The 45th season began with a poor cold open and a rambling Woody Harrelson. The best of the rest aimed below the belt
Saturday Night Live kicks off its 45th season in the Oval Office. Facing impeachment and the greatest presidential harassment of all time, Donald Trump (Alec Baldwin, putting to bed rumors he was done playing the role) sits up late and commiserates over the phone with his inner circle blabbermouth Rudy Giuliani (Kate McKinnon), recalcitrant attorney general William Barr (Aidy Bryant), perfect fall guy Mike Pence (Beck Bennett), and his doofus sons (Mikey Day and Alex Moffat).
Growing more desperate, he reaches out to various outlier allies, including Kim Jong-un (new featured player Bowen Yang), Fox News mouthpiece Jeanine Pirro (Cecily Strong) and his urbans, Kanye West (Chris Redd) and Don King (Keenan Thompson), who, on behalf of the black wackadoo contingent, have decided to drop their support. The sketch peters out after Trump calls Liev Schreiber, confusing him for the underworld fixer he plays on Showtimes Ray Donovan.
SNL couldnt have picked a better week to come back, given the magnitude of the impeachment scandal and the bungles in the administrations response. Alas, they manage only a rote, rushed and utterly pointless cold open, as free of big laughs as it is of insight. When it comes to Trump, it appears were in for a long season.
Zombieland star and self-described fashionista Woody Harrelson hosts for the fourth time. After stripping off his tuxedo to reveal silk pajamas, he delivers a rambling monologue overflowing with groaners such as Im Asian Caucasian! I think the joke is supposed to be that hes high, but the whole thing is too muddled to tell.
A CNN Impeachment Town Hall brings together the Democratic candidates to discuss this weeks bombshell story the only way they know how with a muddled, 10-person debate. The hopeless candidates Beto ORourke, Andrew Yang, Corey Booker, Pete Buttigieg, an astral projecting Marianne Williamson are summarily excused.
The moderator then pivots to the actual candidates: energetic reformer Elizabeth Warren, cranky revolutionary Bernie Sanders (Larry David), familiar but out-of-touch Joe Biden (Harrelson, really looking the part), and Americas fun aunt (or funt) Kamala Harris (Maya Rudolph).
As is the case any time David shows up to play Sanders, he steals the show with his loveable curmudgeonry. But Harrelson and Rudolph match him, especially when sparring over Bidens ridiculous Corn Pop anecdote.
While the satire isnt particularly cutting the laughs all land, thanks in large part to the cameoing guests. This should have been the cold open.
Suns Out Nevada sees a local correspondent cover the grand opening of the Worlds Biggest Cheeto museum, only for the centerpiece to fall into a fan and blow up in a puff of orange dust. Its a long set-up for a merely decent payoff.
Teen musical sensation Billie Eilish sings Bad Guy while dancing along the walls of a rotating set. Its an ambitious performance, reminiscent of the sci-fi mindbender Inception.
Weekend Update returns, opening with the slow march to impeachment. Colin Jost is exasperated by Trumps reaction: Its like if the cops asked you if you killed someone and instead of saying, No, I didnt, youd said, Who told you that Ron? Michael Che is annoyed by the length of the process: Being president is only a four-year job but it feels like its taking them five years to just fire his ass.
They welcome their first and oddly only guest, Big Papi, former Red Sox star David Ortiz (Thompson), who is recovering from a shooting in the Dominican Republic. Hes staying positive, saying: Whatever doesnt kill you makes you want to kill the person who tried to kill you. He then pitches his latest array of ridiculous sponsors, including HairBnB (You need a wig for the weekend, use HairBnB) and Possible Burger (Did you buy a bunch of ground meat from the back of a pickup truck? It might not be real meat but its possible.).
Theres a short second round of news stories, touching on a sexually tinged animal attack, white supremacist hand signals and Juuls recent troubles. If you were hoping the hosts (and co-head writers) might address or acknowledge the Shane Gillis controversy, youre out of luck though likely not surprised.
A callback to a memorable sketch from Harrelsons last hosting gig, in 2014, Football Halftime Speech sees him playing a coach attempting to pep up his team, only to be interrupted by his new and much younger wife (Heidi Gardner), who asks if his thing is OK. After assuring her its fine, he attempts to get back to his speech, but of course all the players want to know more about his gruesome penile issues which include a Daffy Duck sound and a vein that keeps popping out. The writers tends to over-rely on this format a normal setting derailed by some absurd or disgusting line but they remain a reliable vehicle for good gross-out humor.
Inside the Beltway attempts to poke fun at the way media elites fool themselves into thinking the latest Trump scandal will be the one that brings him down, but the whole thing falls apart after a couple of snags during costume changes. That said, if youre a fan of cast members breaking, youll get a kick out of it: Bryant utterly fails to keep cool.
Eilish returns and performs the acoustic ballad I Love You.
The show winds down with Dad, a precise parody of 90s rap videos, before closing out with an informercial for Chickhans Apple Farm, a funny two-hander that makes good use of McKinnon and Bryants chemistry. Harrelson throws out a shout out to climate activist Greta Thurnberg (whose face is plastered on his t-shirt) during an awkwardly long curtain call, closing a scattered premiere episode on a scattered note.