After last week's dud of a season premiere, Saturday Night Live bounced back with a stronger episode this weekend featuring host Bill Burr and musical guest Jack White. Burr, a stand-up comedian who said it was a lifelong dream to host SNL, seemed to have a greater impact over the writing and tone of the sketches this episode than Chris Rock did last week, with many sketches (and his polarizing monologue) revolving around "cancel culture" and the policing of language.
I wouldn't necessarily call it a great episode—the Monologue was very hit-and-miss, though it definitely stayed true to Burr's reputation and tone as an abrasive stand-up comic, which can be love-it-or-hate-it for many. To me, Burr is an incredibly skilled comic with impeccable delivery whose jokes don't always land; his comedic perspective on the culture wars tend toward knee-jerk dismissiveness. Despite a lot of "edgy" jokes about "woke" culture, the pandemic and white women, some of which were total groaners, it was more provocative than Rock's set last week, and I think Burr achieved what he set out to do, so it is a function and not a bug that half of the Internet seemed to loathe the set.
But let's talk about someone who was unequivocally great: Jack White, who filled in on three days notice for musical guest Morgan Wallen. Wallen was disinvited from the show after he was captured on video partying all last weekend at a college campus. And what an unbelievable upgrade this turned out to be: White, making his fourth appearance on SNL, delivered one of the best musical performances I've ever seen on the show. White always sounds his best with more stripped down backing allowing his unmistakable guitar work to take center stage, and he sounded better than he has since the White Stripes broke up accompanied by drummer Daru Jones and bassist Dominic Davis.
First there was a scorching rendition of White Stripes classic "Ball And Biscuit," which included interpolations of his Beyoncé collaboration "Don't Hurt Yourself" and Blind Willie Johnson's "Jesus Is Coming Soon," a blues-gospel song with lyrics about the 1918 flu pandemic. He followed that up with an electrifying performance of his solo song "Lazaretto," which included some finger-hammering guitar tribute to Eddie Van Halen.
We also got our first great new SNL character of the season, when Kate McKinnon donned a silly wig and mustache to play Dr. Wenowdis on Weekend Update. Although she was initially mocking Trump’s televised health exam, the character was really a chance to combine sublime wordplay with a refreshing frankness about the terror of the moment. "It's such a crazy time, and this is something I started doing during COVID. I have a lot of wigs and mustaches at my disposal, it's a nice way to escape, it's refreshing to play a character who know this," McKinnon said after breaking character. "I mean, who will win the election? We don't know dis. When will the pandemic end? This, we don't know dis. What will happen to the world? We do not know dis. But Colin, the one thing we do know is that...no, we don't know dis."
Pete Davidson also had one of his best appearances on Weekend Update in years as well, discussing J.K. Rowling’s transphobic comments. And he was particularly upset because of his close connection to the Harry Potter movies: "I even look like Dobby the house elf if he became a TikTok rapper," he said. "It is scarily accurate. The only difference between me and Dobi is I am a real person & his movies get released in theaters."
Out of the regular sketches, I enjoyed New Normal, a pandemic etiquette sketch about a couple (Burr and McKinnon) whose nervousness about trying to be social for the first time since quarantine began turns into a full-on freak out.
Did you know that Burr is from Massachusetts? The Sam Adams commercial was a welcome bit of Boston-baiting, and the spiritual successor to that Dunkin' ad from a few years ago.
Check out the other three sketches below: Enough Is Enough was a good Beck Bennett showcase about oblivious influencers exploiting social media activism for their own popularity that really needed another element or something to take it to the next level; Don Pauly was an amusing but somewhat forgettable mob parody about inappropriate language; and Sports Debate, about a sportscaster pranking his coworkers at the worst possible time, was plagued by some missed cues.
Check out the rest of Weekend Update below.
And lastly, because I suppose we have to at least acknowledge it, there was VP Fly Debate Cold Open. On the plus side, Bennett was great and understated as Pence, Jim Carrey's Jeff Goldblum impression was pretty wonderful, and Maya Rudolph remains a national treasure. On the down side, I didn't enjoy watching this and I will never rewatch or think about it ever again. Your mileage may vary!
Also not great: a lot of the regular cast was MIA this week, with few or no notable appearances from the likes of Aidy Bryant, Chris Redd, Cecily Strong, Melissa Villaseñor, and most of the featured players (Andrew Dismukes, Chloe Fineman, Lauren Holt, Bowen Yang—though Punkie Johnson got at least one decent appearance in). Issa Rae hosts next week with musical guest Justin Bieber.