In his first turn hosting, Chance the Rapper propels the sketch comedy show to its best episode of the season yet
Since his debut mixtapes 2012’s 10 Day and 2013’s Acid Rap made Chance the Rapper a Windy City hero, the Chicago wordsmith has become an internationally beloved, Grammy-winning superstar. And whether he’s uniting with Barack Obama to sing Christmas carols or fighting to secure funding for Chicago’s public schools, the 24-year-old’s electrifying charisma has propelled his career. As the host of Saturday Night Live‘s sixth installment of the season, Chance provided the show with a much-needed jolt of energy — and suggested he’s got the acting chops that have made the likes of Justin Timberlake, Ariana Grande, and Miley Cyrus into sought-after hosts.
Though he puzzlingly didn’t also double as musical guest — Eminem handled that — Chance easily filled a number of roles Saturday, from sports broadcaster to porn star to high school student to old-school rapper. He even reinvigorated the tired trope of the opening monologue musical number. “I wanna become the Mariah Carey of Thanksgiving,” Chance told the audience before launching into a hilarious tune about the holiday where you’re “forced to see every single bad apple on your family tree.” Chance appeared as musical guest the last two Decembers (and also made a cameo with Kanye West in February 2016), and if his stellar performance Saturday night is any indication, he’ll continue to be a Studio 8H regular for years to come.
Alec Baldwin’s appearances as Donald Trump defined SNL last season. But his cold open spots this fall — he kicked off three of the first five episodes — were stale retreads of the same jokes: Trump’s insensitive, he’s disinterested in policy, he lacks basic grammatical skills. Even if Baldwin’s absences stem from contractual parameters and not artistic choices, they’ve freshened up the show’s opening moments.
Last week, that yielded a strategy session between Mike Pence (Beck Bennett), Roy Moore (Mikey Day), and Jeff Sessions (Kate McKinnon). This week, Day and Alex Moffat’s side-splitting Weekend Update bit as the Trump brothers — Day plays Don Jr., Moffat handles a bumbling Eric — got promoted to show-starting duty. The installment of “The Mueller Files” depicted a fictional London encounter between Don Jr., Eric, and WikiLeaks head Julian Assange (Kate McKinnon) in September 2016. As great as she is, McKinnon’s Assange impression didn’t totally land — after all, how many SNL viewers are familiar with his mannerisms and speech patterns?
But Day and Moffat more than carried the sketch on their own. “Eric’s wife had to work, so I have him for the day,” a disgruntled Don Jr. tells Assange, as Eric remarks that the WikiLeaks founder “looks like Draco Malfoy.” When Assange questions whether Eric can be trusted, Don Jr. quizzes his brother, who says they’re meeting with “Juilliard Massage,” the founder of “Ricki Lakes.” The scene concludes with Don Jr. stashing documents from Assange in Eric’s Minions backpack before the inept brothers manage to screw up the iconic “Live from New York!” phrase: “Live,” Eric begins, pronouncing the word as if it rhymes with “give.”
“Thursday is Thanksgiving, and there is so much to be thankful for this year,” Colin Jost began this week’s Weekend Update, “unless you’re a human woman.” As with last week’s Weekend Update segment featuring “Claire from HR,” SNL‘s news revue continues to stare down the sexual misconduct controversies currently roiling American culture. (Notably, of the six faces displayed when Jost delivered the joke, two — Louis C.K. and Donald Trump — have hosted the show since 2015, and a third, Al Franken, was a cast member.)
Jokes about other issues were similarly strong. Jost brought up the terms NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is seeking in his contract extension — $50 million, use of a private jet, and lifetime health insurance for him and his family — and drew an apt conclusion about America’s healthcare system. “That’s how expensive healthcare is,” Jost said. “He’s going to make $50 million a year and he’s still like, ‘What about that healthcare, though?'”
While the revival of Kyle Mooney’s failed comic Bruce Chandling was unfortunate, the segment’s other two guests soared. As Kate McKinnon’s Jeff Sessions entered, the embattled attorney general referenced his congressional testimony from this week, telling the crowd that when he said “I do not,” they should respond “recall.” Sessions also referred to a “childhood trauma”: the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
And, yet again, Pete Davidson continues to impress on Update as himself. Discussing traveling home for the holidays with fellow Staten Islander Jost, Davidson lamented that residents of the New York City borough greatly prefer the Update anchor. The local media, Davidson explained, fawningly covers Jost, while one opinion writer for the New York Post said that if Davidson continued to lambast Staten Island, he’d end up “sleeping with the fishes.” Davidson, who once commented that when Hurricane Sandy hit Staten Island it should’ve “finished the job,” didn’t do much to reverse his reputation in the bit. “Staten Island isn’t all heroin and racist cops,” he observed. “It also has meth and racist firefighters.”
