Ending its initial three-week run, Saturday Night Live closed with another strong episode that solidified this as one of the most promising seasons in several years. While more front-loaded than the first two episodes, this David Harbour-led installment reinforced its early patterns: celebrity-centric cold opens, a heaping help of Kate McKinnon, and plenty of space for the show’s newest cast members to stretch their legs. Bowen Yang and Chloe Fineman both got far more screen time than SNL stalwarts such as Kenan Thompson and Mikey Day this week, yet both feel like they have been there for quite some time already.
On weaker weeks, sketches such as “Sauce” and “Soul Cycle” would have made the cut. In the latter case, there was only so much room for sketches involving individuals doing solo bits. In the case of the former, the physical bits between McKinnon and Harbour were undeniably funny but not enough to overcome the lengthy running time and repetitive horror of their grandchildren.
But those are small quibbles in which even the weakest sketches had something to offer. For now, here are the three sketches people will talk about until Chance The Rapper returns as host/musical guest in two weeks. (Please oh please let there be another hockey sketch.)
CNN Equality Town Hall Cold Open
SNL can’t quite get over having cold opens that are a string of 60-second bits duct taped into sketch form. But as far as those constructions go, this was the best one of the early season thus far. By reducing the number of introductions of political candidates (and having Billy Porter deliver them), this sketch got to the good stuff more quickly and delivered several sections that will pervade this week’s news cycle.
Porter’s presence has already been mentioned, but the cameos didn’t stop there, with Woody Harrelson returning as Joe Biden and Lin-Manuel Miranda making his way back to Studio 8H as candidate Julian Castro. Miranda’s choice to do an Obama impersonation didn’t make sense for most of his time onstage, until he said, “I’m young, I’m diverse, I’m Latinobama.” Harrelson’s Biden is already fully formed, with about 50% of Jason Sudeikis’ energy but 200% of the entitled smarm. But as usual, Kate McKinnon’s Elizabeth Warren stole the show. McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton impression catapulted her to stardom during the election, but her Warren allows her to be simultaneously enthusiastic and occasionally absolutely savage about the state of the country. It’s far too early to judge its impact on the actual election, but in time this impression may influence public opinion about a candidate as much as Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush.
Side note: It will be interesting to track the cameo trend between now and May. By the time Season 45 ends, I fully expect the entire cast of Avengers: Endgame in each cold open. Tonight’s trio certainly cemented this season’s commitment to front-loading each episode with as much Hollywood talent as possible.
Little Miss Teacher’s Friend
This sketch could have aired in 1987 and been equally applicable. That sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it’s not. Everyone watching had that kid in their class, the one that hated being a child and were 8 going on 38. As with the cold open, this is another Parade Of Ideas rather than a story-based script, but it’s an excellent parade.
Harbour doesn’t have a lot to do here (other than oddly angry at Bowan Yang’s principal enthusiasm), so the lifting comes from Aidy Bryant as the delusional student host of this faux pageant. Had this sketch been nothing but a series of ridiculous “facts” about each contestant (such as “Knows A Lot Of Saints” and “Greatest Wish To Be A Pallbearer”), it still would have warranted inclusion in this week’s rundown. But each contestant’s commitment to maturity, combined with their limited vocabulary/basic understanding of adulthood, made this a wildly enjoyable sketch that didn’t need current headlines to land plenty of laughs.
Grouch (Joker Parody)
By the time you read this, there are probably dozens of articles such as “37 Details You May Have Missed About the Grouch Sketch.” It’s so densely packed with detail that it will undoubtedly reward repeated viewings. Luckily, one only need watch it once to understand this is already a strong contender for Top 10 Sketch Of The Season. Claiming that three episodes into the season seems premature, but it’s hard to imagine another ten sketches better than this between now and the Spring.
There are plenty of things to praise (Alex Moffat’s Bert impersonation, “ABCDEFG News,” the Count counting pills in a dirty alley), but what really sends the entire thing over the top is the score. Taking the Sesame Street theme and making it a bombastic, minor-key, Hans Zimmer-esque composition is the kind of detail that sells the scenario even more than the excellent cinematography. Yes, this is a parody of Joker, but it’s also a parody of Dark Reboot Culture writ large. It’s an easy target, but this sketch strikes a direct hit it all the same.
By the end, this ridiculous premise seems oddly plausible. You know there’s an executive in Los Angeles right now asking for spec scripts. The Sesame Street Cinematic Universe, much like Thanos, is inevitable. Look for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s inevitable show-stopping number: “Mr. Snuffleupagus/His name is Mr. Snuffleupagus/And there’s a million folks he hasn’t met/But just you wait, just you wait…”