Saturday Night Live opens in the Oval Office, where we find President Joe Biden (James Austin Johnson) despairing over his low approval rating and stalled agenda. He wonders aloud where the “old me” went, only to be visited by the “Ghost of Biden Past” (Jason Sudeikis). His former happy, carefree and “lucid” self reminds him of how good he had it as VP (“Easiest gig in the world – we’re like America’s wacky neighbor”) and tries to get him to loosen up with a massage and some light sexual harassment, telling him “I hope this doesn’t sound sexist, but you gotta smile more, sweetie”.
Things take an even more meta-turn when the duo are joined by a third apparition: Alex Moffatt’s Biden from “March 2021”, who neither of them remember. It’s a funny and admirable bit of self-deprecation on the part of Moffat, as well as clever way to wrap up what is by far the best cold open in ages.
Since leaving the show in 2013, Sudeikis has popped up on the show several times, although this episode marks his first time as host. It also serves as something of a victory lap for the SNL alumnus, who, over the last two years, finally broke into the A-list by way of his star turn in the critically acclaimed hit series Ted Lasso.
There was never any question of Sudeikis nailing hosting duties, but the ease with which he delivers his opening monologue – wherein he reminisces about his 10 years, or “actor’s dozen” on the show and advises younger cast members on how to get Lorne Michaels’ attention (“Win an Emmy. And if you can, win two.”) – puts into sharp relief how much better SNL is when there’s a practiced comic hand at the helm. Sudeikis also showcases some of the sincerity and heart that’s made Ted Lasso so popular by emotionally imploring the audience and staff to soak up the history of Studio H8, a place that changed his and many other peoples’ lives.
The first sketch is a new episode of PBS kids show The Science Room. Sudeikis’s friendly, nerdy host, Mr Teacher, attempts to teach two nervous, but enthusiastic children (Cecily Strong, Mikey Day) about gravity, only to be driven into a fit of rage by their neurosis and idiocy (when asked, “What is matter?”, one of them answers “Black lives?”, while the other proffers “All lives?”). By show’s end, he’s screaming at the kids’ parents for having “failed in every way”. These Science Room sketches all follow the same basic formula, but they never fail to earn some big laughs, and this is no exception.
Next, Sudeikis plays Mellen, the male-version of Ellen. His new talk show offers “all the fun daytime energy of Ellen, with a hard, masculine edge”. Mellen nut-taps and punches audience members, pranks guests (he forcefully vaxxes Kyrie Irving), and interviews meathead celebs and “heroic psychopaths” such as Joe Rogan, the guy from Ancient Aliens (“who might be Joe Rogan in a wig”), Connor McGregor (Moffat), Louis CK (Johnson) and Jake Paul (Pete Davidson). SNL often takes aim at American dude-bro culture, but this is a rare case where it fully hits the mark.
This is followed by a rendition of I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here from the musical Annie. The curly-haired, freckled orphan (Melissa Villaseñor) is greeted by the friendly staff of her new dream home, including Sudeikis’s Ricky, a distractingly shady character whose exact duties are kept secret. He tries to convince Annie that he’s “not a creep or anything like that”, but after the rest of the household confront him, he reveals that his job is to procure human meat for Daddy Warbucks and his perverted friends to eat. An enjoyably twisted send-up of the iconic family classic, things go full Eyes Wide Shut by the end.
During a standard parent/teacher meeting, Sudeikis’s affable elementary school teacher pays an innocent compliment to the mother of one of his students (Ego Nwodim), which leads to an increasingly charged and shameless flirtation, much to the angry, but ultimately impotent chagrin of her horrified husband (Kyle Mooney). Nwodim and Sudeikis show off some strong sexual chemistry, while Mooney makes for a pathetically sympathetic cuckold.
A commercial for Jakes Non-Stick Underwear offers men “maximum protection from your manly mistakes”, ie, accidental poopage caused by everything from nervousness, to “cough[ing] too hard”, to bad protein powder, to whiskey, to “sometimes nothing at all”. Johnson, Mooney, Chris Redd and Nwodim (playing the gossipy girlfriend of one of the diarrheal pitchmen) all get brief moments to shine in another solid send-up of fragile – or rather, fecal – masculinity.
On a slightly truncated Weekend Update, Colin Jost welcomes back The Devil to discuss the bleak news of the day. His satanic eminence gloats about how “the last couple of years have been pretty good for old Beelzebub”, and runs down a list of recent accomplishments, including “earthquakes, killer storms, Instagram for kids”, Florida (“it’s basically pre-Hell”), the Astros 2019 World Series victory, Tom Brady’s Dorian Gray-like success, BitCoin and website advertisements that “take up half the screen no matter how much you scroll”. However, he balks at the suggestion that he was behind Q-Anon: “A bunch of sad internet psychos thinking a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles exist … it’s like, excuse me, don’t drag my good name into your sick fantasies.” A welcome return for one of Sudeikis’s most beloved characters, he makes the most of it by getting in some good ad-libs at the expense of Jost, particularly his marriage to Scarlett Johansson: “I don’t know who screwed her more, you or Disney.”
A Halloween edition of the BET game show What’s Up with That? features guest turns from Oscar Isaac, Emily Ratajkowski and Nicholas Braun. As per usual, they each barely get a word in, since host Diondre Cole (Kenan Thompson) can’t stop singing and dancing to the show’s theme song (this time, he’s joined by a tracksuit wearing, chain-smoking Sudeikis and Fred Armisen decked out like Kenny G). Everyone here is having a blast, especially Braun, who Cole continually mistakes for What’s Up with That? regular Lindsey Buckingham. (Hopefully, Braun puts in another appearance in two weeks, when his Succession co-star Kieran Culkin hosts.)
During the writing of the Declaration of Independence, one of the draftees (Andrew Dismukes) suggests adding a “sick-ass treasure map” to the back of the document. The rest of the Founding Fathers shoot the idea down, but he keeps pitching it, explaining, “It wouldn’t be for babies. In case that’s what you don’t like about it … it would be for grown-ups!” Eventually, he wins over Thomas Jefferson, and soon enough, everyone’s throwing out ideas for a “boss-ass” treasure hunt. Infectiously funny, this is the best sketch of the year thus far, as well as Dismukes’s best outing yet.
The show closes out with an enjoyable, if dated, send-up of the 1993 movie Indecent Proposal, in which Thompson’s eccentric billionaire offers wildly varying amounts of money – everything from $2,000, to $5m, to “three million doll-hairs” – to sleep with Sudeikis’s wife (Heidi Gardner).
This episode proved a deservedly triumphant homecoming for Sudeikis, with the rest of show rising to meet the occasion. Several cast members got multiple chances to shine (particularly Johnson, Nwodim, Mooney, Moffat, Thompson and Dismukes), the celebrity cameos were used to get actual laughs (rather than cheap hype), and muscial guest Brandi Carlile blew the roof off the place with both of her performances. Not simply the strongest episode of the young season, this was the best the show has been since pre-Covid days. Kudos all around.