'SNL' Recap: Chadwick Boseman roars on a 'Black Panther'-heavy episode

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Chadwick Boseman hosted Saturday Night Live for the first time. (Photo: Will Heath/NBC)

While other 2018 movies like The Commuter and Red Sparrow have come and gone, Black Panther is seemingly forever. The Marvel Studios blockbuster is enjoying its second month as a pop culture phenomenon and stands tall on the box office charts at $660 million and counting. So it’s no wonder that King T’Challa himself, Chadwick Boseman, was greeted like actual royalty when he walked onto the Saturday Night Live stage for his inaugural hosting gig, flashing a “Wakanda Forever” salute.

There’s one small problem with the movie’s longevity, though: “It’s actually kind of tough hosting, because SNL has already done a bunch of sketches about Black Panther, so there’s only really bad ideas left,” Boseman admitted in his opening monologue. “The writers were like, ‘What about a talk show called Wake Up Wakanda? Or a sketch where Black Panther has sex with Leslie Jones? And that was a Leslie Jones idea!”

Despite Boseman’s warnings, we’re happy to report that the Black Panther-themed sketches turned out to be the high points of the episode. Making T’Challa a contestant on Black Jeopardy, for example, elevated an already popular recurring sketch to new comedic heights.

It also smartly spoke to one of the movie’s most resonant themes: the cultural divide between the native Africans who inhabit the kingdom of Wakanda and African-Americans like T’Challa’s cousin Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). Not that the other Black Jeopardy competitors expressed equally militant views, but they did raise their eyebrows at how little the king seemed to know about the politics of barbershops and grandmamas. But by the end of the sketch, T’Challa caught on, issuing a spirited “Aw, hell naw” to a white woman named Karen who dared to bring her “bland-ass potato salad” to a cookout.

Boseman revisited Black Panther — not as T’Challa this time — in the show’s final sketch, helping to negotiate a truce between black and white fans of the movie about who is and isn’t allowed to use the Wakanda salute. After a spirited discussion about cultural appropriation (“We know your history — you don’t give stuff back,” Jones told Beck Bennet and Pete Davidson) and the mass appeal of comic-book movies, Boseman finally decrees that the Wakanda salute belongs to everyone. “In exchange,” he added, “you must give back dabbing.” Davidson and Bennet countered that offer with giving back Drake and peace reigned … just like Boseman reigned over a pretty great SNL.

Worst sketch: “Medical Breakthrough”
We didn’t think it was possible to address male pregnancy in a less amusing way than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1994 non-classic Junior, but this sketch pulled it off. Poor Boseman had to describe the process of delivering a child through one’s urethra — a challenge greater than any he faced as Black Panther.

Trump watch: Once a ubiquitous presence in Studio 8H, Alec Baldwin is down to once-a-month appearances as the POTUS. For his April cold open cameo, he re-created Trump’s White House meeting with a trio of Baltic leaders from earlier this week and addressed the president’s war with Amazon, making it clear it was motivated largely out of his hatred for Jeff Bezos’s comfortableness with being bald. He also denounced the caravans of Mexican immigrants he had seen on Fox News — although based on his fever-dream description, it sounds like he had fallen asleep to Mad Max: Fury Road on HBO instead. Finally, he revealed his slogan for his 2020 reelection campaign: “I don’t care about America; this whole presidency is four year cash grab.” Points for honesty, but that doesn’t fit quite as neatly on a red baseball cap.

Let’s get political: “The Game of Life: DACA Edition”
This ad for a Dreamer-themed version of the classic board game scored its political points more effectively than the entirety of the cold open, and in half the time. The “Presidential Tweet” card > than Baldwin repeating actual Trump tweets.

Most truth in advertising: “Nike Women’s Ad”
Did Liz Lemon move into advertising after leaving TGS? Because this hilarious ode to the glory of chillaxing on the sofa in leggings resembled vintage 30 Rock. The couch panini recipe of leggings, blanket, laptop sure sounds like a Liz Lemon special.

Where’s Shuri?: “Disney Princesses”
When Leslie Jones gazed into Disneyland’s Magic Mirror, she saw Boseman as R. Kelly staring back at her instead of royalty like Elsa or Rapunzel. But the Black Panther star happens to know a real Disney princess: Letitia Wright, who plays T’Challa’s super-smart sibling, Shuri. As the sister to Wakanda’s king, Shuri is already social media’s favorite Disney princess, and a surprise Wright cameo would have scored screams from the audience instead of polite applause.

Best Weekend Update cameo: Angel
The more specific your original “Weekend Update” characters are, the more likely they are to recur. So it goes with Heidi Gardner’s Angel aka every boxer’s girlfriend from every movie about boxing ever, who got her first tryout in November and scored a well-deserved Round 2. You don’t actually have to have watched every boxing movie ever to appreciate Gardner’s ultra-specific blending of Amy Adams, Talia Shire, and Renée Zellweger … but it helps.

Episode MVP: The Wakanda salute
What else is there to say, but: Wakanda forever!

Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. on NBC