Until now, Chance the Rapper has been known to SNL audiences for his two appearances as a musical guest, and for appearing with Kanye West to perform Ye’s “Ultralight Beam.” When thinking about Chance as a first-time host, however, remember his fun appearance in SNL’s Run DMC holiday remix “Jingle Barack” — and keep in mind that any given interview or talk show appearance reveals that he’s naturally funny, charming, and has an infectious, joyful grin. When Chance visited Jimmy Fallon this week, he mentioned he conceived of three sketches (with the help of Donald Glover and others) that were in the running, so there may be a slightly different perspective in the writing. And who knows how Chance and musical guest Eminem may overlap?
WikiLeaks Cold Open
In light of the news that Donald Trump Jr. was in touch with WikiLeaks, this episode of “The Mueller Files” presents a reenactment of a meeting between Trump Jr. (Mikey Day) and Julian Assange (Kate McKinnon) in a dark parking garage in London. Eric (Alex Moffat) is there, too, and has to join his brother when he gets too scared to sit alone in the car. As Assange offers a stack of hacked Hillary emails, Don Jr. mollifies Eric’s anxieties with a glowing wand toy. The premise is nice, but the meat of the sketch is all broad strokes and no bite. There doesn’t seem to be much for McKinnon to sink her teeth into in the Assange character, and the Don Jr.–and–Eric combo doesn’t play as well in a plotted sketch as it does in the simpler setting of the Update desk.
Chance the Rapper Monologue
Acknowledging that there aren’t any great Thanksgiving songs, Chance belts out what he hopes will be the next big, lucrative thing. (Sorry, Adam Sandler, guess you don’t count here.) This song is about that time of year when “you invite all your relatives to dinner, even those you can’t stand.” The people Chance describes — like your uncle who “brought his oxygen” though he’s constantly “chain-smoking Kools” — show up onstage. Despite a confusing gag with some turkeys, and Chance just trying to sing out and hit his marks, the song is warm enough to make viewers forget the real relatives they’ll have to face this Thursday.
At Wayne Manor, during the annual Wayne Holiday Food Drive, some of the beneficiaries want to thank Bruce Wayne (Beck Bennett) personally. After Bruce brags about knowing Batman, a mother and son (Leslie Jones and Chance) ask him if he could he tell Batman to “cool it down in our neighborhoods.” More neighborhood denizens (Kenan Thompson, Chris Redd) show up to complain of broken jaws and other injuries. Yeah, yeah, Batman loves justice and all, but why does he break everyone’s jaw and use that zipline to hang them from a decorative gargoyle at the top of the building? Sure, they littered or stole TVs, but that’s excessive, isn’t it? Eventually, the neighborhood crew considers kicking Batman’s ass or burning his cave down. The reverse angle on Batman and Gotham here is perfect, in that it makes a subversive joke about police brutality that’s easily understood.
Come Back, Barack
This ’90s-style slow jam is a plea to one very special significant other. No, the mournful singer’s object of affection is not some long-lost love — it’s Barack Obama. The trio of crooners (Redd, Chance, and Thompson) reflect on how badly things are looking in the U.S., how happy Barack looks in pictures, and how, even though it’s “against the rules,” they want Obama back in office. “We didn’t know just what we had,” they sing, “Now things are looking bad — like really bad, like World War bad, like nuclear bad.” This is a funny twist on the clichés from that era of R&B, and reflects a very real feeling on the part of fearful liberals growing wearier of Trump every day.
Family Feud: Harvey Family Edition
In this edition of the Feud, Steve Harvey (Thompson) welcomes two teams: the Harveys and the Didricksons. The former is Steve Harvey’s family, led by his wife Janelle (Jones), and the latter is Harvey’s close friends, led by matriarch Carol (Aidy Bryant). Interestingly, the fourth member of the white Didrickson family is Cecil (Chance), a boy with a thick mustache who says suspiciously Harvey-like things. While the teams do their best to play the game, it’s really just a quiet way of learning about Cecil’s parentage. Eventually, Harvey confesses to Carol, “I thought it was out, I thought it was all the way out!” while Janelle gives him the stink eye. Thankfully, this Feud is not just a lollapalooza of impressions, but a genuine sketch with a winningly silly story to tell.
