'SNL' Curse: 9 Cast Members Gone Too Soon

The veterans in the cast shine in a strong episode that spoofs "Love Island" and the Trump impeachment inquiries, but really shines in its dumber characters and exploring race relations.

Fresh off of three Emmy wins for "Fleabag," Phoebe Waller-Bridge took the reins of "Saturday Night Live" in an episode much stronger overall than last week's season premiere.

While it didn't have the star power of the opener, Matthew Broderick did drop by as Mike Pompeo for the Mike Pence-led (Beck Bennett) cold open, which seems to be obligatory Trump content these days, even if there isn't as much to say.

The show shined brightest in its most absurd moments, including another game show sketch with moronic contestants and a quartet of redneck women pining over the same trashy guy. But the episode absolutely killed it with a brilliant and hilarious piece exploring racial stereoytpes, tension and ... competition?

Phoebe loosened up as the night went along, and nailed all of her characters until the final sketch of the night, which proved too much for everyone involved, leading to several breaks.

As usual, we're ranking all the sketches from worst to first, including the Monologue, Cold Open, "Weekend Update" and any sketches that were cut for time but made their way online. 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.

MONOLOGUE: Phoebe Waller-Bridge

It was a charming enough introduction for unfamiliar audiences to who Pheobe Waller-Bridge is, but it wasn't a particularly sharp of funny monologue. The writer and developer of much of "Killing Eve" and creator and star of "Fleabag" has created some of the funniest and most compelling moments on television, so it's a bit surprising that she couldn't quite stick the landing here. Some of it was the stiff, dryer British humor, but the material just wasn't as good with her just laying it all out there, even as she referenced funny things like psychopaths "having a moment" and what our genitals are doing ... right now!

Love Island

Forget the US edition (most of America did), this is poking fun at the British sensation available on Hulu, but it just didn't go far enough. Jokes about dialect are cute, and watching Aidy Bryant get out of a beanbag chair was fun, but they really had a chance to dig into the extreme ridiculousness of this show and instead chose to just skim the surface with the easiest jokes about its general premise.

COLD OPEN: Impeachment Strategy

It took a bit for this White House sketch to find its rhythm with Beck Bennett's straight-laced Mike Pence leading the meeting of the mindless. We did enjoy his jab about being able to "convert" their stories to straight, and Kenan Thompson was adorably daft as Ben Carson, while Matthew Broderick was apparently the only voice of reason in the room as Mike Pompeo. The sketch kind of meandered all over the place, but it was funny watching everyone abandon poor Mike, except for Kate McKinnon's Rudy Giuliani and the stellar new performer behind Steven Miller. That was a spot-on impression!

Royal Romance

This mockumentary explored what happened when a royal Duchess in the '70s(?) married Kenan Thompson's slam poet, blaxploitation comedian Jimmy Jay Robinson. He proved even more controversial than Meghan Markle, with all of the humor coming from the stiff Brits trying to deal with this brash, unapologetic -- and idiotic -- American. There was nothing more to the sketch really, but Kenan did his best to sell us on just how dumb/cool Jimmy was, in that he was never as cool as he probably thought he was.

The War in Words

These bits are always funny, as Mikey Day gets more and more exasperated trying to communicate with his wife back home from WWII. It's a great way to look at how easily miscommunication can happen when we talk in such brief snippets, as we do constantly these days via text message and chats. But really, it's the absolute ridiculousness of the wife at home (Phoebe Waller-Bridge this time) that makes these work as Mikey tries to make sense of what she's telling him.

Weekend Update

Right away, Colin Jost cracked a counter to Trump threatening to promote "fake news" to "corrupt news" by saying the media says they'll shift from "President Trump" to "former President Trump." And we were off to the races. Finally, after a few beats on the drum, Michael Che looked at Trump's alligator moat idea and asked, "Are we sure it's okay to make fun of this guy?" making a comparison to how "strong" Lenny was from "Of Mice and Men."

