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Posted: November 11, 2018

Saturday Night Live recap: Liev Schreiber leads a directionless post-midterms episode


By Christian Holub

Entertainment Weekly

Cold Open

And so it came time to bid farewell to Jeff Sessions. In the wake of the attorney general’s dismissal this week, Kate McKinnon pulled out her elf-like impression of the Southern politician for the last time. Considering the most famous parts of Sessions’ reign included justifying the imprisonment of thousands of children in concentration camps, rolling back civil rights protections, and serving as the overall “intellectual godfather” of the Trump administration’s nationalist politics, there weren’t many jokes to be wrung from his tenure.

The climax of the sketch involved McKinnon’s Sessions singing Adele’s “Someone Like You” to a framed photo of Alec Baldwin’s Trump, alongside flashbacks to many prior SNL skits that featured them together. It was reminiscent of the post-election show in 2016, when McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton spent the cold open singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It sure seems like, when a political event happens and SNL doesn’t quite know how to make it funny, their last resort is to put McKinnon out there and have her cover a pop song as one of her goofy characters. It always feels a little empty.

The funniest bit was probably the last-minute arrival of Robert De Niro’s Robert Mueller, who thanked Sessions for helping his investigation “more than you’ll ever know.” He then made an explicit Harry Potter reference, offering Sessions “piece of toilet paper from the bottom of Mr. Trump’s shoe” to grant his freedom house-elf style. It’s hard to imagine a goofier cultural mashup than Robert De Niro saying “you know how in Harry Potter when…” so props for that.

Monologue

This may surprise you, but Liev Schreiber is not a comedian! The announcement that the usually-serious Ray Donovan star would be hosting SNL was confusing from the get-go, and Schreiber spent most of his monologue trying to explain and justify it. Ultimately, he told the audience, feel free to laugh if you think it’s funny, but if he won’t be offended if you don’t. Because hey, at the end of the day, “I’m a very famous actor, with a great deal of money and a really nice apartment.”

Schreiber also kickstarted SNL’s apolitical take on the midterm elections, celebrating the fact that hundreds of millions of Americans turned out to vote rather than any specific political results. This attitude would continue throughout the episode, including one digital short about finding things Democrats and Republicans can agree on, and Pete Davidson’s attempt to directly reach across the aisle on “Weekend Update.”

Best sketch: Paranormal Occurrence

This sketch, about paranormal researchers interviewing three people who recently encountered ghosts, was a much better use of McKinnon’s comedic skills than the Sessions cold open. As characters played by Schreiber and Cecily Strong recounted their romantic meetings with spirits, in which they helped the dead find peace and remember their glory days, McKinnon’s character took the opposite tack. Her ghost crawled out of the hotel TV “Ring-style” and looked like “Danny DeVito got hit by a truck.” Rather than reconnect with loved ones, McKinnon’s ghost ordered her to destroy his ex-girlfriend’s toilet.

To demonstrate her ghost-ordered bathroom hijinks, McKinnon mounted Schreiber’s chair and undulated right in his face. It was a great bit of outrageous physical comedy that shook the dramatic actor out of his comfort zone, similar to when Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot was hosting and McKinnon kissed her.

Best short: Permission

Davidson also showed up in the sketch as “Uncle Butt,” a rapper with grills so heavy all his lines come out as indistinct mumbles. The true cameos, however, belonged to rappers Future and Lil Wayne, who offered their own respectful rap lyrics about “hunting for consent like a bounty” and “I play good defense if that booty get offended.” Honestly, it was a more entertaining use of Lil Wayne’s personality and hip-hop skills than either of his actual performances.

Weekend Update

This week’s edition of Weekend Update had two main focuses. One was commenting on the White House’s attempts to censor CNN journalist Jim Acosta after an alleged press conference scuffle, and another was a sequel to last week’s Pete Davidson joke about eyepatch-wearing Republican politician Dan Crenshaw.

Strong took on the role of White House Press Intern, walking on to the Weekend Update set and trying to steal Colin Jost’s pencil and microphone while he was talking. It was mostly the same joke over and over, though Strong spiced it up through physical comedy touches, constantly poking out from behind the desk and at one point even somersaulting behind Jost.

The most noteworthy segment of Weekend Update, however, involved Davidson’s reconciliation with Crenshaw. Davidson had insulted the politician during the previous week’s midterm preview, joking that his eyepatch made him look like “a hitman in a porno.” Davidson had quickly added, “I’m sorry, I know he lost his eye in war or whatever” (Crenshaw lost his eye while serving in Afghanistan in 2012). This week, in the wake of Crenshaw’s election to represent Texas’ 2nd Congressional District, the show invited the politician on to insult Davidson in turn. The funniest joke came when Crenshaw’s cell phone rang and the ringtone was Ariana Grande’s song “Breathin.” Davidson, seemingly unprepared for the joke about his recent breakup, laughed in response.

After roasting Davidson, saying “he looks like if the meth from Breaking Bad was a person,” Crenshaw directly addressed viewers at home about how to respect veterans in honor of Veterans’ Day. His main advice was to tell veterans “never forget,” the same way you could address the family of first responders who died on 9/11, like Davidson’s father.

Cast MVP: Kate McKinnon

This week’s episode felt relatively directionless overall, so the show is lucky to have a comedic superstar like McKinnon to spice things up when needed. Whether it was single-handedly driving the cold open or adding a dose of weirdness to other sketches, McKinnon did her best to energize this episode — though it was a disappointment not to see her reprise the role of Ruth Bader Ginsburg even after Michael Che cracked a Weekend Update joke about the Supreme Court justice’s recent hospitalization. Maybe next time.