Of course, Update has much to do with Thanksgiving this week. “There’s so much to be thankful for,” reflects Colin Jost. “Unless you’re a human woman.” Then, he shows an image of some of the many predatory men like Harvey Weinstein who have been dominating the news of late. Jost and Michael Che also talk about Al Franken, Roy Moore, and the Republican tax-cut bill before McKinnon arrives in the guise of Jeff Sessions. Given his less-than-revealing testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, it’s unsurprising that he gets the audience calling out his “I do not recawwwwl” catchphrase. He talks about his childhood trauma — a.k.a. “the passing of the Civil Rights Act” — and when asked whether he will tell the truth, he says the non-word, “Yeb.” It’s a sharp, effective bit.
In the second half, there are a couple of fun jokes about animal cloning and the man with the world’s longest mustache, but most is taken up by appearances from Kyle Mooney’s terrible stand-up comic character Bruce Chandling and actually adept stand-up comic Pete Davidson. It’s not saying a lot, but this could be Chandling’s best appearance thus far. After his terrible Thanksgiving puns and jokes, he confesses that he can’t have kids (“My body don’t work that way”) and feels like his job prospects are limited because not only does he not know cursive, he doesn’t know “non-cursive” either. Davidson then evaluates his relationship to his hometown of Staten Island, whose residents and news organizations have treated him poorly after he’s made jokes about them. The monologue is vulnerable and catty at once. Ultimately, Davidson believes other people from Staten Island see themselves in him, a “mentally ill community-college dropout who got a Game of Thrones tattoo before watching the show.”
During a New York Rangers’ game, the usual on-the-ice reporter is on paternity leave, so Knicks reporter Lazlo Holmes (Chance) steps in to help. Unfortunately, the dude is incredibly cold and baffled by all the white dudes running into one another. He does try his best to talk about what little he knows, but can’t figure out how to pronounce names spelled “Skjei” or how it is a black man could actually be a hockey fan. The premise here is really simple, but it’s well executed and Chance’s performance as the nonplussed Lazlo is probably his best of the evening.
As this documentary clip informs us, every new hip-hop artist must pay homage to the pioneers of the art form; unfortunately, disconnected present-day hitmakers like Lil Doo Doo (Davidson, in neon dreads) think that Soulja Boy and Nick Cannon are old-school. Because of this, the graying old dudes behind the Soul Crush Crew (Redd, Thompson, and Chance) rise up to set the record straight. They couldn’t wear ridiculous clothing like Doo Doo because they were from the streets and had to dress tough — so, you know, fingerless gloves and pillbox hats. They had tough names like Grand Wizard Karate and Chief Bronco. And they only smoked reefer … with a little crack in it.
No one could possibly top the in-class presentation of Matthew’s mom (Bryant), who works as a roller-coaster designer at Six Flags. So when Scott (Chance) and Robbie (Day) bring their dads up to talk about being general contractors, the boys have got to help sell the excitement of a boring business. “Raise your hand if you got so excited you just blew your butt hole out?” asks Robbie, when his dad talks about working for Exxon and Shell. Eventually, their antics veer into excited spit-takes, pratfalls, and some quasi-nudity. Despite the showiness, this one just doesn’t quite click. It’s not a great sign when someone in the back of the theater is loudly simulating the sad trombone, and the best moments are between the class teacher (Cecily Strong) and Matthew’s mom.
Porn Pizza Delivery
When the prototypical porno pizza guy (Chance) arrives to hand over his “extra large sausage” to the titular babysitter (Heidi Gardner), the chipper young girl (Bryant) who she’s babysitting comes in for a slice. While the porno players carry on as if nothing were unusual, the girl keeps interjecting observations about how nine inches sounds like less of an extra large and more of a “personal pan.” The kid even has to apologize for the weird setting: “Sorry we only have this black leather couch and two fake plants, no rug or TV or anything.” Even though more handy men show up, it doesn’t stop the girl from digging into the pizza. Credit to both the actors who do the material justice, and to the writers who found the tone of this sketch and made it work.
This week’s SNL standards fell flat, especially the political material in the cold open and Update. Thankfully, other sketches and musical bits like “Come Back, Barack” picked up the slack. “Wayne Thanksgiving” and “Sports Announcer” — perhaps the two sketches that Chance brought with him — aren’t just great, and they’ll hopefully illustrate to NBC’s decision-makers that diversity is useful in the writing room. Chance himself has plenty of energy and definitely turns on the charm, but there’s always a learning curve here. In some scenes, though, he seemed completely at ease. Next time, surely, it’ll all be second nature.