SNL returns for its best episode of the season with host Keke Palmer

Photo:  SNL
Photo: SNL

Following a two-week hiatus, Saturday Night Live returns with Keke Palmer making her hosting debut after giving a stellar performance in the summer blockbuster Nope. After courting controversy with host Dave Chappelle, Palmer felt like a delightfully un-divisive choice and a breath of fresh air for the show. Already a showbiz veteran at 29, Palmer, an actress, singer, host, and genuinely funny individual, is a promising and inspired choice to host the show. Her monologue confirmed her charisma and star power as well as the rumors of her expecting her first child.

Best sketch of the night

Hello Kitty - SNL

In a night of absurdist comedy, from breakdancing fetuses to unionization against Drake, the “Hello Kitty” sketch stood out. Set in a Time Square flagship store for the world-famous children’s character and toy, the scene takes advantage of the onboarding of seasonal staff in anticipation of the holiday shopping season. The sketch is fueled by Palmer and Bowen Yang’s logical response to Hello Kitty’s incongruous, corporate-sanctioned, origin story. The duo plays off each other perfectly, their rage and indignation challenge Cecily Strong’s straight-woman role superbly. The sketch belongs to Palmer and Yang, who are fully invested in the scenario. The way they register horror and dismay at the prospect of bareback bestiality is expertly calibrated and unforgettable.

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Worst sketch of the night

Herschel Walker Cold Open - SNL

With the anticipation and expectation of Palmer’s debut, it’s a shame the “Cold Open” was so lackluster. It proved to be a rather pointless political sketch that felt fitting as Congress goes into what’s known as a lame-duck session. While there is a runoff Senate election this week in Georgia, the scene and perhaps political situation lacked a sense of urgency as control of the Senate is already decided. While Kenan Thompson does a great take on Herschel Walker, the show is running into a problem. How can they make a parody of Walker more outlandish than the actual Walker? It is clear the writers have not found a solution, which begs the question why make this the cold open? The decision feels all the more frustrating when a more compelling and provocative cold open could have focused on the Donald Trump/Kanye West dinner at Mar-a-Lago with a noted White supremacist. This collision between politics, celebrity, and serious social issues feels like the kind of material SNL should interrogate and mock.

Best nostalgic moment of the night

Kenan & Kelly - SNL

When it seemed like Palmer and Yang may have been the best comic duo, she was paired with Thompson with equally winning results. The premise of Palmer launching a gender-swapped reboot of Kenan & Kel entitled “Kenan & Kelly,” was a delightful throwback to the 90s comedy. It worked on so many levels. The best was contrasting Palmer’s ambitious, manic energy with Kenan’s weathered, nonplussed show business veteran. The sketch did not require a cameo by Kel Mitchell but it delivered something SNL fans have wanted for over two decades (even if the original duo did reunite momentarily at this year’s Emmys). The sketch even managed to top itself again when it took a dark turn during an armed robbery that would appear to be the antithesis of the Nickelodeon comedy but also a dig at the trend of gritty reboots to classic shows. The best part of the sketch is that it could have kept going, perhaps a limited series on Peacock coming soon.

Best use of physical comedy

Forceington’s Ridge - SNL

A send-up of classic 80s nighttime soap operas like Dallas or Knot’s Landing, “Forceington’s Ridge,” was uproariously over-the-top. Inspired by the the excess and campiness of those programs, Palmer, Strong, and Yang delivered hilariously exaggerated performances. However, it was the sudden and clumsy appearance of stunt doubles engaged in an all out brawl, a ‘roided take on the classic ‘catfights’ from the source material, that made the scene. The purposely inept and obvious transitions further enhanced the ludicrousness by the recent revelation that Palmer is expecting. It felt like it would be a perfect recurring sketch, if SNL seemed interested in doing those anymore.

MVP of the night

Photo:  SNL
Photo: SNL

The undisputed MVP of the episode was Palmer, who proved she is an undeniable star. She has that undefinable ‘it’ factor. Already proven an excellent actor, singer, host, and genuinely hilarious person, she made every sketch better than it was on paper. She elevated every sketch, many of which would have fallen flat with any other host. She was engaged and present, ready to pounce on every line or expression. The way she said “bareback” or questioned Hello Kitty’s race is unforgettable. Perhaps her best delivery came during the “Drake PSA,” when she said “Well, yes. I’m THE Keke, just not THAT Keke.” Why it is so funny is probably impossible to put into words, it’s just the kind of charisma that comes from a real powerhouse performer.

Stray Observations:

  • Did Hello Kitty and Arbys/Taco Bell approve these sketches?

  • The Nope ads, no playing on Peacock, was Jack Donaghy-level corporate synergy.

  • Speaking of 30 Rock, Keke Palmer is the third heat.

  • Definitely the best episode of the season, soley because of Keke Palmer.

  • Between “Forceington’s Ridge” and the breakdancing in “Ultrasound,” it was a big night for stunt performers on SNL.

  • While Michael Longfellow’s “Weekend Update” appearance was good, it did make me think of an ongoing issue with SNL. The show really needs to invest in performers with improv and sketch experience. All the new cast members all came from the world of stand-up, and the show could use more of a focus on characters and actual sketch comedy.

  • I didn’t realize that Natasha Lyonne was that tiny.

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