As a bizarre election drew near, a familiar face showed how to guest-host. Kate McKinnons inspired Clinton, meanwhile, got the knives out for The Donald
Its unusual for Saturday Night Liveto be live four weeks in a row, but it seems to have done the writers good this weeks episode was one of the strongest in recent memory.
Much of this was due to the presence as host for a ninth time of Tom Hanks, an actor not just able to inhabit weird characters but with an intuitive understanding of the pace and timing of the show. Even very funny and talented people can struggle to match that.
The cold open was, of course, a parody of the final presidential debate. Hanks stepped in as moderator Chris Wallace, doing an excellent deadpan of a man desperately trying to give Donald Trump a chance. Kate McKinnon continued to develop her inspired Hillary Clinton, beginning literally with the knives out.
In the first debate I set the table, she said. In the second debate I fired up the grill, and tonight rubbing two knives together I feast.
Alec Baldwins Trump remains mostly crazy faces and verbal tics, but he did score with a line about Trump having the support of the best Baldwin brother Stephen Baldwin.
Once again, the show seemed to be willing to play fast and loose with tradition, using a rare cutaway to show the entire world laughing at Trumps claim that no one has more respect for women than he does. None of this years debate sketches will go down in SNLhistory, but they were funny enough.
Like last week, when Emily Blunt sang about puppies and cake, Hanks monologue was framed as a reaction to the terrible state of the world. Americas Favorite Dad switched to a cardigan for a little chat about anxiety in a country getting a little darker and a lot gayer, and about dealing with debt. It was a pep talk about the good in America that can overcome these dark days: cute and fairly clever, if not uproariously funny.
After the monologue, the show returned with one of its best in a while, a Black Jeopardy with Kenan Thompson as host and Hanks as Doug, an older white man in a Make America Great Again hat who favored Git R Done as a catchphrase. Everything about the sketch worked: the writing was tight and topical, the performances were great and Hanks really sold it as an older, working class guy with suspicions about the Illuminati and who thinks skinny girls can do not a damn thing for you.
Game show sketches are old-fashioned and can tend towards lazy, but this one was incredibly well done, making solid points about current affairs and taking advantage of the shows now diversified cast.
There were a few more hits. A clever parody mimicked dramedies like Transparent with a promo for a show about a family of adjunct professors who are all diagnosed with depression on the same day but its 30 minutes so its a comedy. Hanks as the oddball David Pumpkins in a haunted house worked for fans of absurdity and deliberate nonsensicalness.
As was the case last week, Weekend Updates political jokes felt a bit tired, though Colin Jost got in one good jab about Mike Pence accepting the results of the election unless theyre gay. Update has being relying more on characters for flavor, though, and this time it worked: Leslie Jones came on to talk about email hacking, a thin but welcome excuse for her to do some stand-up material about her own leaked photos that was as funny and in-your-face-as as she always is.
Cecily Strong also returned as the girl who wish you hadnt started a conversation with at a party, a reliable enough Update character who was amusing while rambling about Jillian Assange and sheeple.
Hanks also got to reprise the role of Captain Chesley Sully Sullenberger for a brief sketch with Baldwin, and to play his frequent director Ron Howard hosting a pet bloopers show with two dreary French commentators. Neither sketch was extraordinary, but they were an indication of how excited the writers were to write for Hanks.
Perhaps the writers took comfort in knowing they, too, could rely on Americas Favorite Dad to deliver.