Pete Davidson takes on Staten Island with affectionate brutality in hilarious parody of "Walking in Memphis" featuring Marc Cohn, Method Man and Big Wet.
Simu Liu has the honor of being the first fourth person of Chinese descent to host “Saturday Night Live,” and that wasn’t the only first he touted on the night.
Perhaps inevitably, Liu and Bowen Yang had a sketch celebrating their respective firsts. As it turns out, that’s a more competitive field than we would have expected. In the end, we’ll say we’re just happy to see continued growth in representation across all media and entertainment.
Inevitably, “SNL” took on the Kyle RIttenhouse verdict, filtering it through Cecily Strong’s brilliant Judge Jeanine impression, though she swapped the wine for whining liberals. She also welcomed the judge who oversaw the case and James Austin Johnson’s equally impressive Donald Trump impression.
It’s just a shame they landed on James after Trump was out of office, as his take is completely different than Alec Baldwin, but in many ways a lot more fun in its nonsensical rhythm. If Trump does wind up deciding to throw his hat in the ring, Johnson (who also portrays Biden now), is going to have his hands full.
The night also featured a surprise “Walking in Memphis” parody by Pete Davidson, who is becoming the rockstar of this cast (based on audience reaction), that welcomed OG artist Marc Cohn in the cleverest way possible.
There was a lot to be thankful for as “SNL” says goodbye until Billie Eilish performs double duty on December 11. We got a hilariously off-kilter sketch with a live animal, a pitch-perfect Thanksgiving ad for Target and the strongest “Weekend Update” segment of the season, with Michael Che really burning Colin Jost on a joke he snuck in after dress rehearsal.
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.
It was a capable enough monologue, with Simu coming off comfortable and engaging on camera. But the material through most of it was dull at best. If the goal was to tell us a bit about himself, he succeeded, but it didn’t make for mood-lightening material until he talked about dressing up as Spider-Man a decade ago for kids’ parties and how one kid sparked his drive to get his career going. It still wasn’t as funny as it could have been, but it was at least something!
A bit of a dud to wrap up the night with a series of college professors calling 911 to share their marijuana horror stories. As the show went a bit long, the on-air version skipped Simu Liu’s second call in, but it didn’t really add much as we got the joke pretty much with the first call. Onl Kenan’s delightfully stoned professor added something different to the piece, hiding under the table with a cheeky grin on his face. Even the twist at the end with a real emergency wasn’t enough to make us care.
Cut for Time: Please Don’t Destroy: Touch Up
The makeup on Ben Marshall to give him botox is incredible and more than a little terrifying. He looks like the Joker trying to pass as normal. The reveal of the work that John Higgins had done was equally brilliant, and made for some great visuals. But we weren’t as enamored when it was Martin Herlihy’s turn. We weren’t sure what to expect, but having that set up the closing moment didn’t really work. Normally, we’d be crushed they cut a PDD piece for time, but this was easily their weakest installment yet -- primarily because of the ending. Outside of that, it was better than the “911” piece.
A returning favorite, once again we had a terrible cake, an incredible cake, an incredibly inappropriate cake and then a cake that has been brought to life by the powers of hell. The sketch itself gets pretty repetitive, though it has its charms The highlight this time, though, was probably Pete shoving cake in his mouth through the whole thing and then visibly losing his composure when Kyle Mooney revealed his clearly penis-inspired cake. The piece was otherwise pretty safe as we’ve seen all these jokes before under different window dressing (or icing, as the case may be), but Pete managed to liven it up a bit by just having fun with all the nonsense.
Simu vs Bowen
This had a nice climax to it, but mostly it was a very, very sad statement about how whitewashed we’ve been for so long that we actually tout the “first Asian” anything because it’s 2021 and how are there still so many firsts? And it’s not just Asians, as we just got our first female President (technically) and so many more for all of these under-represented groups and ethnicities. It’s good that it’s finally happening, but the fact this sketch is relevant means it’s pathetic it’s just now happening still in so many areas.
Cold Open: Judge Jeanine
A series of vignettes helmed by Cecily Strong’s masterful Judge Jeanine Pirro gave us a surprisingly strong open. First, she riffed on Kyle Rittenhouse getting exonerated with a hilarious exchange with Mikey Day as the judge just trying to keep things fair for his “client.” Then, Chloe Fineman and Chris Redd offered their liberal outrage -- with one shocked and the other not so much (you get one guess which is which). Finally, we got James Austin Johnson back with another riffing Trump, rambling nonsensically with “60 seconds on the clock” and we’re as in love with it as Jeanine. He does the muttering Trump nonsense better than anyone.
Chloe Fineman could have just co-hosted this with her regular voice, but instead she brought a whole character to the piece, and it helped elevate it to the next level. We particularly loved her reaction to SImu Liu’s cringey karaoke artist. This was a showcase of bad karaoke artists, with more than half the cast getting in on it. Highlights included Melissa Villasenor and James Austin Johnson as a couple performing as Marge and Homer Simpson, Alex Moffat and Heidi Gardner as a father-daughter duo getting uncomfortably sexual and Bowen Yang being afraid of his own upcoming high night. These cast mash-ups don’t always work, but the affable hosts (Kenan Thompson was alongside Chloe) and quickness of their bits helped keep this one moving along. And the acts were recognizably cringey enough that anyone who’s ever been somewhere where karaoke was happening has seen every single one of these.
