For Issa Rae, 2020 should have been the biggest year of her career. Between two romcoms, one sweet (The Photograph) and one funny (The Lovebirds), and the fourth season of her show Insecure all debuting before July, an early spring hosting of Saturday Night Live should have been the cherry on top. After in person shows were cancelled in the spring, and replaced with whatever the hell SNL At Home was, Rae’s episode was delayed until last night. In her fine, if uneventful monologue, she jokes about not doing much since she was supposed to host in the spring. “Now I’m here, and there really is no reason. Like, I have nothing going on,” she deadpanned. That sort of charm is what held down the latest episode of SNL, despite it being mostly unfunny. Each sketch didn’t really work, but at worst, they were amusing, and Rae was a bright spot for most of them.
Let us start with the worst: the cold open, which mocked Thursday’s dual town halls with Donald Trump and Joe Biden, started the evening out on a low point. This season of SNL’s political material seems to carry the worst of previous season’s issues (focusing on catchphrases, weird caricature of mostly boring politicians, exaggeration of the material), but this season seems determined on letting Jim Carrey do Biden karaoke, or Maya Rudolph as Kamala Harris make wine mom jokes. Alec Baldwin as Trump got a hearty groan out of the audience by saying “Rest in power, Jeffery [Epstein],” but the majority of the sketch was painful. At one point, Biden does a Tik Tok dance. Enough said.
The political material fared far better on Weekend Update, where Michael Che dropped some of the best lines of the evening, and Colin Jost did his best. Che’s first solid line about swing voters and Kanye, but miraculously ended with a punchline about Little Richard. One of the best parts of the evening was Che’s reaction to the audience’s reaction: when the Little Richard line bombed, he groaned along. Jost’s best line was about C-SPAN being dramatic, “messy bitches,” after host Steve Scully was suspended, but Che’s best line was a joke about Jost, implying his ancestors were white supremacists. “Oh, this is getting worse,” laughed Jost, before talking about a pastor urinating on a passenger on a plane.
Rae brought some dry expertise to her sketches, which kept certain portions of the evening from being completely irredeemable. Her best sketch, First Date Exes, where a parade of exes interrupt Rae and Chris Reed on a date, was entertaining due to the chaotic bombardment of characters, from Keenan Thompson’s Clifford to Pete Davidson’s Karate Man. The Beck Bennet centered ad for 5-Hour Empathy, a product that helps white people understand the pain of Black people during a period of protests and brutality, elicited some chuckles when playing off of the idea of performative liberalism and pretending to care. Still, most of the evening’s sketches were average at best. The Jack Flatts sketch has one joke and they beat it into the ground: a group of Jack Flatts obsessives say they say that they’ll kidnap the governor if the restaurant doesn’t open in a quiet, scared voice.
Justin Bieber’s performances stretched the line between overdone and solid. His first song, “Holy,” is the sort of over the top, faux-gospel pop song that almost works. By the time Chance the Rapper shows up, it’s so undeniably stupid that you have to nod along. His second tune, “Lonely,” was self-pitying and weird, with Bieber starting backstage and ending the song onstage. The evening shifted wildly, from moments like Bieber’s self-serious performance, to odd sketches like the Canadian News Show, which ended with Bowen Yang and Kate McKinnon doing literal karaoke.
Next week’s host and musical guest still haven’t been announced, but we could do much worse than last night’s episode (note: Adele was announced as next week’s host alongside musical guest H.E.R.). We’ve only got a few more weeks until the U.S. election, so hopefully we’ve only got a few more weeks of Alec Baldwin’s Trump impression.
Until next week!
Find me on Twitter at @selfseriousness.
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