Saturday Night Live recap: Jason Bateman hosts cast-driven episode with musical guest Morgan Wallen
Even without the specter of the election looming over season 46, Saturday Night Live remains in a precarious place. It is not an understatement that 2020 has been a deeply strange and stressful year for the country, not to mention our friends in the entertainment complex. And after a well-deserved month-long hiatus, it is fair to say that the show has conducted itself admirably amidst unprecedented circumstances. An overstuffed, rotating cast has grappled with waterlogging; deflating, celebrity-packed cold opens; and — most notably — a swelling worldwide pandemic.
As the streaming wars continue to reshuffle the deck, SNL is one of few true monoliths in pop culture. The show launched as a countercultural bird flip, over the past decades becoming an essential stop in Hollywood’s PR machine, but increasingly it feels like the last man standing as people experience content in often fragmented ways. So this is a pretty compelling time to watch the show respond, often in real time, to a ton of uncertainty.
Bateman previously hosted way back in season 30, when Kenan Thompson was a mere featured player. (I wonder if he and Kenan will bring back T.T. and Mario, incidentally.) I am joined tonight by former cast member Jeff Richards, who now hosts his own podcast, The Jeff Richards Show. He recently released a deep fake episode featuring Alec Baldwin, which you all should watch. With Joe Biden’s inauguration 46 days away, Richards predicts: “Alec’s Trump impression is not gone, it’s just hanging on a coat rack. When the climate changes he will put it on again and I can’t wait.” Let’s see if he’s right!
The show begins with a familiar setting: C-Span, the framing device for so many classic political cold opens in years past. “You’re watching C-Span which is honestly surprising.”
We are not in a courtroom — it is a Michigan Senate hearing. President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giulani (Kate McKinnon), is farting. It’s going to be that kind of cold open, folks.
The good news: Cecily Strong is back! She is Melissa Carone, the supposed voter fraud star witness who went viral this week. Cecily has long-dominated on Weekend Update as Judge Jeanine Pirro, so this is right down the middle for her. Heidi Gardner was forced to eat ballots at the behest of nefarious, conniving Democrats. And Beck Bennett is Mike Lindell, the inventor of My Pillow. Beck is the unsung hero of these otherwise weak cold opens. (That said, it is extraordinary we are spared any cameos this round.)
The show shrewdly lets Chloe Fineman flex her spot-on Nicole Kidman, complete with her questionable American accent from The Undoing. Pete Davidson and Kyle Mooney also return as the stammering would-be kidnappers of Governor Gretchen Whitmer. This is grim stuff to be spoofing, let along incorporate as recurring characters.
Bateman relates a somewhat disturbing anecdote: that during his previous episode’s goodnights, he was almost mauled by a monkey used earlier in a sketch. You can watch in slow motion Rachel Dratch’s horrified expression as the monkey considers destroying Bateman’s face. It’s a riveting story, and continues this season’s strong streak of monologues.
During Bateman’s 2005 monologue, he and Amy Poehler pleaded with audiences to watch Arrested Development. The legendary FOX show officially kickstarted the second phase of Bateman’s career as one of comedy’s greatest modern straight men. Richards concurs: “Jason Bateman is pure glue. He holds everything he does together, especially when he’s only listening.”
Other notes: “Who here has had it with 2020?” Bateman asks. He winks who else in the audience has had the vaccine. Richards comments: “We need to do whatever our government tells us to do especially when there is something to worry about,” before adding, “I’ve made my own vaccine and I already take it so.”
Ah, the sleepover motif — we previously saw this conceit during the Adam Driver episode in January. Bateman is a “lame ass dad” visiting his daughter’s sleepover. Someone had their period on a couch cushion and put a ton of things in the wash, attempting to cover up the crime. McKinnon is clearly the culprit. “Just tell the hot dad you Kill Bill’d the living room,” she mugs.
“Ah, man, don’t take about my gait,” sighs Stacey (Melissa Villaseñor). I would prefer the show develop recurring characters to thrive in new scenarios, as opposed to remaking previous sketches. But this is a great role for Bateman, and has a fun "I am Spartacus" ending.
North Pole - Stu (Stan spoof)
Bateman is Santa, and his elves are reading letters from children. One note is more than a little disturbing. It is Davidson as Stan, I mean Stu, spoofing Eminem’s classic stalker tale. This is one of the greatest rap songs of all time, and as a child of 2000s-era pop culture, I am loving this. Very specific, even down to McKinnon’s Dido haircut. They nailed it. And in a nod to the iconic Grammy performance, Bowen Yang portrays Elton John on the second rendition of the chorus.
