After a much-deserved break following what must have been an exhausting run of six straight episodes in October and early November, Saturday Night Live returned this weekend with host Jason Bateman and musical guest Morgan Wallen. And it was probably the strangest episode of the season, one that was consistently compelling despite some completely baffling decisions—like a parody of a music video from 20 years ago and a regrettably meta parody about SNL. It also had no less than three Christmas-themed sketches, even though the holiday is weeks away and there are still two more episodes to come in December.
Everyone on Twitter successfully predicted that we were going to get a Michigan Hearings Cold Open, with Kate McKinnon’s Rudy Giuliani farting his way through absurd election fraud lies. The best part of the sketch was when Cecily Strong returned to the show as “star witness” Melissa Carone, completely nailing her confident, boozy demeanor. Overall, it was one of the better cold opens of the season, and it still wasn’t half as surreal and unnerving as the real thing.
Bateman was a reliably solid host, even though he rarely got to play the funniest role in any given sketch—more often than not, the show leaned into using him as a straight man (which admittedly he is very good at). But his Monologue was good! Bateman told a funny anecdote about getting attacked by a monkey the last time he hosted SNL in 2005 (complete with video of the incident), and it was the moment when his deadpan sense of humor was really used best.
My favorite sketch of the week was the sweetest one: The Christmas Conversation was another modern classic SNL holiday sketch, this one about three women explaining to their moms why they can’t come home for the holidays this year and receiving a torrent of guilt in return.
My least favorite sketch of the night was Morgan Wallen Party, an incredibly meta sketch making fun of the controversy that ended up getting Wallen disinvited from the show earlier this season, when videos came out showing him partying with college students and breaking COVID safety guidelines. It’s admirable and somewhat confrontational that the show decided to face the incident head on, and Bateman and Bowen Yang do very good jobs playing future version of Wallen. But conceptually, the flippancy of the sketch overwhelms the self-awareness, and it left a bad taste in my mouth—especially knowing the show continues to skirt the COVID guidelines around audience safety every week.
I love Kyle Mooney, whose singular, surreal sketches stand out from the rest of the show and are always unmistakably him (which is possibly why they get cut-for-time so often). This week he got the pre-taped sketch Bits on air—it’s about a man’s struggles to come up with funny jokes around his friends. Or as one YouTube commenter put it, “This is a real footage of Kyle Mooney at the latest pitch meeting.”
Pete Davidson also got a pre-taped sketch in Stu, a takeoff of Eminem’s “Stan” about an insistent man (Davidson) who writes unhinged letters to Santa asking for a PS5. On the one hand, it’s actually pretty good parody of “Stan,” complete with Kate McKinnon singing the Dido chorus and Bowen Yang’s hilarious cameo as Elton John. On the other hand…why on Earth did Pete think now was the perfect time for a parody of a very famous song from 20 years ago that has already been parodied many times before?
Santa’s Village was the second Christmas-themed sketch of the week to feature Bateman as a Santa (after “Stu”) and featured Bateman and Cecily Strong getting to try out some physical comedy as a mall Santa and Mrs. Claus taking COVID precautions seriously inside their safety bubbles.
Sleepover 2 was a solid sequel to a very funny sketch from Adam Driver’s episode at the start of 2020. Jason Bateman plays a dad who tried to figure out who left a stain on the couch at a sleepover featuring a very guilty-looking Kate McKinnon. While I enjoyed the sketch, it unfortunately also made me think about the far superior “Hot Dog Car” sketch from I Think You Should Leave, which is probably one of the best pieces of sketch comedy I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t seen it and you enjoy sketch comedy at all, I can’t recommend that show enough.
Outdoor Cabaret wasn’t the funniest sketch of the night, but I’m happy for any sketch in which Cecily Strong and Bowen Yang get to take the spotlight and belt it out as a pair of oblivious cabaret singers.
There were two guests on Weekend Update, which overall has been one of the most consistently funny parts of the entire show this season: Pete Davidson appeared to talk about Staten Island residents’ protests against indoor dining restrictions, and also plug the Pete Davidson Vibrator store on Etsy. And Heidi Gardner brought back YouTube teen movie critic Bailey Gismert who talked about watching “old” movies like Forrest Gump, American Beauty and Silence Of The Lambs, starring that hunk Buffalo Bill (“Just like don’t tell him I like him, because Buffalo Bill loves the chase!”).
Morgan Wallen performed two songs, “7 Summers” and “Still Goin Down,” neither of which was as good as the song he sang a capella in his sketch.
Next week has got a pretty great lineup: Mr. Timothée Hal Chalamet will make his SNL hosting debut, with musical guest Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band.