A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
This weekend’s episode of “Saturday Night Live” was, in the words of one reviewer, an “instant classic,” which is something of a rarity, since critics love to lament that the variety show’s best days are long gone.
Between Kieran Culkin’s hosting chops, a new Donald Trump impersonator, and a surprise musical appearance, there was plenty of buzzworthy material. Review after review proclaimed that the episode was punchy and provocative. Decider’s Sean McCarthy wrote that “Cecily Strong’s MVP performance” topped the “instant classic episode.”
On “Weekend Update,” Strong played “Goober the Clown Who Had An Abortion When She Was 23.” Take three minutes and watch the video if you haven’t seen it yet. On Twitter, it has already racked up more than 2.5 million views, according to the site’s metrics.
I found that it took a second viewing to fully appreciate what Strong was doing with the segment. It was a “startlingly effective bit of political commentary,” Vanity Fair’s Karen Valby wrote. In the words of TheWrap’s Andi Ortiz, “her candor left fans cheering.”
It was “one of the most buzzworthy recent moments that I can remember, and will likely be discussed at some length in the days ahead,” CNN media critic Brian Lowry remarked.
A new face as Donald Trump
James Austin Johnson won rave reviews for his portrayal of Donald Trump in the cold open. “Finally,” Mother Jones said, “a truly great Trump impersonator.”
“SNL, after committing itself to Alec Baldwin in the Trump role, has found the man born to play our 45th president,” Dan Spinelli wrote. “Close your eyes and you’ll think new cast member James Austin Johnson is the real thing. He nails the preening self-regard, the incessant need for attention, and the way Trump wields ‘excuse me’ almost as a verbal saber.”
The Trump character dropped by during a “Justice with Judge Jeanine” spoof. The aforementioned Cecily Strong, playing Pirro, welcomed “the former and basically current president.” “It’s great to be here Judge Judy,” he answered.
The NYT’s Dave Itzkoff pointed out that Johnson “is already holding down the recurring role of President Biden” on the show. Andy Hoglund, who recaps “SNL” episodes for EW, said “he is one of the most exciting new cast members in years, a cross between Dana Carvey and Darrell Hammond. He’s that kind of talent…”
The rest of the best
– Culkin, referring to his Roman Roy character on “Succession,” said Roman is “one of the nicer characters on the show – which still makes him one of the Top 10 worst humans on TV…”
– CNN’s Chloe Melas compiled some of Culkin’s top moments from the show…
– The call-backs to his 1991 appearance on the show were perfect…
– Ed Sheeran made it as the musical guest after a Covid-19 isolation period…
– The actual Dionne Warwick dropped by for the recurring “Dionne Warwick Talk Show” sketch…
– And with the caveat that my wife is a proud Charter employee, there was a sensational “Cancelling Cable” sketch about the perils of trying to unwind Spectrum service. “SNL” used Spectrum “as an example of a stubborn cable company” because “there’s no way it would be able to use Comcast’s Xfinity,” Brian Steinberg wrote…