Where has “Saturday Night Live” been hiding this? This level of critical commentary on race and politics and the state of America today? The ability to make us laugh at the uncomfortably real? The fact that it’s 2016 and the host can smoke multiple cigarettes, indoors, on live TV?
This episode was so good, it almost feels like an outlier. With legendary sketch and standup comic Dave Chappelle as the host, backed by A Tribe Called Quest debuting songs from their brand-new album, this episode would have become historic either way the election went. But the election went in favor of Donald Trump. Thus, it was up to “SNL” to answer: What do we do now?
After an exhausting, traumatic week, “SNL” knew the world would be watching. “SNL” was appointment TV. It was crucial. And they’d been ripping apart presidential candidate Donald Trump with Alec Baldwin’s cartoonish, Bond villain-esque portrayal since Week 1, so the show had that to contend with.
Enter Dave Chappelle.
Host: Dave Chappelle
When America needs to heal, it often looks to “Saturday Night Live” for help. So “SNL” turned Dave Chappelle loose on stage, and let him do 11 full minutes of moving, honest stand-up for the monologue.
Chappelle killed it. The entire episode. They let him do his thing, and audiences were grateful for it. It was the sharpest, strongest we’ve ever seen Chappelle, and his unapologetic takes on race, money, and politics were so stunning, they were almost difficult to hear. He was sincere, intense, and subdued during the monologue, but most of all, he was funny. We needed to hear that yeah, the world is insane. But it’s okay to laugh, because we need to.
Chappelle’s performance was brilliant; the monologue alone will make Top 10, all-time lists for as long as “SNL” exists. (And not just because it gave the FCC something to get excited about, though that’s certainly part of it.) From bringing back iconic “Chappelle’s Show” characters to asking the tough questions, everything Chappelle did was beautiful.
When he finally relaxes toward the end of the monologue, so do we; up until then, the audience had been tense, anxious, and obviously hesitant to laugh. But resistance to Dave Chappelle is futile. Just ask Kenan Thompson, who broke twice.
Best Sketch of The Night: “Election Night”
This sketch is so on the nose, it could have been filmed at any election party you went to last week. The time stamps; the Xanax breaks; the attempts at finding logic in the entire process; it was so real, and it almost feels too soon.
November 8th, 2016: The day liberal white people discovered that America might just be a little racist. Why couldn’t they have just listened to their black friends?
Best Female Performer: Kate McKinnon
The somber cold open was not only unexpected, but also heartbreaking. Dressed as Hillary Clinton, McKinnon masterfully played piano and sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in a rich, husky voice. (Cohen passed away earlier this week, at the age of 82.) The open was so poignant; so blatantly sad. But McKinnon nailed every second of it. If it feels too gut-wrenching to watch the entire song, skip to the end. With a tear in her eye, McKinnon turns and grins at the camera, delivering an important message – “I’m not giving up, and neither should you.”
Also, later in the episode, she calls Rudy Giuliani a “ghoul.”
Sketch Most Likely to Go Viral: “Walking Dead Chappelle’s Show”
In a sketch seemingly designed to break the Internet, Chappelle resurrects his best “Chappelle’s Show” characters for a “Walking Dead”-style execution scene.
Of course Clayton Bigsby supports Trump. Of course he does.
Best Parody: “Jheri’s Place”
“SNL” rarely pokes fun at itself, which is why “Jheri’s Place” was such a surprise. What started off as a sketch that looked like it had gone terribly awry live quickly turned into a sports conference-esque breakdown of itself. It also felt like a commentary on sports broadcasting; how can a player walk off of a court, field, etc. after a game and directly into a den of journalists? But is a bad sketch like an off game, really?
If you watch “Jheri’s Place” for one reason, it should be the disagreeable cast arguing with interviewers about how the sketch went. (Is Leslie Jones echoing Allen Iverson there for a moment?) Also, Dave Chappelle lights and smokes the first of his three cigarettes during this one.
Best Impression: Kate McKinnon
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from McKinnon’s charming, loopy take on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but she’s always welcome. Justice Ginsburg dropped by Weekend Update to discuss the next stage of her career with Colin Jost, and, er, gobble some vitamins.
In an appropriately heavy episode, this impression was a breath of fresh air. McKinnon’s take on Ginsburg is spry, with a nasal voice and a thick Brooklyn accent, and her “Gins-burn!” dance moves have only gotten sassier with time. It’s also a nice reminder that McKinnon is a gifted impressionist, even if she won’t need to use her Hillary Clinton too much in the near future.
Best Male Performer: Kyle Mooney
The Chappelle-heavy episode left the male cast members of “SNL” without too much to do this week. Except for Kyle Mooney, finally. His earnestness in the “Leslie Dates” sketch was amazing. His childishness didn’t feel out of place, and his competition with Colin Jost for Leslie Jones’ affection was just silly enough to entertain. Can you think of a less threatening person than SNL’s Colin Jost? Okay, maybe Kyle Mooney. But definitely no one else.
He also had an uncanny ability to play it straight during the “Football Party” sketch toward the end of the night. Mooney is at his most sublime when he has no idea he’s the weird one in the room, so watching him stay cool during an increasingly weird scenario was a nice twist.
Worst Sketch of The Night: “Football Party”
Even in the show’s best episodes, not every sketch can be flawless, and “Football Party” proves exactly that. It felt a little out-of-place during last night’s meaningful episode. What is nice about “Football Party”, however, is how much lighter it is compared to the rest of the night’s material. In fact, the silly, gag-heavy sketch that closed the night was likely “SNL” telling America that it’s okay; we’ll get through this together. Also, watching Kenan and Pete Davidson struggling not to break against Chappelle is a delight.
This incisive, uncompromising post-election episode is “Saturday Night Live” at its best. “SNL” is back next week with host Kristen Wiig and musical guest The xx.