Last week, IndieWire wrote that Dave Chappelle’s episode of “Saturday Night Live” was so transcendently good, it felt like an outlier. It hit all of the right notes, politically and otherwise, at precisely the time audiences wanted to hear it the most. This week’s episode, anchored by beloved former “SNL” cast member Kristen Wiig, went a little differently.
The Thanksgiving episode was mostly fluff, and while it threw some political punches, it often felt as if the cast members were having an infinitely better time than the audience. So, what did work? Let’s take a closer look.
Host: Kristen Wiig
Kristen Wiig is a joy. That’s never a question; nearly everything she touches turns to gold. Her enthusiasm and appreciation for the 8H stage shone through in her performances all night, so it was disappointing that she had weak material to work with. Audiences oohed and ahhed as she resurrected old favorites, including delusional game show contestant Mindy Elise Grayson, and Sue, known for her love of surprises. So, why did this episode feel so flat?
Wiig was a high point of nearly every sketch she appeared in. And it was obvious that the cast loved to have her around; Leslie Jones, Kenan Thompson, and Kate McKinnon all came close to breaking. It’s just that the writing itself didn’t feel strong enough. And why did we need big-name guest stars, particularly when they were given so little to do? Wiig should be enough!
Maybe we wanted more insight and more incisiveness, like we saw the week before. Maybe we weren’t prepared, or were let down, by “SNL’s” decision to return to holiday fluff so closely after the election upset. It’s possible that the current cast members never learned how to hold their own against this particular host. But, in all honesty, that’s not on Kristen Wiig. Her performance rose above.
Best Sketch of The Night: “Donald Trump Prepares”
The cold open was the strongest, and most blatantly political, that “SNL” went all night. Alec Baldwin returned as a blustering President-Elect Trump, willing to become completely unmoored from his campaign promises in search of the easiest solution. Kate McKinnon is perfect as a beleaguered Kellyanne, introducing potential members of Trump’s new cabinet with a sigh and a surprisingly pointed one-liner.
The sketch served to illustrate how wildly underprepared Trump is for this position, demonstrating both his empty promises and his complete miscalculation of what the job entails. The brightest (and saddest) moment occurs toward the end, when Trump and Beck Bennett’s stone-cold Pence are talking about the future. “I love you, Mike,” Trump says, “You’re the reason I’m never gonna get impeached.” If only the rest of the episode kept up.
Sketch Most Likely to Go Viral: “The Bubble”
This expertly produced ad is the most successful commercial parody “SNL” has put out in some time. Kyle Mooney is perfectly cast as Stylish-But-Credible Millennial Man, and Sasheer Zamata’s subtle facial expressions are marvelous. So, if you’re looking for a place to move after the election, you and everyone you know (who voted for Hillary Clinton, probably) will love The Bubble. The Bubble: Coming in 2017.
Honorable Mention: Target Commercial.
Worst Sketch of The Night: “Thanksgiving Parade”
“Thanksgiving Parade” provided some impressive green screen work. And Kristen Wiig, Bobby Moynihan, and Mikey Day have an uncanny ability to remain terrifyingly frozen. However, this child’s nightmare of a sketch felt dull. It lacked the commentary or outright weirdness it needed to be Actually Funny, and would have found more success in the 12:50 a.m. time slot. Maybe it sounded funnier at 2 a.m. in the writers’ room, but in the middle of the episode, it didn’t quite feel like enough.
Best Parody: “Anderson Cooper 360”
If you’ve ever watched a CNN panel and thought to yourself “hey, maybe time really is a flat circle,” this is the sketch for you. When the conversations are the same every time, and the arguments are equally useless from both sides, and the host seems bizarrely uninvolved with his own show, perhaps there’s a reason…
Also, pay close attention to the intros at the round table. They’re so accurate, they’ll make you question why you chose to watch CNN in the first place.
Best Male Performer: Beck Bennett
Beck Bennett’s Mike Pence impression is downright cyborgian. He manages to take the already immobile Pence and somehow morph into the Uncanny Valley, but in human form. Additionally, his deadpan Jake Tapper is spot-on. If Bennett only did impressions of stoic, political-esque figures, we’d be okay with that. His franchise-y characters, like Baby Boss, never seem to land as well as literally any time he plays a jerk (though his frustration at not understanding Hanks’ “David S. Pumpkins” role was a gem). Whether he attempted to smile reassuringly (as Pence) or run away from an enraged Kristen Wiig, Bennett was undeniably the one to watch last night.
Honorable Mention: Bobby Moynihan.
Best Female Performer: Kate McKinnon
Kate McKinnon is never bad, and in a just okay episode, she had the best material. Her Kellyanne Conway impression has gotten both darker and stronger, and her giddy cat fanatic in “Whiskers R We” is somehow delightful every time. In most sketches, it seemed as if the cast members deferred to Wiig as the funniest person on stage, but McKinnon committed to her own characters in the best way. She’s excellent at playing loud, blonde, incorrect, and smug, which makes her the ideal choice to play a perma-Trump supporter, even if the show has her doing so twice in one night. Also, she had to do a lightning-fast change between the cold open and the monologue, in which she briefly appears as Napoleon. Hats off to you, McKinnon. Please stick around.
Honorable Mention: Cecily Strong.
Best Impression: Jason Sudeikis
Surprise! You didn’t think Mitt Romney was just going to let Donald Trump run away with the Republican Party, did you? Sudeikis never needs to do much to make his Romney impression work. We just wish we’d gotten to see more of it. And maybe we will, though it’s hard to gauge whether that’s a good thing.
Honorable Mentions: Literally everyone else in the cold open.
Oh, post-election “SNL.” We had higher hopes for you. “Saturday Night Live” takes a break for Thanksgiving and returns December 3rd with host Emma Stone and musical guest Shawn Mendes.