The final Saturday Night Live of 2020 opens with Vice-President Mike Pence acting as Donald Trump’s “human shield” by receiving the new Covid vaccine on live television. Much to his dismay, he’s joined by VP-elect Kamala Harris (Maya Rudolph), who quickly and literally slaps down his attempts to cast doubt on the election results.
They are joined by President-elect Joe Biden, who “looks different” now he’s played by Alex Moffat, rather than Jim Carrey (or Jason Sudeikis or Woody Harrelson or John Mulaney). Harris has to rush Biden offstage to keep him from injuring himself physically or politically, but they’re replaced by fast and pointless cameos from Kate McKinnon as Rudy Giuliani – the show gets around to making fun of his running hair dye about a month too late – and Keenan Thompson as Ben Carson.
The departure of Carrey’s Biden (and presumably Baldwin’s Trump, although I won’t be surprised if they give him a big send-off when they return next year) brings double relief, mostly because he was insufferable in the role but also because it’s about time the show gives a regular cast member the chance to play the president. That said, Moffat’s first impression left a lot to be desired, more like George W Bush than Biden.
More disconcerting is the creeping notion that SNL is going to center its cold opens around Rudolph by presenting Harris as the true power behind the throne. This would be a massive mistake, not only because it would continue the show’s over-reliance on guest stars, but also because that characterization of the Biden-Harris dynamic is total wish fulfilment for both dopey liberals and rightwing conspiracy mongers, with no potential for incisive satire.
Former cast member Kristen Wiig takes holiday hosting duties. The Wonder Woman 1984 star and new mother of twins sings a nonsense version of My Favorite Things, joined by fellow alumnus Rudolph. This will delight fans of their era of SNL, although the musical monologue is starting to wear out its welcome by the time McKinnon shows up to sing about chimichangas and tacos.
For the first sketch, SNL brings back the game show Secret Word, a favorite from Wiig’s time. Broadway diva Mindy Grayson biffs the very easy clues while delivering a surprisingly dirty rimming joke. Next, a suburban family raps about the awesome presents they got for Christmas – toe-tap piano, pinball machine, rollerblades, Millennium Falcone toy, a Cameo from McLovin – except for Wiig’s poor, put upon mother, her only gift a marked-down robe, her passive aggressive fury growing with each new line.
During a holiday celebration for troops fighting the second world war, Wiig’s sassy, motor-mouthed army medic performs a duet with “toughest guy in the unit” Bowen Yang. They swap gender roles for the song, a modern club banger about a three-way love affair with musical guest Dua Lipa playing the other member of the threesome. This initially confuses the other grunts, but they’re eventually won over. There’s no real conclusion, and it all wraps up with a big dance party.
After a sneak preview for the second season of the FX drama A Teacher, in which the target of a teenager’s infatuation is a no-nonsense older black woman who’s having none of it, we are shown the lost ending to Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Kevin McCallister (Melissa Villasenor) realizes he can use his dad’s credit card to help pull the friendly Central Park Pigeon Lady out of poverty, only to be foiled by villains Harry and Marv (Mikey Day and Kyle Mooney, doing pretty solid impressions of Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern). This leads to the Pigeon Lady brutally killing the pair, impaling them over and over with her umbrella in front of a traumatized Kevin.
Lipa performs Don’t Start Now, before Weekend Update host Colin Jost gets a huge applause off the bat when he announces that “barring a Christmas miracle, this is the last Weekend Update with Donald Trump as president”. He remembers some of Trumps greatest moments – the McDonalds dinner banquet, the glowing orb, petting a kid dressed as a Minion, the time he cruelly impersonated a disabled reporter – by way of a montage scored to Semisonic’s Closing Time.
Michael Che welcomes musical legend Smokey Robinson (Chris Redd), recently in the news for mispronouncing Chanukah in a Cameo video. The singer is surprised to hear that Che knew about the holiday, explaining that “when I was growing up all we had was white people … I only heard about Jewish people this last week.” It’s good to see Redd back front and center.
Next, Michael’s friendly but deranged neighbor Willie tries to help him get over his Covid vaccine skepticism, explaining that his grandfather “was the first person chosen to take a miracle vaccine that would make his town safe again … it was called the lethal injection!” Willie is one of Kennan Thompson’s best characters – it’s always a blast when he shows up.
Che welcomes a third guest, an Instagram influencer (Heidi Gardner) there to give good ideas for last-minute presents. She promises “no sponsored ads” but ends up cutting promos for Merrill Lynch, HBO Max’s Dune movie and wholesale X-ray technology from Hitachi. The switch from ditzy airhead to mercenary pitchwoman is very good.
Jost and Che close out with their annual Christmas joke swap. Che feeds Jost several jaw-droppingly racist jokes. Particularly good is the closing dig at Jost’s wife, Scarlett Johansen, for playing non-white characters.
A follow up to the events of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, a pair of young Whos wake up the morning after Christmas and are dismayed to learn their parents had a threesome with said Grinch (Pete Davidson, buried under a ton of furry prosthetics). It turns out the Grinch’s heart was “not the only thing that grew three sizes”. This is followed by the return of another Wiig favorite, the excitable Sue, who destroys everything while attempting to keep a lid on her family’s surprise party. Lipa closes out the show with a performance of Levitating.
This was the strongest episode of the season thus far, cold open notwithstanding. In 2021, it will be very interesting to see how SNL adapts to a post-Trump world.