Saturday Night Live: Phoebe Waller-Bridge & Taylor Swift October 5, 2019

Saturday Night Live: Phoebe Waller-Bridge & Taylor Swift October 5, 2019
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Phoebe Waller-Bridge was a hilarious host and Taylor Swift was her fan-pleasing self on this uneven, weirdly organized but ultimately enjoyable (mostly because of Bowen Yang) episode of Saturday Night Live, a show whose popular cast member, Pete Davidson, hasn't appeared on two straight episodes now. Here's everything that happened this week.

The cold open
 
In the office of the vice-president, Beck Bennett's Mike Pence meets with Kate McKinnon's Rudy Giuliani and Aidy Bryant's William Barr. After a few lame jokes, Matthew Broderick showed up as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and, beyond three Ferris Bueller Day's Off references, there was plenty of speculative bumbling about and insinuations that Mike Pence is a closeted homosexual.

Kenan Thompson's Ben Carson reminded us how much better Jay Pharaoh's take on this strange man was, Alex Moffatt appeared to play the President of Finland for a bit, but it included a dumb thing about Stephen Miller being an asp and Giuliani being Joaquin Phoenix's Joker (what?), this was all a poor grab bag and an unrealized cold open.
 
The monologue
 
Fleabag's Phoebe Waller-Bridge presented a charming and personal monologue that riffed on her show, plus the world at large. She joked about sexuality and psychopaths, and acted out a very funny bit of theatre about genitals. It was refreshing to see an SNL monologue where a funny person, not known for standup, is able to just speak without having to indulge in some gimmicky sketch and this boded well for Waller-Bridge's hosting turn.

What's Wrong with This Picture?
 
Kenan Thompson played Elliott Pants, the host of a game show that goes wrong because of the players. Asked to identify flaws in illustrations of everyday things like a high school basketball game, the characters, played by Kyle Mooney, Waller-Bridge, and Aidy Bryant, read far too much into the pictures or else crazily psychoanalyzed them. Not a great one but at least this was short.
 
Love Island
 
This remote riffed on the British reality show where scuzzy people hook up and speak in indecipherable accents from all around the isles. An excuse to play dress up and talk funny, other than a brief bit of good physical comedy by Aidy Bryant, this was forgettable and not worth our time.

WANU Midday News
 
While reporting news about local crimes, the black and white reporters on-screen tally up how many of the suspects are either black and white. Based on racial stereotypes like names and activities, this was lazy conceptually, but had certain spark because of the performances, particularly those by Kenan Thompson, Ego Nwodim, and, as a hyper weatherman, Chris Redd.
 
Words of War
 
Mikey Day has done this one before and it's a smart, funny premise, where a WWII British soldier, William, writes letters to his dear wife and is incensed and flustered by the vague, curt and increasingly troubling responses. In this case, Waller-Bridge, played Lydia, whose words about life at home and her deeds since he's been away, initially concern William, but eventually push him to the brink of madness. Day is fantastic in these roles, as a patient but increasingly annoyed figure, and Waller-Bridge, in her mad nonchalance, was great here too.
 
Taylor Swift
 
With an artful backdrop of wind-strewn sheet music, Taylor Swift sat behind an upright piano and sang the title track from her latest album, Lover.

It had a kind of A Star is Born vibe, with Swift casting affectionate, knowing glances sidestage, as if she was singing to a muse, but it also felt like a lot of Swift's performances, where it seems like she's perpetually auditioning for our approval.
 
Things were comparably upbeat for "False God," which featured a rare guest spot from longtime SNL musical director and saxophonist, Lenny Pickett, and if you're into Swift's particular brand of cloying lyricism and performance style, she delivered the goods.
 
Weekend Update
 
With so much fodder, it wasn't surprising that Colin Jost and Michael Che spent the first half of Update (which started maybe 15 minutes later than usual) joking about Trump and the explosive quid pro quo/Ukraine story.

Jost suggested that to look less guilty and unhinged, Trump should stop yelling at reporters at pressers set up near loud, running helicopters. Che got a big ovation for reporting on Trump's plan to build an alligator-filled moat at the Southern border and then wondering aloud, "Is it ok for us to be making fun of this guy?" since he seems "special" or, in Che's word, "strong."

Kate McKinnon's Elizabeth Warren seemed all the more rote once Bowen Yang came in and just destroyed, playing a Chinese trade representative named Chen Biao. Yang was a comedic force, delivering every line like a seasoned, theatrical performer and the desk hadn't seen the likes of such a charismatic and hilarious correspondent since maybe Bill Hader's Stefon. Just remarkably written and performed; Yang is a breakout star, two episodes into the season.

Nothing that followed on Update, including Mikey Day reprising his supercenternarian character, Mort Fellner, who recites lists of fellow 100+-year-olds who have died, could match Yang, whose appearance might have stolen him bragging rights for the whole episode.
 
Royal Romance
 
For some reason, SNL pondered the Meghan Markle/Prince Harry union by imagining other controversial "mixed" relationships. Kenan Thompson played a Blaxploitation star/comedian named Thunderstick who wooed a royal, played by Waller-Bridge, and the implication was that his '70s hustler was a far more disruptive (and I guess, blacker?) force on the royals than Markle could ever hope to be. Ultimately silly, this might have been employed simply because we had a British host this week.
 
Buddy's State Line Bar
 
A five-to-oner through and through, Kate McKinnon, Waller-Bridge, Aidy Bryant, and Cecily Strong played trashy friends in a low-rent bar lamenting their love lives when Beck Bennett, their personification of a stud, walks in. It seems they've each had their flings with the guy and pretend to confront him while secretly begging him for more. The pretending escalates to physical violence, as they each throttle him with some object until time in the sketch and the show runs out. Oh well, at least they made such filler look pretty fun.