If you're Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, then you know that the only way you last 46 seasons (and counting) is by knowing what your audience needs and when it needs it. For this weekend's sixth live episode of the season (a record-setter for most consecutive live shows), host Dave Chappelle and musical artists Foo Fighters had the responsibility on their shoulders of ushering in the first SNL in a country that just found out hours earlier that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were projected as the U.S.'s next President and Vice-President. Was there pressure? Well, let's just say that when you have names like Chris Rock and LeBron James pushing the show on social media, you realize pretty quickly that this is now a season-defining episode.
So did SNL rise to the occasion? Yes, and it cleared the bar much higher than it ever needed to. With a day's worth of serious celebration already under a lot of folks' belts, eyeballs were tuning into SNL for their election takes in three key areas: cold open, Chappelle's monologue, and "Weekend Update" (with a strong musical performance to cover up some of the rough spots). Everything else surrounding those segments was "extra"- meaning that unless it was a raging turd of a sketch, they couldn't do anything but helps those three key areas. Not only did the episode score in all the key areas, it felt the most "old school" that SNL's felt in a long time. Having sketches in-between that also clicked helped take the heavy lifting off their shoulders, and made for nice "breathers" in-between the election stuff.
Was SNL perfect? Nope, with "DC Morning" leaving me wondering exactly how many people recognized the OJ Simpson news footage connection (way too many people of social media asking where they got that footage from) and "Hailstorm" being the only sketch that violated the sacred "don't overstay your welcome" rule. But to counter that, we had the "Super Mario 35th Anniversary" segment that took me on a journey until I found myself laughing at the end. I went from interested, to bored and bothered, to eventually appreciating the absurdity of just how far it went (helped in large part to Kenan Thompson's reactions). After "Take Me Back," I need to see Beck Bennett and Ego Nwodim in more sketches together because they have serious chemistry on screen- and the sketch itself I'm sure hit home to a lot of people watching in a ton of ways. And who can forget Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters, giving viewers live performances of new song "Shame Shame" and then following it up later in the show with a near-perfect "Jekyll/Hyde" take on "Times Like These"- making their feelings on the day's (and past four year's) events clearly felt.
As for the key elements I mentioned earlier, let's take a look at this weekend's SNL starting with the "Biden Victory Cold Open":
Set the right tone for the night, didn't overstay its welcome and proved cathartic to millions watching. It was the best use of Maya Rudolph's talents as Harris this season and I hope a sign of better things still to come. Jim Carrey's Biden has gotten nicely fine-tuned over the past six weeks, and that was clearly evident tonight. Alec Baldwin's Donald Trump at the piano was a bit "eh" but Baldwin's turn as the orange monster is still on point. One overall complaint: wish we had more of Bennett's Mike Pence this season. Oh, and it gets serious props for letting Carrey and Rudolph end the sketch with a nod back to Carrey's old "Loser!" days- and was it just me, or was it really nice seeing Baldwin, Rudolph, and Carrey hug it out before hitting the opening line?
Chappelle has gone from stand-up comic and sketch comedy veteran to a kind of spoken word prophet, and his personal professional evolution over the years has been a fascinating one whether or not you necessarily agree with him. The nearly 17 minutes that Chappelle owned Studio 8H was clear evidence of that, kicking off with a touching story about his family's history that takes the kind of sweet Chappelle twist at the end that lets us know what we're in store for- and then hits us from every direction possible. A combination of stand-up, rant, spoken word, gospel, lecture, and therapy session, Chappelle takes us through the working of his mind- and guess what? He doesn't give a sh*t if that means he triggers you in the process. In fact, the moments where he rocks a playful smile or a wink he's pretty much telling you, "I'm gonna get ya"- and that it's okay. A monologue like this helps make for a great Emmy nomination episode- just saying.
When Colin Jost, Michael Che, and Kate McKinnon are in full-on "don't give a f**k" mode, there is very little else on late-night that's more enjoyable to watch. With a glass in hand, Che delivered the "news" as if he was sitting with us at a bar and we were watching CNN together. Jost charged in with an impressive amount of snark and disdain to the jokes- I imagined him flicking a cigarette butt in someone's eye at the end of it as he walks off (think The Usual Suspects). As for one of SNL's MVPs, McKinnon's Rudy Giuliani was exactly the right combination of Six Flags mascot and an elfish creature that the American people want and need right now. Side note? Props to whoever threw the salad because those lettuce leaves stuck the landing.
If you ever needed an example of how a quality sketch can actually be helped and not hurt when the cast breaks up? Here you go, with Aunt Jemima (Rudolph), Uncle Ben (Thompson), and the Allstate Guy (Chappelle) trying to defend their jobs in changing social climates. What did it for me was Rudolph cracking just a bit in beginning we she tells us who she is, and it just went off from there- but leave it to Pete Davidson's Count Chocula and his reaction to Chappelle's fascination over his lips to be the walk-away moment.