Delivering three consecutive episodes of Saturday Night Live is a tall order. Given how grueling each episode is to conceive and execute, it’s natural to assume the third episode might suffer from some signs of wear and tear. On the other hand, giving this new cast/crew that prolonged time together also undoubtedly gave them time to figure out what works about this particular iteration of the creative team.
Both that familiarity and that exhaustion were on display when Kumail Nanjiani finally got to host SNL. In terms of sheer bliss, it’s hard to remember a host’s joy pervade every sketch he or she was in. Not every segment was a winner, but it’s clear he should have hosted long before now, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him back at some point in the near future.
In terms of segments that are must-see, Nanjiani was only in one. But all three below are ones that should garner a lot of buzz between now and when Larry David returns to host the show in November.
Kumail Nanjiani Standup Monologue
Nanjiani’s monologue was full of sharp statements delivered with a seemingly safe smile: At no point did his demeanor betray the viciousness of his punchlines. With his standup background, it’s no surprise to see him do so well in this arena. But for people only familiar with him through his work in shows like Silicon Valley, this most likely served as a satisfying shock.
Nanjiani moved seamlessly from his upbringing, reactions to his film The Big Sick, and his plea for a more “informed racist” to deliver a monologue in which ignorance itself was on trial. His take on the Quran’s supposedly specific prognostications was a masterstroke, laying out how misconceptions and self-reinforced prejudices calcify over time even when the original lie is so flimsy that it’s nearly impossible to believe once considered for even a minute. It was a triumphant piece of comedy writing, in which Nanjiani took the national spotlight and absolutely owned it.
Is SNL a few weeks late on an It parody? Probably! (The fact that Nanjiani isn’t in this suggest it may have been in the can for a bit, although that’s just a guess.) But when it’s as sharp as Pennywise’s teeth, one can excuse the weight. Absolutely no one in the political or news spectrums escapes from this sketch unscathed.
It’s fairly easy to predict where the sketch is going once Anderson Cooper’s memo starts floating towards the sewer. But that didn’t make Kellyanne Conway’s appearance any less delightful. “Every day she drags someone into that sewer!” exclaims a nearby police officer, and it’s a powerful metaphor for the symbiotic relationship between news networks desperate for ratings and the talking heads desperate to be seen on those networks. It’s difficult to assess what was scarier: the clown make-up or the banal way in which Conway could deliver outlandish quotes without actually believing any of them.
Having Hillary Clinton appear (“Where did you think I’d be: Michigan or Wisconsin?”) near the end served as an added shock to an audience unprepared to have her included in the mix, and underlined just how dark this sketch truly was.
The scandal surrounding Harvey Weinstein fueled much of “Weekend Update,” but also this recurring sketch featuring Kate McKinnon’s aging actress Debette Goldry. In past iterations of this sketch, the modern-day actresses have been shocked at the poor treatment Goldry received in the “Golden Age” of Hollywood. Here? They barely blink an eye, which is a subtle but damning indictment of how much has come to light in the last week, highlighting how little has really changed.
You can see the sketch struggling to balance outrage and comedy, and to be fair, it doesn’t always work. That says more about what Weinstein did than the sketch itself, and how all previous Goldry sketches now play a LOT differently than they did during their original airings. The image of Goldry being unable to distinguish between his genitals and his face gets a genuine gut-busting laugh from the audience. But Goldry’s slightly scattered call for resistance at the end is (intentionally, I believe) awkward, suggesting the path forward will be anything but easy. That doesn’t provide the type of catharsis desired, but also is an honest snapshot of this current moment in time.