Saturday Night Live: impeachment hearings sketch a flat soap opera

Cold open filled with bad blocking, heavy mugging and wastes Jon Hamm, but episode picks up steam along the way

This week’s Saturday Night Live opens with Days of Our Impeachment, the media’s attempt to spice up recent congressional hearings for the bored public by turning them into a soap opera, replete with all the over-the-top twists and turns – amnesia, sudden declarations of love, surprise returns – found on daytime TV.

The stars are boring Chair Adam Schiff (Alex Moffatt), nasal dimwit Representative Jim Jordan (Mikey Day), former ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch (Cecily Strong) and career diplomat (and “low-key daddy”) Bill Taylor (Jon Hamm). None of these characters are given much chance to make an impression, as a parade of guest characters – Rudy Giuliani (Kate McKinnon), Mitch McConnell (Beck Beckett), Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (Melissa Villaseñor) and Myles Garrett (Keenan Thompson), AKA “the guy who hit the other guy with the helmet”– continually shuffle in and out of the proceedings.

It’s one of the worst cold opens of the season, filled with bad blocking, heavy mugging, and a shrug-worthy set-up. Worst of all, it wastes Hamm.

Mega pop star Harry Styles pulls double duty as the night’s host and musical guest. Freed from his boy band shackles, he declares himself “a man band” and takes to the piano for a jazzy monologue. It’s a low-key, low-energy performance, but one stacked with a number of solid jokes and visual gags, including Styles cruelly teasing a One Direction reunion only to immediately rip it away.

The best joke of the segment comes towards the end, when he tells the audience, “Everyone thinks the cast does a lot of cocaine, but they don’t – that’s why the show’s not good any more.”

In the first sketch, Styles plays a fresh-faced office intern who volunteers to pick up an order of Popeyes’ popular Chicken Sandwich for the daily lunch run, much to the horror of his black co-workers. There’s not much in the way of jokes aside from one decent dig at white people’s obsession with Whole Foods and White Claw.

The first of three music-based sketches, Joan Song is a duet between Aidy Bryant and Styles. Bryant plays a lonely young woman rebounding from a recent break-up by dating her dog, Doug (“Don’t worry,” she assures the audience, “we don’t have sex.”).

In a long fantasy sequence, she imagines Styles as the human version of Doug, but it’s the actual black-and-white, bug-eyed chihuahua mutt that earns most of the fawning laughs. Is it just me, or has SNL been using more dogs than usual this season?

In Childbirth Class, Styles and Heidi Gardner play Disa and Magnus, an extra-Aryan Swedish couple whose bubbly Scandinavian optimism and open sexuality annoys the other exhausted expecting couples. Styles seems to have entered his comfort zone here, nailing the heightened Nordic accent work and fast-paced dialog.

That’s the Game is a gritty urban gang drama in which Chris Redd plays Kwan, a new self-appointed drug kingpin who has no idea what he’s doing. He doesn’t know the names or numbers of any the suppliers, can’t tell the difference between cocaine and heroin, and attempts to load a gun by “screwing” a bullet into the barrel. It’s a well-shot parody of TV dramas like The Wire and Power, although it runs a bit too long. That said, Styles is very good in his small role as a befuddled American hoodlum – he clearly has a talent for accent work and is far more comfortable acting on film.

For his first musical spot of the night, Styles performs the soulful ballad Lights Up.

Weekend Update opens with coverage of the impeachment investigation. Colin Jost mocks the GOP’s weak defenses of Trump, particularly Republican stooge numero uno Devin Nunes’s claim that Democrats have been searching for naked pictures of the president: “I Googled ‘Donald Trump nudes’ and Google said, ‘You take your nasty ass to Bing.’” Meanwhile, Che admits that he can’t quite follow the proceedings, but notes that none of the details matter anyway. He asks viewers to be honest: “If you found out Donald Trump was actually innocent, but they were sending him to jail anyway … would you care?”

The final sketch of the night teams Styles with Redd as DJ Casket Twins, a pair of party-boy DJs who hijack the funeral of a recently deceased 89-year-old matriarch. Their wildly inappropriate tribute – they shout out “Rest in Peace Bitch!” before blasting loud EDM music – initially offends the mourners, although ultimately even her stern eldest son admits, “She would have loved this.” A closing shot Styles and Redd gyrating in tighty-whiteys with the letters RIP splayed across them seems destined to be memed far and wide.

A rare case of an episode of SNL picking up steam as it went along, the end result was much better than the awful cold open seemed to promise. Styles acquitted himself nicely, supplementing his knack for broad comedy with his song and dance skills. One imagines that he’ll grow even stronger as a comic performer during future appearances.


Zach Vasquez

The GuardianTramp

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