‘Saturday Night Live’ returned with Woody Harrelson, a bunch of other stars and a nod to Rice University. And it was OK.

Saturday Night Live
Woody Harrelson & Billie Eilish
September 28, 2019

Welcome to the 45th season of Saturday Night Live, a season that was marred before it even began by a casting controversy after the show cast a “conservative” comedian whose “humor” involved making fun of Asians, women, and homosexuals. Hilarious! He was fired, but not before everyone and their racist uncle decried “cancel culture” for a solid week.

I’m just going to put this here for no particular reason:

The show returned last night with two new cast members, Chloe Fineman and Bowen Yang, the show’s first Asian-American cast member ever, and both acquitted themselves quite nicely in the episode.

As for the episode itself: it was fine. It was fine! There wasn’t any one particular sketch that made me angry (with maybe the exception of Woody Harrelson’s monologue, but to use the word “angry” here is strong — it mostly just left me irritated), but there weren’t any knock it out of the park, A+ sketches either. Instead, everything felt comfortable and predictable — not boring, exactly, but also not memorable in the long haul, either.

In this week’s cold open, Alec Baldwin’s Trump is freaked out by the looming impeachment, and calls various cronies, henchmen and friends, including Rudy Giuliani, Bill Barr, Kim Jong-Un, Mike Pence, his sons Eric and Don Junior, Kanye and Don King, Jeanne Pirro and Liev Schrieber (???) for support. Look, this was a softball for SNL, lined up directly over the plate. So while I think it was funny enough (especially for one of Baldwin’s Trump sketches which I usually hate), I’m deducting a few points for difficulty — or lack thereof.

Grade: B

I don’t know what’s going on with this monologue. Harrelson starts off talking about how he’s a “fashion icon” now (y’all, what the fuck is he talking about? did I miss something?) before ripping off his tear-away tuxedo to reveal he’s wearing pajamas. I have no idea.

Then he launches into a bit that is clearly a rant against political correctness and “cancel culture.” I can only think that this was the writers’ room trying to subtly address the casting controversy I mentioned in the lead, the controversy that erupted when it was announced Shane Gillis was going to be a new cast member. Gillis, who no one at Saturday Night Live thought to do a background check on before offering him a job, was fired from the show before it even began because the internet immediately found clips of him making offensive and worse — not funny — comments about minorities on a podcast from last year. I don’t know if this monologue was designed to send a message of support to Gillis, or if it is the writers’ room’s way of telling America that they aren’t a bunch of sensitive snowflakes, but aside from the admittedly OK Melania joke, the whole thing didn’t work for me.

Grade: C

Larry David and Maya Rudolph return to Saturday Night Live for a sketch about the recent Democratic Presidential debates, to play Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, respectively. And they’re great! Genuinely. Woody Harrelson dons some hilarious teeth to play Joe Biden; Kate McKinnon channels her inner Elizabeth Warner; Chris Redd is on the stage for about 15 seconds as Cory Booker; Colin Jost plays a boyish Pete Butigeg; Alex Moffat is Beto O’Rourke, who is STOKED to be here; and new cast members Bowen Yang and Chloe Fineman are Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson. And I feel like I have written half of this entire post just describing who is on the stage AND WE HAVE TO NARROW THIS FIELD, DEMOCRATS, GEEZ.

The knock against this sketch is that it ends up being a collection of really great lines rather than having any story of any sort, which is always going to be the case when you have this many characters in a 10-minute bit. That said, the one-liners themselves were pretty good.

McKinnon, who was set in 2016 to be the first female Saturday Night Live cast member to portray a president … only to have Hillary Clinton lose, is somehow even better as Elizabeth Warren, and captures her manic positivity. “I HAVE THE ENERGY OF A MOTHER OF FIVE BOYS WHO ALL PLAY DIFFERENT SPORTS! LET’S DO THIS!” Indeed. While Woody Harrelson didn’t quite nail Biden’s weird mix of creepy and sweet, he did have some great lines: “Daddy’s here, America! I see you; I hear you; I sniff you; and I hug you from behind,” and “I’m like plastic straws: I’ve been around forever, I’ve always worked, and NOW you’re mad at me?” Good stuff.

And though she didn’t have any killer lines, one of the tragedies of Kamala Harris’ campaign going nowhere is that we won’t have more Maya Rudolph in the future. Momma needs more Maya Rudolph in her life.

maya rudolph kamala drinking snl .gif

Grade: A

In this bit, a family invests their entire fortune into a roadside attraction: the world’s largest Cheeto and things take a disastrous turn. A predictable, disastrous turn. Even though I saw it coming a mile away, I’m not mad at it.

Grade: B-

“Weekend Update” takes on the impeachment scandal and somehow manages to bring John Wilkes Booth into it. Also, they include my personal favorite story of the week which involves a camel and a truck stop in Louisiana.

Grade: A-

David “Big Papi” Ortiz visits the “Weekend Update” desk after an eventful summer which saw him survive a shooting in the Dominican Republic.

“How was your summer?”

“It was BAD.”

Grade: B

In this bit, a football coach gives his team a pep talk at halftime, only to have his idiot wife interrupt and bring up questions about the sounds his “thing” has been making lately. It’s juvenile and one of the punchlines regarding his wife I saw coming from the moment she walked into the scene, but overall, it’s just weird enough that I think it worked.

Grade: B+

Honestly, this “Inside the Beltway” sketch might have been my personal favorite of the night, but I suspect that’s because I have MSNBC on 24/7 and it felt VERY REAL to me. In this political roundtable bit, the host of a political talk show and two reporters insist that the Ukraine scandal feels like a “turning point” in the Trump presidency while the chair of African-American studies at Rice University (HEEEEEY! SHOUT OUT TO MY NEIGHBORHOOD UNIVERSITY!), insists “ain’t nothin’ gonna happen.” It’s cynical, it’s jaded and, depressingly, it’s probably accurate. Also, there’s a goofup in here at the end of the sketch involving Aidy Bryant and her costume which steps on one of the punchlines. No one is able to recover, and the whole sketch just dissolves into a giggling fit, which I usually hate, but here? I genuinely can’t blame them.

Grade: A

The Downton Abbey movie trailer is here: “I absolutely love this film,” says all moms. “It feels like watching the sun set on white people as a whole…”

Grade: A

I don’t know what to say about these Kyle Mooney sketches, because it’s clearly a matter of personal taste. I didn’t hate this “Parents Just Don’t Understand” spoof, I just think ripping on cheesy 90s things is too easy. It’s not bad? It’s just not original. I’m pretty sure Mooney has done this same joke 30 times by now.

Grade: B-

Looks like someone’s girlfriend made him go upstate to pick apples last weekend:

Grade: A

I’m including Billie Eilish’s performance of “Bad Guy” here because it’s my blog and I do what I want.

Final Grade: B+. That feels right. 

Saturday Night Live airs at 10:30/11:30 p.m. Saturdays on NBC.

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