‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: Chance The Rapper Charms His Way Through The Season’s Best

This week's host could be "SNL's" new Justin Timberlake.
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 1731 -- Pictured: (l-r) Chance The Rapper during "Opening Monologue" in Studio 8H on Saturday, November 18, 2017 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)
Will Heath/NBC

The biggest shock to come from this week’s episode of “Saturday Night Live” is that Chance The Rapper can apparently exist without his signature hat. He might even thrive without it, which is a fascinating reality to accept. The point is, with or without the hat, Chance The Rapper hosts the best episode of this season so far, the first one to maintain a consistently good quality from top to bottom as well as successfully use the host to their strengths. In fact, Chance The Rapper showed signs in this episode of being the next Justin Timberlake for “Saturday Night Live” in terms of his versatility, gameness, and general sense of humor as a host.

The second biggest shock is that, despite the opening monologue, the “Family Feud” sketch, and some Weekend Update, this year’s Thanksgiving episode is not tied down to the concept of being a Thanksgiving episode. Maybe that’s what allows it to reach its full potential. Or maybe it’s just the fact that we already know it would be very difficult for anything here to surpass “Back Home Ballers.” No offense to your little baby Chance, of course.

Host: Chance The Rapper

Ah, the return of the musical monologue to “Saturday Night Live.” It makes sense, given Chance The Rapper’s profession — his name even says that — but the musical monologue is a well “Saturday Night Live” tends to go to even more than they do Kate McKinnon in sketches. (Speaking of, she’s not been quite as much of a focus the past couple of episodes, has she?)

In what looks to be a case of nerves, Chance pretty much forgets what the actual choreography is for this musical number early on and just starts laughing through it. He does figure it all out again by the end of the episode, but as far as musical monologues go… Let’s put it this way: Chance says there are no Thanksgiving songs, but that’s not the case at all. Besides the one from “SNL” alum Adam Sandler, “Bob’s Burgers” already gave us the perfect and definitive Thanksgiving song (a song that The National even covered) back in 2012. Thanksgiving was perfectly fine on the music front before this.

This week on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon,” Chance The Rapper revealed that he had written three sketches for this week’s “SNL” (with the help of Donald Glover, who knows a thing or two about writing comedy). He was realistic enough to admit that writing them and having them be performed at dress rehearsal wasn’t a 100 percent promise of them making it onto the actual show. But it’s probably safe to assume that the Gotham City Thanksgiving sketch was one of those sketches. And you know what, Batman really does go hard on even low level criminals in the hood. And why does Gotham City have so many gargoyles as part of its architecture, anyway? “Who y’all talking about? Batman?” Absolutely.

Keep in mind that the “Come Back Barack” sketch also has a Batman reference right after this sketch. It also somewhat considers George Clooney as Batman to be a positive thing, which is… a choice.

This week’s “SNL” also busts out a “Family Feud” sketch that surprisingly isn’t just an excuse for everyone to do their best impressions, though the nature of the sketch requires Chance The Rapper to pull out his best Kenan Thompson as Steve Harvey impression in his role as Steve’s illegitimate son. And he nails it. “And he nails it” is perhaps the key phrase of this week’s “Saturday Night Live” episode, as Chance The Rapper’s brand of enthusiasm and corniness (but you know, in a good way) simply fuels his sketches. As does his ability to play the odd man out, which is the case for the simple — but so specific — Sports Announcer sketch:

There is perhaps nothing more identifiable than Chance’s reaction to the fact that “that is an S, a K, and a J all next to each other” in a player’s name. Well, that and the fact that it’s very cold. “That’s what’s up.”

Best Sketch of The Night: Come Back, Barack/Rap History

It’s not rare for a pre-taped sketch to be the top pick for best sketch of the night, but considering this episode has two — and they’re both very relevant and specific in their own ways — it seems best to pair them up in this particular case. “Come Back, Barack” is an unofficial (but perhaps official?) sequel to last season’s “Jingle Barack,” as well as an almost criminal riff on K-Ci & JoJo’s “Crazy.” To the point where hopefully “Saturday Night Live” and Chance The Rapper made sure to get the right clearances for this song and video.

Intense intentional musical similarity aside, that this sketch doesn’t take itself so seriously with the political aspects of it all — and the same can be said for the cold open — is key to its success. It’s a lament for the past presidency, but it’s also a wholly ridiculous one, both in terms of its R&B melodrama and Chance, Kenan, and Chris’ inability to understand how the government works.

