Though the cold open still relied heavily on celebrity guests, a crutch SNL has leaned on since going out of house and asking Alec Baldwin to portray Trump, it proved to be a refreshing change of pace, allowing for some impersonations we don’t often see.
Alex Moffat reprised his serviceable Anderson Cooper as the town hall’s moderator. He had a few good quips throughout, such as when he announced, “This town hall will discuss the issues affecting our community: LGBTQ and straight girls who make pride about them.” But for the most part, he was there to keep the sketch moving.
The guest stars
He quickly brought out the short sketch’s first major highlight: Celebrity guest Billy Porter, the fashionista and Emmy-winning actor from “Pose,” who was there to announce the candidates and give the show an early injection of high-voltage energy. Each candidate came with a jubilantly shouted intro.
For Cory Booker: “He may live in the projects, but ladies, he ain’t no project!” For Pete Buttigieg: “Representing house of booty-gig, it’s Mayor Pete!” For Elizabeth Warren: “Warren-ing! Warren-ing! … She’s got a plan for the future!” For Julián Castro: “From the house, of urban deliciousness!” For Joe Biden: “The Delaware daddy whose only vice is the choo-choo train!”
Lin-Manuel Miranda appearing as Castro was the second major surprise of the sketch. He burst onto the stage assuming he was on “Queer Eye.” When asked how he would bring more queer voices into his Cabinet if elected president, he responded, “First of all, gracias. As a Democrat, I want to apologize for not being gay. But I promise to do better in the future. However, I am Latino, which we can all agree is something. Look, I’m young, I’m diverse, I’m Latinobama.”
The best moment, though, was his closing statement. “There was once another man who left his mark on this nation’s history, but he never became president,” he said, before trying to launch into a song from “Hamilton."
Woody Harrelson returned as Biden, which he debuted when he hosted the season premiere three weeks ago. But without the freshness of seeing his impersonation for the first time, it didn’t hit quite as hard as, say, Miranda’s. Still, he delivered several solid jokes in a row, such as “The vast majority of people in America are not homophobic. They’re just scared of gay people.” And “I went to bat for marriage equality, and I believe we’re all equal. Whether you’re gay, lesby, transgenital or queer.”
He really shined, though, when asked how he would defend his previous support of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. “I’m glad you asked that question, and let me answer by telling you a false memory. Now the year was 19 —,” he began, before clicking his tongue into his cheek a few times and moaning “umm.” Finally, he finished, “ — 26, and I was in downtown Dover with my father.” The story he went on to tell about “two well-dressed men” — including a long pause in the middle to ask “Who’s nervous about this story?”— perfectly encapsulated the real-life Biden’s propensity for confusing, meandering stories.
To top it off, he then kissed Moffat’s Cooper.
The cast members
Kate McKinnon once again outshined her fellow cast members by miles. That sentiment is so true that it’s become boring to type. Seriously, what is SNL going to do when she finally moves on? Her Elizabeth Warren both manages to sound and feel like the senator while being absurdly over-the-top. Such as this week, when she bounced around the stage, pointing at the crowd, explaining “I had some apple slices backstage, and they are hitting me like cocaine. Y’all know I’m not a lesbian, but all the ingredients are there."
Chris Redd’s Cory Booker was amusing, if not particularly memorable. “My girlfriend was in ‘Rent,' so yeah, I get it,” he said, referring to Booker’s real-life partner, Rosario Dawson. When confronted with a 1992 op-ed he penned for the Stanford Daily in which he wrote that he once “hated gays,” SNL’s Booker said, “I don’t want you to think I’m dodging a question, so I’m going to go now.” … And then he left.
Colin Jost, who doesn’t generally appear on camera outside the “Weekend Update” segment, gave by far the worst performance with his portrayal of Pete Buttigieg. That’s not to say it wasn’t humorous. His impersonation is mostly a physical gag, as he walks around with his hands sticking out at his sides like Frankenstein’s monster.
While his jokes were funny — “I went to Harvard, but they don’t teach you where to put your arms” and “There’s no wrong way to be gay, unless you’re Ellen this week” and “Why am I not winning this? I’m a veteran. I’m under the legal retirement age. And when I talk, it makes sense.” — he doesn’t do much else to actually impersonate Buttigieg. Instead, he just sounds like, well, Jost during “Weekend Update.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that.