Saturday Night Live recap: Timothée Chalamet makes his hosting debut
Friends, Romans, Coneheads! Lend me your ears. I come to recap the latest episode of SNL season 46, not to bury it. This SNL in Review episode features first-time host Timothée Chalamet, one of generation Z’s foremost actors and already the third youngest performer to ever earn a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars. Beyond being one of Hollywood’s premier next guard talents, he is also the subject of one of Chloe Fineman’s best impressions. Nothing would please me more than a ‘Dueling Brandos’ style face-off between the two of them.
Tonight’s musical guest is the opposite of Chalamet the upstart: words fail to describe Bruce Springsteen’s legend adequately. Tonight is his fourth appearance performing on SNL — previously he appeared in season 17 and 28, and he last showed up nearly five years ago, to the week. I am joined tonight by former SNL cast member Gary Kroeger, who was the first SNLer to impersonate Springsteen on the show. (For those keeping score: Kroeger played The Boss in the “I Am Also The World” sketch in the March 30, 1985 episode hosted by Hulk Hogan and Mr. T.)
Kroeger recalls “Jim Belushi thinking that he should be Bruce because Bruce was the biggest act in the world at the time...I won out simply because I could look a bit like him and could actually sing in a gravelly voice.” He adds: “The immediate audience recognition when I stepped into frame — with an intentional underbite — and sang fairly accurately, was very pleasing. I was proud of myself...I wasn't asked to talk like him, just to sing a line in a Bruce-ish way. I think the leather jacket and hair styling was 90% of the impression.” What a snapshot. Maybe this is one way to fittingly convey how prolific and essential Springsteen has been throughout his career — SNL was spoofing him way back in season 10.
So Chalamet/Springsteen are quite a billing contrast. (By the time he won his Oscar for Philadelphia, already 20 years into his career, Chalamet wasn’t even born.) Live from [wherever you’re reading this] it’s Saturday Night!
We are back in The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer — an “indoor man with an outdoor name.” He compares the approval of the Pfizer vaccine to the Ps5. Beck Bennett has made Blitzer a recurring character, of late. Dr. Fauci is back, and this time he is not played by Brad Pitt, as he was during the #SNLatHomes. This time, Kate McKinnon gets the ball — looking a helluva like Katrina Johnson’s Ross Perot from All That. McKinnon continues to play male members of the administration.
This cold open seems to struggle finding the humor here — Heidi Gardner does commendable work as Dr. Birx.
“There ain't one damn funny thing about COVID-19 to me,” says Kroeger. “Maybe there is humor in our new societal adjustments to living in isolation, but, personally, I am separating how seriously I take this pandemic, from what I find entertaining.” This is the line SNL rides every week.
Still, Kroeger is a fan of the current cast, saying: “I've never admired anyone more than Kate McKinnon, but you know who I relate to? Beck Bennett. I understand his every move, glance, pause and delivery. I have this gut feeling that we find the same kinds of things funny. I got to say hi to him at the 40th reunion and was taken aback by how unassuming and authentic he was. No star trip about him at all. I relate to that.”
Chalamet is ecstatic. He grew up about 12 minutes away, in Hell's Kitchen. His mom did backup work on SNL in the 80s — in fact, she appears as a partygoer in the classic Massive Headwound Harry sketch, and was almost spit on by Chris Farley. The show cuts to her in the audience, wearing a mask.
His monologue is dedicated to spending his holidays in New York City growing up. He is joined by Pete Davidson, who smells. He relates a (slightly) different Christmas experience in Staten Island.
“I only know of Timothée from reputation, his Oscar nomination, and the fact that I know he is a heartthrob," says Kroeger. "I have teenagers and I recognize when an actor's appeal transcends even their work; he has charisma beyond being a serious actor.”
Chalamet is not known for his comedic chops, so it will be curious to see how the show utilizes him tonight. He was a little nervous and giggling here. Kroeger comments: “I don't think it ever matters whether a host is a dramatic actor, a singer, a comedian, or a politician. The show's foundation is the writing and the cast and I have 100% confidence in this era of SNL talent. Sometimes, in fact, it was the host who was a fish out of water that made for the most surprising moments and the most fun. Back in my day I found people like George McGovern and newsman Edwin Newman to be fun surprises. And Ron Howard, who, yes, we obviously knew he could do comedy, but was coming into his zenith as a film director and he brought his likable nature to being serious about the work.”
