“Saturday Night Live” takes on first presidential debate, Trump hospitalized for COVID-19, NBA bubble, masks and so much more — plus, a sweet RBG tribute!
After a very long four months away, “Saturday Night Live” returned and we didn’t realize how much we needed their comedic take on the week’s events to help us decompress and process.
Four months of quarantine and protests and an election is a lot to handle ourselves, and “SNL” touched on two of those things this week. Interestingly enough, they were silent on Black Lives Matter, but they definitely went in on both of those other hot topics.
Quarantine even made it into their intro sequences, with masks heavily featured — interestingly more on the male performers than the female — throughout. It will make for a compelling snapshot of history when people look back on this season, and a reminder of the crazy times we’re leaving in.
Speaking of crazy, as expected, the show opened with a look back at the most unhinged debate possibly in American history, featuring the debut of Jim Carrey’s Joe Biden and the return of Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump. Both did an admirable job, with Jim turning in a great comedic take on the former VP and Baldwin just going with what he knows.
We also got appearances by Maya Rudolph — not just as Kamala Harris — Harry Styles in a surprise cameo and Megan Thee Stallion stepping outside of her musical performances to slide into two different sketches, including a very timely hip-hop piece about the frustrating mystery and allure of masks.
The week also featured the debut of the show’s three new featured players, and we were thrilled that Andrew Dismukes, Lauren Holt and Punkie Johnson all got some work to do this week, with the ladies even getting a chance to show off some of their comedy chops.
All in all, it was a rock solid opening with only one sketch that didn’t really come together for us at all. For the most part, though, we were just thrilled to have all of our players together, including those three new faces, for a new season of tearing down the establishment. In the case of host Chris Rock’s monologue, take that statement more seriously than usual.
As usual, we’re ranking all the sketches from worst to first, including the Monologue, Cold Open, “Weekend Update” and any sketches that were cut for time but made their way online. We’ll skip the musical guests, because they’re not usually funny — unless Ashlee Simpson shows up. We wrap up with a look at the cast-member who had the strongest week.
This was a sketch that probably could have been saved for later in the night as it fit that weird vibe that usually slots it there. It was fun seeing Beck Bennett play the 2020 version of Kyle Mooney’s teen character, and we appreciated the fixation on the advancement of video game graphics over a global pandemic on Kyle’s part, but they never really fleshed out the rest of the sketch.
Even Chris Rock’s “Future Ghost” trying to get him to focus so he could learn that his mom, Heidi Gardner, had marred Kenan Thompson fell flat because it didn’t go anywhere, except into a ‘90s font and a Peacock plug that both looked shoehorned in because nobody really could figure out how to end this sketch. We think all they had in the pitch room was “kid from 2000 travels to 2020 for warning but only cares about PS4 graphics quality.” Believable, but not necessarily enough.
A promotional clip about stunt artists wanting to get back to work, including Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant’s “children’s comedy” stunt artists, who do all those silly stunts that make kids laugh. You never really think about how there are stunt performers for those just as much as the “Fast & Furious” films, so it was fun cutting back and forth from the more serious ones played by Mikey Day, Ego Nwodim and Chris Redd and these two, who also apparently live together so they can train and keep their butt calluses strong. It was sweet and kind of charming — not to mention informative — but not particularly funny, though.
“SNL” tapped into familiar territory with this sketch all about people wanting to change their names when a Covid outbreak disrupted things. But not before we got to hear banter between anchor Heidi Gardner and Mikey Day in the field about how he’s going to keep looking for Mike Litt.
Just like “Schitt’s Creek” has to be visibly written on the screen in order for them to say it at the Emmys, for example, it looks like ‘SNL” decided to see how far they could push this with a similar strategy employing even more vulgar-sounding names like Edith Puthie, Tess Tichols, Mike Rodick and Jeffrey Epstein. Immature? Absolutely. But the players did a great job of keeping their composure through it, except for Pete Davidson, whose sole roll was to stand in for the rest of us.
“If this show was Tuesday Night Live, it would have got canceled in 1975,” said Chris Rock as part of his stand-up monologue that was all about COVID and asking us to reconsider and renegotiate our relationship with the government. It was a passionate evisceration of institutions like term limits, requirements to be president and fewer direct jabs at Donald Trump than we might have expected.
It also proved how important comedy can be in helping people reconsider and explore their own thoughts and beliefs about these institutions. Chris isn’t likely to change anyone’s vote, but his mission was more about us thinking who this government is working for and who it isn’t. And not in the sense of systemic racism, which he touched on only tangentially. It was a well-conceived monologue with ideas well presented, making us ready for a full, new Chris Rock comedy special!
NBA Bubble Draft
The most impenetrable Covid fortress in the United States has to be the NBA bubble, so this sketch offered women a chance to slide inside just in time for the Finals. This was a fun showcase for thirst traps played by most of the women in the cast, including our two newcomers this season. Rock looked the most uncomfortable in this sketch, heavily relying on cue cards and just plowing through his lines for the most part.
