Benedict Cumberbatch’s turn as SNL host was kind of an odd show: it felt like almost-nervous election jitters mixed with the impulse to have Cumberbatch do silly things. It was a show desperately trying to be Just Another Show, when it wasn’t just any old other show. And that’s not a knock against SNL. Their job is to try and make us laugh, even when no one is really in the mood to laugh right at this particular moment. Maybe that’s why it was so nice to see Church Lady? Those catchphrases are so ingrained now that they stopped being funny a long time ago, but there was something comforting about it. It was comedy comfort food, which right now tastes pretty darn good.
Here’s today’s Scorecard:
Sketch of the Night
“Meeting with Mr. Shaw” Look, this was a show without a clear “best sketch” and, whatever, this kind of absolute lunacy was what I was in the mood for. Yes, I was in the mood to watch people talk to a giant bird statue dressed in a suit. These are strange times. And this is a strange sketch. I do love that Mr. Shaw wears a nice suit. Maybe I’d like my own Mr. Shaw to wheel around my apartment so I can make my guests speak to it like it’s real? Maybe I’d like to talk to Mr. Shaw. Maybe Mr. Shaw truly has all the answers we are looking for. We’ll never know, but we do have this sketch. Or, at least, I have this sketch.
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Other Highlights and Lowlights
“Cold Open: Clinton/Trump” I do like that Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon broke the fourth wall, as the sketch segued into a pre-taped segment of the two dancing around the city to Arcade Fire. It’s been a long election season. It was “fun.” Maybe we all deserve some “fun.” I don’t know. What else could they both possibly say at this point? I will point out though that this was in sharp contrast to the last election debate in which SNL had Hillary Clinton basically doing a victory lap. That was a mistake … and now, well, look where we are. No one knows anything right now, so why even pretend? Sure, go out and frolic with the people of New York City. Why not?
“Weekend Update” This particular “Weekend Update” kind of encapsulates everything about “Update” right now. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t, some of it was awkward. I think a lot of the pacing problems that “Update” faces are due to the natural deliveries of both Jost and Che: in that they are very different. Jost comes from the Seth Meyers school of line delivery, while Che is very deadpan and deliberate. I do think both work in their own way, but I’m still not convinced they work together. I mean, sometimes they do! And then they don’t. But then they do again! It’s all very confusing, but this is just the way it is right now. And as they pointed out, it was the last “Update” before the election and the whole thing was remarkably subdued. Again, I’m not sure what they were supposed to really do. Everyone just seems freaked out.
But, hey, Bill Murray showed up. The Cubs are a huge story that is thankfully not an election story, so whatever. Fine (And I say this as a St. Louis Cardinals fan who didn’t particularly love watching the rival team winning a World Series.) Bill Murray happy that his team finally won a World Series and Church Lady. Again, comfort comedy. It was nice.
“Criminal Mastermind” This is the classic, “boy, they almost nailed this,” sketch. Cumberbatch is basically playing the Jeremy Irons character from Die Hard with a Vengeance, giving our heroes a series of clues to solve. It’s a really funny premise, especially when the clues are solved quickly and Cumberbatch doesn’t have another one ready quite yet. But, it didn’t really know where to go. It just … ends. It felt like a sketch that had to have been longer in dress rehearsal, then awkwardly cut down. But, nope, this isn’t the case. Anyway, this one was close to being really great. Alas.
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Average Overall Score for this Show: 5.73
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.