Seth Meyers owes a big debt to Saturday Night Live. All of the chops he honed during his 12 years on the show — writing, editing, making punchlines pop on Weekend Update — have come in handy in turning Late Night With Seth Meyers into a success. (Sure, sure, professional connections with Lorne Michaels, who produces Late Night, helped, too.) The great part of bringing Meyers back to Studio 8H for a hosting gig is knowing that all of his expertise as former head writer will come along with him.
This week, we’re also trying something a little different with the recap: We’re ranking all the sketches in order of quality, best to worst. We’re still going to be completist about the episode, but if you want a sense of which sketches you absolutely need to see, just start at the top.
A guy (Meyers) arrives in prison for the first time only to discover that his roommate is none other than Bill Cosby (Kenan Thompson). Though the Coz has only been in jail for four days, he’s settled and loving it. He’s dug a little tunnel in which to hide his hoagies and he’s chumming around with a turtle that he believes is Quincy Jones. His new roommate, though, is a little less than happy: “It is so disappointing to be meeting you now.” The new guy also wants to know if Cosby has just considered dying. The most disturbing element: Cosby won’t stop quoting classing Cosby Show episodes long enough to “face what he actually did.” Making a Cosby sketch is one big pitfall, and this one manages to avoid the pit and generate laughs; kudos to the writers, and to Thompson for a relatively restrained impression.
This music video reveals the secret conifer and deciduous-loving sides of Chris Redd and Pete Davidson. These dudes can’t get enough trees. And they don’t mean weed — well, that’s what Davidson thought it was about, originally, but he’s happy to switch things up and rap about the virtues of Al Gore instead. The whole sketch is paced really well and Redd’s committed performance shines. His growl is pitched perfectly over a convincing trap facsimile and lines such as, “Trees take a long time,” just kill it. This one got cut in a strange place during the live show, but the full sketch is really worth watching.
It takes a few minutes before Update addresses the Kanye-Trump summit, instead beginning with the daunting UN climate-change report they call an “obituary for the Earth.” Colin Jost says it’s just too overwhelming: “If you owe your bookie $1,000, it’s like, I’ve gotta pay this dude back. If you owe your bookie a million dollars, it’s like, I guess I’m just gonna die.” Michael Che feels that, in order to reach more people, the report would have to implicate specific things people love. For Fox News viewers, he suggests Confederate statues; for black people, Atlanta; and for white women, yarn. Then Che and Jost welcome Baskin Johns (Heidi Gardner), a Goop staff member whose nerves get the better of her when she thinks Gwyneth Paltrow might be watching somewhere. Gardner is great with small moments and finding bits between her lines, even if it doesn’t feel like there’s a lot for this character to do.
There are a few stray gags before Meyers comes out to do a “Really?!?” segment with Che and Jost — yes, it’s about Kanye and Trump. “Don’t you have better things to do?” Meyers asks, though he’s not sure exactly which of the two he’s targeting. Che talks about how he negotiated four uses of the N-word per season, and deploys one of them to jab Kanye: “How much money does this nigga owe in taxes?” As far as the picture of Trump hugging Kanye, Meyers has this to say: “It is so rare that you can see black people and white supremacists betrayed in the exact same moment.” It’s the smartest and most cutting line of the night.
Kanye West–Donald Trump Cold Open
In this reenactment of the Kanye West–Donald Trump circus at the White House, the “brief, lucid remarks” expected from Kanye (Redd) do not arrive. Instead, he talks about how he flew to D.C. using the power of his MAGA hat and how Chicago will soon have a negative murder rate. As this goes on, Trump (Alec Baldwin) lets his inner monologue go wild and Jim Brown (Thompson) plays the voice of reason. As Kanye talks about being a stable genius with a big brain and the best words, and Trump mutters “poopity scoop,” they seem to be not just copacetic but almost trading places. Trump affirms that the two are “both geniuses, both married to beautiful women and have both definitely been recorded saying the N-word.” It’s well-done, but it does suffer a bit because late night and Twitter have already had their way with it.
A Frightening Tale
Four friends (Gardner, Alex Moffat, Beck Bennett, and Melissa Villaseñor) gather around a campfire to hear a spooky story from another pal, Brandon (Meyers). But Brandon’s story is much more intense than urban legends about prisoners with hooks for hands, because it is real. It started when Brandon got a coffee with the son of his dad’s pal, a 22-year-old aspiring filmmaker (Kyle Mooney). The young man’s take on Hollywood (“It’s all franchises and reboots!”) is vapid, yet he talks as though “he was the first person who ever said it.” His big movie idea is him and Brandon “talking about movies.” Then, Brandon starts to receive text messages, lots and lots of text messages — and there’s only one way to get rid of the curse. This is a smart twist on a standard trope, and the grandiose, naive idiocy in the details makes Mooney’s young guy entirely recognizable.
