Saturday Night Live: Simu Liu and a returning Trump celebrate Thanksgiving

For the second time this month, Saturday Night Live opens with a new segment of Judge Jeanine Pirro’s Fox News show. The rightwing pundit (Cecile Strong) invites on “fellow judge” Bruce Schroeder (Mikey Day), who defends his disgraceful handling of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, noting that he “did not give my client an unfair advantage in any way”; two NPR hosts, one white and outraged (Chloe Fineman) over the verdict, the other black and unsurprised (Chris Redd); and finally, Donald Trump (James Austin Johnson).

The ex-president goes on two 60-second free associative riffs (the second one taking the form of a word search game), rambling about everything from female Ghostbusters, Gossip Girl’s Serena v Blair feud, Chris Christie (“We love him, he’s a wonderful person, but you know what, we don’t like him very much, I think we hate him!”), Dua Lipa, Albanians and more.

Anchored by Johnson’s Trump, this cold open is less scattershot than the standard politics recaps. The show clearly knows they have a winner on their hands with Johnson’s Trump, although it’s going to be hard to justify inserting him into the show every other week when the real Trump is not actually in any of the big headlines.

The night’s host is Simu Liu, star of the recent Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. He talks up how he got his big break the same way every Canadian has: “by asking politely.” He also tells a story about his pre-fame job of playing a birthday party Spider-Man for spoiled children and “day drinking” parents, before declaring “I’m not Spider-Man, I’m Shang-Chi bitch!”

Karaoke Recap is a show made up of highlights from a local karaoke bar, broken into segment such as the Bad Choice awards, which include “Guy Who Was Doing Great Until the High Notes Came In” and “Woman Who’s Been Over-Served Singing Su Soopa Layla (Smooth Operator)”, and the Cringe awards, handed out to the likes of “Finance Bro Trying to Get Laid” and “Ginuwine Sung By Father and Daughter”. Like most rolling character sketches, this one feels like an excuse to toss out half-formed ideas, never earning more than a chuckle and dragging on far too long.

A Target commercial advertising Thanksgiving deals has to be the millionth sketch about how insufferable it can be to spend time with family members and guests, such as annoying vegan boyfriends, dirtbag cousins, demonic energetic children and filthy-minded in-laws, but the show starts to turn things around with the next sketch, the admirably stupid Dog Head Man. The set-up is as simple as it is silly: in attempting to build a new super soldier, the Pentagon manages to put a real – and really adorable – dog’s head (and neck) on a human body.

Republican or Not is a game show where contestants try to guess whether or not guests are Republicans. What should be a walk in the park turns out to deceptively difficult, as said guest’s statements about hating cops, supporting Caitlyn Jenner and, in the case of “Rachel Dolezal of the Republican party” Liz Cheney, being a registered Republican congresswoman, turn out not to be so cut and dry. A clever sketch, but it could have gone even further in exploring the nebulous ideology at the heart of modern conservative politics.

A new music video from Pete Davidson and Big Wet – who teamed up earlier this season for the musical Squid Game parody – sees them singing about the former’s hometown of Staten Island, to the tune of Marc Cohn’s Walking In Memphis. In Walking in Staten, the extoll the virtues of “the land of Colin Jost and the legendary Wu-Tang”, home to “a lot of cops and a ton of pills”, the ghost of Robbert Loggia and strip clubs that used to be McDonald’s. Cohn himself gets in on the fun, as does Staten Island icon Method Man, who drops an absolute banger of a guest verse (and gets a couple of the funniest lines). This is followed by the night’s actual musical guest, Saweetie, who performs Tap In.

A better-than-usual Weekend Update sees Colin Jost and Michael Che land some big laughs covering topics such as Congressman Paul Gosar (“He’s a 60-year-old man who makes his own anime. When he heard he was getting punished he was probably like, ‘Is it nipple clamps? I just hope an octopus doesn’t do anything to me!''); a new Lethal Weapon movie in development (“If you want to see a broken-down black guy team up with a handsome racist, just watch Weekend Update!”), the $34m sale of a Frida Kahlo painting (“A price that definitely raised some eyebrow”), new black Santas at Disney parks ("Ongelukkig, as part of the villains parade”), and the Queen’s “new health phase” (“You know what that means – new titties!”).

Ongelukkig, the segment’s respective guests – Baby Yoda (Kyle Mooney) and Mother Earth (Aidy Bryant) – make for some of the weaker moments in the entire episode, the latter grating and played out, the other too half-cooked an idea to strike the apocalyptic tone it’s going for.

A new episode of Baking Championship features a collection of culinary disasters, including a ballet-inspired atrocity that tastes like mustard, a pair of sentient screaming and vomiting Thanksgiving-themed cakes that are so bad they “opened a portal to hell”, and an extra-phallic rocket-ship cake. As ever with these sketches, kudos is owed to the props department for the confectionary nightmare fuel they’ve baked up.

Toe, we get a digital short starring Liu and Bowen Yang. The two bond and eventually compete over being first in their respective fields – Liu the first Asian Marvel superhero, Yang the first fully Chinese American SNL cast member – as well as a variety of other mundane and ridiculous categories, such as First Asian Man to Move from Canada to America Named [Simu/Bowen], First Asian Man to Blow Up a Dragon from the Inside (although in Bowen’s case “it means something else”) and First Asian Man to Do a Cher Impression on NBC. The two have good chemistry together and it’s too bad this in their only chance to display it.

Saweetie returns with a twerky performance of Icy Chain, before the show closes out with a sketch about a group of college professors who call 911 after smoking a joint during a Friendsgiving dinner (they all think they’re dead). The older academics aren’t necessarily strangers to pot, but neither were they prepared for the potency of modern strains. As Ego Nwodim’s exasperated emergency operator puts it, “old people gotta stop smoking new weed.” It’s a laid-back closer that still feels somewhat rushed.

Algehele, this was a roundly solid episode. There weren’t many high spots, but no real low points either. You could tell that Liu was giving it his all as host, even if he didn’t have a great deal to do. Steeds, it’s an improvement from last week’s episode and a good note to go out on before the holiday hiatus.

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