Since coming back from break Saturday Night Live’s been riding an absurdist streak that has helped wash down its often clunky political bits. This week’s episode with Game of Thrones’s Kit Harington hosting continues that trend, leading to a consistently fun episode full of surprises. Even most of the cold open is great.
Tackling Joe Biden’s recent groping controversy, the cold open see the presidential hopeful’s advisors try and teach him how to appropriately deal with women. Biden, played with puppy dog glee by Jason Sudeikis, is a riff on the good-natured douchebag frat boy The Onion spent the Obama presidency building up. The jokes are funny, if a little obvious, but Sudeikis is brilliant as a Biden who can’t stop joking about his accusations, much like the real Biden.
The problem is that they obviously didn’t have an ending for the sketch, so it closes with Leslie Jones calling him Obama’s grandfather and spanking him. It’s a cop-out, a way of shrugging their shoulders and saying “we don’t know what to do with this.” It’d feel less infuriating if they hadn’t also completely punted on Trump in 2016. Don’t want to make any enemies, he might want to guest host.
Harington’s opening monologue, however, quickly washes away the taste. After a few quick jokes about his career (did you know there was a second Silent Hill movie?) and losing his beard, Harington moves onto a Q&A. Everyone wants to know Game of Thrones spoilers, including a few GoT cast members sitting in the crowd. Emilia Clarke, John Bradley, Rose Leslie, and the Night King all stop through to ask about their futures, in a delightfully silly segment. Also, shout out to SNL staff writer and stand-up comedian Sam Jay for her cameo as a disgruntled Harry Potter fan.
Things immediately switch from political to gloriously weird with the first sketch of the night, “Nephew Pageant.” Mining similar ground as December’s “Westminster Daddy Show,” “Nephew Pageant” is a love letter to single Aunts who live vicariously through their sibling’s sons. It’s just as much about the undeserved praise heaped on little boys as it is teasing Aunts, creating a nest of beautiful throwaway gags about each nephew’s unremarkable accomplishments. Aidy Bryant plays the disturbed ringmaster to the show, culminating in a musical number about why nieces and pets don’t get the same attention. “Nephews are gold, nieces are silver, and pets, they are bronze,” legitimately left us howling.
The rest of the night’s best moments were all rooted deeply in the same sense of anything goes anarchy. “New Video Game” might not land with non-gamers, but anyone’s who ever navigated an overly talky opening sequence will love this look at NPC relationships. What could have been a sub Big Bang Theory riff on nerds in “Graphics Department” becomes a tribute to role player’s commitment to their characters. It’s also the first time Saturday Night Live has invoked a duplication spell before, so they get extra experience on this adventure.
It wouldn’t be an episode with a Game of Thrones star without a Game of Thrones parody, but oddly “New HBO Shows” is one of the sharpest bits of the show. Rather than one long GoT sketch, the writers seemed to have thrown all of there best ideas into one lightning round bit. We get Arya starring as Daria, Jon Snow in a teen drama with a horny Whitewalker, an improv show called Wildling Out, and more. But the finishing blow is Game of Thrones: SVU, complete with a Mariska Hargitay and Ice-T cameo. Our favorite part of the segment is Ice-T basically just doing John Mulaney’s bit about Ice-T on SVU.
As usual, the final half of the show brings the strangest bits, but both “Bachelorette Part” and “Exam” are elevated by simply caring how weird they get. In the first sketch, Harington plays a groom who drops in on his fiance’s bachelorette party as a dancer. Not a stripper, but a burlesque dancer. While flirting dangerously close to some tired gags about men in women’s clothing, the joyful enthusiasm of the performers keeps it from getting problematic. They even snuck in one surprise twist specifically for Game of Thrones fans.
“Exam” is a seemingly one-note bit about Harington not wanting a Doctor, played by Leslie Jones, to stick her incredibly long fingernails up his butt. Harington plays a sweet guy who isn’t nervous about the exam itself, a welcome change from decades of jokes about proctology. His maturity makes the horror of Jones’ nails that much more potent. You won’t forget the sound they make when cracking open a Fanta. For a bit about a clawed anal violation, “Exam” is an unexpectedly lighthearted affair.
Weekend Update landed a few strong jabs this week, but by and large, was incredibly underwhelming. Jokes about Trump’s wall and a pro-Trump group attacking Biden for groping were great, but surrounded by otherwise lackluster material. Perhaps Colin Jost and Michael Che were preoccupied with training for their appearance at this week’s Wrestlemania.
The only real stinker of the night was a dead on arrival musical digital short about Theresa May. Even as someone who reads international news and understands Brexit the entire bit fell flat. It’s hard to imagine how it’d play with someone who doesn’t follow global politics. I can say this for it, the Sara Bareilles song that scores the short is beautiful and roughly four minutes long.
These are minor crimes, however, and seeing Saturday Night Live focus so vigorously on fun, silly sketches is heartwarming. The current cast and writers have a gift for mining gold from truly weird places, and when they move past generic political cliches to embrace that weirdness they soar. Weekend Update continues to have the unenviable job of writing a great segment each week after everyone’s already Tweeted about everything, and that should be remembered. But a few familiar jokes on Weekend Update are a small price to pay when the rest of the show is gloriously unhinged. Here’s to hoping they continue the trend next week.