In the spirit of Thanksgiving, the November episodes of SNL have been hearty and full. Although certain hosts will be remembered more fondly than others based on their predisposed comedic prowess, the disappointment margin remains slim. Season 47, knock on wood, has more hits than misses.
Kieran Culkin, who plays king of ad libs Roman Roy on the hit HBO show Succession, came through with what should be recognized as the best episode of the season. It’s difficult to imagine sketches reaching the heights of universality and cleverness that his episode managed to achieve. Three contemporary classics were born from his Nov. 6 outing: “Canceling Cable,” “Car Heist” and last but certainly not least, “Men’s Room.”
“Canceling Cable” runs seven minutes in length, which is a fairly extensive frame for a phone-call based skit, but excels thanks to its all-too-familiar subject matter and goofy performances from the 10 rotating cast members.
“Car Heist” sees the return of Chris Redd’s dimwitted criminal character who, in this scenario, is attempting to steal a car. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, he cannot drive stick shift. Stellar timing and slick production design make this caper stand out, and prove yet again that Chris Redd can do no wrong.
“Men’s Room” is more than a skit. It’s an exploration of the psyche. Different men enter the bathroom and discover that all their preconceived rules of communication have disappeared. In a dramatic, talking head-type fashion, each man contemplates why he acts so differently when stationed in front of a urinal. The skit takes potty humor to a whole new level. Bowen Yang is the MVP, but Andrew Dismukes is a close second with his delivery of the lines, “Anybody got plans for da summatime?” And then, to the camera, “Why would they? It’s November.”
Culkin’s episode was extra sweet because it marked his return to the SNL stage for the first time in 30 years. He last appeared on his show when his brother, Macaulay Culkin, then 11 years old, was hosting. In his monologue, he recalls asking one of the old cast members to pick him up during the closing credits of the 1991 show. At the very end of the episode, Culkin was lifted up once again.
The Nov. 13 episode with Jonathan Majors was a little less interesting. Although Majors is right at the sweet spot of his acting career where an SNL appearance could allow for a total liftoff, there seemed to be less energy in the studio that week. The Loki and The Harder They Fall star came off as a little nervous in his monologue, which could happen to anyone. His talents as a film actor were a tinge too subdued for the material he was presented with that week. It could be that the writers’ room may have been having a tougher week, too, as a lot of the sketches featured recycled ideas.
That’s not to say that there weren’t funny moments: Kenan Thompson and Majors’ dynamic in “Strange Kid Tales” is the kind that makes you wonder why the two haven’t collaborated before. “Pastor Announcement,” even if not quite dry enough for the off-the-cuff humor it was shooting for, is worthy of Ego Nwodim’s savage retorts that tend to carry her sketches. “Broadway Benefit’s” theatricality is enjoyable, even if it’s redundancy gets the better of it.
Weekend Update seemed to be harboring most of the goods that week. Aristotle Athari’s Laughingtosh 3000 character was fully original; his vocal mannerisms as the robot character are interesting enough to inspire a rewatch or two. Fellow newbie Sarah Sherman roasted Colin Jost for four minutes with her distinctively stentorian vibrato, which always makes for good television.
Although Majors didn’t quite have the screen presence to set the episode apart, a few more experiences performing live may give him the confidence he needs to return for a second outing with a full grasp of his star power.
Finally, the last episode of the month was hosted by Shang-Chi himself, Simu Liu. Liu’s charisma as the Marvel superhero brilliantly translated to his hosting capabilities. His monologue is sharp and timely, and although he tended to lean toward the role of a straight man in his sketches, he did flex his versatility by playing a couple odd birds here and there. Standout sketches were “911 Call,” “Target Thanksgiving Ad” and “Simu & Bowen,” the latter which gives Yang the mic drop of the season during their competition of “Asian firsts.” His coolness only elevated by his self-awareness, Liu’s episode is fun even when it lacks creative brilliance, best exemplified by the return of Dog-Head-Man in “New Military Weapon.”
Although Pete Davidson has largely been doing his own thing this season (almost to the point of arrogance), his music video for “Walking in Staten” is very enjoyable, and a good reminder that his celebrity does not prevent him from acknowledging his roots. His collaboration with Please Don’t Destroy in the Majors episode is admittedly catchy.
The return of overtly political cold opens is the one thing that seems to burden each episode. Now that politics are “interesting again,” it’s understandable why SNL would want to cling to drawing attention to rightwing politicians and commentators. However, Weekend Update already does a really good job of parodying the news. It can get a little repetitive to see the same impressions time and time again on full blast. It’s certainly not a fresh opinion to say “SNL is too political,” and in truth, it isn’t, but sometimes the impressions can be overwrought and the sketches that contain them drag on a hair too long. The hope for December (and hosts Billie Eilish and Paul Rudd, a very unusual twosome that will draw very different viewers), is that SNL will tone down its cold openers. That way, each episode can have its individual character without the weight of the opener drowning out the personality of the host.