Lauren Holt and Punkie Johnson brought all the right enthusiasm, and they even found a very modest role for Andrew Dismukes, who had to play it straight. But what a blast was had by everyone from Aidy Bryant’s “velvet” underground to Heidi Gardner’s Hall of Presidents Monica Lewinski alum. Plus, fun cameos by Megan Thee Stallion and Maya Rudolph had us wondering why this one didn’t show up in the first half of the show (maybe instead of “Future Ghost”).
In what had to be a last-minute scramble, Trump’s Covid diagnosis became the top story, and the guys did a great job of both talking about how it’s not something to joke about and then joking about it.
Michael Che even broke down how mathematically perfect this is a joke. “It would be like if I was making fun of people who wear belts and then my pants just immediately fell down,” he argued, while Colin Jost said that if the roles were reversed, you know Trump would be at a huge maskless rally doing an impression of Joe Biden on a ventilator… But where’s the lie?
Bowen Yang’s Chinese trade representative Chen Biao was the perfect voice to weigh in on Trump’s vendetta against TikTok for that rally embarrassment by trying to shut the app down in the United States. As always, he was full of sass and laughs, but we really wanted him to “Girl, I’m not gonna do it,” when they briefly shifted to a TikTok screen. Let Chen Biao shine!
Colin Jost was absolutely savage at himself with a joke about pushing for diversity by joining the board of BET (a joke that would have fit well when they read jokes without seeing them first later in the season), and went in ruthlessly on Mitch McConnell for rushing through a Supreme Court nominee, among other “fun” content like a bull semen scandal and Che’s thoughts on Vin Diesel’s big music debut!
Well this is an interesting twist on Aidy Bryant’s teen travel expert character because everyone has been kind of forced to do a “staycation” type of vacay at home, so they’re not far off from her usual descriptions of exotic locales like her grandma’s house or uncle’s place. We more enjoyed her take on virtual learning, like the scandal of seeing a boy’s bedroom! Plus, stay tuned for the sweet, haunting RBG tribute at the end!
Any excuse to see Chloe Fineman’s incredible impersonations is a good enough excuse for us, but she had to be positively salivating after Drew Barrymore got a talk show, because her Drew is spot-on. Throw in Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman and she can basically carry these sketches entirely by herself.
That said, we could have done with a full segment of Beck Bennett’s Tom Green recreating their sweet — but slightly daffy — reunion from the real show. In fact, we’d have been happy with a whole show, but Chloe made this promo work just as well. It’s great to see her showing off what she does so well. Maybe she and Melissa Villasenor should stage an impression-off!
Now this is the kind of content that speaks to pandemic life that’s not getting talked about in the media, but has been talked about in social circles. Everything from new students in classrooms to new friends met in person, there’s a whole half to our faces those who don’t know us — well, don’t know: the bottom of our face.
Chris Redd, Kenan Thompson and Pete Davidson dropped another catchy hip-hop song, ably assisted by Ego Nwodim and Megan Thee Stallion to show the other side, about guys who think they’re asking for something pretty innocuous only to find it has a lot more implications than they may realize. It’s always great to get another “SNL” bop, and this one comes on strong!
COLD OPEN: First Presidential Debate
As anticipated, that thing some have called a presidential debate was up first, with our first full look at Jim Carrey as Joe Biden, and in all sincerity, he has a pretty good comedic take on the former Vice President. It’s not his over-the-top style, though there are hints of that rubbery animation, and it actually played very well off of Alec Baldwin’s Trump. “I’ve got the beginning of 46 fantastic ideas I may or may not have access to,” he said at one point, proving that “SNL” was going to lampoon Biden’s tics and behaviors as much as Trump, which is how it should be.
The show did a fantastic job of tweaking their sketch– without having to outright redo it — to tickle at Trump’s forthcoming (at the time of the debate) positive COVID-19 diagnostic, which came very late in their production process. Plus, we loved the randomness of having them listen to soothing recordings not only for the surprise Harry Styles appearance, but be cause we all knew we needed and wanted to see Cecily Strong’s take on Kimberly Guilfoyle yelling at the RNC. Oh, and “Mama” Kamala Harris did show up, but we’ll keep Maya Rudolph’s role a surprise, because it’s worth experiencing as she comes out and takes control.
This was such a well-balanced show, no one appeared in more than four sketches all night, and no one had starring roles in more than a couple. As such, we found ourselves looking at who had the strongest from much more limited work.
That had us really looking at Chloe Fineman, who killed it almost by herself in “The Drew Barrymore Show” with three different roles, but we also had to consider Beck, who took on Tom Green in that rale, as well as a 2020 man-child and the NBA commissioner. He’s always been one of the most versatile, but he so often has t play it straight.
That left us looking at Heidi Gardner, who did a great job of playing it subversively straight as news anchor while letting loose and getting wild trying to get into that NBA bubble; Ego Nwodim, who brought fire to the mask rap, struggled with her name and fought for that bubble; and Aidy Bryant, who brought all her teen charm to Update, got frisky with Heidi for the NBA and showcased the lighter side of stunt work. By the slightest edge for offering a wider range, we’re giving it to Aidy this week.
“Saturday Night Live” returns next week with host Bill Burr and musical guest Morgan Wallen.