Saturday Night Live Season 42, Episode 5: Benedict Cumberbatch tries to soothe your election nerves

It’s the last SNL before the election. Tuesday looms heavy over all our heads, perhaps more than in any election that I’m able to remember, so is it time for SNL to make one last blow? Or is it time to reaffirm the ethos that first and foremost they are here for the laughs?

How’s the Cold Open?

They’re here for the laughs.

In what is hopefully the penultimate sketch of Baldwin’s Trump v. McKinnon’s Clinton: Dawn of Painful Laughs, we get a few good shots off. For the first time since Lin-Manuel Miranda’s episode, it feels like the episode has an overarching point to what these sketches, rather than just chaining together a series of seemingly-outlandish references.

The exasperation of the email scandal gives McKinnon a chance to really play the hell out of her cartoon Clinton for the first time in a while. She also got the chance walk back some of the victory lap stuff that took away from where McKinnon is best. For the first time in a while, she was the clear highlight, playing a Clinton who can’t win against Baldwin’s Trump who seemed to be reveling in what he could get away with. Plus, Bennett showing up as Putin again was perfect.

Then it took a turn. Baldwin breaks the fourth wall, talking about how gross doing all this makes him feel. To the strains of Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” (the official anthem of mildly poignant catharsis), McKinnon and Baldwin break out into Times Square, joyously celebrating and hugging the people there, still in costume. McKinnon hugs a guy in a “Trump that Bitch” shirt. Baldwin hugs a black man.

SNL has never quite been sure of its place with politics, despite many who will assert one way or the other. But before anything else, it’s about being there. The laughs when we don’t think there’s anything to laugh about. It wants the people to know that we can still laugh when times are dark.

Does it undercut any satire? Sure. But it felt like an acknowledgement that at some point, this stuff isn’t funny, and isn’t satire. When Baldwin and McKinnon stand together in full dress and urge you to shape the future of your country, SNL is seeking one thing. To let you hope that it’s all gonna be okay. Like Black Jeopardy two weeks ago, it saw that healing is possible. Was it the ripping sketch we wanted? No. Was it the sketch we needed? Yes.

Who’s Hosting?

Let me get this out of the way:

EggsBenedict CabbagePatchKid
Bandicoot Cankersore
Benadryl Calldispatch

Now that I’ve put in some funny names, we can now talk that Benedict Cumberbatch is hosting this one! Fresh off the great Doctor StrangeCumberbatch is here to get silly!
Which is something he’s never really done before.

But it turns out he’s super willing to do. He’s no great or even good revelation. Cumberbatch seems nervous as hell and his demeanor is largely suited to the straight man or to dry wit. But SNL asks for a lot of wigs and being goofy, and Cumberbatch feels just slightly out of key doing it.

That being said, he does do it. Cumberbatch is totally game and willing to have fun with himself, so that alone makes him worth his hosting slot.

What Sketches Are Worth Watching?

“Why Is Benedict Cumberbatch Hot?”

The sketch of the night is for the question that plagues us all: Why is Benedict Cumberbatch a sex symbol? Despite his name being in it, Cumberbatch takes a backseat, playing a fun little supporting pop-in. This is Beck Bennett’s sketch and he nails it! His performance (as himself) is spectacular and the little details of the premise (“I don’t remember this sketch from dress rehearsal”) are really fun.

Bayer and Bryant play themselves too and they nail that sort of non-answer answer that everyone seems to give. It’s a fun meta sketch, and a great showcase for what Bennett brings to this cast.

“Office Hours”

Pete Davidson’s now best recurring bit (he did it in the Julia Louis-Dreyfus episode) is this one, and its return does not disappoint. His totally flat, perfectly time delivery as super aware and completely oblivious Chad is never not funny (“Oh no, your globe”). Cumberbatch is an able straight man, really selling the hell out of his conflict to the totally blank Chad. Good times.

