips in this MTV parody were too good to spoil here. She stayed flawlessly in character as a TikToker who didn’t seem to realize how twisted the things she was saying were. Props to Chloe Fineman for her Chanel West Coast character’s evolving reactions from laughing dingbat to someone who seems to have had their soul a little shattered by Jenna’s stories. Mikey was also on point as the overly-energetic Rob Dyrdek who’s both too old for this (oops!) and trying to keep things light.

We loved the topical nature of the jokes, with Colin Jost quipping that in exchange for not allowing the Ukrainian president to appear at the Oscars, they promise John Travolta will pronounce Viola Davis’ name Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The boys got in some jabs at Chinese disinformation, Tucker Carlson disingenuity, and Michael Che said he can relate to the Fox News host having to make friends “with some psychotic bigot cause ‘caust it’s good for the show.” After a beat, Jost responded, “I don’t get it.”

Molly Kearney slayed as Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, hot off his scandal of getting caught commenting on gay thirst trap pictures. But he made it clear in this piece that he is a proud conservative, supporting police officers and firefighters and “Any man who puts his body online for others.” Then Colin asked if he meant “on the line.” Molly’s coy playfulness throughout this was absolutely adorable, painting McNally as a naughty little scamp. It softened the blow of some of the more shocking bits of the commentary. On a strong night in general, this was Molly’s strongest performance of the season yet.

Once again, Che was on fire with his commentary, getting a groan for a New Orleans after Hurrican Katrina joke and for his response to a 98-year-old woman meeting her great great great grandchild. “I wish I could have met my great great great grandmother so I could have told her, ‘Don’t get on that boat!'” This was another strong segment with Che bringing home the strongest punchlines.

In a funny segment we could definitely enjoy more, “SNL” brought out its strongest male impressionist in a long time, James Austin Johnson, for a piece where all he did was offer up some of his characters. Other than Trump ordering a drink, which he seemed to ad lib, these were mostly random two-second impressions he said he couldn’t use anywhere else. In other words, they weren’t that great — though we did kind of love the potential of Jay-Z in the basement.

Set during filming of a remake of the classic twin film, Fred Armisen returns for a guest role as a crew guy filling in as the “twin” opposite Jenna Ortega as she films one part of the scene where she and her twin meet. Like the originals, she’d later film the second part and they’d come together to create the “magic of movies,” but this didn’t even get that far. Fred stole the sketch with his ridiculous characterization as a 52-year-old crew member ad-libbing his way through classic scenes from the film opposite his 11-year-old “twin,” played by Jenna. She played it mostly straight, and never broke no matter how ridiculous his lines were, which actually worked great. Even better, the surprise twist at the end, such as it was, actually worked in this case.

The boys got out of the office with Jenna Ortega for an epic road trip adventure complete with its own theme song. Every interruption of the song escalated the comedy perfectly — a strong suit of this team — as things got worse and worse for the foursome until they could barely stand being with one another. In other words, it was a pretty accurate representation of long road trips in general, as well as being a catchy tune and funny as hell. Each of the players in the car got their spotlight moment from missing the exit to puking in the car, keeping things moving with great momentum from start to finish.

Driven by incredible energy by both Jenna Ortega and Mikey Day, this was a laugh riot from the moment Kenan Thompson’s host character introduced their thinly-veiled X-Men school in this quiz show parody. Mikey’s Professor X and Jenna as a Rogue-like teen were hilarious yelling at one another — but the biggest single laugh had to come from Punkie Johnson from the opposing team for a reaction shot she had to hold for at least a third of the sketch. Bonus points to Molly Kearney for killing it in yet another role under deep prosthetics. She didn’t have a huge role, but she was all in for it. This piece had a viral energy that was infectious and had us chuckling and laughing throughout. An all-time classic!

OMG, this is one of the most brilliant sketches we’ve seen in a very long time. In the front, it was a typical teen melodrama with Marcello Hernandez and Jenna Ortega perfectly framing the nonsense behind them as they talked about her moving on to college and how that marks the end of their young love. But it’s everything that happened slightly out of focus behind them that was just beautifully mad insanity. The scene played out in front of a Waffle House, and every stereotype and story you’ve ever heard about a Waffle House was happening in side. By the end, there were at least eight cast members getting involved in that background scene. There were too many amazing individual moments to break down, but the whole sketch certainly had us breaking down with laughter and tears. It’s one of those pieces you want to watch over and over to catch every little moment of comedy gold.

It was a big night for some fresh voices on the show, with Marcello Hernandez getting some significant roles, though he mostly played them straight, and James getting more chances to shine outside of his impressions. As always, Bowen Yang and Chloe Fineman deliver solid work, while Kenan remains the stalwart anchor.

This week, though, when it came to picking out the breakout performer, it came down to two members of the cast for us. Mikey Day was absolutely incredible in his supporting work, as usual, but had us cracking up nonstop as Professor X screaming at Jenna Ortega, and nailed that take on Rob Dyrdek, not to mention his great work in the incredible “Varsity Valley” piece.

But we went a different direction this week, as we were lowkey stunned by just how strong Molly Kearney suddenly emerged as a performer buried under prosthetics and makeup. They were Brendan Gleeson (alongside Mikey) and beautifully daft there, and brought laughs with every line and smash in the X-Men parody sketch.

It was their take on Lt. Gov. McNally that sealed the deal. It could have just been fun line deliveries, but Molly added so many little physical moments to make it sweet and creepy all at once. All of a sudden, Molly appears to be finding their niche on the show and standing out as someone to keep an eye on.

“Saturday Night Live” returns April 1 with host Quinta Brunson and musical guest Lil Yachty.

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