Fellow Coneheads, as the clock strikes 11:30 p.m. ET on this merry Saturday night, you know what that means: another SNL in Review. Tonight is the third episode of season 46, and some things are becoming clearer: with 20 cast members, slotted into episodes like a skeleton crew, this is one of the least seamless casts in recent memory. And the show’s format — determined so much by the pending election, Trump, and COVID-19’s new normal — has both minimized the show’s often-mythologized comedy troupe, previously its driving force, and offset the pacing of episodes. (Anecdotally, I recently watched a season 16 episode hosted by Susan Lucci, and the cold open — featuring Phil Hartman as Victor Kiam — clocked in at one minute, 52 seconds. After Lucci’s monologue and credits, the show properly kicked off before the nine-minute mark. It was glorious!)
Still, last week’s episode had glimmers of hope, largely courtesy of Bill Burr and his acerbic sensibility. That begs the question: Will quality oscillate week to week, depending on the host? Tonight’s host, Issa Rae, may be a good case study. Rae is a singularly brilliant talent, one of the few in comedy to capture the zeitgeist. However, we saw a somewhat analogous host last season, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, underwhelm in her episode. So there’s always this give and take in modern Saturday Night Live: Will the show live or die on the ability of the host to conform to the demands of live TV? How much can the show adapt to a host’s sensibility while still maintaining its own voice? Chicken or, as they say, the egg...
I am joined tonight by one of my favorite SNL cast members ever, Ellen Cleghorne. “I love Issa Rae. She’s the voice of a generation,” says Cleghorne, saluting, “The Black Ivy League girl magic! Michelle, Shonda, Issa: the Ivy League Destiny’s Child!”
Tonight’s musical guest is Justin Bieber, making his fourth appearance on the show as MG. (He also pulled double duty as host and musical guest in season 38. Somewhat famously, former cast members Jay Pharoah and Bill Hader have labeled Bieber the show’s worst host or musical guest.) Let’s dive right in, shall we?
“NBC laid a thirst trap for President Trump,” the narration explains. It's Dueling Town Halls — yee-haw! SNL tackles Joe Biden and Donald Trump’s network TV appearances pretty closely
Fire Marshall Biden comes out and begins dancing for the kids on TikTok. I have a question: Why does Jim Carrey do the finger gun? I have yet to notice Biden doing that, and am unsure what it captures about the vice president? Mikey Day plays George Stephanopoulos, who leads the discussion. (Mike Myers played Stephanopoulos back in the '90s.) On Thursday, Biden was long-winded and wonky; here, the show lands several ageist jokes calling him boring.
Then we flip to NBC, where Savannah Guthrie (Kate McKinnon) takes on President Trump (Alec Baldwin). In case you didn't get it, they literally present it as a Wrestlemania match. For a moment, Melissa Villaseñor emerges (for the first time this season) to ask a question, before Chloe Fineman plays the strange woman who complimented Trump on his smile.
While answering a question about “Amy Conan O’Brien,” Trump is upstaged by the plant behind him. And, once again, Maya Rudolph shows up as Kamala Harris to question the emphatic Trump supporter furiously nodding behind the president — “spooky ass Jordan Peele nonsense” is right.
Cleghorne weighs in: “I’m sure Kamala will be VP because everyone wants to have at least four more years of Rudolph as such.” She recommends Harris appear on SNL alongside Rudolph and “do that famous Lucy Ball sketch with Harpo Marx. They sing man in the mirror. Or Kamala looking in the mirror debriefing herself after the ACB cross-examination.”
Biden is spoofed as a Mister Rogers and a Bob Ross-style figure. I mean, I know this attracts eyeballs on YouTube, but can anyone say this is working? I have a very bad taste in my mouth...
Rae calls out Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Molly Shannon. She is very happy and scared to be at Studio 8H. “I’m the first Black person to host SNL y’all,” she lies. If the show goes badly, she says to blame her — Mary J. Blige.
She explains she was originally supposed to host the show in March, when she had two movies and a fourth season of her show, Insecure. Now, her only projects are puzzles. She discusses her show premiering during fall 2016, and how it’s been like high school. SNL is her prom.
