Saturday Night Live Season 42, Episode 7: Kristen Wiig comes home

Welcome to post-election SNL! 

It was a long hard road everybody, but now that all that nightmare is behind us, you can join the new nightmare that is the post-American hellscape satire we all live in now and laugh along as SNL still tries to figure out what they do now by bringing back a hometown hero.

Of course, why even write this? Our President-Elect has taken up criticism too:

Mmm, that’s a spicy attempt by a President to shame and suppress artistic criticism.

How’s the Cold Open?

So, upfront, we gotta talk about what SNL does with Trump. The hiring of Alec Baldwin was only ever a temporary idea from the days when Trump’s loss was all but inevitable. Goose ratings with a favorite star to play the character until they can shove them out of the way, it was the strategy they took with Bernie and Palin to gangbusters results.

But Trump won and now the show needs to start moving on figuring out how you deal with him. No matter what, the tack the show has taken on him clearly pisses him off, so this is no time for a Dana Carvey-Bush. There’s been a lot of great suggestions from Beck Bennett to Kate McKinnon to having nobody play him and ignoring him, but Baldwin Trump is explicitly temporary, and we need to move past it.

All that said, this isn’t a half-bad stop gap while we wait. Baldwin is way better at Trump in actual scenes than in the reference-based sketches. We seem right now to be avoiding Trump as evil and running more towards Trump as horrifyingly unqualfied, being asked to deal with the sheer volume of Presidential jobs and being unprepared for any of them.

Baldwin moves away from the gargoyle and towards more of a moron (which is why I’m guessing Trump has this one get under his skin. Evil and competent is more acceptable to him than being portrayed as anything less than the smartet guy in the room), which seems to be better for comedy, even if it may avoid having the teeth. We’ve also got McKinnon’s great Kellyanne Conway, here playing up the “Oh god what have I done” nervous energy. The impression is pretty fun and gets a few great lines:

“What is it, Kellyanne, is there something on your shoulder?”

“Yes, all of this.”

That plus the return of Sudekis’ Romney for a bit is all pretty fun. The best thing? Nah, but it looks like this is the course we’ll be taking while SNL puts their Trump house in order.

Who’s Hosting?

I have a possibly controversial confession about Kristen Wiig.

Look, she’s super talented comedically and actually a fairly gifted dramatic actor as well. She plays sketches just right and even unfunny writing can get an extra burst from the energy she brings and her ability to pull a whole cast along with her. There’s a reason sketches tended to revolve around her and why when she broke, everyone did. She’s an empath of a comedian, reading the room around her and getting on everyone’s wave length.

But her recurring characters are ABYSMAL. For such a talented comedian, she seems to have latched on to the worst sort of SNL characters every single time. A collection of irritating ticks and gimmicks  without substance almost universally. I to this date have never been able to make it through a whole Garth and Kat sketch, and none of her others work for me either. So any time she comes back to host comes with the mixed bag that I know I’ll be seeing “Lawrence Welk,” “Secret Word,” “Target Lady,” or God only knows what else.

What Sketches Are Worth Watching?

“The Bubble”

This is one of those that just thrives on the specific details. A commercial for a literal progressive bubble community that has every actor playing it just straight enough to work and the production design is seriously A+. Check out the bookshelf behind the two at the beginning. Really clever and far more searing than people give SNL credit for these days, this is solid self-reflective satire.

“Target Commercial”

A sketch that’s more relatable than hilarious, everyone’s been here no matter what side of the political divide you’re on. While the “Target workers will be your friend” might be what points this out as a branded content sketch, the rest is just too real to not stick with you.

“Whiskers R We with Kristen Wiig”

God help me, these sketches will make me laugh every time. McKinnon’s commitment and the weird details that every sketch susses out is just so much fun, and watching McKinnon and Wiig play off each other in this one is priceless. It’s the same joke, but one that leaves enough room for play.

