Arts tv review

‘Saturday Night Live’s’ Season 46 premiere offers satisfying satire of a world on fire

In their return to live performance, ‘SNL’ finds humor in the uncertainty and confusion we all feel right now

Saturday Night Live Season 46 Premiere
Directed by Don Roy King
Screenplay by Anna Drezen, Colin Jost, Michael Che, and Kent Sublette
Starring Chris Rock and Megan Thee Stallion

I don’t envy the Saturday Night Live cast right now. There’s so much chaos and uncertainty in the world, and fans expect SNL to cover it in a way that’s funny, yet tasteful. The best comedy often must straddle the line between satire and outright offensiveness — but we also don’t usually have a president hospitalized with the same virus that he profoundly mismanaged.

The cold open, a recreation of last Tuesday’s presidential debate, didn’t get my hopes up. Five years in, Alec Baldwin’s impression of Trump has grown stale, and Jim Carrey’s exciting appearance as Joe Biden was just “accurate,” no more or no less. There were digs at Trump but also frequent pokes at Biden’s senility, which felt like SNL’s attempt to avoid being “too” critical of Trump in light of his diagnosis. On the whole, the sketch lacked clear direction and failed to innovate much from the actual debate. Beck Bennett and Maya Rudolph’s respective performances of moderator Chris Wallace and VP candidate Kamala Harris offered the only memorable moments.

As the show went on though, the vision started to congeal into something more cohesive. Across host Chris Rock’s monologue, musical guest Megan Thee Stallion’s performance, and Weekend Update, SNL conveyed the national zeitgeist in comedic and powerful ways. The rest of the sketches provided excellent auxiliary content, playing off of other niche ways in which our lives are just weird right now (for example, not being able to see the bottom of others’ faces because of masks). Below, I briefly review each bit of the show in more detail.

Opening Monologue, Chris Rock: 3/5. Rock offered a call to action in the face of national uncertainty, urging the audience to stay politically involved. He argued for rethinking the way the government is structured. His coverage of these topics felt cliché, and there weren’t many memorable jokes. However, Rock’s stage presence was excellent, and his delivery gave his monologue significant import. He ended with a well-selected quote from James Baldwin to cap off his rousing of the audience: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Superspreader Event: 3/5. In this sketch, a news anchor reports on a COVID superspreader event at a name change office, in which characters with names like “Edith Puthie” and “Mike Rodick” (say them out loud) were interviewed. It’s a classic SNL installment that shows up every couple of seasons, and I’m personally not a big fan, but some people love them. I did enjoy Beck Bennett and Kenan Thompson’s characters.

Bottom of Your Face (Music Video): 4/5. SNL’s music video sketches in the last few seasons have been great, largely thanks to Chris Redd and Pete Davidson. In this sketch, they rap alongside Kenan about wanting to start a relationship but being unsure because they can’t see the bottoms of their love interests’ faces. It’s a pretty great idea with some banger lyrics and execution; Megan Thee Stallion also features in this sketch, and she definitely carries it.

Future Ghost: 3.5/5. Kyle Mooney plays a video-game addicted kid who gets to see his life 20 years into the future (2020) thanks to a ghost (Chris Rock). It plays off the idea that a couple decades ago, no one could’ve expected 2020, but expectations are subverted in some fun ways. Mooney does a great job with these sorts of characters, and the skit has a couple well-written twists.

Drew Barrymore Show: 3.5/5. 2020 hasn’t affected everyone equally. This skit plays off the stereotype of rich, middle-aged white women (a subclass of Karens) being tone-deaf to the effects of the pandemic, systemic racism, etc. from the perspective of Drew Barrymore (Chloe Fineman). Fineman began to display her wide range of impressions during last March’s SNL at-home shows, and she does so again here.

Megan Thee Stallion – “Savage”: 4.5/5. Megan Thee Stallion was a huge standout this entire show, and her musical performance was one of the most memorable I’ve seen on SNL. It helps that I love “Savage” as a song — to me, it feels like a powerful reclaiming of the ways in which black women are boxed into contradictory stereotypes (“angry and bossy,” “emotional and chatty,” and “cold and unfeeling” all at the same time), and that comes through in the live performance. She further highlighted the specific intersectional struggles of black women by playing a recording of a 1962 Malcolm X speech, followed by an excerpt from activist Tamika Mallory criticizing the recent Breonna Taylor decision. If there’s one thing to watch from the show, it’d be this performance.

Weekend Update: 4.5/5. Update was another highlight of the show. Michael Che had a bit on the irony of Trump getting COVID, saying that events had unfolded like a joke that’s almost too perfectly constructed. “Like, it’s so on the nose. It’d be like if I were making fun of people who wear belts and then my pants just immediately fell down.” For my favorite joke of the night, Colin Jost took to Trump’s Twitter account: “Despite everything, President Trump actually seems to be in good spirits. He tweeted a message that ended with ‘LOVE’ and three exclamation points. So it sounds like they’re cutting his hydroxychloroquine with... a little bit of molly.” Update also spent a bit of time on topics unrelated to Trump’s infection, recruiting Bowen Yang for a perfectly-acted bit on the China TikTok situation and peppering in some classic weird news with fun punchlines. Between Update and the next sketch, there was a brief pan to Kate McKinnon dressed as RBG: a fitting and welcome tribute.

NBA Bubble: 2/5. For context, the NBA playoffs this year happened in a “bubble” in Orlando, in which players only interacted with one another, and family members and significant others weren’t allowed in. This sketch attempted to satirize that with the concept of a draft, in which the players select women to enter the bubble. The sketch was poor execution of a good idea at best and just sexist at worst.

Stunt Performers: 2.5/5. The final sketch was centered on five stunt actors whose jobs were affected by the pandemic. It’s one of those SNL classics where the base premise is already weird, and then there are particular characters with even weirder roles. Unfortunately, it just didn’t click with me.

October 2020 is a pretty odd time to be alive, and we definitely felt that in SNL’s Season 46 premiere. All told, the cast’s return to studio 8H injected fresh humor into the pain and confusion many of us are currently feeling, and that’s exactly what I wanted from the show right now.