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It’s hard to believe it, but despite my fervent prayers (God, are you there?), I’m thinking about the Kardashians again. Last time — and I really thought it would be the last time for me — I wrote about the series finale of Keeping Up With the Kardashians and how it marked the end of an era but not necessarily the end of America’s unofficial royal family. The Kardashians — Kris, Kourtney, Kim, Khloe, Kendall, Kylie — built their empire by strategically rebranding and never straying too far from the spotlight. Disappearing is not in their future, but I didn’t think I’d be back here so soon.
And yet, I am because Kim Kardashian West — the savvy businesswoman, mother of four children, and arguably the whole reason her family is famous — hosted the second episode of Saturday Night Live’s 47th season (with Halsey as the musical guest). The choice might seem odd, but it’s not all that unpredictable when you think about the history of the show (this isn’t the first time it’s been hosted by someone with seemingly no qualifications) and Kardashian West’s outsize role in the American public’s imagination. She’s not a traditional entertainer, but she wields an enormous amount of influence — and she knows it.
Saturday Night Live
Airdate: Saturday, Oct. 9 (NBC)
Cast: Kim Kardashian West, Halsey, Aidy Bryant, Pete Davidson, Michael Che, Mikey Day, Chloe Fineman, Heidi Gardner, Colin Jost, Kate McKinnon, Alex Moffat, Kyle Mooney, Ego Nwodim, Chris Redd, Cecily Strong, Kenan Thompson, Melissa Villaseñor, Bowen Yang, Aristotle Athari, Andrew Dismukes, James Austin Johnson, Punkie Johnson, Sarah Sherman
Created by: Lorne Michaels
The artificial weight of this moment is probably why, in preparation for tonight’s episode, Kardashian West allegedly (or really just according to TMZ) asked famous comedians for tips on “what to include in her monologue, how to perform certain skits and nail comedic delivery.” It’s why her performance — which was better than expected, but mostly average — will elicit hyperbolic negative and positive reactions. Feelings about Kardashian West are part of her brand’s machination and serve as a peculiar cultural litmus test. Giving her the benefit of the doubt might imply indifference to the negative impact of her ascendance; writing her off could seem unfair. Either way, you become part of the spectacle.
Kardashian West’s opening monologue gave the show a spicy start. Wearing a hot pink velvet bodysuit, the influencer proceeded to take a series of jabs at her family, her friends and herself. She referenced her sex tape, playfully calling it her “first movie premiere,” and joked about wanting to show the audience that she is more than her face and body. “I’m just so much more than that reference photo my sisters showed their plastic surgeons,” Kardashian West said. With a wry smile, she then quipped about her mother’s boyfriend, Corey Gamble, and O.J. Simpson, referring to him as the first Black person she met. Kardashian West’s willingness to go there coupled with the flat tone in which she recited her lines ensured that the vertiginous monologue delivered in terms of shock factor, along with one or two laughs. Yet with barely any pauses, the jokes had little room to breathe, leaving no time to mark the bizarre and disquieting experience of some of them. And maybe that’s a good thing.
The sketches that followed contained fewer bombshells, and with many of them hitting the same themes — money, love, family — their quality was a bit easier to discern. Kardashian West as Princess Jasmine in an Aladdin-themed skit with Pete Davidson, for example, leaned heavily on unimaginative sex jokes. But “The Dream Guys,” a bit where she assumes the role of a love-seeking bachelorette, offered a glimpse of a solid match between subject and material. Here, the host’s earlier stiffness became an asset as she assuredly captured the comical tonal inconsistencies inherent to dating franchises. Assisted by a gratifying lineup that included The Bachelorette alum and model Tyler Cameron, Chris Rock, Blake Griffin and Jesse Williams, Kardashian West doled out superficial reasons why certain contestants on this fictional show will receive a token of her affection (represented by an enormous literal token). “Thank you so much for showing me your perfectly hot body. That was perfectly vulnerable of you,” she said to Cameron. “I’m going to be honest — your behavior at the luau was inexcusable, but you’re also a six-time NBA All-Star, and that intrigues me,'” she confessed to Griffin.
Not all the skits worked, and that was most clear when Kardashian West had to hold her own alongside other women on the show. In “Grown Ass Women in the Club,” a music video about a group of older women realizing that they can no longer rage like they used to, the influencer unsuccessfully played the friend who is too exhausted to stay out. It’s a potentially fun bit, one that hearkens to Kardashian West’s past as a professional partier and her present as a mother of four, but the star struggled to make her shtick as the friend who falls asleep in the club believable. The performance required an unabashed physicality that she never quite channeled. The same could be said of “The Switch,” in which she starred alongside Aidy Bryant in a Freaky Friday-type scenario where they trade places for 24 hours. Bryant effortlessly stole the show here, playing Kardashian West deliciously, the enthusiasm of her portrayal reinforcing her screen partner’s middling performance.
Kardashian West did do well, though, alongside other members of her family. Kris and Khloe both made guest appearances in some of the skits, including the uneven “The People’s Kourt,” a sketch in which Kardashian West played her older sister, Kourtney. With her family — in terms of both the material and their physical presence — Kardashian West adopted a more playful and light performance style. She nailed it as Kourtney, exaggerating her sister’s relationship with current boyfriend Travis Barker, as well as her friendship with Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly.
The hype surrounding Kardashian West ended up being more interesting and exciting than the actual episode, which felt like many others. This would be the time to ponder whether her performance here could spell another career shift, but I don’t know how much that is worth considering. If this episode made anything clear, it’s that Kardashian West will continue to experiment and, occasionally, surprise us in ways that will keep trapping us into caring.
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