Saturday Night Live
With the release of Dune pushed to October of next year and no major film appearances since Little Women, Timothée Chalamet is hosting because, well, why not? “Funny” is not the adjective that comes right to mind when thinking about Chalamet, but he is an affable, Muppet-y presence who also seems to be a good sport. (Chloe Fineman, who does a wonderfully goofy, gawky Chalamet impression, reported this week on The Tonight Show that Chalamet has been ready to do some kind of bit with her.) Plus, as one of the reigning twink sex symbols for Americans of every gender, he’s good for ratings. There’s no one shining, comedic moment for Chalamet in this week’s show, but he is happy to go big or to just support the rest of the cast when necessary.
As usual, this week’s sketches are presented here from best to worst.
After a very successful and very busy year, the Rona Family (Beck Bennett, Cecily Strong, Lauren Holt) counts the blessings of their many infections and confronts the family’s black sheep (Chalamet). This ensemble sketch cleverly twists tropes about family reunions and family dramas with the virus-related nightmares that have been plaguing us all year. The year’s inescapable ideas — e.g., mutations, contact tracing, superspreader events — are joyfully repurposed and reformed here. The intellectual exercise, including a political argument in which the older generation defends Donald Trump, is as fun as the wordplay. Cast members nail the cheery tone, which reflects a world in which only the virus and Jeff Bezos had a great year.
Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx Cold Open
While the Supreme Court’s decision to reject the Texas lawsuit is probably the biggest news of the week, the FDA’s emergency authorization for the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine isn’t far behind. Dynamic duo Anthony Fauci (Kate McKinnon) and Deborah Birx (Heidi Gardner) field questions about who gets the vaccine and how it might happen. In the absence of Brad Pitt, McKinnon makes a fine Fauci — even if the only thing that distinguishes him (other than the accent) is his sense of calm moderation. Even more inspired is Gardner’s take on the needy, defensive second banana Birx. Given how often SNL has handed the Cold Open to celebrities, it’s nice to see the main cast carry it. Likewise, delving into one topic with a limited number of characters works much better than the kitchen sink approach writers have been drawn to the last couple of years.
Update’s first segment takes on the bit that the Cold Open didn’t: the Supreme Court. Colin Jost’s points — including one about Trump’s grifting and the priorities of an administration who failed to secure additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine over the summer — are smarter than the jokes themselves. The best joke may be about Black people’s hesitance to get the Moderna vaccine; Michael Che wonders why, when “Moderna Vaccine” is his favorite Tyler Perry character. Kate McKinnon returns as Dr. Wayne Wenowdis. A bit so silly — that the good doctor just says his name over and over again, in varying ways, while responding to comments from Jost — shouldn’t work. It does, again, thanks to McKinnon’s dynamism and the idea that it’s tied to her encroaching mental breakdown.
With a “milk milk lemonade” gag in the mix, yeah, the second segment of Update might be a mixed bag. Individual jokes that hit include one about the relative blackness of the universe and one about a series of 900 customers who pay it forward at a Dairy Queen — and the one guy who decides against it. Melissa Villaseñor comes on, dressed as Dolly Parton but unwilling to confess that she is trying out her Dolly Parton impression. Then, naturally, she sings versions of “9 to 5” and “Jolene” under the guise of singing Christmas carols. Given Villaseñor’s talent for impressions, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this one is spot-on.
Dionne Warwick Talk Show
Those following Dionne Warwick on Twitter will understand exactly why this sketch exists, and where it’s going. (Hint: It’s in the vicinity of San Jose.) Ego Nwodim plays Warwick just as she comes across online: a guileless elder who suffers no fools but has plenty of time for beef with Wendy Williams. Here’s where we get an impression from Chalamet, an impression of Chalamet, and a brief appearance from Pete Davidson as his pal Machine Gun Kelly. While Chalamet’s Harry Styles is mostly accent, it’s fun to see Chloe Fineman’s Chalamet ratcheted up to 11. It’s also great to see Nwodim get the chance to play a character who drives the sketch.