Cleghorne is a fan of both Rae’s The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl and Insecure. “It’s mandatory watching if I want to keep my Black card... she’s inspired and created a space for the anti-sassy Black girl.”
Canadian News Show: BonjourHi!
It’s a French-Canadian talk show! The best parts of Canada, and the worst parts of France. Naturally, the lead-in mentions Schitt’s Creek. Bowen Yang and Kate McKinnon are the hosts — the sketch is a great showcase for Bowen. It's nice to see him not being pigeonholed as just “sassy” or Asian in every role.
Mikey Day is Jean-Fred, I mean Fred. He’s an American trapped in quarantine. “How is this a news show?” he asks. Rae plays a correspondent on Drake Watch. (Which leads to a funny reference to Wheelchair Jimmy on Degrassi: The Next Generation.) Drake is not at the CN Tower, sadly. Jean-Fred/Fred gets frustrated, which is classic Mikey Day, isn’t it folks?
The sketch ends with a solid Céline Dion duet.
Beck Bennett is back, concerned, and wondering how he can understand oppression and racism. He wants to understand, but doesn't know how. Kenan Thompson is the commercial's narrator, explaining Bennett can take Five-Hour Empathy and learn. Beck considers it, but he doesn't want to.
Heidi Gardner, a woman, also refuses to take it. This is a funny elbowing at comfortable white liberals who motion at grasping societal problems, but it’s mostly lip service. Sharp and necessary.
First Date Exes
At an outdoor fancy restaurant, Rae and Chris Redd are on a first date. She’s had bad experiences with dating. As Redd selects some crab ravioli to order, a homeless person named Clifford (Kenan Thompson) walks by. Apparently, they dated. Redd is shocked.
Then Karate Man (Pete Davidson) strolls by. "Sharon!?" he exclaims. They also dated. "He just ghosted me!” she explains.
Then a silver-painted street performer Bowen Yang ("Robot") and his dog, Astro, appear. He also compliments her "titty meat" — the hook is she works as a Disney princess performer in Times Square. They decide to let her past be the past.
Then Redd receives a surprise-run: “Who is this bitch?” asks the woman walking by, which closes out the date... and the sketch!
Bieber performs “Holy” featuring Chance the Rapper
“Holy” is apparently the lead single from Bieber's next album. (You can check out the official music video for the song here.) Previous SNL host Chance the Rapper pops up to contribute a verse, name-checking another previous SNL host, Joe Pesci. As a song, “Holy” appears to be a statement of love to Bieber’s wife, Hailey Baldwin (a.k.a. the niece of Alec Baldwin). It has a gospel vibe, which is very consistent for Chance. “Holy” marks Chance and Bieber’s fifth collaborative single following "Confident," "Juke Jam," "I'm the One," and "No Brainer".
Cleghorne says of Bieber: “He’s making Crocs cool! Bottle that. He’s the pied piper of Madison Avenue. Every time I see or hear him I think about that video of the little girl who lost her mind because she wanted to marry Justin Bieber… He has the Beatles factor.”
Bieber was previously impersonated on SNL by Miley Cyrus in a 2011 "The Miley Cyrus Show" sketch as well as Jimmy Fallon. Kate McKinnon has also played the Biebs three times.
Michael Che slams the recent presidential town halls, especially NBC’s decision to host President Trump in Miami. He likens it to the network’s previous affiliations with the disgraced Bill Cosby and Matt Lauer. Che is very giggly tonight.
The false equivalence between Trump and Biden continues, though Che does make a funny point about Little Richard being the Kanye West of the 1960 election.
For an update on the election, the Trump Brothers (Mikey Day and Alex Moffat) return to the Update desk. In a fun surprise, Tiffany Trump (Chloe Fineman) also comes out to discuss her recent birthday party — she nails it, but the show doesn’t seem to know how to use her. She has never officially met her brother Eric before. Day’s Don Jr. is way sunnier and more charismatic/polished than the real Don. Is something wrong with Moffat’s microphone?
Aidy Bryant pops up with a new segment, “Aidy in America.” She’s filming Shrill season 3 in Portland, so this is the show’s way to incorporate her. This was short but reminded me of the old Al Franken-taped segments on Update.