“Mr. Shaw”

God help me, this is the dumbest thing and I love it. I have no idea what works, either Cumberbatch’s weird and total conviction, the revelation that the Eagle statue has met both Nelson Mandela and Howie Mandel, or Bennett’s giving in to the premise at the end, but this thing had me rolling.

What Didn’t Work?

“Koohl Toilet”

Super timely, doing that 1984 Apple ad parody. Whatever, this is this close to working largely due to the committed goofiness of it, and the fact that Cumberbatch was willing to sit on a toilet backwards like that. But it goes on too long to nowhere and oversells the joke. A little restraint might have helped.

“Surprise Bachelorette Party”

Look, A+ for commitment to the whole cast involved. Nobody broke in this thing and with Cumberbatch swinging his genitals in Bryant’s face, that’s no small feat. Big and goofy, but just nothing there. This is a night of just flat writing. Everyone’s all there, but the sketches just seem kind of half-hearted in where they’re going. And the Cubs showing up doesn’t really help.

“Gemma”

Look, this sketch soared the first time because it was Dwayne Johnson doing it. He sold the ruthless douchebag charisma and looked like he could be that confident. Cumberbatch (and Louis C.K.) don’t and can’t sell that charisma as well. With this, it’s just a collection of weird ticks and catchphrases. Strong is still super fun as Gemma, but there’s not much more to it at this point.

“Riddle Villain”

I really wanted to like this sketch, but like my 20s, this has no real direction or purpose. Everyone’s good (I like Kyle Mooney’s overly earnest henchmen), but like this sentence, it just doesn’t have an

“Benedict Cumberbatch Cold Open”

Musical monologue from someone who doesn’t do music. Let’s not and say we did SNL.

Weekend Update!

Jost and Che bring an alright night, some big hits with just a heaping enough helping of misfire to make it feel like a normal Jost and Che update. Their lackluster delivery nor their material gained any fire this week (I think Episode 2 of this season jacked my expectations up to the side), but they continue to be enjoyable and they continue to show the occasional edge that could really make them work.

Jost: This Sunday is the New York City Marathon. This marathon gives foreigners a great chance to practice running for their lives. *picture of Donald Trump*

Che, on the Hillary emails being deleted: It is fascinating to see the double standard. I mean, just the mystery of what Hillary could be hiding in those deleted emails is somehow worse than what we’ve actually heard Donald Trump say. I bet Hillary’s thinking “Why did I even throw those emails out?” It’s like giving up weed for a job interview and losing the job to a crackhead.

The correspondents this week were all down.

Dana Carvey returning as Church Lady is like getting a McDonald’s Happy Meal as an adult. You feel comforted and it’s simple enough to enjoy. But no substance and you know you’ve had way better since. Besides, you’re not sure how old this stuff is, really. I’ve seen enough Church Lady and this is basically the same joke. Comforting, but whatever.

Then the Chicago Cubs celebration. I’m proud of ’em and all, but there’s no joke here, even

Did You Actually Watch The Musical Guest?

Yes!

Solange has a solid stage presence and I dig the sound.

MVPs!

While Bennett earned this just on “Why is Benedict Cumberbatch Hot?” alone, he had a really good night overall. He appeared in a lot of sketches and gave them a lot of fun little performance details. A good night for a rising SNL star.

Season so far:

Cecily Strong – 2
Beck Bennett – 1
Kate McKinnon – 1
Jost and Che – 1

Final Thoughts!

While the stuff that worked made me laugh and feel alright, the stuff that didn’t just got nothing out of me. The failures of tonight were at least buoyed by earnest performance and a desire for comforting weirdness, so that puts it ahead of the product placement weirdness of the Emily Blunt episode (if just barely). Cumberbatch’s and the cast’s endearing goofiness just wasn’t enough to save a batch of weak premises.

See you next week, in the hopes that comedy is still allowed.

Season Rankings (Shamelessly stolen from SNL Scorecard)

  1. Tom Hanks
  2. Lin-Manuel Miranda
  3. Margot Robbie
  4. Benedict Cumberbatch
  5. Emily Blunt
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