Walking in Staten
A parody of “Walking in Memphis,” this just got stronger and stronger as it went along. Pete Davidson was clearly behind it, but as his star power rises -- he got recognition applause for the second time tonight at the top of this -- he’s able to bring in bigger and bigger collaborators. This time, he was joined by Big Wet, Method Man and in one of the best introductions we’ve seen, the original song’s writer, Marc Cohn (no we won’t spoil it). The song is a brilliant parody that Staten Islanders will either love or hate that paints a very specific picture of that borough. Actually, probably a bit of both as there’s a clear affection to the material, even as it’s very weird and a little disturbing.
Republican or Not
Kenan loves playing these talk show hosts as naugly little minxes, and he definitely had a lot of fun watching these contestants squirm. The best part of the sketch, though, was how many of things are being used by both sides at this point. Supporting Kaitlyn Jenner could go whether way, depending how you support her, Dave Chappelle being your favorite comic could go either way and we’ve seen anti-vaxxers latch onto “my choice, my body.” It’s definitely an intriguing premise, and fascinating how many of these things they were able to come up with. Let’s just say there is plenty of outrage out there. Even Liz Cheney (Cecily Strong) announcing she was Republican didn’t make anything clear.
Once again, “SNL” brings in a live animal for a sketch and manages to find as much humor in what it does than the sketch itself. That said, the earnestness in which Simu Liu’s decorated general pitches “Dog Head Man” as the next phase in super soldiers was admirable, and the visual of a man with a live dog head “and neck!” was funny. But we were still laughing harder at Mikey Day trying to keep it together, and ad-libbing when the dog wouldn't quite cooperate. Huge props have to go to whoever was operating the dog’s hands, too, as there were some great comedic moments there, especially in the hand-to-hand combat demonstration. That broke us and Mikey up! You never know what’s going to happen with animals in a sketch, but it only ever adds to the delight.
Colin Jost laid out all the craziness that happened during Biden’s colonoscopy, which included Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal, and how it was a lot to lay on a man people are already questioning his mental state. As for Rittenhouse, Michael Che predicted his next career -- it’s not in politics, but got a groan from the audience! -- and wondered if the ensuing protests were perhaps too tempting for Rittenhouse, who did just get off for shooting protesters. That material was tame compared to Jost’s Bannon jokes (which got even bigger groans). The guys were on fire with their political material tonight
Kyle Mooney’s Baby Yoda is getting more and more obnoxious with each appearance, and now that he’s a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float, all that fame is going straight to his head … and new tats! Kyle has so much fun with the character, flapping the tiny arms around, he manages to get Che cracking up each time. We were loving the randomness he brought, like hanging with Lou Bega at his friendsgiving and the truly shocking children’s book character he’s dating now -- with a terrible pun along for the ride. It’s absurdist humor at its best!
We love when you can tell that one guy has no idea what they other is about to say. We got a great reaction from Jost when Che used a story about Mel Gibson possibly directing a new “Lethal Weapon” to savagely skewer “Weekend Update.” He burned them both, but Jost was definitely more singed on that one! “That wasn’t in dress,” Jost declared through laughter. Black Santa and Queen Elizabeth II jokes were too good (and way too bad) to bring up here, but got great reactions. This was probably the strongest material from the boys themselves all season
Aidy Bryant looked great as Mother Earth, and she immediately made Jost uncomfortable by telling him to look at the moon and sun on her boobs. Her commentary about how lenient she’s been and how humanity was good, but when she started talking about where coal actually came from and how we were so in love with it when the sun is just right there -- well, we lost it. She even had an environmental message for all of humanity that was pretty stark, with a nicely dark ending.
Target Thanksgiving Ad
Another incredible fake ad by “SNL” this season, with Cecily Strong nailing the chipper Target voiceover delivery as she calmly tells us all about the horrors of hosting your family for Thanksgiving. We genuinely cracked up multiple times, like when Mikey Day got noise-canceling headphones so he wouldn’t have to hear James Austin Jones’ grandpa talk politics, or the kids losing their damned minds in the basement. Simu Liu doesn’t eat anything with features and is into crypto. It’s like every type of awful relative represented in one ad. And beautifully, every moment was captured by a new product (or just more wine) available at Target to help you get through all of it. Kind of makes us want to cancel Thanksgiving this year … and every year.
A great week for Sarah Sherman, who had a lot of opportunities to be on-camera and show what she can do. Chloe Fineman also had a strong night, though it petered off as it went along. We loved her in the cold open as a Democrat shocked by the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict, and for the character she brought as a co-host for Karaoke All-Stars.
She was well on her way to possibly taking this week’s title, but then we never saw her again. Instead, an even newer face to the cast surged to the forefront. James Austin Johnson has been impressing with a lot of Cold Open work this season, taking on Biden and Trump and a host of other impressions, and that’s what helped him this week.
But it wasn’t just the return of his stellar Trump, but the character and personality he injected into his hugely problematic grandfather character at Thanksgiving and even his bathroom-fixated leader during the wacky “Dog Head Man” sketch. He also brought us a great tandem performance with Melissa Villasenor as Homer and Marge Simpson.
It’s been a remarkable surge for James this season. In only seven episodes, he’s established himself as an essential cog in the “SNL” machine this season, as evidenced by the dominating presence he’s had over fellow newcomers Sarah and Aristotle Athari, who’s only just beginning to show who he is.
James is well on his way to ranking among the top for first-season cast-members -- especially if we exclude cast overhaul seasons where an entirely (or almost entirely) new roster is introduced all at once. That he’s come into this sprawling cast and had this much impact already is just incredible.
“Saturday Night Live” returns December 11 with host and musical guest Billie Eilish.