Let’s not bury the lede: That was the best Saturday Night Live episode all season.
Watching SNL is not unlike watching a sporting event or a concert: All three are live experiences in which anything can happen, and when something magical unfolds, it becomes contagious. Donald Glover and the Not Ready For Primetime Players didn’t throw a no-hitter last night, but they did deliver the most consistently funny and inventive episode since Martin Freeman hosted in Season 40.
We only talk about three sketches a week here, but the second trio of sketches behind the ones below would still represent a stronger batch than those in lesser episodes. That’s how good this episode was. Melissa Villaseñor’s inept dirty talker, Pete Davidson’s savage “Weekend Update” roast of Michael Che and Colin Jost, and Glover’s insanely confident Jurassic Park lawyer would all make appearances on weaker installments.
This was an embarrassment of riches, and what follows are the ones that will have the most traction before Amy Schumer returns to host next Saturday.
Michael Cohen Wiretap Cold Open
At the risk of making this review topical: This was the Avengers: Infinity War of cold opens. Had the Black Widow herself (Scarlett Johansson) not appeared, this would still hold true. SNL has not had a good track record this season when putting Alec Baldwin onscreen as Donald Trump, but here he’s just one of a dozen-plus figures clamoring for space inside the cacophony that is the Trump Presidency.
Often times, the cold open will shove in two or three disparate stories inside a topical cold open, and the overall effect is to dull the impact of each individual segment. Here, the sheer tonnage of content actually works in its favor, as the whirlwind around Michael Cohen (played once again by Ben Stiller) is reflected by the blink-and-you-miss-it approach to every scandal concurrently occurring in the here and now. If you didn’t like Martin Short’s Harold Bornstein, you could stick around for Kate McKinnon’s Rudy Giuliani, or you could be entertained by Jimmy Fallon’s Jared Kushner. Something for everyone!
By the time the sketch got around to Stormy Daniels, the audience was prepped for another famous non-cast member to portray her. Instead, we got Daniels herself, a reason unto itself why this will be the most covered sketch of the next week. Daniels didn’t exactly light the world on fire with her performance, but to be fair, Meryl Streep herself couldn’t have saved, “I know you don’t believe in climate change…but there’s a storm coming!” But that doesn’t ultimately matter. This sketch’s anarchy matches the anarchy of the current moment, and packing it with celebrities was merely the icing on an already potently funny cold open.
80’s Music Video
Full disclosure: “Friendos” is the superior technical achievement, and if I wrote this recap ten times in ten alternate universes, it probably would end up in this slot half the time. But this child of the ‘80s – inspired by Oran “Juice” Jones’ infamous “The Rain” video – is going with this one in this universe, because the nostalgia factor, coupled with a truly brilliant ending, takes the win by the slimmest of margins.
First of all, the song itself is catchy as hell, to the point that if I heard it on the radio, I’d think it was a real song I once recorded off the radio onto a black cassette. Secondly, the sketch does a great job of following through on the song’s inherently creepy premise by making Glover’s singer a straight-up stalker. Thirdly, it takes the music video trope of the silent woman and turns it on its head, with Cecily Strong’s beleaguered woman attempting over and over again that he’s accusing the wrong woman, only to hear another increasingly bizarre thing that Raz P. Berry has done in retaliation for this perceived affront.
If nothing else, I have to give props to Glover’s dance at the end, after he’s revealed the location of his girlfriend’s jewelry. It’s a small shift from his original moves, and he doesn’t oversell it, but everyone watching understands what he’s doing. It’s an absolutely brilliant bit of physical comedy and the perfect capper to this segment.
A Kanye Place
The cold open was broad and crowd-pleasing. But this little slice of political satire sneaks up on you, shifting slowly past a mere pop-culture parody into an analysis of how keeping focused on what’s important is simply impossible at this point in history. We all know what we should do, this sketch argues, but our impulses keep leading us astray.
That’s a pretty heavy premise for a light sketch. But using Kanye West as a fulcrum upon which the entire premise swivels is a fantastic way to illuminate how each successive scandal can numb us from the one before it. Everyone has a momentary breaking point, and the “monsters” swoop in despite our best efforts to keep them at bay. (Everyone that’s every hashtagged in anger can relate.) It’s difficult to maintain the strength of a group when each individual has her or his own Achilles heel. In that regard, using the horror genre to depict this truth is perfect: It’s a genre in which common sense flees when confronted with senselessness. In a strong episode, this was the strongest moment.