A Rona Family Christmas
Cecily Strong and Beck Bennett are parent COVID-19 strands, who welcome their daughter (Lauren Holt) home for the holidays. Andrew Dismukes is her boyfriend...who infected Tom Hanks.
The Herpes — Oral and Genital — come over. They always appear when people are stressed out! Chalamet is the family black sheep — he failed at infecting New Zealand. There’s a family squabble.
This has a very surreal, intentional vibe. Does it work? At all? The self-amused puns and goofy/cringe costumes are like a spoof of a vintage SNL sketch. And, with nearly 300,000 dead from the pandemic in the United States, this swings hard for a very specific, dicey tone. God help us.
“This is a major purchase!” cries Heidi Gardner, furious at Beck Bennett for buying a car without consulting the family. He’s been out of work since March 2019. Things go south from there. This is a funny take on incessant tone-deaf and rosy car commercials. Bennett is perfectly cast as the oblivious, pathetic dad. He could make a great live-action Randy Marsh.
(And in a bit of potential irony, Fred Armisen appears in a commercial for Cadillac immediately following this sketch. Could this be a bit of network-sponsor synergy?)
The Dionne Warwick Talk Show
Ego Nwodim plays Warwick, who just discovered Twitter. (She went viral several times this week.) Punkie Johnson is Brittany, her producer and niece.
Her first guest is Harry Styles, played by Chalamet. Warwick cannot place him. “Why is Wendy Williams acting like a bitch to me?” she asks him. She then shoos him away. Next up: her cooking segment with Andrew Dismukes. She sings, and returns to her chair.
Her next guest is Billie Eilish (Melissa Villaseñor), who performed on SNL in 2019. And Yahtzee — here is Chloe Fineman as Chalamet himself. Warwick asks him to help her clapback at Wendy Williams. I am disappointed this is how they utilized this; there are so many ways to be meta here. Isn’t meta SNL’s sweet spot?
Then, Pete Davidson plays his real-life friend, Machine Gun Kelly, former Eminem foe and current pop punk artist.
Beck Bennett, Heidi Gardner and Timothée Chalamet are playing yet another family. They are past due on their bills, and must sell the family farm. Even the animals. Chalamet begins to sing: he is feeling very alone. He must set his claymation tiny horse free. So ~RaNDom! This seems purposefully designed for the meme machines, the TikTok brethren. Tiny Horse goes onto big things — getting married to AOC, and appearing on The Tonight Show. “Git!”
The audience seems mystified by this one.
Bruce Springsteen - “Ghosts”
“Ghosts” was released as the second single for Springsteen's album Letter to You in September. A music video for the single was also released. It is both a love letter to old friends, and a bygone era of music. It is also a rousing, bona fide jam that evokes some of E Street Band’s classic work. Jake Clemons takes the performance home with a dynamic saxophone riff that rivals his uncle Clarence. “Bruce!” cheers the audience at the song’s conclusion.
Kroeger says: “I think Letter To You is fantastic ... Springsteen operates from the same authentic source deep within his soul and life experience today as he did in the very beginning.”
“I’m beginning to think Donald Trump didn’t win this election,” kids Colin Jost. Both Jost and Michael Che grapple with this week’s onslaught of voter fraud claims. Che amusingly compares AG Barr as a grown up Eric Cartman. Kroeger weighs in: “I'd like to see the show's approach to the final gasps of Trump's pathetic whining to treat it in the past tense. I'm more interested in the postpartum Trump than what is current. I'd like to see him running Bingo on senior night at a Presbyterian church. The comedy of Trump humor should be drawn from the well of his irrelevance, not in his epic abuse of power.”
Kate McKinnon returns as Dr. Wayne Wenowdis. The good doctor first appeared in October. They discuss the distribution of the pandemic. “We blow dis.” Kate squirts Jostwith vaccine, laughing. “Kate, are you okay?” he asks. “The answer is no … I stopped going to therapy.” Kate excoriates the lack of planning and uncertainty around the vaccine, after months of collective trauma from the pandemic. Sounds like she watered Jost’s mic. This is pretty painful — the faux breaking character thing rarely works, let alone doing so in the exact same way mere weeks later. At least try.
