Saturday Night Live recap: Benedict Cumberbatch
The 'Doctor Strange' and 'Sherlock' star hosts on 'the last week of America as we know it'
Well, we made it: It’s the last Saturday Night Live before the election on Tuesday. After weeks of watching Kate McKinnon and Alec Baldwin go at it as Clinton and Trump, the actual politicians will take it to the polls in just a few days. On Monday, NBC will air SNL’s primetime election special, but Saturday’s episode marked the last real installment before the big day.
And rather than doubling down on political stuff, SNL delivered a fairly standard episode, hosted by everyone’s favorite silly-looking British man with an even sillier name: Benadryl Cabbagepatch Bandicoot Cummerbund Benedict Cumberbatch. The Sherlock star just joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the release of this weekend’s Doctor Strange, and here, he made his SNL debut with Solange as musical guest.
Cumberbatch is better known for playing aloof British geniuses than doing comedy, and although he was certainly game, gyrating on a dead grandmother’s face and straddling a toilet, SNL didn’t give him all that much to work with. He took the stage by declaring, “It’s so great to be here hosting Saturday Night Live on the last week of America as we know it,” before launching into a fairly forgettable musical monologue.
“I thought I’d try this American pastime: I believe it’s called bragging?” Cumberbatch explained as he rattled off his list of accomplishments. “Am I saying that right?” Benny, we love you to pieces, and you’re exceptionally good at many things, but this musical monologue was not one of them. At least you have your CBE from the queen to fall back on.
Best Political Moment: Cold Open
The cold open kicked off as basically just another rehash of the previous debate sketches with Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon — right down to the split screen format. Cecily Strong played Erin Burnett, who invited both candidates to make a last-minute appeal to voters as an incredulous Trump asked, “Really? And I’m still in this thing? America, you must really hate this lady.”
Things took a turn for the bizarre as Trump denied his ties to the FBI, Vladimir Putin, and the literal KKK — “What even is a K?” — before planting a big, smacking kiss on each of them. When Clinton protested, Burnett replied, “It doesn’t seem like enough of a story. Let’s get back to your emails.” Cue a long, guttural screech from McKinnon.
But just when it looked like they were ready to wrap it up and shout “live from New York,” Baldwin broke character to apologize to McKinnon and commiserate about just how awful this election has been. And in a nice surprise, Baldwin and McKinnon grabbed hands and rushed out into the streets of New York to revel in the late-night madness of Times Square. There, they gorged on cotton candy, formed an enormous hand-holding circle, and handed out balloons.
When they finally made it back into the studio, they addressed the camera head-on, encouraging everyone to get out and vote. “We can’t tell you who to vote for,” McKinnon said, “but on Tuesday, we all get a chance to choose what kind of country we want to live in.”
It’s no surprise that the SNL writers are, like the rest of the country, exhausted by this political slog, but it felt like a bit of a missed opportunity not to go for broke and drive one final nail in the coffin of this insane election season. (In case you needed a refresher, this is literally the show that invited Donald Trump to host a year ago.) Still, there’s something poignant about watching Baldwin and McKinnon encourage Americans to get out and vote. See you next week, when we’ll know whether we’re getting four more years of McKinnon in a pantsuit or Baldwin in orange makeup.
Best Sketch: Why Is Benedict Cumberbatch Hot?
Beck Bennett created and hosted his own game show to get to the bottom of a question that has plagued many for years: Why is Benedict Cumberbatch hot? As both Aidy Bryant and Vanessa Bayer struggled to explain exactly why they’re attracted to the British actor, Cumberbatch expressed his own bafflement: “Honestly, I don’t know either. Some people say I look a bit like a hammerhead shark or a lizard man. And I sort of think I look a little like Sid the sloth from Ice Age.”
Best Toilet Humor
One of tonight’s pretaped sketches parodied that iconic Apple “1984” ad, as a Cumberbatch in sunglasses strutted in to show that yes, there is a cool way to sit on the toilet, thank you very much. It was weird winner, with a high-production value and a totally game host, as Cumberbatch sensually lit a match and dropped his pants.
Strangest Use of the Chicago Cubs
Earlier this week, news broke that the Cubs were set to appear on Saturday Night Live, and when they finally did, it was in one of the strangest sketches of the night. Aidy Bryant went all-out as a grandmother who dies of shock just a few minutes into her own surprise bachelorette party, as Cumberbatch and Mikey Day played male strippers who continued to grind on her lifeless face. Before long, Dexter Fowler, David Ross, and Anthony Rizzo showed up as themselves to do a little twerking and gyrating of their own. Not everyone was a fan of this one, but I kind of loved Bryant’s slack-jawed commitment and refusal to break.
Weakest Sketch: Gemma and Ricky
Cecily Strong has played her strange British character Gemma twice before, once with Dwayne Johnson and once with Louis C.K., but this installment fell flat. This time, Gemma was accompanied to Bobby Flay’s steakhouse by Cumberbatch as a Criss Angel wannabe, but even Cumberbatch’s bizarre American accent couldn’t save this sketch.
Michael Che and Colin Jost rattled off a few solid political jabs, but Weekend Update felt surprisingly lifeless, even just a few days before the election. (Highlights include Jost’s “A Weiner always pops up at the worst possible time” and Che’s delight at the existence of a KKK newspaper — and whether it has a sports section.)
The most memorable moments came from the segment’s two surprise guest stars, starting with Dana Carvey as his ridiculous and beloved Church Lady. This time, she weighed in on the election, pondering, “Do we vote for a bitter female android from the ‘90s or a riverboat gambler with a big tummy and an orange head?” Did Church Lady have anything new or particularly revelatory to say this time around? No. But it will always be a hoot to watch her stare down the camera and declare, “Well, isn’t that special.”
Finally, Weekend Update brought the Cubs back out with a very special addition: Bill Murray. “You look familiar. Did you used to work here?” Jost asked. “I did,” a sheepish Murray replied. They then launched into an original composition entitled “Go Cubs Go.” It was a nice respite from the final days of this insane election. It was cheesy. It was delightful. It was perfect.
Best Musical Moment
Fowler, Ross, Rizzo, and Murray made up for their so-so voices with a lot of musical enthusiasm, but the real musical moment came from Solange, who delivered two powerhouse performances. The singer made her SNL debut by performing “Cranes in the Sky” and “Don’t Touch My Hair” off of her new album, A Seat At The Table, looking (and sounding) like a literal angel.
Beck Bennett had a pretty great night, from playing himself in “Why Is Benedict Cumberbatch Hot?” to planting a kiss on Trump as a shirtless Vladimir Putin.
Episode Grade: B-
This episode was hovering in mediocre C territory, but I’m a softie. That joyful Bill Murray appearance pushed this up to a B-.