Timothée Chalamet Monologue
After thanking his mom (who did some background work on SNL in the ’90s), Chalamet sits down at the piano to muse about celebrating Christmas while growing up in New York City. The segment is a string of nicely scripted jokes with lots of absurd images incorporating New York landmarks. Mr. Met’s daughter, Stacey, under the mistletoe? Leaving cookies for Santa in the Port Authority bathroom? That’s just quality imagery, and Chalamet’s delivery isn’t half bad. Pete Davidson’s counterpoint — a world of lowbrow Staten Island traditions — feels a little unnecessary, but it’s fun. Sketches are always more likely to carry on too long than they are to stop short, but in this case, stories from Chalamet’s weird city holidays could have gone on longer.
December to Remember
In this parody, one of those over-the-top, romantic car ads goes south. Any of these commercials will tell you a new car with a big, red bow on the top means surprise and celebration; here, it means sticker shock. Well-meaning, clueless middle-aged man is one of Beck Bennett’s specialties, and he has fun with it here. Heidi Gardner is also great as the furious wife, exasperated by one in a presumably long series of her spouse’s terrible decisions. The arrival of the neighbor (Mikey Day) adds some nice wrinkles to the driveway meltdown. However, the smart writing doesn’t completely negate the sense that SNL is moonlighting as an ad agency.
Thanks to the success of conspiracy-touting Newsmax (which had its first ratings win over Fox News this week), there’s a new denialist network in town. Sportsmax allows superfans of the Jets and the Knicks to imagine an alternate reality in which their terrible teams are, in fact, champions. From mentions of sworn affidavits to rigged scores, the political parallel here is clear, and it’s rewarding to see Trump’s election loss reframed in such straightforward, undeniable terms. As smart as the premise is, though, most of the sketch is essentially reiterating the premise. At the least, it’s clear Chalamet and Davidson enjoy hamming it up together.
Those who welcome joy and surprise in their lives ought to watch this one before reading further. In this scene, a young man (Chalamet) comes to terms with his parents selling the farm and its animals — and in particular, his tiny horse. There are fun visual gags here, including the length of time it might take for a tiny horse to gallop from one end of a stall to the other, and a silly sort of Gumby-like Claymation of the horse up close. Chalamet’s smoldering looks to the camera serve as nice punctuation, and will certainly make those swooning along at home happy. The sketch as a whole, though, feels like a lot of service paid to one absurd image. And as much as the sad musical lament is a part of the sketch, it doesn’t add all that much.
This annual conversation about hip-hop features luminaries Queen Latifah (Punkie Johnson) and Questlove (the man himself) alongside oblivious, barely literate rappers Xan Mob (Davidson and Chalamet). As the luminaries talk ’80s history and lyrical poetry, the boys of Xan Mob yell “skrrt” and “ye.” Davidson and Chalamet clearly enjoy playing noxious dudes with no idea about the culture to which they owe everything. Once the dynamic of the sketch is clear, and the boys’ idiocy is well established, their impenetrable lines of dialogue don’t have any way to heighten. Not even a bracing slap from Questo can add much dimension. It’s only when one of the Xan Mob calls dad for a ride home that we get a taste of something new.
Holiday Baking Championship 2020
In this edition of the Championship, judges confront the usual slew of baking disasters: cakes with baby doll legs, cakes with buttholes, cakes that were in fact meant to be phallic. Writers save the best part for Chalamet. (Whether that part is anal or vaginal, it’s a little hard to say; even the judges can’t quite make it out.) Yes, it is enjoyable watching the orifice cake belch pudding, but this sketch can’t make a strong case for itself overall. The first beat of it, in early 2019, homed in on cakes ugly enough to question their own existence. While it wouldn’t quite work to keep repeating the same gag, it has proven hard for the writers to find life in subsequent beats of this sketch. The diminishing returns are most apparent in this one.
Whether it involves playing the melodramatic, burnout 20-something or incomprehensible SoundCloud rapper, Chalamet is ready to indulge his goofy side. While it seems unlikely he’ll commit his life to sketch comedy, he seems at ease in this setting and has energy to spare. The cold open isn’t likely to get the views of a Trump or Biden sketch, but the dynamic and the focus of it feel grounded. In general, there are a lot of sharp ideas this week, and some serious commitment to much less interesting notions. The political material feels well thought-out, even if there aren’t enough surprises to fill five minutes worth of sketch. Next week, the last of the live shows in an undoubtedly long 2020 for SNL, with host Kristen Wiig and musical guest Dua Lipa.