If Saturday Night Live episodes were named like installments of Friends, this episode would be called “The One With the Giggles.” With Chance the Rapper the biggest offender, everyone had a hard time keeping it together for the majority of the episode. That laughter was part of an overall shaggy episode that has its fair share of missed lines, reading flubs, missed camera shots, and prop issues. This didn’t lead to a lack of laughter inside the studio, but meant that several sketches that could have been winners turned instead to near misses. The overall effect was an incredibly fun party that the majority of us had to watch through a window across the street.
Still, “exuberant energy” is preferable to “going through the motions,” which is what the worst SNL episodes invoke. Polished delivery can make certain jokes land with aplomb, but it’s more fun to see a cast actually enjoy performing together versus assassin-like delivery. Chance seemed to have a blast at every second, a genuine fan of both the show and its current cast. It might not have taken a lot to make him break, but that’s much better than seeing a host stare dead-eyed into the cue cards, praying for the sweet release of death.
While there were long stretches without laughs (I’m pretty sure that flying cocktail bar sketch might still be going on), here are the sketches people will be discussing until Charlie’s Angels star Kristen Stewart hosts next week.
When Chance the Rapper was announced, I got down on my knees and prayed for the return of Lazlo Holmes. And behold, prayer answered! While not the comedic surprise that his appearance as a hockey announcer was in 2017, this still delivered another fish-out-of-water scenario that managed an interesting twist by the end.
The majority of the sketch fits nicely into the one in which Holmes froze while trying to understand a New York Rangers game: A man completely out of his element, wondering what any of the signifiers around him mean. “I guess e-sports is what white and Asian kids have been doing while black kids were inventing hip-hop,” he says at once point, trying to make sense of both the frantic action onscreen and the sheer volume of the crowd watching it.
The sketch teeters on punching down to e-sports culture until Bowen Yang’s team captain comes onscreen, at which point Holmes’ ignorance gets turned on him. Rather than mocking League of Legends, the sketch ultimately mocks people that don’t attempt to understand an insanely popular subculture that’s threatening to take over primal entertainments such as basketball itself. When a computer game can fill Madison Square Garden, ignoring its impact is itself ignorant. The sketch doesn’t hammer this point home — which makes it more powerful.
Tasty Toaster Tarts
The best sketches know exactly how long their premise can last, squeeze every ounce of blood from that comedic stone, and then get the heck out of town. There’s a 7-minute version of this sketch which is flat-out terrible, but at just over two minutes, this sketch (pun intended) kills.
If you were to pair the viewing of SNL sketches the way a cinephile might pair two thematically-related films, you’d pair this one with “Almost Pizza,” another two-minute gem set in a kitchen filled with increasing dread. Here, Chance brings home a group of friends for an after-school snack, and his ridiculous series of options soon leads them to realize 1) his parents are almost certainly dead in the fridge, and 2) Chance almost definitely did it after snapping as the result of his extremely strict upbringing.
Again, a lesser sketch might have turned this into a haunted hide-and-seek in which Chance stalked and killed them to cover up the initial crime. But all it took was a few quick shots of the disheveled, blood-soaked house, coupled with Chance’s hypnotic reciting of the never-ending snacks, to drive the point home.
There’s a fine line between holding a great joke too long and creating the perfect amount of tension to make its reveal explosive. For the first 90 seconds, this sketch is straight up dire, but intentionally so: Everything builds up to Chance’s evasive ghost. Once his reticence is unveiled, the sketch has another hurdle to overcome: Make the surprise pay off. Against all odds, this sketch takes these two challenges and overcomes them both to produce a fun holiday sketch.
In terms of meme-ability, Jason Momoa’s appearance in “Judge Barry” will last far longer than anything in this sketch. But this isn’t “3 Memes You Have to See,” this is “3 Sketches You Have to See.” As with every sketch on this list, Chance’s expressive face sells material that might falter in less charismatic hands. Nothing about his desire to stay quiet seems malevolent, but simply borne out of utter embarrassment. And while typing out the reveal may violate several Rolling Stone policies, needless to say it’s simultaneously filthy yet almost adorable? No kink-shaming here, people.
One important part of this sketch is something I can’t ever remember seeing before, even though I’m sure it’s happened in a previous episode. The clouds behind each ghostly singer animated the story being sung, which was a delightful visual addition to the sketch. I’m not sure if that was CGI or projection, but either way, it demonstrated another way in which SNL has upped its visual vocabulary over the past few seasons.