Earlier this week, I had a conversation with a colleague about Saturday Night Live’s first post-anniversary episode—which, as we learned earlier this month, will be hosted by Fifty Shades of Grey star Dakota Johnson. I said that I was cautiously optimistic about Johnson’s maiden SNL voyage. His response was… not so positive. The exact quote: “I think this is going to be a January Jones-level disaster.”
On one hand, I can see where he’s coming from. Johnson is, after all, best known for 1. being tied up and (lightly) smacked in the aforementioned BDSM romance, 2. her less-than-convincing performance on the movie’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad press tour, and 3. being the daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, which may not inspire much confidence in her acting abilities. The worst-case scenario for tonight is that Johnson will be stiff and uncomfortable in a live performance setting, delivering a show that replaces Jones’ as the worst episode in recent memory.
You know what, though? I don’t see that happening—mostly because I actually saw Fifty Shades. Say what you will about the movie, but one thing is undeniable: Johnson’s by far the best thing about it. She manages to transform the (awful) book’s mousy Anastasia Steele into a likable, compelling, often funny (on purpose!) character, which is no mean feat when you consider how little she’s given to work with. (Looking at you, Jamie “Block of Wood” Dornan.) Lest we forget, Johnson was also warm and winning on Fox’s cruelly canceled-too-soon Ben and Kate—which, yes, was not anything like a sketch show, but did prove that she’s got good timing and comic instincts. I’m not saying Johnson’s going to be the second coming of Melissa McCarthy, but I do think she may end up pleasantly surprising us—depending on the number of bondage jokes we have to endure throughout SNL’s 90-minute runtime.
Which brings me to what we should expect of the show on a whole. I’d say there’s a 100 percent chance of way too many sketches based on or around Fifty Shades; I wouldn’t be surprised to see Johnson teaming up with Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong’s ex-porn stars, or Kenan Thompson’s elderly sex instructor Grady Wilson. Johnson won’t actually get naked, but her frequent Fifty Shades nude scenes will be referenced early and often—as will dominance, submission, and all things leather. (Think the show might also touch on Johnson and Dornan’s less than stellar chemistry? A girl can dream.)
Other than that, I’m predicting some sort of Oscars postmortem, a reference to that damn dress (on Weekend Update, if nowhere else), and some sort of tribute to Leonard Nimoy:
In a perfect world, there’d also be something based on the finale of Parks and Recreation—but unfortunately, SNL’s brass probably bets that not enough people watch the show to make that worthwhile. Oh, and more smooth roots rock from musical guest Alabama Shakes, making its second SNL appearance in two years.
What are you hoping to see from Johnson (and Alabama Shakes) on the show tonight? Do you have faith that our virgin host will turn in a strong performance—or do you, like my unnamed coworker, think she’s bound to tank? Talk amongst yourselves below, and check back in the morning for a full recap. (UPDATE: Click over to read our full SNL with Dakota Johnson recap.)