Saturday Night Live recap: Steve Carell is best as Bezos in a ho-hum episode
The cold open featured the always capable Kate McKinnon revisiting Laura Ingraham, controversial right-wing host of the barely sponsored The Ingraham Angle, but this particular diss of disinformation never realy found its sweet spot while cycling through guests such Jeanine Pirro (Cecily Strong), Mark Zuckerberg (Alex Moffat), Marcia Fudge (Leslie Jones), and, sure, Vape God (Pete Davidson). In attributing the supposed Blue Wave to the fact all Latinos had voted twice, McKinnon’s Ingraham reminded, “You can’t dismiss that idea simply because it isn’t true and sounds insane” before introducing the razor-tipped highlight of the too-long segment, an absurdly offensive list of Feel Facts, such as, “Latinos can have a baby every three months,” “Blackface is a compliment,” and “If you have less than five guns, you’re gay.”
Live from Scranton, it’s Saturday night! Carell’s opening monologue delivered an Office reunion of sorts via the audience-Q&A trope. When someone asked Carell if he would do a reboot of the adored NBC comedy — the possibility of which NBC began exploring last year — he demurred, insisting that it was a great experience but it was best to leave The Office in the past. Kenan Thompson backed up this audience member (and landed a nice laugh by responding to Carell’s inquiry whether he was talking as Kenan or a fake audience member: “If I was acting, you would know.”) What followed was a crowd-pleasing succession of Office alums, each getting more direct in urging the former Michael Scott to sign up for the reboot. As Ellie Kemper (Erin) said, “People would really love to see an Office reboot because I need that money. Let’s get that money, Steve!” Ed Helms (Andy) explained, “I just don’t think you understand how much money we’re talking about. You wouldn’t have do those sad movies anymore.” And Jenna Fischer (Pam), who faux-mistakenly referred to America’s couple as Pam and Jeff, took her shot at persuading Carell, saying, “Steve, don’t be a dick. Do the reboot.” In finishing the successful bit, Carell — a man who once fooled Twitter into thinking there would be an Office revival — got the last laugh by declaring: “I am proud to announce officially…that we have a great show tonight!”
Breaking down the sketches
Carell — who has become more of Serious Oscar-nominated Ac-Tor in recent years, and is earning Oscar buzz for his role in the just-released Beautiful Boy — lampooned his return to comedy in an entertaining SNL promo earlier this week. This only heightened expectations that his third stint as SNL host would result in the standout episode of the fall. But the night felt like something of a letdown as very few of the sketches thrown his way proved to be winners, often relegating Carell to play various incarnations of Weird Dad. In the first sketch, perhaps the weakest, he was the clueless father whose eye-rolling kids had to explain to him, over and over, that everything he thought he knew about his life was a lie; later, he was the retired RV dad who had sold his wife on ditching the house to hit the road, only to learn that she hated their new life; and in a wink at Frankie Avalon’s “Beauty School Dropout” from Grease, he was the creepy dad at a ’50s sleepover advising his confused daughter’s friend through song (and back-up singer-dancers) to stay in school, much to his daughter’s (Aidy Bryant) disgust, as he’d been missing for six weeks. (The best laugh in an otherwise lackluster sketch came when he offered his daughter $40, cigarettes, and the gun in his car not to rat him out to her mother.)
A sketch framed around an educational NASA livestream had more potential: Carell played an astronaut trying to damage-control various horrors, including a frozen monkey splitting apart, which allowed for flashes of Carell’s “No! No! No!” spark of angry desperation. Instead of giving viewers a here’s-how-the-2018-sociopoliticalscape-will-screw-your-Thanksgiving-family-gathering sketch, the show served up an amusing, bizarro Friendsgiving bit starring Carell and Strong as strangers at a neighbor’s turkey feast who tried to persuade the room that Thanksgiving does indeed have its own catchy song — and it involves erectile dysfunction. (And speaking of song, musical guest Ella Mai and her overly enthusiastic drummer offered up the R&B-styled “Boo’d Up” and “Trip” during the show.) The other attempt was a wobbly and flat-finishing sketch set around an alien Thanksgiving in which the extraterrestrials served the Earthlings purple ears of corn named kern, which were adorned with Pete Davidson’s face begging the Earthlings not to eat it.
After tweaking New Yorkers’ lack of enthusiasm for the second Amazon HQ being built in New York, anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che waded through mostly serviceable jokes, though there were a few zingers of merit: “A county in Florida became the first local government in the state’s history to elect an all-LGBTQ government. For more on this, bring it up to your grandpa at Thanksgiving.” “Post Cereal has announced that they’ll be making a new Sour Patch Kids-flavored cereal. It’s a great way to start the morning off on the right foot — because the left foot was taken by diabetes.”
Mikey Day wove a rather rich, disturbing tapestry out of Virginia Congressman Denver Riggleman’s love of Bigfoot erotica, but the laughs came easier when Kenan Thompson scored again as hyped-up, enterprising carnival barker LaVar Ball (father of Laker Lonzo Ball), who boasted about how he was living the Big Baller lifestyle in Lithuania. “Perogi for breakfast! Perogi for lunch! And for dinner, the briniest cabbage this side of Bucharest!” When Che noted that this sounded “rough,” Ball retorted, “Oh, you jealous? We be ballin’ out every day! We just signed a three-figure deal with the biggest video game console in all of Lithuania: the Playstation 2!”
Runner-up goes to the RBG Rap: McKinnon has wrung laughs out of her fun-n-feisty portrayal of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and this time the show’s love for the rib-breaking Supreme Court justice was set to a rib-rattling rap that included Chris Redd and Pete Davidson chanting, “Live Ginsburg and I ride for Ginsburg.” The short was capped with a joke about blind devotion as Redd prompted Davidson, “Now you know we love RBG. Yo, tell them your favorite RGB decision, dog,” and Davidson weakly responding, “I don’t know.”
But the superlative in this category was Carell boldly, er, baldly playing Amazon overlord/Donald Trump adversary Jeff Bezos. After noting that everyone is thrilled that Amazon is opening new headquarters in New York and Virginia, “except for the people who live there, and the people who live in all the places we didn’t choose,” Bezos denied that he selected Trump’s hometown and current residence to humiliate and overshadow him, while tossing in that he was 100 times richer than Trump. What followed was a string of passive-aggressive Trump swipes, with Bezos announcing his new delivery option called Amazon Caravan: any package going to any Trump property will be delivered by hundreds of Hondurans and Mexican immigrants, unless you order The Art of the Deal, which costs more to ship because it’s heavier: “I guess it’s the only book with four Chapter 11s.” Walking by pictures of himself with Kanye West, Kim Jong-un, and Vladimir Putin, Bezos announced that he wanted give back to the communities in which they are joining: “That’s why I’m purchasing a building in Queens that used to be the crown jewel of Fred Trump’s real estate empire and converting it into public urinals. And in Virginia, we’ll be very close to Arlington National Cemetery, so we can pay our respects to fallen veterans, even when it’s raining outside.”
On Wednesday, you can relive four decades of Thanksgiving sketches with the two-hour special, A Saturday Night Live Thanksgiving. The next new episode, hosted by Claire Foy with musical guest Anderson .Paak, airs Dec. 1.