Vladimir Lenin once wrote: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” The past week has clearly been the latter, and you’d assume that the season premiere of Saturday Night Live – returning for its 46th season – couldn’t have come at a better time. You’d be wrong.
Rather than kicking things off by tackling the huge news of President Trump’s Covid-19 infection, the cold open mostly ignores it, settling for a weak parody of last Tuesday’s debate debacle. A belligerent Donald Trump (Alec Baldwin) consistently interrupts a frustrated Joe Biden (Jim Carrey, whose muggy performance is only slightly redeemed by an on-point vocal impression), who has to keep from letting his “inner Whitey Bulger come out”.
Carrey gets a big reaction simply by repeating Biden’s “will you shut up man” retort but loses the thread right away by listening to a Harry Styles relaxation tape (yeah, I don’t know what the joke is supposed to be either). His running mate Kamala Harris (Maya Rudolph) comes out and restores order. Rudolph’s interpretation of Harris as the badass den mother is pure liberal wish fulfillment, as is made obvious by her line about America needing a “WAP–Woman” as president getting a huge and very self-congratulatory applause.
The sketch drags on a little longer, eventually addressing the sick elephant in the room by asking the people at home to “imagine if karma and science teamed up to send a message” to Trump that would mercifully silence him. Carrey looks like he’s about to cut loose and say what many of us are thinking, but ultimately backs down. The same might be said of the show as a whole.
Chris Rock returns to his old stomping grounds for hosting duties. The comic starts out commenting on Trump’s health crisis, saying “my heart goes out to Covid”, but he quickly moves on to a scatterbrained takedown of government inefficiency. He complains that the qualifications for holding public office are too lax one second, then rails against the elitism of our elected officials in the next. No one expected Rock to drop any revelatory political insight tonight, but his middle-of-the-road gripping comes off as utterly pointless given the direness and absurdity of our current situation.
For what’s sure to be the first of several lazy double entendre sketches this year, Eye on Pittsburg covers a super spreader event occurring at the Name Change Department of the Pittsburg Federal Building. Witnesses include Edith Puthie, Irma Guerd, Tess Tichol, Mike Roedick and so on.
Bottom of Your Face is a music video starring Chris Redd, Pete Davidson and Keenan Thompson. The umpteenth woke rap sketch from these guys, it starts out as an anthem encouraging women to take off their masks so they can see how hot (or not) they are, before Ego Nwodim and musical guest Megan Thee Stallion take over and turn the tables, calling the men out for their sexism and hypocrisy.
In Future Ghost, we flash back to October of 2000 to find teen gamer Zach (Kyle Mooney) transported to the present and shown the sorrowful future that awaits him. His initially horror at finding himself still living in his mother’s basement and wasting his life playing video games quickly morphs into excitement when he notices the advancements in gaming technology.
Megan Thee Stallion performs her first song of the night, Savage, which concludes with a demand for racial justice.
On Weekend Update, Colin Jost and Michael Che dive headlong into the president’s illness, while admitting the news caught them completely off guard. Che weighs the morality of making fun of someone – even someone as deserving as Trump – infected with a potentially deadly disease, but points out, “mathematically, if you were constructing a joke, this is all the ingredients you need”.
Apparently, that’s not the case when it comes to the Update hosts, who, much like SNL in general, do absolutely nothing with the bounty they were handed. Out of all the headline figures they could have used for Update guests – Melania Trump, Chris Christie, Amy Coney Barrett – they instead fall back on rote regulars Chen Biao (Bowne Yang), the sassy Chinese Trade Minister, and Carrie Crumb (Aidy Bryant), the bubbly tween travel expert. Anyone hoping for a final appearance of Kate McKinnon’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg will have to settle for a short and wordless cut away to her sitting in the audience, before a quick title card the reads: Rest in Power. At least we’re spared another cringeworthy rendition of Hallelujah.
Bubble Draft finds Rock hosting a dating show for would-be pro basketball groupies trying to make it into the NBA Bubble, where “they may not get a ring, but they’ll get the next best thing: 18 years of child support!” It’s incredibly dispiriting that SNL would drop as interminable and airless a sketch as this in the middle of an episode occurring during the biggest news week of this insane year, but it is what it is.
Speaking of interminable, a Covid-safety PSA from the Stunt Performers of America takes on the clichés of slapstick comedy in kid’s movies. That premise is idiosyncratic enough to get our hopes up, but the jokes are neither weird enough nor specific enough to land.
Joined by Young Thug, Megan Thee Stallion returns and wraps things up with a performance Don’t Stop.
Judged on its own merits as an episode, this wouldn’t necessarily rank among the worst of all time (or even recent seasons), but considering everything the show had to work with, it should. It may be that this moment in history is simply too insane to successfully parody, but it’s still incumbent on Saturday Night Live to try. They might as well have had Lorne Michaels walk out during the cold open and throw in the towel.