Melissa Villaseñor also appears as a Dolly Parton lookalike. She sings “Holly Jolly Christmas.” “Oh, I just love Christmas,” she intones as Dolly. Apparently, she’s been pushing this Parton impression for awhile. “Jingle Bells” as “Jolene.” This is a great tribute to a living legend, concluding with a solid “9 to 5.” (Check out Dolly Parton’s SNL episode on Peacock. It’s really fun!)
This was an interesting segment of Update — you can see the show beginning to play out its angles on the upcoming Biden administration. It will be a change of pace, following four years of brutal Trump White House jokes. Kroeger: “My advice — which isn't needed — is this: Make NO effort to show America how unbiased you are and how you can skewer Biden as much as Trump. There is no equivalence here and SNL did an excellent job of bringing to light the dangerous dysfunction of a sociopathic, narcissistic, demagogue. Biden is fair game, but not with the same point of view. The satirist's objective should be to remind us that truth lies in our reflection. Biden will give us plenty of mistakes and missteps from which to draw humor, and will also hold him to the flame. But the character of the man is different from the character of Trump which was, in fact, a lack of character. Have fun with Biden as one of us. The fun from Trump was because he is nothing like us."
Holiday Baking Championship
Here we go again — we saw Don Cheadle and Eddie Murphy both compete in these similarly ‘wacky’ bad baker sketches. Lauren Holt gets a fun showcase as a confused, lousy baker. Chalamet’s cake is puckering; he attempts to sell a joke about Lightning McQueen. His chocolate lava center is cursed, and drags him down.
Heidi Gardner makes a complicated town design that the judges are indifferent to. Finally, ‘Ralph Ralph’ (Kyle Mooney) makes a penis and balls cake.
XXL Rap Roundtable
Ego Nwodim hosts Queen Latifah (Punkie Johnson), Questlove (as himself) and Pete Davidson and Chalamet as two “confident white boys,” rainbow-flavored SoundCloud rappers. They love to, ahem, yeet — that is their definition of hip-hop. Pete screams “scur scur” multiple times. They learned about rap from TikTok... and the Kia Hamsters.
As annoying as these characters are, this sketch is about the evolution of hip-hop, and how traditional dustheads are clashing with the genre’s degrading new face. Questlove ends up slapping them, rightfully so.
Bruce Springsteen - "I'll See You in My Dreams"
"I'll See You in My Dreams" is an emotional, deeply moving song about the reunion with deceased loved ones in the afterlife. It is the concluding track on Letter to You.
In the 80s, Kroeger “went to see Springsteen a total of three times. I think each may have been at Giants Stadium. At first it was just my curiosity more than love of his music, because people said, over and over, what a great stage act he, and the band, was. Wow. Not only did he deliver, and then some, and deliver with charm and power, I understood the music. Previously, I only really cared for 'Born To Run.' After hearing Born in the U.S.A. tracks live, I understood the attraction. It transcended the album. And the album was great at first needle drop, don't get me wrong, but there was too much MTV fairy dust sprinkled around it and I treated it suspiciously. Live songs like 'Glory Days' and 'I'm On Fire' and 'Even Dancing in the Dark' became three-dimensional. The anthemic 'Born in the U.S.A.' made the nosebleed seats tremble. It was powerful and I have been a Springsteen fan ever since.”
The Jets have not won a single game this season. However, in the delusional, alternate universe Newsmax-flavored network, the team is doing much better. Beyond the Trump election satire, this is like a modern Bill Swerski's Superfans update – for Jets fans. Very specious, dubious. Punkie Johnson and Andrew Dismukes appear as Jeremy Lin stans, which is hilarious.
“Real fans do not give up on their team.”
-Kind of a blah, uneventful episode right? Jump into the comments section below! Or vote here!
-Thank you again to Gary Kroeger for his wonderful thoughts tonight!
-Chamalet has thirty seconds to fill in the goodnights — he pauses, and humbly asks for kindness in the world.