See all of your favorite Sesame Street characters as interpreted through the gritty, violent and depressing vision of Joaquin Phoenix's "Joker" in brilliantly twisted parody sketch.
"Stranger Things" star David Harbour looked totally at home as host, quickly becoming one of the most confident and gifted performers in this breakneck live format. He didn't even need the all-star support his show got, but we're so glad he did.
As fun as David was throughout the night, the opening sketch was absolutely stolen with reckless, over-the-top, glorious abandon by "Pose" star Billy Porter. All he did was introduce the candidates on the "SNL" parody of CNN's Equality town hall, but every moment of it was magic. Seriously, when does Billy Porter host?
In a welcome surprise, Woody Harrelson returned as Joe Biden (reprising his season premiere take), while Lin-Manuel Miranda almost brought "Hamilton" to his Julian Castro. Here's hoping these guys are willing to keep coming back the way Larry David does as Bernie Sanders.
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.
Father-Son Podcasting Microphone
This was a cute concept, essentially a nonsense invention to help fathers and sons communicate better, We loved the addition of commercials to smooth over those awkward moments and the ability to compartmentalize what you need to talk about into easily digestible topics. Interestingly, they didn't go nearly as funny with the topics of conversation (except for the "Family Secrets" segment) instead opting for a more sincere approach. But hey, maybe this idea is just stupid enough it might really work.
Peter, Paula & Murray
Like a folk band out of the '60s, David Harbour partnered up with Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant to play the numbers game with a song filled with awkward, odd, and occasionally very inappropriate confessions. There were funny lines and just strange lines, so the whole piece didn't quite come together as strong as it could have. Had there been a building narrative, or had David gone further with his own twisted desires, they could have really found the laughs, but it stayed just odd.
MONOLOGUE: David Harbour
This was a quickie, but it was cute, as David did a tour-of-the-studio monologue, complete with the requisite random llama backstage. But this time, it was also in the Upside Down where he found Pete Davidson, confused Aidy for Barb and discovered the real power behind the "SNL" throne. It was all very cute, though Kenan's exchange with Lorne was filled with awkward pauses which kind of killed the momentum of the whole piece. We suspect it was about filling time to get David back onstage and ready, but it wasn't perfect. Still, the set work to turn the backstage area into the Upside Down was very good.
SoulCycle instructor auditions captured the different over-the-top personality types you might find in this cycling fitness program. The jokes might fall a little flatter for people unfamiliar, but many of these are classic fitness archetypes. Plus, it allowed Alex Moffat to awkwardly flirt with Ego Nwodim as our gateway into this world and he is so good at playing terrible dudes (though this one was just kind of sad). All of the instructors were ridiculous, but the whole piece really faltered at the end, or lack of a well-conceived one.
Colin Jost and Michael Che had way too much fun with Rudy Giuliani's Soviet-born pals, making plenty of jokes based just on their appearance. But they found plenty of hilarious fodder to mine, sometimes just in the Trump headlines of the week ("Trump Appears to Do Bizarre Impression of FBI Agent Having Sex"). Che's "cotton money" joke either fell flat, though, or went over everyone's heads.
Heidi Gardner's teen movie critic returned and was adorably awkward again, this time crushing on the Joker ("His name is Arthur!"). This character follows the same beats, like many "Update" regulars, but Heidi comes at it with such attack and her chemistry with Che always brings the laughs.
With jokes against the college admissions scandal and Bill Cosby, Jost and Che were twisting current news stories to tie them to bigger stories for laughs, with mixed results. With stories like a man getting an alligator drunk and a woman hiding a crack pipe in her butt, they didn't even need to do that, to be honest. The real stories are stupid enough.
Pete Davidson's full return kicked off with an appearance to talk about STDs, so he's keeping his character on the show consistent. And while he laughed too much throughout, his monologue about STD reboots and dating apps bridging the races was certainly ... interesting. It had its funny moments, but he's definitely been better than this.
Little Miss Teacher's Friend
What an oddball sketch about tattling students who cross the teacher-student boundaries and make things awkward for everyone. How to make it more awkward? Make it a pageant. But while the tattly girls were fun in their own way, it was the simple exchange between David Harbour's principal and an excited Bowen Yang in the audience that really stole the show (both at the top and bottom). Sometimes it doesn't have to make sense to be funny.
David Harbour and Kate McKinnon really brought it as an old couple (gender-swapped) making their grandchildren extremely uncomfortable with their amorous ways. They found humor in the height difference and Kate's total commitment to going all the way as a horned-up grandpa. By the end, she was literally climbing David's body to put sauce into his mouth (not sure that bit was even in the script). Every bit of it was hilarious, including the horrified reactions of the grandkids.
CUT FOR TIME: Giuliani & Associates
Kate McKinnon's Rudy Giuliani welcomed her two Russian associates, and boy did David Harbour and Beck Bennett get hit with the ugly mallet in makeup to bring these two Igors to life. "We may not have passed the bar, but we've definitely lowered it," Kate's Rudy said, which is a pretty clever tagline. Their confident incompetence shined throughout, making this one of the strongest sketches of the night ... which makes it even more a shame that it was cut.
Grouch: A 'Joker' Parody
This may be one of the smartest parodies we've yet seen, with David Harbour absolutely inhabiting this origin story of Sesame Street's Oscar the Grouch. We've seen gritty takes on these iconic Muppets before, but this was easily one of the funniest and best. They even had more obscure character Guy Smiley (Bowen Yang) on the news. From Kenan Thompson's Snuffleupagus pimp to Beck Bennet's pill-popping Count, everyone was there -- even the tragic love story of Bert and Ernie (Alex Moffat and Mikey Day). This was clearly a labor of love, and the minor-key theme song was the perfect capper to a brilliant tour de force into parodic comedy. And yes ... Elmo (Melissa Villasenor) was even annoying here, too.
This was pure absurdity at its best and the perfect example of how insane content coupled with an outrageous premise can make for absolute hilarity. Add to that the unpredictable nature of dogs, like the one wrestling viciously in Cecily Strong's hand during her "dramatic" monologue, and the potential for laughs never stops. This is a far funnier animal-based sketch than Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant's cat adoption ones and we'd love to see it again. Plus, those dogs are just the cutest!
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
This week saw yet more opportunities for the news cast-members to shine, with both Bowen Yang and Chloe Fineman appearing in multiple sketches and really handling themselves very well. They're looking good for the future of the franchise.
Once again, this was a very balanced show, with strong work from veterans, mid-run and newer cast-members alike. And while we're still waiting for Ego Nwodim to find her comedic voice on this show, she nevertheless performs well when she shows up and played off of Alex Moffat's SoulCycle flirt very well.
But for the sheer volume of characters and performance quality in them this week, it was veteran Kate McKinnon who showed everyone how it's done. Her cut-for-time Rudy Giuliani as always a treat, and she appears to have finally found her rhythm and comedic beats for Elizabeth Warren.
She was strong in all of her sketch appearances, but none more so than a horny grandpa opposite David Harbour. Once Kate and "SNL" embraced women doing male impressions on the show, Kate has absolutely shined in these male roles, and you can tell how much she enjoys playing them.
"Saturday Night Live" returns October 26 with host and musical guest Chance the Rapper.
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