Carla, the famous '80s cocaine wife, shows up too. Think Elvira from Scarface. She asks about Kate McKinnon and Kenan Thompson, who make her laugh. The NYC nightlife scene has been closed for seven months, and Carla “wants to dance.” This is another fun movie parody, like Gardner’s Angel, a.k.a Every Boxer’s Girlfriend From Every Boxing Movie Ever. “Directed by David O. Russell!” the bit ends, which is cute.
Randomly, Update also includes digs at Paul Newman and Michael Jackson.
Your Voice Chicago
It’s Sunday at 7:30 a.m. before a two-hour pot commercial. Rae and Ego Nwodim join Kenan Thompson to discuss local candidates in Chicago. “I’m voting for everybody Black,” says Rae. “Representation matters!”
Rae advocates for Charlotte Raines, who has no experience. In District 10, they choose the Libertarian entrepreneur. They are both Black but on opposite ends.
Chris Redd plays Reverend D’Angelo Banks, who owns a chain of strip clubs. He’s a mess and has committed tax fraud. Still, Rae supports him. Punkie Johnson and a returning Maya Rudolph play Crystal and Caviar, a Diamond and Silk takeoff. “These ladies… are passionate,” Rae rationalizes.
Kyle Mooney is “dancing pretty hard," showing off his Michael Jackson-like moves while hanging in the hallway outside of Justin Bieber's dressing room. He also does a rendition of “Respect” in a bid to impress Rae, hoping she'll put in a good word for him with Bieber. Rae is unimpressed; but secretly, she wants to be Bieber's backup dancer as well.
When “Funk Jam" — which looks like the Michael and Janet Jackson video from "Scream" — starts, Mooney and Rae square off against one another and attempt to influence Chance the Rapper. Andrew Dismukes, who may eventually be the heir to Mooney’s niche on the show, pops up to tell Kyle he’s tested positive for COVID-19 and must leave the building.
Bieber and Benny Blanco perform “Lonely”
This is interesting. Justin begins his performance live from his dressing room — almost as if the previous short film with Kyle Mooney was a lead-in. “Everybody knows my past,” he coos, commenting on his time as an "idiot kid," growing up troubled in the spotlight. “Nobody’s listening.” Poignantly, he describes how he sacrificed his privacy and adolescence for fame and wealth.
Jacob Tremblay plays a young Bieber in the new music video for "Lonely," which was released on Friday.
Jack Flatts is a take on Johnny Rockets, offering curbside service. Kyle Mooney, Andrew Dismukes, and Beck Bennett interrupt — they portray MAGA militia rednecks who just want to eat at their favorite kitschy restaurant and be insulted. “I miss the wacko fries,” cries Dismukes. He does really well here — strange, committed. They threaten to kidnap the governor unless their demands are met. Thirteen people were charged last week in a domestic terrorism plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Clearly, this is a devastating riff on that.
(If you like this sketch, I recommend also checking out Indiana comedian Brent Terhune and his redneck caricature. He would work well in this cinematic universe.)
“Is this like, a porno?” asks a Jack Flatts waitress (played by Lauren Holt).
This is a very funny snapshot of how ambitious people were with their newly acquired free time due to COVID-19 and quarantine. Consumers across the country have been buying items online, thinking this was their chance to learn how to box/play guitar, etc. But instead, they did stuff like binge-watch Selling Sunset. Which is fine! But, as Chris Redd and Heidi Gardner learn here, there should also be a way to exchange their impulse purchases. Well done and smart.
What did everyone think?! Tell me! Weigh in below or vote here!
—Speaking of voting, Issa Rae ends her first hosting gig encouraging everyone to get out there and vote. Agreed! Please do! (If you want.)
—Thank you to Ellen Cleghorne for her contributions! You can check out Ellen in the upcoming film Rushed, produced and written by her SNL castmate Siobhan Fallon Hogan!
—Want to hear more from me waxing poetic on the show’s foibles? Check out this week’s episode of the new SNL Stats podcast. I go long on this season, and specifically the Bill Burr episode, alongside Dave Buckman and That Week in SNL’s Andrew Dick.