At first, this commercial parody seems to be for testosterone pills, designed to help middle-aged guys with diminishing hormone production feel jacked in and out of bed. But the sad guy who starts taking Maxxx (Meyers) turns into kind of a douche: He’s aggro, bald, has a jet-black goatee, is hitting on his intern, and “porno-railing” his wife. The side effect these testo-peddlers fail to mention is that one becomes an “aggressive alpha nightmare.” Thankfully, there’s a compound designed to counteract Maxxx and bring these guys back down to Earth. This parody is dense with details; it’s a long and winding walk to a funny and unexpected punchline.
When Smith and Watts (Leslie Jones and Ego Nwodim) pull over a driver (Meyers), little does he know they are “Thirsty Cops.” While the cops ask the driver whether or not he wants to go downtown, and whether or not he likes it, he says it all feels like harassment. “Her assment or my assment?” they ask, sticking their assments in the air. Another cop (Kate McKinnon) shows up, and the driver feels sure that order needs to be restored in a situation this inappropriate. “What’s inappropriate is you walking around with that ass,” says the third cop. Then, the driver is made to put is hand on his knees and “look back at it.” It’s simple and silly, but the energy is infectious.
After a screening, director Andrew Phillips (Meyers) and host Malcolm Seats (Thompson) face an array of increasingly odd questions about Phillips’s new film, South of Mason. “Any reason the father was played by a man?” asks one woman (Aidy Bryant). “I noticed you’re also not a woman. Interesting.” A sultry foreigner (McKinnon) weeps while watching the credits, a concessions guy (Bennett) pretends to be the dad Phillips never met, and a plucky young actor (Gardner) gives an impromptu audition. After one guy’s unnecessary raps (Mooney) and a woman who calls a dog her daughter (Cecily Strong), the truth comes out: Tickets to the screening were given away on a public bus. While this is really just a wacko parade, the wackos are well-executed and they bring with them plenty of good jokes.
Despite the fact that it’s 11:45 p.m., two couples (Bennett and Bryant, Villaseñor and Thompson) wait at a restaurant for their friends to show up. The final couple (Meyers and Gardner) arrives, looking windswept, dressed in bright colors and gushing about their trip to Cuba, er, “Coobah.” Yes, yes, the “Cooban” children love to smoke and everyone else is “poor but they’ve got rhythm.” Also, the travelers were taken to an event they call a “Cooban rooster review,” that is clearly a cockfight. (The traveling duo also call what they witnessed “bird kabuki,” a great line that didn’t land in the studio but that I loved.) Before long, the manager (McKinnon) ejects everyone because she can no longer hear anyone say “Coobah.” Hard to beat Jimmy Smits saying “enchilada,” but Meyers and Gardner play their parts to the hilt.
Seth Meyers Monologue
Looking thrilled to be standing center stage at 8H, Meyers talks about his history with SNL. He mentions his friendships with cast and crew members including Andy Samberg (for whom he named his kids Dick and Box) and the fact that he cried during his last show before taking a job “right down the hall.” Meyers also discusses performing in sketches with Trump and the sketch that convinced him he’ll never be surprised by anything Kanye West ever does. While not jammed with jokes, all of Meyers’s storytelling is thoughtful, genial, and has a great ring of authenticity.
Jamming out at the Marriott this time are bandleader Treece Henderson (Thompson), his keyboardist (Mooney), and his roommate/electric piccolo player (Meyers). Betwixt musical interludes and Treece’s calls of “Tweedle dee twee, tweedle dee twoah,” it’s made clear that the piccolo player is waiting on sensitive information from his doctor. The guy might have athlete’s foot, or he might have “Panty Crickets,” but in any case, Treece is pressing his pal too hard for answers. Then, because Treece is an emergency contact, the bandmate learns his fate. If hairstyles alone could make a sketch succeed, Meyers’s frizzy Yanni wig would do just that. As it is, this recurring character isn’t Thompson’s best, even though he always gives his all to song.
Bayou Benny’s Liberal Lagniappe
On this AOC public access show, Southern liberal Bayou Benny (Bennett) invites a slew of guests — including Seth Meyers, Taylor Swift (Gardner), and a giant chili pepper (McKinnon) — to talk about the issues of the day. The only problem: His accent is so thick, and idioms so impenetrable, that it’s not possible to have a conversation. And, when someone does make a salient political point, they might have to wrestle a giant biscuit wearing a MAGA hat (Moffat). Thankfully Late Night is in the NBC family, so Benny can do a segment titled “Da Closer Look at Dis Heah.” Though it’s a goofy accent sketch that has a lot in common with “Maine Justice,” it’s at the very least energetic and willfully silly.
Given Meyers’s skill set — and the hunch that SNL writers would want to do him proud — it follows that this episode would be a strong one. There’s a wide variety in the sketches this week, too: They impressively land a Cosby sketch, a well-produced hip-hop parody, and a great twist on a horror cliche. And that’s just a start. It’s hard to know what sort of editorial guidance Meyers gave during the week, but he’s happily diving into almost every sketch and giving Weekend Update a big boost with “Really?!?” It’s worth celebrating not only the great sketches here, but recognizing the fact that there are no outright duds in the lot. Next week, SNL will try to keep the momentum going with host Jonah Hill.