It’s fitting that Saturday Night Live, airing hours after Joe Biden was declared president-elect after five days of excruciating limbo, should likewise be delayed – pushed back an hour in favor of a college football game itself preempted by Biden’s victory speech.
SNL kicks off with CNN’s election coverage. An exhausted team, including Wolf Blitzer (Beck Bennett) announces – to mass applause – that Biden has won, before cutting to the president-elect (Jim Carrey), who “honestly, kind of can’t” believe it himself. He only speaks for a minute, before bringing up vice-president-elect Kamala Harris (Maya Rudolph). Between her being the first black, south-east Asian and woman VP, and her husband being the first and only Jewish second gentleman, they “check more boxes than a disqualified ballot”.
We eventually move over to Donald Trump (Alec Baldwin), who rails against the results, demanding states both “stop the count!” and “count every vote!” He vows to his supporters that he’ll keep fighting, before climbing behind a piano and singing a downbeat version of the Village People’s Macho Man. This is a much-appreciated callback to the post-2016 election episode, in which Kate McKinnon’s Hilary Clinton sang Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah (one of, if not the single-most, cringiest moments in the show’s history). Such self-awareness redeems an otherwise standard lazy cold open, although, to be sure, Baldwin, Carrey and Rudolph signing off by calling Trump a “loooo-ser!” (Ace Ventura-style) is pretty damn cathartic.
Dave Chapelle, who hosted that post-election episode four years ago, is back. He reminisces about his great-grandfather, once enslaved; needles his Ohio neighbors for not wearing masks (“I don’t know why poor white people don’t like wearing masks. What’s the problem? You wear masks to the Klan rally, wear them to Walmart too!”); and mocks “racist, hilarious son of a bitch” Trump for catching Covid and “running around like the outbreak monkey”. Much of it is funny but some falls flat, and railing against the audience for being too woke to laugh feels like a convenient excuse.
He sticks around to give an awkward introduction to the next sketch, which revolves around politically incorrect black mascots Aunt Jemima (Rudolph) and Uncle Ben (Keenan Thompson) being let go, because, as Baldwin’s executive explains, “It’s not what you did – it’s how you make us feel about what we did.” They’re joined by Chapelle as a baritone-voiced Denis Haysbert, aka Allstate Guy (aka “Guy from Waiting to Exhale”), and Count Chocula (Pete Davidson, unrecognizable under a ton of prosthetics). On paper, this is a real groaner, but the actors’ commitment somehow makes it work.
Mario Memories sees fans describe their fondest memories of the classic Nintendo game. One story involves a testicular injury – the term “popped his nuts” gets much play – that horrifies everyone. Says one interviewee: “I can’t wax nostalgic about Mario after hearing about how that boy was neutered.” It’s all very long and grotesque and reeks of Kyle Mooney’s brand of weirdness. I mean all of this as a compliment.
Next up, Bennett plays a newly sober boyfriend who asks his ex to take him back. His emotional apology ends up horrifying her as he reveals a ton of things she didn’t know, including a cocaine addiction, Herpes infection, a side-career in gay porn and worse. This kind of ratcheting weirdness has been sorely missing from this season. More of this on the show’s return, please.
The night’s musical guests are the Foo Fighters. They debut their new song, Shame Shame. On Weekend Update, Colin Jost discusses mass celebrations across the world in the wake of Trump’s defeat: “Do you know how bad you have to be for Paris to ring bells when you lose? The whole world is celebrating like they won World War II!” Che, drinking whiskey, is straighter to the point: “Trump says the secret service will have to drag him out kicking and screaming. Good!”
Jost continues celebrating: “The most important thing about Donald Trump losing this election is that pretty soon we won’t have to listen to Donald Trump ever again … we may want to, for entertainment, like we would slow down to look at a burning car. But we won’t have to.”
They eventually welcome Rudy Giuliani (McKinnon), who lays out the Trump team’s legal strategy to overturn the results. McKinnon’s clearly having a blast, and her energy is infectious to the Update hosts and the live audience, but frankly neither she nor the show come anywhere near matching the hilarity of the real Giuliani’s Four Seasons debacle from the morning, inarguably one of the funniest political catastrophes of all time.
A breaking news story sees Trump fleeing the White House, OJ-style, in a white Ford Bronco driven by his son, Don Jr. It’s a funny idea but unfortunately that’s all it is and its over almost as soon as it begins. Then the Foo Fighters return and close out the show with their hit anthem, Learn to Fly.
The episode was a mixed bag but the energy, relief and schadenfreude of the cast, crew and audience was palpable. It’ll be interesting to see where SNL goes from here. One assumes Baldwin will continue to play Trump in the handful of episodes between now and Biden’s inauguration, but after that the show will no longer have its biggest target – not just of the last few years, but ever – to fall back on. A post-Trump SNL is almost as unthinkable as a post-Trump America. But it’s just as welcome.