Incisive critiques of racism have provided some of SNL‘s best moments in recent years. Add “Wayne Thanksgiving” to the list. Set at Bruce Wayne’s ritzy Gotham City mansion on Thanksgiving Eve, the sketch shows Batman’s billionaire alter ego greeting community members as part of his annual food drive. When Wayne (Beck Bennet) tells the teenager Malik (Chance the Rapper) that he knows Batman, however, things go awry. “Can you tell him to cool it down in our neighborhoods?” Malik asks. “Just seems like he’s in our neighborhood all the time!”
Other townspeople, played by Leslie Jones, Kenan Thompson, and Chris Redd, join in, complaining to Wayne about Batman’s tendency to break people’s jaws and leave them hanging from gargoyles for minor crimes like theft. Their minority community, they realize, has received what seems like a disproportionate amount of policing from the Caped Crusader. The aggrieved citizens conclude they should teach Batman a lesson, and another woman (Melissa Villaseñor) adds that her incarcerated brother is cooking up a scheme with the Joker to do just that. “Wayne Thanksgiving” wasn’t just amusing — it fused an interrogation of “tough on crime” rhetoric with a deconstruction of the presumed infallibility of superheroes.
Best Political Moment: “Come Back, Barack”
Chance delivered last season’s defining moment of musical comedy when, weeks after Donald Trump’s election, he appeared in the digital short “Jingle Barack,” a Christmas rap that also paid homage to the 44th president — and begged him not to leave office. On Saturday, Chance again fused his admiration of Obama with musical humor, joining Kenan Thompson and Chris Redd as the fictional R&B group De-Von-Tré. “We lit over 200 candles for you!” Thompson exclaimed as the trio performed a ’90s slow jam dedicated not to an old flame, but to the former chief executive.
“I mean, I know you’re busy with the library and everything,” Chance says at one point, “but Trump don’t even got a dog, man!” And in a spoken interlude, Thompson runs through roles Obama could fill going forward. Yes, a third term would violate the Constitution. “Maybe you can come back and make a speech — how much would that cost?” Thompson questions, alluding to the exorbitant speaking fees Obama has claimed in recent months. “Oh, for real? Oh, no, we definitely can’t afford that.”
Worst Sketch: “Family Feud: Harvey Family Thanksgiving”
Do viewers really need another installment of Kenan Thompson as Steve Harvey? Do they really need another half-baked game show sketch? The well-worn SNL format rarely impresses, and, though it wasn’t as middling as other bad sketches this season, the Thanksgiving edition of Family Feud was this episode’s worst moment. This installment pitted Harvey’s own family against their longtime friends, the Didricksons. The joke was one-note: The Didricksons are white, but one of their sons, Cecil (Chance the Rapper), is black and shares Harvey’s mannerisms. Chance’s impression of Harvey was spot on, but the sketch as a whole wore thin and, with its humor about Harvey’s extramarital affair with Cecil’s mom Carol (Aidy Bryant), made uncomfortable light of infidelity.
Best Eminem Medley: “Walk on Water”/”Stan”/”Love the Way You Lie”
The seminal rapper returned earlier this month with “Walk on Water,” a Beyoncé collaboration that’ll presumably appear on his still-unannounced ninth album. In his seventh appearance as SNL musical guest, the rapper deviated from the show’s traditional format, performing only once Saturday night — in the segment before Weekend Update — but cycling through three songs.
Skylar Grey, who has been featured on songs by artists including Nicki Minaj, Macklemore, and David Guetta, skillfully covered Queen Bey’s “Walk on Water” part — and then assisted Em as he unexpectedly pivoted into two of his most iconic (and female-featuring) tunes, 2000’s “Stan” and 2010’s “Love the Way You Lie,” which Grey co-wrote. Considering that artists usually appear on SNL to promote their new material, there’s something thrilling about watching an artist, particularly one of Eminem’s caliber, dip into their back catalog.
Episode MVP: Chris Redd
In season 43’s early episodes, Saturday Night Live has relied on Kate McKinnon to an alarming extent. (She was EW’s episode MVP for four of the first five episodes.) She’s a gifted comedian, but even the greatest talents can’t carry SNL alone. It was a pleasant surprise, then, that Saturday’s episode felt more democratized. Featured player and season rookie Chris Redd came through in supporting clutch roles throughout the episode. He was Harvey’s wild-eyed brother and suit designer Mike on “Family Feud.” He held his own with Chance and Thompson in “Come Back, Barack” and delivered a couple fantastic lines in “Wayne Thanksgiving.”
And in “Rap History,” Redd appeared as Chief Broncho, one-third of the old-school hip-hop crew Soul Crush Crew. The faux documentary pitted Soul Crush Crew — rounded out by Chance’s Kool Kenny Blade and Thompson’s DJ Grand Wizard Karate — against Lil Doo Doo, Pete Davidson’s pastiche of SoundCloud rapper Lil Pump. In the role of hip-hop elder statesman, Redd perhaps outshone even Chance himself.
After a week off, Lady Bird star Saoirse Ronan will host the Dec. 2 episode. U2, who are set to release their new album Songs of Experience the day prior, will handle musical duties.