The climax is Bateman’s Santa dismisses Stu immediately. We cut to a screen reading “Slim Shady” and it is Eminem in the flesh. He has gotten the gifts received in the song. This is a fantastic use of Pete’s skills, Stan-a-Clause and a really cool tribute to "Stan." Eminem was recently announced as one of the top 20 most streamed artists on Spotify for 2020, so his legacy continues! A+
Eminem was also impersonated by Davidson on SNL in 2017 during the sketch Lion King Auditions. He’s been the musical guest seven times on SNL overall, but I think this may be his first sketch since he rapped on Update in 2000 with Old School Rappers.
Bowen Yang is Charlie, emceeing an outdoor holiday show. Cecily Strong is Billie Moon.They duet. Cecily must insist she spotlight her singing chops at least once an episode. Which is fine!
The Christmas Conversation
Daughters (Lauren Holt, Chloe Fineman, Ego Nwodim) are calling their moms (Kate McKinnon, Heidi Gardner, Punkie Johnson) to let them know they are not coming home for the holidays due to the pandemic. They are not handling it well — wild, passive aggressive, melodramatic. “Think about your dead mother,” suggests one dad (Jason Bateman).
It’s hilarious, but ultimately very moving.
The Future Morgan Wallens
Wallen was originally announced as the musical guest during Bill Burr's episode in October. However, his appearance was canceled after videos surfaced showing him violating the show's COVID-19 protocols by not wearing a mask and not social distancing at a bar in Tuscaloosa. Richards says, “What happens in Alabama stays in Alabama. Unless it’s a deadly virus you’ve become infected with. You can’t sing off COVID, unless it’s an AC/DC tune.”
Here, Bateman is Wallen from the future, warning him about getting kicked off SNL. He’s the devil on his shoulder. And Yang is Wallen from two months in the future. (The camera work seems to miss Bateman at one point.)
Davidson is another fan, high and locked in the bathroom. Not a ton of people are willing to fly to New York right now, it seems. Meta! This is silly, and ends with Wallen singing a new song. “Thanks for giving this poor southern boy a second Yankee chance.”
Morgan Wallen - “7 Summers”
Previously, this dreamy single broke the single-day Apple Music streaming record for a country song and debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. If I recall correctly, “7 Summers” first blew up on Instagram/TikTok which ensured its inclusion on his upcoming second studio album Dangerous: The Double Album. Very smooth.
Colin Jost compares Trump’s recent 45-minute rant to an unhinged Only Fans video. He concludes with a riff based off the movie The Help. Michael Che chuckles, before dunking on Jost and Jost's new wife, Scarlett Johansson, getting the vaccine first. He claims, as a Black man, he is suspicious of the vaccine but since he’s “on a white show” he might get the real one. Scalding, brutal, hilarious.
Staten Island native Davidson comes out to discuss a recent protest in his hometown. He mentions an inexpensive vibrator being sold on Etsy with his face on it. “People like me but not in the right way.” He then riffs on Twitter’s recent outcry over his casting as George Bailey for an It’s A Wonderful Life charity table read. Which — fair enough.
Gardner is back as teen YouTube critic Bailey Gismert! We last saw her during the SNL at Homes, which was a fitting format for her. She is commenting on watching the “old” prestige movies from the '90s, a la the dated American Beauty. She is more into Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. Heidi kills it — between this and the Sleepover sketch, I am getting strong PEN15 vibes from her output tonight. Really brilliant stuff. (Including her calling Che out for not being in sketches, ever.)
This is yet another raucous, savage Update.
Melissa Villaseñor and Mikey Day bring their daughter to a virtual contactless elf (Kyle Mooney) at the mall. We get our second Santa performance from Bateman tonight — he is in a “magic” plastic snow globe to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Or I guess he is technically a mall Santa and failed actor named John, as “Mrs. Claus” (Strong) calls him. They roll around like gerbils in their bubble boy enclosures. Goofy physical humor underpinned by real frustrations from extreme COVID precautions.
Bateman gets a nasty bloody nose from rolling around. Cecily rolls over Day as the sketch ends.
Morgan Wallen — “Still Goin Down”
This is a hometown, paint-by-numbers country-pride anthem, if I ever heard one. The music video for this single was released about two weeks ago. Still enjoyable!
Killing the Bit song
Ryan (Mooney) is hanging out with other guys watching the game. He attempts to join their joshing, but no one laughs.
This leads to a song about his inability to keep the joke going. “I try so hard / But what I say just doesn’t make sense.” His energy is off. He doubles down on making “cut to” jokes, after Steve (Davidson) admonishes him. Relatable!
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-The cold open, credits and monologue clocked under 15 minutes tonight, folks. That may be a record for the season. And since Eminem was the only cameo tonight, this cast-driven show, aided by a very game Bateman, was very fun! Good energy, solid pacing.
-Guessing Aidy Bryant is still shooting Shrill, while Kenan Thompson and Chris Redd are working on their own sitcom. (Kenan was a pre-tape in his sole appearance. Same with Chris.)
-Fun to have Cecily back, yes, but I loved seeing Bowen, Heidi, Chloe and Pete shine.