Saturday Night Live Season 43, Episode 5: Tiffany Haddish gives the show a much-needed shot in the arm

How’s the Cold Open?

What? Is this a Cold Open…without Trump? It’s a legitimate goddamned miracle.

My guess is that given some recent PR shitstorm they felt it best for Alec to take a week off and let some heat die down so that other people can actually get some attention for once.

Namely, McKinnon’s Sessions, which has steadily evolved into one of the more effective parodies with McKinnon playing Sessions as a creepy contorted goblin of a man. It’s one of those impressions that’s accurate that it gets down into the core of who the man is, not just working through his mannerisms.

We’ve also got Roy Moore (Mikey Day) who’s just pretty much doing a Southern guy in his “naughty little cowboy” outfit and using the things that Judge Moore actually said and believed to horrify us. Like the fact that he diddled teenagers. Let’s be clear about that: Roy Moore diddled teenagers. I am from Alabama, he’s been a monster for years, and he diddled teenagers.

Which should make it clear that I do wish that they would have drilled down harder. This is definitely more edged than any other political cold open has been this season, but I think a little more opening up Roy Moore and his connection with the GOP might have made this more interesting before switching into the more ridiculous Sessions monologue.

This is the sort of thing (following up on last week) that I’d like to see more. Harder-edged, less recitation of the news and more mocking of the news.

Who’s Hosting?

Tiffany Haddish was the undeniable highlight of Girls Trip, the kind of breakout performance that launched Melissa McCarthy’s career back at Bridesmaids and should launch Haddish’s the same way.

She’s really great in this episode, the kind of host that can really help a flagging season by injecting a lot of energy into a show. She’s clearly a little shaky (most stand-ups are doing live performance) but she’s so enthusiastic and so much fun to watch that she ends up papering over most of this.

It’s the kind of thing where you just remember that she could have been in the cast and weep for what might have been.

What Sketches Are Worth Watching?

“Tiffany Haddish Monologue”

Stand-up hosting always makes for the best monologues. Besides the fact that they’re the most adept at making jokes for a few minutes at a time to a crowd, it also just feels the most natural. Haddish is kind of introducing us to her style here with shoutouts to the foster system she came up in (which honestly is amazing and I didn’t know that) and gives us a taste of her confident and high-energy performing, which really ended up being what this season’s been needing. Plus she’s just damned funny here.

“Message from the DNC”

This is the other sort of thing I’d like to see more often out of SNL.

Look, I’m a leftist (quelle surprise) and I have some hardcore fucking issues with the DNC. And I understand that there’s not exactly a vanguard party coming along anytime soon to flush everything out and rebuild in my vision, so the DNC’s gotta be the framework to work in. It means that I believe there’s absolutely a need for organizations friendly to them to start addressing their issues and start angling them towards a future actually capable of reversing the massive and horrifying system issues neoliberalism and the hard right has inflicted on this country.

All this is to say is that, yeah, it’s heartening to see something like SNL take a swing at the DNC and connect. Their stagnant leadership base, the poor decision-making, and the overwhelming sense of doom that hangs over those politicians at all times is really smartly handled. Also, Strong does a great Feinstein and it’s always good to see the return of Sudekis’ Biden.

“Beck and Kyle”

The ongoing story of the great Leslie Jones/Kyle Mooney romance is one of the best recurring sketches introduced into the show last year, a dramedy blending just past the point of absurdity with a lot of surprisingly strong acting out of the cast here. This time we’ve got Bennett, introducing his jealousy at losing the attention of his long-time friend. Bennett is one of this show’s most enjoyable actors and he really sells the jealousy and the weirdness here. But Colin Jost might end up being the real star, leaning into his 80s-frat-dude persona and being really enjoyable here. Even better is him getting punched at the end by Mooney, Bennett, Jones, Haddish and even Lorne. It’s just a great little Lonely Island-ish gag.

“The Dolphin That Learned To Speak”

There is almost no way to explain this sketch that gets across how bizarre it is that they did it. The filmmaking here, emulating the documentary look, is surprisingly strong and the second the gag hits, they manage to escalate it perfectly. This is just good writing and, again, absolutely insane that they did it.