Hot off a huge fundraising month, Kate McKinnon' Sen. Elizabeth Warren. "Taking big checks from Wall Street worked out great for the last woman running for president," McKinnon said, taking a shot at another one of her most iconic impressions in Hillary Clinton. But wow, was this a positive, supportive impersonation ... has "SNL" picked a favorite?

In other news, the guys delivered some good pokes at Ireland and R. Kelly, which led to a surprise groan from the audience at its off-color content. "Cats bond with people the way dogs do but they're too aloof to show it," Colin said later, "Which is why I named my cat Dad." The guys were on fire this week! And OMG, we are dying over their dig at Pete Davidson, who's been off thus far this season over "Suicide Squad" commitments.

Bowen Yang got a big spotlight this week as a Chinese trade representative and boy did he go for it. This character was so over-the-top and used every bit of hip, cultural lingo you could imagine coming at such a high speed, we picture the older generations hearing nothing but the sounds of a dial-up modem trying to connect to the internet. He was committed to it, though, and it was pretty funny (if a bit much). It looks like "SNL" might have scored a win by adding this guy to the cast.

Mikey Day returned with one-note character Mort Fellner about supercentenarians in the news ... who all died. Yeah, it's kind of cute, but we've done it so many times now it's lost much of its charms.

What's Wrong with this Picture?

We've seen this before, but it still manages to delight with just awful guesses from the panel about what might be wrong with a simple picture. You wouldn't think they could speculate on mental acuity, sexuality and missing butt cracks from children's drawings, but you'd be wrong. It's the worst panel of guessers since "The Masked Singer" (Boom! Got 'em!). Sometimes simple and really, really stupid is better.

Ex-Boyfriend

Sometimes a sketch is just about having fun, and it was great watching the show's veteran ladies share some screen-time in the show's final bit. It's clear that Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong really enjoy performing together, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge went all in as another redneck woman in love with the same POS dude (Beck Bennett). Ridiculous accents and violence and gestures of affection made this sketch pretty funny to begin with but the clear joy -- and occasional laughter -- from the performers bringing it to life made it magical.

Mid-Day News

Okay, this was some sharp satire, as Kenan Thompson and Ego Nwodim's newscasters celebrated a robbery suspect being a "white guy." It worked because they didn't need to go into the why of it as it comes from a place of shared understanding. And from there it turned into a competition with Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Alex Moffat over who had the most criminals in the news. What a brilliantly subversive sketch disguised as a simple tug-o-war over which race had more criminals that day. And what a way to spoof racial tension and stereotypes.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Yet again, Kenan Thompson had an amazing outing, absolutely killing it as an over-the-top royal infiltrator, inept Ben Carson and one of the euphoric newscasters in the night's best sketch. But he was just barely edged out by another veteran, and it wasn't Kate McKinnon.

That said, Kate also had a strong showing in an episode that really let the vets shined, bringing another Rudy Giuliani moment to life and continuing to sharpen Her Elizabeth Warren impression. But no one went for it with more gust on the night than Aidy Bryant.

She continued to nail down her William Barr impression, and cracked us up as an idiot gameshow contestant and an idiot "Love Island" contestant, but she really had us going -- along with the other ladies -- as a redneck idiot in love. It's so fun to see Aidy, Cecily and Kate in their eighth and ninth (for Kate) seasons still committing as fully to the show as Kenan does in his 17th season.

Could his record-setting run inspire one of them to stick around much longer than most cast-members do? While there have been several guys who've lasted longer than Kate (Darrell Hammond (14), Seth Meyers (13), Fred Armisen (11) and Tim Meadows (10)), she's already tied with Maya Rudolph for the longest run by a female cast-member. Could she push for the record? Could Aidy and Cecily stick around with her?

With this level of commitment still from all three of them, we wouldn't be mad about it.

"Saturday Night Live" returns next week with host David Harbour and musical guest Camilla Cabello.

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