It was all rappers on “Saturday Night Live” for the pre-Thanksgiving installment with Chance the Rapper returning to the show, this time as host, and Eminem as musical guest. Chance already has a special connection "SNL" -- an Original Music and Lyrics Emmy nomination he shares with Kenan Thompson, Eli Brueggemann, and Will Stephen for their song “Last Christmas,” which they performed last time he was on the show.
Chance doesn't have an extensive filmography, but he does have a lot of charm and charisma to go with some acting comfort and experience. Rather than make two appearances, Eminem settled for one extended performance with Skylar Grey of his latest hit, "Walk on Water," followed by a medley of "Stan" and "Love the Way You Lie." That left more room for Chance, who settled into the absurdity of sketch comedy as the night progressed, breaking less and really committing to the performances.
As usual, we're ranking all the sketches from worst to first, including the Cold Open and the regular “Weekend Update” segments. We'll skip the musical guests, because they're not usually funny -- unless Ashlee Simpson shows up. We wrap up with a look at the cast-member who had the strongest week. Also, in these early episodes, we'd like to see if the new kids are getting any screen time. “SNL” recently added Heidi Gardner, Luke Null, and Chris Redd as featured players.
Skank Babysitter 17
We've seen this before, where a porn film goes off the rails because of the reality behind its premise, in this case it's Aidy Bryant as the kid Heidi Gardner is babysitting showing up after Chance delivers his “extra large sausage” pizza. It was a little more uncomfortable than funny, as Aidy was supposed to be a child, and yet Chance and Heidi were doing the dirty talk in front of her … even if she wasn't getting it. Worse than that, the jokes and innuendos weren't all that clever and then they just brought in more dudes when they couldn't find a way out of it.
It's time for the smooth r&b trappings of Chance, Chris Redd and Kenan Thompson as a classic-style trio, but this isn't a song about lost love. Actually, it kind of is. It's a plea for Barack Obama to come back. It was a cute song, for the most part, save the moments where they complained about the effects of the video -- but it had a great moment when Kenan started talking over the record … even acknowledging how long it had been since someone did that … to dig deeper into their plea and learn why it's just not possible. Unfortunately, they didn't really have a solid write-out for the sketch or the song, so it just kind of petered out.
MONOLOGUE - Chance the Rapper
Affable and clearly comfortable from the get-go, Chance lamented that he'd promised a million dollars to Chicago public school but didn't have it. So his solution was to fix the problem of there being no good Thanksgiving songs -- hopefully Adam Sandler wasn't tuning in. The song itself was about the family you hate but have to see, which meant it just allowed the cast to join him on-stage in silly outfits as he sang about your weird uncle and cousin-in-laws. Even better, it was cleverly written with amusing lyrics, solid rhyme and a light-hearted tone … this could actually become a recurring Thanksgiving song.
Wayne Manor Food Drive
Chance shows up with his mom (Leslie Jones) for the food drive to ask Bruce to talk to Batman about the excessive violence he's using in his neighborhood. They were joined by Kenan Thompson and Chris Redd, who got a nice showcase to lament about his run-in with the Dark Knight after his car stalled. Beck Bennett, as Bruce, tried to be calm and reasonable and defend Batman's split-second decisions, but these complaints were totally legitimate and that's why the sketch worked. Chance broke a couple of times, but it was a great spotlight for Redd and Melissa Villasenor early in the night to slip into some character work, and both did a great job with it.
QuestLove and Common set up this documentary-style sketch about a hip-hop rapper who isn't a student of the genre and those who laid tracks before him. Pete Davidson represented the clueless rapper, Lil Doo Doo. Chris Redd, Kenan Thompson and Chance portrayed the late-'70s Soul Crush Crew, who hated his lack of respect for the old school. Common said of the Crew, “They're the only rappers I know who were pro-crack.” This sketch was played so earnestly with everyone calling everyone else ridiculous, that it was all ridiculous, but hilariously so. Unfortunately, the “SNL” crew couldn't find an ending for this one, either. But Kenan, Chance and Chris proved quite the comedy trio on the night.
