Aubrey Plaza’s Best ‘SNL’ Character Was Aubrey Plaza

Aubrey Plaza’s Best ‘SNL’ Character Was Aubrey Plaza

Unless you’ve been living under a talk-show rock for the past few years, you know that Aubrey Plaza’s childhood dream was to be a cast member on Saturday Night Live. While she got to audition for the show (or at least participate in the early rounds of auditions), her weirdo characters didn’t impress producers enough to get her in front of Lorne Michaels. But Plaza is having a moment — with her steamy turn in White Lotus, stellar reviews for Emily the Criminal and post-pandemic nostalgia for comedy comfort food like Parks and Recreation — and so, the comedy It Girl was a natural to host SNL last night. 

Plaza’s hosting debut happened to be one of the season’s strongest shows, too. I’m not sure so much of that had to do with her, though. The former NBC page was fine — and better than fine in a few spots — but she demonstrated why SNL took a pass a few years ago. She’s fantastic when she plays to her “no effs to give” persona, but not nearly as versatile as someone like her Pawnee boss Amy Poehler (who showed up last night to remind everyone how good she was on this show).

Credit the SNL writing staff for finding opportunities for Plaza to get weird. Most effective might have been the extremely simple “couples having a game night” sketch. Plaza and Mikey Day are the new neighbors, a seemingly sweet couple who reveal their freak flag while exchanging board-game clues that are more Taboo than Hasbro ever intended.

Also great: Plaza and Molly Kearney as Sister Cecilia and Sister Clarence, two Catholic school nuns reciting the morning announcements. After Sister Cecilia’s two minutes of heaven-free death after a hairdryer-in-the-tub incident, she’s giving in to her repressed impulses for sex and a “return to the dark place.”

That’s Plaza’s comedy persona in a nutshell: A benign exterior that barely obscures the darkness. So of course she’s a natural for one of the M3ghan dolls in a saucy 2.0 sequel.

And she trotted out the character who started it all on Weekend Update. The 8H studio audience went nuts when April Ludgate sidled up next to Colin Jost for a few questions. But it’s fair to say she was upstaged by Leslie Knope, the extremely confident, relaxed and hilarious Poehler. 

Where Plaza faltered was in sketches in which she was asked to step out of the darkness and into more generic characters. As a human spy in an Avatar sketch, a frustrated director for an HIV medication commercial or a femme fatale in a noir detective send-up, she was merely passable. None of it was embarrassing or bad, but if Plaza was an unknown featured player, these sketches wouldn’t have gotten her asked back for a second season.

Again, give Plaza credit for steering one of the season’s strongest shows, aided by Sam Smith’s two descents into musical madness. (Big swings, Sam — we’re here for it!) Despite some obvious missteps — after a week of endless late-night jokes, did SNL really need to do two bits about George Santos? — the show seems to be finding its footing as it enters 2023. And whether Plaza proved that she would be a great permanent SNL cast member or not is kind of beside the point anyway, the feel-good story of her fulfilling her childhood dream was more than enough to cover up any bumps in the road.

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