Adele hosted this week’s Saturday Night Live, which made it clearer than ever that SNL is now functionally two different television programs. There’s Saturday Night Live, the long-running live sketch comedy program that’s been serving up broad but mostly well-executed takes on life in America from a cast of a broad group of established and up-and-coming comedians for nearly a half-century, and then there’s The Cold Open Show, which stars Alec Baldwin, Jim Carrey, and Maya Rudolph, and stinks on ice. On television, you have to endure one to watch the other, but we’re on the internet, where YOU have the POWER (to decide which portions of Saturday Night Live to watch to prepare for your Monday conversations with your co-workers). So here are the best sketches from this week’s episode, plus one that probably shouldn’t have made it out of the writers room.
Saturday Night Live’s sketches about The Bachelor usually don’t have more of a premise than “The Bachelor is an extremely silly television show”; this is the rare exception. Adele is hilarious as a version of herself who just goes around singing Adele songs at the drop of a hat, and this is about as graceful a way as possible to get around the fact that the show booked one of the most famous singers of the day as a host instead of a musical guest. (H.E.R., who had the unenviable task of being the musical guest on Adele’s episode, was great, but what an act to follow.) Beck Bennett’s performance, which requires him to transition from “Adele is on my absolute last nerve” to “OMG Adele is singing ‘Someone Like You’!” in 10 seconds flat, is also great. But maybe it’s not the best time for a singer to wander into the audience while belting out an Adele song, even if she’s Adele.
This sketch has a simple idea but manages to be funny through execution alone. It’s obvious that the events of 2020 would be baffling and terrifying to someone from 2019—they’re pretty baffling and terrifying to people from 2020—but the specific details Kate McKinnon’s fortuneteller reveals are absolutely perfect, from the man washing a bag of Doritos in the sink, with soap, to her prediction about Bowen Yang’s upcoming trip:
I don’t see flying to Paris. I see driving to Kentucky. And you are peeing in a bag in the car, because you’re too afraid to go to the bathroom. Yes, you pee in the bag, and then he pees in the bag, and on and on until … Kentucky!
That’s a much-better-crafted mix of horror and comedy than reality has been serving up lately.
The cold open gets all the attention, but there are two recurring segments in which SNL takes on current events, and as the cold opens have gotten less and less watchable, Colin Jost and Michael Che’s Weekend Update has unexpectedly improved. It turns out that when things get really fucked up, a string of unrelated jokes can plumb the depths more efficiently than a sketch, since they can get dark without staying there. And things are so fucked up at the moment, one of the things Weekend Update can do is remind us that it’s fucked up in so many ways we don’t even have the bandwidth to keep track of them all. For instance, this throwaway observation from Colin Jost is a sign of our ongoing collapse that I’d forgotten about completely:
Obama’s presidency seems so long ago it’s easy to forget he’s 15 years younger than either of the current candidates. You know who else is younger than the current candidates? The guys we elected in the years 2000 and 1992.
Che is the one cast member who consistently gets to be mad about all the blood on the president’s hands, and this week’s episode, in which he gets a tear in his eye when he recalls how disappointed he was when it became clear the president would survive COVID-19, is as close as a network comedy show is likely to get to having its finger on the nation’s pulse oximeter. Plus, his joke about Cajun-style turkey at Popeyes is perfect.
The Village People
This is two sketches in one, but only one of them is any good. Part of it is a parody of “Y.M.C.A.” with lyrics about Donald Trump, written with only occasional nods to the original song’s scansion and rhyme, and that part is terrible. But any time Kenan Thompson tries to convince someone else of his innocence, it’s worth watching, so the part where he steers the song into the rocks and tries to defend himself with confident nonsense like “Everything is legal if you sing it in a song” is exquisite.
It is not hard to imagine what we’d all talk about without Donald Trump sucking all the oxygen out of the room. There are still going to be books and movies and music and sports and mathematics and sunny days and whatever else it is you personally enjoyed thinking and talking about before 2016. Hell, there might even still be Saturday Night Live! I won’t be able to watch it, however, because I shot out my television screen as soon as the people in this sketch started talking about the downsides of removing Donald Trump from power.
Back in 2013, Saturday Night Live caused a minor uproar with a fake Rosetta Stone ad about sex tourism in Thailand. This is that, except worse, because that was seven years ago and at least Thailand is a country instead of an entire continent. What the fuck.
Those are this week’s most notable sketches, good, bad, and ugly. Next week is the last episode before the presidential election, but also John Mulaney is hosting, so expect a structural battle royale between Mulaney’s incredible (but not very political) comedic talent and the show’s sense of its own importance. Maybe tune in after the cold open.