“Whiskers R We With Tiffany Haddish”

“Whiskers R We” is the kind of fun, little bizarre sketch that it seems they can do over and over again to fill time at the end of a show and will almost always work. It’s got that great little live element of trying to deal with the cats (especially that one that clearly didn’t want to be there) and the weird flirtatiousness between the two that McKinnon underplays so well. It’s just good fun.

“The Last Black Unicorn”

While the sketch was just a little too slack at times, a problem a lot of the sketches tonight had, it was really saved by the energy of Haddish and Jones together. The slow spiral down Bryant’s character’s life is really enjoyable and there’s just something about how committed everyone is that really makes the sketch work.

Almost!

For the sketches that just barely work or just barely don’t work.

“Tournament Fighter”

In case you’re wondering this one just barely works. The pacing is really slack and I don’t think it ever builds up to the right big conclusion that it needed to. But Haddish’s energy is really infectious here, Kenan Thompson is an MVP of underplaying here, and I also just do appreciate the production value they’re trying to put in there. I wish it had hit a little harder, but they are trying.

What Didn’t Work?

“The Lion King Auditions”

Look, there are some really strong impressions here. By which I mean Mikey Day is doing a pretty solid John Oliver and I like Beck Bennett’s Nick Offerman and holy shit Heidi Gardner’s Kristen Schaal is the most dead-on impression that I have no clue what you would do with. But otherwise, none of the impressions are very deep and there’s not too much of a joke here.

“Get Woke With Tamika”

I really like this one as a concept, giving Leslie Jones her own Brian Fellows-esque talk show sketch. There’s some really great choices here (those sponsors) and I see how this could have been a great idea. But the execution just feels weirdly slack and it goes on way too long. Maybe they should give this one another shot.

Weekend Update!

This is definitely one of the best performances out of Jost and Che this season. The two were flying fast and furious and the jokes were generally nailing it. From the “naughty little cowboy outfit” of Roy Moore to Bob Marshall being so reviling of Danica Roem that he “refused to get within 8 points of her” to “President Miss Thing” being catty towards Kim Jong Un, Jost and Che had a strong rhythm that made it all work.

They even hit the sexual harassment stuff really, hitting three shots at SNL mainstay Louis C.K. when “everyone you’ve ever heard of is now a sex monster” and directly saying that “maybe someone who always jokes about masturbating wasn’t joking about masturbating.” It’s gonna be hard for the show to figure this out as it continues to become widespread enough to hit close to home and at least they’re trying. This is a show that has, as a rule, never been pointed, finding its pointedness is going to get hard.

Two correspondents this week, both really phenomenal comedic performances.

Strong’s Claire from HR is the one more likely to get shared around, her tornado of exasperation somehow perfectly selling everything to be felt about the current moment. There’s a lot of great lines (“14, but you’re gay now so hooray how brave” is a fucking brutal one) but that glancing

“This is you…”

“That’s me?”

“Well, it’s all of you.”

just hits so nicely without a laugh. This is just a phenomenal bit of comedy from Strong, one of this show’s best performers, that feels perfectly enraged and chaotic and exasperated in the way everything about the last few weeks and the sexual harassment/assault enema should feel.

On a much lighter note, Kenan Thompson’s LaVar Ball is just a show of how great Thompson is as a performer. He just owns the room the second he comes in and he’s so much fun to watch here. It’s even fun to watch him break because it really is so rare. That reading of “rotisserie” is A+.

Did You Actually Watch The Musical Guest?

No.

MVPs!

I’m actually going with Kenan based on how much he’s working to sell the sketches tonight. He’s playing straight man here and reacting in a way that makes a lot of Haddish’s energy actually hit. And then he gets LaVar Ball as a way to show how much fun he is when he goes big.

Kate McKinnon – 1
Aidy Bryant – 1
Cecily Strong – 1
Heidi Gardner –
1
Kenan Thompson – 1

Final Thoughts!

Exactly the kind of episode this show needed right now. It’s a little sloppy still, but the energy is so much better and it actually feels like the show has some wind under it. Haddish was a great anchor for the show to get a little energy and a lot of the pre-taped material helped to show everybody off. It’s still a transition season, but hopefully this helps push them through into who works.

Season Rankings (Shamelessly stolen from SNL Scorecard)

  1. Tiffany Haddish
  2. Kumail Nanjiani
  3. Gal Gadot
  4. Ryan Gosling
  5. Larry David

Next Week: Chance The Rapper!

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