After one kid's mom wowed the class with roller coaster design and Six Flags season passes, Mikey Day and Chance struggled to look cool as their dads (Beck Bennett and Kenan Thompson) talked about being general contractors. The success of this sketch was in the depth of the writing, with Kenan and Beck trying to keep their over-excited kids in line, and Aidy and Cecily for not only playing well on the sidelines but bringing this one home with a non-sequitur joke. It became more than a sketch, but a fully realized world filled with real people. Unfortunately, the sketch itself wasn't the strongest, though it still managed to wring out a few laughs and everyone was at least fully committed.
NY Rangers on MSG
Chance took to the ice as a Knicks sideline commentator filling in at the hockey game, so the jokes of this sketch were looking pretty obvious from the beginning. Still, Chance sold it by not going for the easy lobs and really digging into what hockey looks like to an outsider … a bunch of white dudes slamming into one another and getting into fistfights. Alex Moffat and Mikey Day each got to up the ante by understanding the sport ringside with him as a player and commentators, confusing Chance even more. For a one-joke premise, the writers and cast did a great job of wringing a lot of laughs out of it.
The Trump Boys is easily becoming one of the best ongoing impressions on the show. Mikey Day is so patient as Donald Trump Jr, while Alex Moffat's clueless Eric is so delightfully innocent and confused you can't help but smile. This sketch re-enacted a possible dramatic exchange with Julian Assange, and while Kate McKinnon did a great job of bringing that character to life, this sketch was the Trump boy's moment to shine. Eric calling Wikileaks ring-dings, Ricki Lakes and Shrinky-Dinks was just the lead up to even blowing the “Live from New York” by mispronouncing the first word as "Liv." Love that Day stopped it, in character, to correct Eric's pronunciation with a supportive, “Bud.” Even better, it didn't help.
“Thursday is Thanksgiving, and there's so much to be thankful this year … unless you're a human woman.” --Colin Jost. Right up there with last week's line about everyone you know being a sex monster, we never expected “SNL's” Weekend Update to be the segment that best expresses our collective horror at the world we're living in, but Colin and Michael Che are killing it this season. At this point we'd be alright with a permanent stand-alone show with these two riffing on the news a la “The Daily Show” or something.
Kate McKinnon's Jeff Sessions showed up to face some tough questions, but alas he does not recall anything. “And we're gonna eat at least four of them,” Sessions said about a new litter on the possum side of his family. “And in collusion--” This is one of the best impressions on the show, so ridiculously over-the-top that it defies parody and takes on a life of its own. Kyle Mooney's veteran comic Bruce Chandling is always a bit of a mixed bag, and this appearance was a bit of a let-down. It certainly felt like 45 minutes. But Pete Davidson was hilarious again, ripping on himself and Staten Island, “They hate me because I represent what they are,” he told Colin Jost, who is a beloved Staten Islander. The local paper should have a field day with all the shout-outs they got.
For a special Thanksgiving episode, Kenan Thompson's Steve Harvey brought out his own family to face off against the family of one of his closest friends … and the joke was that this white woman's son Cecil was Chance with a caterpillar mustache who called Steve, “Player.” Yup, time for awkward. Leslie Jones killed it as Mrs. Harvey throwing shade at Aidy Bryant and Cecil and everyone. Once again, Chance struggled to keep it together. They could have kept the obvious joke lying under the surface, but it was even better when they had Steve realize it and talk to Aidy about it -- with her clueless husband wondering what was up. Leslie, on the other hand, knew exactly what was up. The “Forrest Gump” reference was just gravy on this delicious Thanksgiving sketch.
After a lot of airtime last week, Chris Redd really stepped and earned his spot this week -- and the dubious honor of being named player of the week. Pete Davidson had a strong week, but with three excellent sketch appearances and performances, this one goes to Chris. He's starting to show has versatility and he proved himself able to perform beyond just ready cue cards … some of the regular cast could do with more of that. His best role came in complaining to Bruce Wayne about excessive violence, but he shined in two pre-recorded bits. Ironically, he was a member of a different musical trio in each with Chance and Kenan Thompson. But because he's a new cast member and he really stood out this week, “Player of the Week” is his and his alone.
“Saturday Night Live” returns Dec. 2 with host Saoirse Ronan and musical guest U2, airing live coast-to-coast at 11:35 p.m ET/8:35 p.m. PT.