Back from a week off, Saturday Night Live welcomed Benedict Cumberbatch and Solange for a very funny, well-rounded episode. Though Cumberbatch himself didn't leave the impression that he's potentially an all-time great, recurring host, the writing and ideas this week gave him strong fodder to work from.
The Cold Open
A parody of CNN's Erin Burnett Out Front began with a glitch that initially rendered Cecily Strong partially inaudible as the show's host. Once this was remedied, she introduced Alec Baldwin's Donald Trump and Kate McKinnon's Hillary Clinton who appeared via satellite in a split-screen. It seems that in the absence of an actual fourth debate between the two candidates, SNL decided to invent one.
As usual, Baldwin and McKinnon's performances were stellar and the writing was excellent (notably Trump's open questioning of how he can possibly be competitive in this race given all he's said and done to sabotage himself). A running gag targeted Trump's denial of being in cahoots with anyone (i.e. the FBI, Vladimir Putin, the KKK) who might want to see him defeat Clinton. When representatives of these factions show up to check on Trump, they receive a full-on, kiss on the mouth on national television and, despite Clinton's exasperated pleas to scrutinize all of this, mass media surrogate Burnett will only revert to a discussion of Clinton's email scandal.
The climax finds Baldwin and McKinnon surprising everyone with a warm blast of unity in the NYC streets ahead of Tuesday's election. This was all rather brilliant.
First time host Benedict Cumberbatch told a couple of well-received jokes about the U.S. election and Britishness before busting into a Shaft-inspired song that enabled him to brag about himself.
Aside from Leslie Jones doing her horny as hell for white dudes thing, this was a good idea that didn't exactly work. The performance was a bit stiff, the singing strained, and the jokes about Cumberbatch's penchant for evil genius roles and his rabid fan base didn't really connect the way they were intended to.
The Koohl Toilet
Holy shit, this was a hall of fame SNL ad. In some totalitarian dystopia, Cumberbatch plays a charismatic guy who rebels against conventional toilet use by introducing a front mounting toilet. Everything from the alluring voiceover and Cumberbatch enlightening toilet users by striking a match after flushing was thoughtful and hilarious.
Why is Benedict Cumberbatch Hot?
A lot of fourth walls got knocked down this week and this game show was no exception. Beck Bennett, as himself, wonders why women, here represented by Vanessa Bayer and Aidy Bryant, again as themselves, find Cumberbatch so appealing. Bennett interrogates them while a third contestant, Cumberbatch himself, looks on awkwardly. As the case is laid out, the sketch got funnier, the performances were sillier and more meta, and the whole thing was totally well done.
The jewel of this awkward, inappropriate encounter between a sexually repressed, intellectually eloquent teacher played by Cumberbatch and his young student is Pete Davidson's dirt dumb, monosyllabic kid, whose "Ok's" seem to suggest he has no idea what's going on. Davidson's blank eyed stare and nbd demeanour contrast with Cumberbatch's impassioned existential expression of pain for a truly funny bit about caring and indifference.
Granny's surprise party
Sort of a riff on Weekend at Bernie's, Aidy Bryant plays an 83-year-old bride to be who keels over after being surprised with a bachelorette party. This doesn't stop her lady relatives from bringing out male strippers to desecrate her freshly dead corpse. A silly bit of physical comedy, it's in the news for the surprise magic men who showed up at the end: World Series champs, Dexter Fowler, David Ross, and Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs. Props to Rizzo for getting his twerk on.
A carefully choreographed ensemble piece, "Cranes in the Sky" seemed to take twitter by surprise, eliciting a divisive and unusually harsh response to Solange. It's puzzling because the laidback but dramatic song was compelling, recalling the vivid movement of a Dirty Projectors number.
Solange was breathtaking again during "Don't Touch My Hair," letting her hair flow freely for another performance that relied on the interesting dynamic between her and her large band. A little bit Erykah, a little bit Diana, Solange's protest songs were subtle, her dancing was emotive and scrappy and it all made for a powerful and memorable appearance.
In the final WU before the election, Colin Jost and Michael Che took on the news of the week. Emails, Hillary and Donald, Melania's return to stump speeches, and the KKK all came up, with Che getting huge applause breaks (his KKK newspaper's sports section joke was gold).
A huge surprise was Dana Carvey's appearance as the Church Lady, who pontificated upon the fractious religious divisions within the electorate. It became more of a satire of homophobia with performance of "What a Wonderful World" over a pictorial montage of the candidates and, overall, it was all right.
WU tackled other news items, including an extended bit on birth control by Che. Of course the highlight was the return of the visiting Cubs, who were joined by SNL alum and Cubs celebrity mascot, Bill Murray, who sang "Go Cubs Go." It was earnest and, depending on how you wanted the World Series to go, pretty emotional.
Gemma & Ricky
Cecily Strong has played this role of Gemma, a vapid, British tart who's arm candy for some douchebag dude, before. The premise is that her man imposes them upon an unsuspecting normal couple out for a date and makes uncomfortable innuendos to sully their plans. It's sort of nothing except for Strong, who always dives into the role with exuberant verve. She's the core that makes the sketch hum and reasonably satisfying.
Channelling Jeremy Iron's riddling villain from Die Hard with a Vengeance, Cumberbatch plays a bomb-loving terrorist tormenting a hard-edged cop named Slade with puzzles. The bit is really about the interstitial small talk between Cumberbatch and his hench-people, played by Strong and Kyle Mooney, as they wait for Slade to phone them with solutions to their fatal questions. It's a short blast of feigned frustration that worked well enough.
Meeting with Mr. Shaw
Cumberbatch plays the doting assistant for a supposed philanthropist, Mr. Shaw, who turns out to be bronze statue of a hawk dressed up in a suit. Keenan Thompson and Beck Bennett are befuddled hospital admins hoping for a donation but have no idea that Mr. Shaw may well be a ruse. Utter nonsense and surreal, this was customized to be last bit of the night if there's time and squeezed itself in well.
Canadians! You can watch this whole episode here.