Some of you are celebrating right now, or at least doing that thing that the smug and the ironic do when they know they were right all along. I’m neither of those, so understand that reading this is through the lens of somebody who thinks a bomb just went off in our country and no one knows fully how much it just hit. The comments aren’t necessary, just roll your eyes and move on.
I think however that me and Saturday Night Live and Dave Chappelle were all on the same page last night. It’s time to start figuring things out, and figuring out how we move forward.
How’s the Cold Open?
A tribute to the dear and sadly departed Leonard Cohen, this opening was a little more. McKinnon has been the shining star of Saturday Night Live, on the rise to become enshrined in the highest honor the SNL cast can have and become the first woman to become the SNL Presidential Impersonator. A historic rise for a historic cast member.
Tonight, barring extraordinary circumstances, she says goodbye to that. If McKinnon is smart, she won’t be around for 2020. It’s mourning a man and mourning an opportunity, no song more than “Hallelujah” is about the broken dreams and promises.
I can’t say I fully got it when I heard it was happening, but I got it watching it. It’s kind of the classiest move they could take. Putting their new Trump (it won’t be Alec Baldwin) would be too soon, figuring out their angle needs way more time. This is a send-off to an era and an attempt to allow their star just let it all out. She was emotional last week and this week only moreso.
And in SNL’s own subtle structural ways, this is a statement. This show only does cold opens like this in the wake of tragedy.
Chappelle is a legend. Chappelle’s Show is one of the most monumental achievements of sketch comedy, a focused and clear satire of race and black culture in America with more iconic sketches than basically any other comedy show (barring those that ran for decades).
There was no doubt about Chappelle’s performance abilities and no doubt about the fact that he could bring a little teeth along with him. He lived up to expectations, and was willing to indulge in his more straight comedy instincts (remember, he starred in Half-Baked) as much as his satiric edge.
What Sketches Are Worth Watching?
“Dave Chappelle Stand-Up Monologue”
This is a reminder why Chappelle is one of the stand-up greats. He could have come to make it all better, or he could have come to get everyone pissed off. Instead, he came with his own specific perspective.
He’s not surprised.
He knew we could do this, he knew we were willing to do this to ourselves. He’s talking to us like adults, about how this was lurking under the surface and how he’s still willing to give this country a chance. Those last two minutes are powerful, if nothing else, give them a watch.
“Walking Dead Chappelle’s Show”
And here’s the pendulum this show would swing on all night. Politically brutal or totally goofy and weird and fun. This was certainly one of the latter, indulging in a fun bit of Chappelle nostalgia
I don’t think anyone would have been too terribly surprised to see him bring out at least one of his old characters. Seeing so many of the best, from Tyrone Biggums to Clayton Bigsby, at once is a rare treat. Chappelle is having a ton of fun playing them all again and the throwback to his format is a nice touch. There’s a weird playfulness to appeal to anyone not familiar, and a serious indulgence in comfort for those who are.
I’m far from the only commentator who will have this feeling, but good god were they watching me? Seeing the slow decline and the fear set in, the constant electoral rationalizations, it was real.
Chappelle and (surprise guest) Chris Rock thread this one just right. There’s no mockery, it’s just like the monologue. Chappelle and Rock have been here before and they’ve seen firsthand what we’ve been capable of. If this is the loss that white liberals have to take to finally get on the page? That’s fine with them.
“Love and Leslie”
This one is a mood piece, a surprisingly sweet little sketch that’s just indulging in the acting abilities of its leads and the increasing strength of Leslie Jones as a cast member personality. Mooney and Jones are actually a weirdly believeable couple in this and I just appreciated the good hearted nature of it. A few laughs, but that wasn’t the point. I like SNL indulging in things like this from time to time.
Ho-lee crap. The turn on this one has gotta be one of my favorites in a while. This writer’s room has shown themselves to be surprisingly willing to indulge meta-humor, and this is as about as good as it gets.
The post-sketch conference is a hilarious idea and SNL willing to deal with their own bad sketch structures is a nicely self-effacing move. This is just a whole lot of fun and a good bit of self-reflection that I really enjoy.
Look, if I ever live in a world where earnest people who have no idea they’re doing weird things and the people who enable them aren’t hilarious, then what am I even doing anymore? Goofy and gross all in equal measures, just laugh, that’s all you can do.
“Our Children Are Watching”
A microparody (that I’m shocked they didn’t have Beck Bennett do) that felt just right for a Chappelle bit. Surprisingly woke daughter. Funny stuff.
“Last Call with Dave Chappelle”
Any other night, I probably would have rolled my eyes. But two performers going for absolute broke in a sketch designed for it? Hell, “Last Call” has been run into the ground and I still feel like it’s what I need right now.
What Didn’t Work?
Okay, I said this on Tom Hanks, but I swear I’m not going to do this all that often. It’s just…this is the episode this show needed right now. Smart when it needed to be, and there’s something therapeutic when it went goofy. Chappelle is a sketch performer like nobody’s business and the cast was on fire.
Look, I don’t know if the election being gone will finally give Jost and Che the focus that they need again. On the whole, they’re back on the counter culture, and that tends to energize institutions like Weekend Update. I know Jost and Che have the bitterness from his time hosting, use it.
But tonight, their delivery was a little more pointed, and their jokes a little sharper. The knives were there. They may be butter knives, but they’re knives. The chemistry is still incredibly strong, and if nothing else, watching these two bounce off each other is a treat.
Jost, on Mike Pence being named the head of Trump’s transition team: “Normally when people transition, Pence sends them to conversion therapy.”
That “Fight Song” joke though
McKinnon also had a lot of fun as the Notorious RBG. It’s gotta be fun to be doing a character without all that weight on her shoulders (though, that can’t be said of the real RBG). It’s a pretty standard appearance from the character, but she got a few good shots off.
Did You Actually Watch The Musical Guest?
A Tribe Called Quest are awesome and their performance was awesome.
This was a great episode for Leslie Jones. Starring roles in three sketches gave a clear reminder that the girl does indeed have chops. A shaky start has turned her into one of the show’s secret weapons.
Season so far:
Cecily Strong – 2
Beck Bennett – 1
Kate McKinnon – 1
Jost and Che – 1
Leslie Jones – 1
SNL and Chappelle didn’t “eviscerate Trump” as I’m sure more than a few fans hoped. But this is a show with a weave of bitterness and hopefulness and the idea that this show may be able to keep forging something forward. Funny and goofy and just a little too real, it’s everything we should have expected from Dave Chappelle hosting.
Season Rankings (Shamelessly stolen from SNL Scorecard)