Amazon Go stores are touted as a futuristic shopping experience promising unfettered ease and speed. The stores are equipped with the company’s proprietary Just Walk Out technology, which combines a nebulous mix of “computer vision, deep learning algorithms, and sensor fusion”; shoppers scan their Amazon app to enter, grab what they want to purchase, and … leave. If that sounds like shoplifting, it apparently feels like it too. Saturday Night Live picked up on that problem during last night’s episode, delivering incisive commentary reminiscent of its excellent “Mid-Day News” and “Black Jeopardy” sketches.
The show’s fake commercial for Amazon Go illustrated the disparity that white and Black consumers might experience in a store promoting freedom but mired by surveillance. “You want me to just take something and walk out?” asked a Black businessman (played by Kenan Thompson). The commercial’s voice-over artist (Cecily Strong) reassured him that he could. But unlike his fellow white shoppers, Thompson remained dubious. “Nice try,” he said before walking away from the item he’d been considering.
Amazon Go doesn’t charge customers for items they put back on the shelf, and the commercial played on all the ways that decision could go wrong for some buyers. While a white shopper (Chloe Fineman) obliviously changed her mind about a box of cereal without any fanfare, a Black shopper (Chris Redd) called outsize attention to his reversal. “Uh, okay, I am putting the sandwich back, y’all,” he shouted across the store. “I have decided to get a different sandwich today.”
The bit was one of SNL’s most realized of the season. The show’s fake commercials tend to excel when they suddenly (and absurdly) eschew expectations or defy them from the very start, like previous standouts “Totino’s” and “Wells for Boys.” Instead, “Amazon Go” adhered to its product premise, building to a climax that anticipated a Jordan Peele–esque horror twist. “Alexa!” Redd shouted as he wandered the aisles. “Search ‘Amazon Go store Black man trapped.’” And rather than skewering and upending stereotypes, as sketches such as “Mid-Day News” and “Black Jeopardy” preferred, the comedy punched up, highlighting Amazon’s shortsightedness—and the larger inequities that would make its high-tech retail experience far from a simple “grab-and-go” for Black consumers.
The sketch contrasted with the night’s weak cold open, which attempted timely commentary about Ukraine by focusing on the actual meeting the Biden administration held last week with 30 TikTok celebrities. In the show’s take, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki (Kate McKinnon) called six stars to meet with President Joe Biden and offer their thoughts about how to win the information war playing out on social media. “I suggested it as a joke and then it actually happened,” McKinnon’s Psaki glumly stated about setting up the conversation.
The sketch made fun of TikTokers’ youth, frivolity, and sometimes bizarre claims to fame. Spoofing the actor AnnaLynne McCord’s recent poem to Vladimir Putin, “an actress from the CW” (Fineman) shared “five ways to stop the war in Ukraine,” using the popular method of explaining an issue by dancing idly while text appears overhead—minus the text part. It was a misstep of an opening because it took aim at an easy mark, Gen Z influencers, rather than developing a clear point about the role TikTok and other social platforms are playing in the war.
The episode recovered with a series of raunchy sketches featuring first-time host Zoë Kravitz, who leaned into the fare with verve. Far from getting relegated to supporting roles, as newbie hosts often are, Kravitz, like Rami Malek earlier this season, showed off her ability to carry larger parts.
As Princess Tiana in a send-up of Disney’s The Princess and The Frog, she grew more and more horrified about her improperly equipped prince. In “Word Crunch,” she appeared as a contestant on a defunct game show asking players to spot words amid a scramble of letters. Unlike her opponents, who found cleaner and more traditional words, she became fixated on momhole—a term I’ll never get out of my head now. Kravitz’s debut encouraged a playful looseness that inspired the cast, proving that the show can go low and high, and still win.