This particular tweet regarding the cold open–

–comes back to mind when it comes to old man Chance The Rapper in the “Rap History” sketch. He finally gets to be an old man in a sketch that crosses The Sugarhill Gang (check the costumes) and Grandmaster Flash with Pete Davidson as… kind of a male version of Iggy Azalea, honestly. The twist that these old school rappers were the only ones who advocated for crack makes for a nice end to the story, though the “Behind The Music” nature of the rest of the sketch is really what makes it work.

“Worst” Sketch of The Night: Porn Pizza Delivery

Given the quality of this episode, “worst” sketch truly is a very relative term, but that designation will have to go to the 10-to-1 sketch of the night, “Porn Pizza Delivery.” Also, based on the claims of people who were at the original dress rehearsal, apparently this sketch is a leftover that got dropped from the Dave Chappelle episode last season. This Aidy Bryant character (“Little Girl”) has shown up before, and it’s one that gets big laughs even for being such a one-note joke. But there’s something pretty inspired about her apologizing to Chance The Rapper’s porn pizza delivery guy (“frick yeah”) for her house only having a black leather couch, two fake plants, and no other furniture.

Honorable mention: “Career Day”

This sketch truly gets by on just how committed everyone involved in it is, because there’s really not a lot going on in it. But moments like Aidy Bryant’s parent character’s passive aggression toward Cecily Strong’s teacher, Mikey Day’s intense spit-take onto Melissa Villasenor, and well, Chance The Rapper down to his boxers, absolutely make this bizarre little sketch. This sketch actually might be weirder than the last sketch of the night, because at least that one comes from a recurring character. It really is the enthusiasm and corniness fueling Chance (and Mikey) that makes this one succeed in a way it probably shouldn’t.

Again, please don’t take the “worst” designation as a slam on these sketches. We can call them the “not the best” sketches of the night if necessary. There’s just not as much going on with these sketches as there are the others, but they’re definitely funny.

Best Female Performer: Aidy Bryant

This week wasn’t really an episode for the ladies of “Saturday Night Live,” which is a reason to deduct points from this episode. But from her role as Steve Harvey’s longtime friend-slash-secret lover in the “Family Feud” sketch to the small role as the passive-aggressive parent at Career Day to her recurring character in the “Porn Pizza Delivery” sketch, Aidy Bryant is a highlight when given the chance here.

Best Male Performer: Pete Davidson

Pete has really stepped up the self-deprecation game in Weekend Update this season, but this week’s Thanksgiving-inspired (but of course it goes off into quite the tangent) bit is simply beautiful. Even with Colin Jost’s initial mention that he and Pete are both from Staten Island, it takes a moment to realize where Pete is going to go with this segment. But once he gets there, detailing the difference between how Staten Island perceives him with how they perceive Colin, it’s a perfect mix of mocking and self-awareness and, of course, the aforementioned self-deprecation that makes it clear that, even if Pete doesn’t work as a breakout star sketch-wise, he has quite an important role on the show.

Best Impression: Chance The Rapper as the child Kenan Thompson’s Steve Harvey Impression (Family Feud)

This is also not an impression-heavy episode, but Chance The Rapper basically doing an impression of Kenan’s Steve Harvey Impression is good enough.

Grade: A-

As mentioned above, this is easily the best episode of the season so far, from beginning to end. That even includes the cold open, which focuses on the Trump sons and a “reenactment” of a clandestine meeting with Kate McKinnon’s Julian Assange. One thing is absolutely for sure from this cold open: Alex Moffat’s Eric Trump may be (or possibly already is) a breakout character, and you can tell the live audience absolutely love everything he does. The touch for him to mess up the “LIVE FROM NEW YORK” introduction is funnier than just about every moment of Trump Sr. bits they’ve done this past couple of seasons, and we can probably expect to wonder how long it will be until the show runs it into the ground. But until then, it kills.

As for why Chance wasn’t also the musical guest, he basically answers that question himself during his monologue, as he simply tells the truth: He’s not here to promote anything. Eminem, however, does one performance (along with Skyler Gray, co-writer of two of the three songs performed), a medley of his new single “Walk On Water,” “Stan,” and “Love The Way You Lie.” The latter two, of course, bring back some waves of nostalgia, yet the entire medley still seems shorter than “Walk On Water” — as that song seemingly lasted the length of at least two musical performances.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. May you find a Thanksgiving song you enjoy as much as Chance enjoys his father in the Career Day sketch.

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