It’s the last weekend before the 2016 Presidential Election, and lord, does “Saturday Night Live” know it. Even they’re ready to be done with this madness, as the show acknowledged in an unusual cold open. Watching stars break character and run away together to the uplifting sound of Arcade Fire was a merciful break from this year’s too-real political commentary, which was about one episode away from going stale. (Looking at you, bizarrely sexist Update.)
As Baldwin and McKinnon address the audience directly, encouraging Americans to vote, we have to wonder – how will the show look next weekend? Fortunately, “SNL” and a magical roster of guest stars never quite let us get there.
Host: Benedict Cumberbatch
Benedict Cumberbatch did the most he could with this week’s material. Had it been a stronger overall episode, it’s possible that we’d be talking about Cumberbatch the way we did Jon Hamm after his first outing as host. His monologue, performed in the key of “Shaft,” made it obvious that he was having fun. It was a little silly, and not election-related, and Cumberbatch looked relaxed! Plus, it was admittedly refreshing to discover he’s not an exceptionally talented singer.
But in an episode that saw Academy Award nominee Benedict Cumberbatch argue with a bronze eagle statue in a suit, what stood out? Quite frankly, his attitude. Throughout the evening, he came across as calm, enthusiastic, and just there to have fun. And he approached just-okay sketches like “Criminal Mastermind” with the same energy and lunacy as “Surprise Bachelorette.”
Considering the fact that he had not one, but six cameos to compete against during his first hosting gig — not to mention, two breathtaking performances from Solange — Cumberbatch could have easily overdone it in the name of acclaim. But he hung back and shared the stage happily, and for that, we salute him.
Best Sketch of The Night: “Why Is Benedict Cumberbatch Hot?”
A frustrated Beck Bennett hosts a game show designed to help him (and everyone else on Earth) understand precisely why “every girl in the cast has been so horny all week.” Both Vanessa Bayer and Aidy Bryant provide pitch-perfect responses, but a truly humble Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent. Plus, all four actors played themselves(!), and they were incredible at it. Question for “SNL” historians: Has that ever happened before?
Sketch Most Likely to Go Viral: “Surprise Bachelorette”
“Surprise Bachelorette” was the most deftly unhinged sketch of the night. (It also had the darkest setup of any “SNL” bit in recent memory.) It’s best left unexplained, so we’ll just say this: Benedict Cumberbatch’s deadpan, California bro accent — combined with his blonde wig — is so perfect, you almost start to understand the Internet’s cache of Cumberbatch-themed fanfic. And Aidy Bryant, human superhero, does not break.
Best Guest Stars: The 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs
A largely dull episode was helped by its numerous guest appearances, and none were more welcome than three members of the 2016 Chicago Cubs. Dexter Fowler, Anthony Rizzo and David “Grandpa Rossy” Ross waltzed through their cameos with glee, delighting the sizable cross-section of comedy nerds and baseball fans. Fowler’s smile is one for the history books, and nothing has ever made more (or less) sense than the frat-tastic Rizzo twerking and party boy-ing his way around the 8H stage. It was, dare we say, pretty cute.
Best Impression: Dana Carvey
The Church Lady returned! Isn’t that special? “SNL” veteran Carvey resurrected the character during Weekend Update to discuss the upcoming election with Colin Jost.
(Carvey appeared on “The Tonight Show” on Friday, and has a new Netflix special to promote, so this cameo wasn’t completely out of the blue. But considering Bill Murray led three members of the Cubs in song before Update was over, this appearance is likely to get lost in the shuffle. And that’s okay.)
Best Parody: “Office Hours”
While this pre-taped bit wasn’t great overall, it did successfully lampoon the scene-chewing, monologue-prone, repressed genius characters Cumberbatch is mostly known for. It was well-produced, and it looked good, but of the evening’s three pre-taped sketches, this was the least exciting. Had it appeared later in the evening, or sent Cumberbatch truly over the edge, or given costar Pete Davidson (in his sole appearance of the evening) any more to do, perhaps “Office Hours” would have been more notable.
Best Female Performer: Aidy Bryant
Aidy Bryant is a national treasure, and her performance from last night should be featured in the Smithsonian. From her shameless, old-timey “Awooogas!” during “Why Is Benedict Cumberbatch Hot?” to her mesmerizing ability to play dead while the week’s host grinds up on her and eats whipped cream out of her mouth, last night was the best we’ve seen Aidy in a long time. She can make being lifeless funny. We’d love to see more of her and (new cast member) Melissa Villaseñor as the season rolls out.
Best Male Performer(s): Mikey Day & Alex Moffat
Mikey Day and Alex Moffat, though admittedly difficult to distinguish from one another, have consistently turned in strange, silly, and committed performances this year. Last night’s episode didn’t provide its core male cast with too much heavy lifting, perhaps owing to its having six male guest stars in addition to the week’s host. As a result, Day and Moffat got to flex more than ever.
Throughout the evening, Kyle Mooney appeared once, Pete Davidson once, Kenan Thompson twice and Bobby Moynihan not at all. While Beck Bennett got the job done, we were most impressed by this season’s “new guys.” Audiences get the sense that they’re not entirely comfortable on stage; though it’s November and we know their names, both comedians are still trying to prove themselves with every sketch. And last night, that worked.
Worst Sketch of The Night: “Gemma & Ricky”
In an episode that overfloweth with duds, “Gemma & Ricky” stuck out as the most wholly pointless. Cumberbatch committed to his Criss Angel-esque persona, and Cecily Strong’s accent work is always a joy, but that’s the only thing worth noting. Where was the joke, here? And who was the target? It also felt odd to work in an Atlantic City reference without a whiff of Trump, particularly this close to the election. If audiences will come to love deep cuts from this week’s run, “Gemma & Ricky” will certainly not be among them. Everyone in this sketch deserved better.
Cameo appearances bolstered an otherwise unmemorable episode. “Saturday Night Live” returns next week with first-time host Dave Chappelle and musical guest A Tribe Called Quest.