“Anderson Cooper 360”

It took me a second to figure out where this one was going, but I kinda loved it. Besides the inherent kick the twist gives it, pointing out the repetitive coverage of CNN is another case of the political theme of this episode (besides the Cold Open) being more inwardly focused, SNL looking at where its bubble and the people surrounding it went wrong. Plus, the pitch of escalation was incredibly well done.

“Macy’s Day Parade”

This is a big dumb sketch entirely centered around a clever use of green screen and that’s awesome. The expressions on the three giant parade floats (Moynihan, Day, and Wiig) are legitimately kind of terrifying and while it goes nowhere, it’s a funny enough gag to make the road there worth it.

“QVC Host Audition”

This sketch reminds me a lot of Blue River Dog Food from last year where it really all does come down to their ability to mine the comedy out of a more straight-up dramatic performance. It works really well here, Wiig and Strong have a legitimate adversarial chemistry and the unraveling is fun to watch.

What Didn’t Work?

“Secret Word with Kristen Wiig”

Hey, I told you.

Look, the joke of Secret Word is one note everytime. The people can’t stop saying the Secret Word, no variation and just a whole lot of pitched up to rafters performance. Thompson does fine here, playing more exasperated than Hader did, and there’s nothing else new on this one. I’ve seen it before and I didn’t care the first time.

“Surprise Lady: Thanksgiving”

Look, points for committment to the bit, that’s all that really works about Surprise Lady. Same ticks, same movement through the sketch, same sort of ending. I did laugh at the “I LOVE SAME SEX COUPLES,” I’ll admit.

“Kristen Wiig Monologue”

Musical monologue.

I liked Martin and Forte’s cameo, seeing both of them is always a welcome surprise in any venue.

Weekend Update!

Well, good news is the reality of the election setting in seems to have finally focused them. While not quite Lin-Manuel, Jost and Che were definitely lighting things up tonight. Jost using his smarminess to mock and Che using his muted delivery to express an exasperated disbelief works for them and the chemistry between them keeps things moving forward. There’s bit more fire here and some really really great jokes.

Jost, on the cost of a plan to have Trump spend weekends in his NYC apartment: “It’s all worth it to help a billionaire go night-night in his big boy bed.”

Che, on Breitbart: “Calling the site news is like calling the R. Kelly sex tape a rom com.”

Jost, on Sessions’ appointment as AG despite being denied a judgeship for racism: “If at first you don’t succeed, wait 30 years until history lurches backwards.”

Che, on the Rock being named Sexiest Man Alive: “…beating his longtime rival, Dwayne “The Scissors” Johnson”

Correspondents were both solid too.

A Pete Davidson correspondent bit got political and when do you actually see that? He was focused and angry. It’s a good look for him honestly, while still maintaining the youthful energy that is his trademark.

They also brought back Kenan Thompson’s Willie. Always optimistic despite a train of awful events, it hits me just right in the funny bone no matter how often he does it.

Did You Actually Watch The Musical Guest?

I did!

I’m actually a fan of the xx. Their spacy hypnotic thing is totally up my alley musically, and I do like both of the new songs. They look about as awkward on stage as I expect.

MVPs!

There won’t be an MVP because (as tends to happen with returning cast members) this was an ensemble night. Everyone played a good part or two, got a sketch to shine, and held it all together. This is a really talented (if not necessarily tight) cast and it’s a performer like Wiig that helps that show through.

Season so far:

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

Final Thoughts!

It’s a solid enough night. A lot of smart, self-reflective writing and, minus my own personal antipathy towards Wiig’s recurring characters, decent enough sketches. A good show for figuring out how to move forward.

Season Rankings (Shamelessly stolen from SNL Scorecard)

  1. Dave Chappelle
  2. Tom Hanks
  3. Lin-Manuel Miranda
  4. Kristen Wiig
  5. Margot Robbie
  6. Benedict Cumberbatch
  7. Emily Blunt
Advertisements