There was a lot working against Saturday Night Live this week. Dave Chappelle hasn’t really done sketch comedy since 2004, the cast was obviously disappointed with the results of the past week, protesters were marching up the street outside their building; there was no way this could end up being a great show. However, everyone was willing to do everything in their power to try to bring us a little bit of joy, and I think they did an adequate job.
Look, there’s no denying that Chappelle tripped up a couple times, there were a couple of things that didn’t work, and it feels like they had to do a bunch of rewrites starting Wednesday morning (they probably did, being honest), but he was willing to try, and for some reason, when he tells us we have to come together and give Trump a chance, it feels more reassuring than when some old white guy scolds us for it. If a man known for his constant critiques for the way black people are held down is willing to extend an olive branch, maybe there is a chance we can, one day, come together as a country again.
Dave Chappelle: As I mentioned, Chappelle had an incredibly hard job coming in this week: he had to be funny, he had to deal with a divided nation, he had to deal with a shocking election result, and he had to make a triumphant return to sketch comedy. And sure, he struggled with his line reading (all of his Chappelle’s Show stuff was filmed, so maybe he struggles with the “live” thing). But he was still undeniably Chappelle. His monologue is one of the best I’ve heard in five years, he threw himself into every sketch, no matter how ridiculous, and he gave us a Best Of for all his best characters. Now sure, would I have liked to see him do his Prince sketch? Sure, I think they should’ve done a sketch where all the celebrities who died this year are in Heaven watching the election, like Prince and Bowie and Leonard Cohen. But he still did some great work, and he provided us a series of laughs at a time where we needed it. I’ve missed him.
Kate McKinnon: God, how hard was this show on Kate McKinnon? She was supposed to have job security with her Clinton impression, she had created the definitive impression, and she was supposed to be celebrating the first female president. However, she recovered well, even if she welled up during the Cold Open. And she came back with a fury the entire show. From that opening where she played “Hallelujah” as Clinton (a sobering image) to the beloved “Last Call” sketch with Chappelle (even if the energy wasn’t there, God do I love her in this) to the show-stopping moment when she brought back her Greatest Character: Ruth Bader “Ginsburned” Ginsburg. I didn’t realize how much I needed this impression until she came out in the wig and the robe and poured Emergen-C down her throat. Really this comes down to the moment she looked into the camera and declared “I’m not giving up, and neither should you.” That wasn’t her Clinton impression speaking; it was Kate McKinnon, showing that she will stand strong and bring us laughs for as long as we need her. And it was not just great: it was important.
Kyle Mooney: Mooney is such a weird little genius. I haven’t included him in the “Winners” section for a while now, and that’s for two reasons: yes, he’s always a show winner, so it’s demeaning to include him here every week, but he also hasn’t had a chance to shine this season the way he has in the past. Well, that’s no longer the case. Starting with the great “Jheri’s Place” sketch, followed by the absolutely hilarious “Love and Leslie” sketch, which I’m pretty sure he wrote (it’s his style of bizarre humor), and bringing it home in the funnier-in-concept “Breastfeeding” sketch. That last one was a little too long and a little too weird, but was made even better because while everyone was losing it, Mooney just sat there looking innocent. He knows exactly how to make a sketch land, and he is willing to go there every single time. If SNL has a secret weapon (other than Mikey Day), it’s Mooney.
A Tribe Called Quest: I usually don’t give musical guests a shout out. They’re fine and all, but they usually don’t absolutely bring the house down unless it’s a superpower like Prince or someone just completely changing the game, like Lady Gaga’s performance of “Do What U Want.” However, A Tribe Called Quest truly did bring the house down. Performing in honor of the release of their last album, the band went all out, calling for unity before performing two massively well received and absolutely energizing songs off the album, all while a picture of deceased band member Phife Dawg hangs behind them. It was an electric performance, and will go down in history as one of the show’s greatest.
Best Sketch: “Jheri’s Place” – When this sketch started, I chuckled. Then Leslie Jones flubbed a line. Then everything fell out of place. I was shocked that I was witnessing anything this rough, and was already starting to make my write-up for Worst Sketch. And then the unthinkable happened: the sketch was all planned. It was revealed to be an ESPN-style spoof of how an SNL sketch is made. And it’s filled with so many meta jokes, and such an inside look into how hard it is to do what these people do every week, it’s really astounding. And throw in a game Kyle Mooney, a funny Leslie Jones, a stoic Chappelle, and an over-it Kenan Thompson, you end up with a truly funny, smart sketch. Most people will be looking at that Election sketch, and it really was great, but if you’re looking for a sketch that will make you laugh instead of reciting what you were probably saying Tuesday Night verbatim, this is the one to go with.
Had Promise: “The Walking Dead” – Look, I did enjoy this sketch. It’s essentially a one man show for Chappelle. It did combine two great things: the shocking Walking Dead premiere and a collection of Chappelle’s greatest characters. I counted three that are amongst my all-time favorite sketch comedy characters of all time (Tyrone Biggums, the White News Reporter, and Clayton Biggsby). And that ending was touching/funny. However, the jokes either felt obvious or a little too basic (Biggsby in a “Make America Great Again” hat is chuckle-worthy and ineffectively predictable at the same time), and it just felt a little too forced throughout. I liked it, but considering how much I love these characters, I wanted this to be better.
Worst Sketch: “Last Call” – I know, I know, “Last Call” is usually one of the best sketches in every show. A disgusting social outcast played by Kate McKinnon hooks up with a disgusting social outcast played by the host, as Kenan Thompson as the Bartender looks on, disgusted. It’s always funny, and it felt amusing, as per usual. But for whatever reason, it never fully clicked the way it has in the past. Maybe it’s the writers feeling out of it, maybe it’s McKinnon feeling a little out of it, but for whatever reason it never had the impact it needed to, or has had in the past. Oh well.
Worthy Mention: “Cold Open” – I’m sure most people are expecting this to be the “Sketch of the Night.” Indeed, it is the most shared video from YouTube already. However, I just couldn’t. McKinnon singing “Hallelujah” as Clinton is clever, and sobering, and incredible, but God if it isn’t the most depressing, upsetting thing I’ve seen on TV this entire election cycle. It’s the video I’m posting below, considering “Jheri’s Place” isn’t on YouTube. But know that while it is a great piece of talent showcasing, it is in no way the most entertaining piece from last night.
- Tom Hanks
- Lin-Manuel Miranda
- Margot Robbie
- Dave Chappelle
- Benedict Cumberbatch
- Emily Blunt