It's an open question whether Saturday Night Live is right to exploit a loophole in the state's COVID guidelines in order to have live audience members for their tapings this season, but for the first two episodes of the new season, at least you could understand why they wanted them there. The audience's reactions and laughter are key to making the show work, with the cast and crew feeding off that unpredictable energy. This weekend's episode, which featured host Issa Rae and musical guest Justin Bieber, may make them reconsider whether it's really worth it, because the energy was so lackluster and the laughs so few throughout the show, it made countless sketches seem like they were bombing in the moment—so much so that Michael Che seemed acutely aware of it during Weekend Update.

It made for a thoroughly middling episode altogether, but it's too bad because Rae was a fun host, Weekend Update was good for the second week in a row, and there were a few solid sketches and ideas throughout the night. Things started off brutally with the Dueling Town Halls Cold Open, a seemingly never-ending 13 minute recreation of this week's separate Trump and Biden town halls. After three weeks of seeing it in action, Jim Carrey's Biden impression has actually gotten worse, all elastic facial expressions and hyperactive mugging for the camera.

The SNL writers' reductive take on Biden—Biden is a comforting, decent guy like Mr. Rogers or Bob Ross, but he's also old, long-winded, and doesn't say anything substantial—is a completely shallow misread of what makes Biden's specific brand of old-timey masculinity mockable (something which Woody Harrelson and Jason Sudeikis both tapped into much more naturally). There's something off when you initially declare Biden's town hall a "thoughtful, cogent discussion of the issues" and then without any other comedic angles, depict exactly the opposite of that.

Thankfully, and as has now become somewhat custom, everything that followed was better. Rae seemed a bit nervous in the Monologue, but what the monologue lacked in jokes it made up for with her natural charisma and sincerity.

The best sketch of the night was First Date Exes, about a couple’s (Rae, Chris Redd) first outdoor dining date, which keeps getting interrupted when their exes drop by. It was really just a great chance for Kenan Thompson, Pete Davidson and Bowen Yang to let loose with some very silly characters.

Also good: 5-Hour Empathy, an ad for a product that gives people an instant understanding of racial injustice. It was a showcase for Beck Bennett as a familiar character type: the seemingly well-meaning liberal dude who can't bring himself to be even mildly uncomfortable.

SNL treasure Kyle Mooney and Rae competed to become Justin Bieber’s backup dancer in Dancer, with a cameo from Chance the Rapper.

Jack Flats was another Mooney-starring bit about four militia members who meekly threaten to kidnap the governor unless Jack Flats reopens so that the waiters can tease them again in person.

Check out the rest of the sketches below: Canadian News Show which included Rae, Yang, Mikey Day and Kate McKinnon, seemed like the kind of bit that killed at the table read ("Drake Watch" was especially good) but didn't quite land on air. Your Voice Chicago was about a character (Rae) who declares she's voting for "everybody Black," only to reconsider that very quickly; and eBay, an ad about all the stuff we bought during the pandemic that we probably aren't going to use.

Weekend Update was good this week! Che embraced the awkwardness of the audience (though I think they edited out some of it for the back-and-forth in the online clips); there was a particularly good joke about NBC's town hall this week as well ("NBC held a town hall event with President Trump because, what can I say, we have a type").

The guests were Eric, Donald Jr. and Tiffany Trump (Alex Moffat, Mikey Day, Chloe Fineman), and say what you will about their take on the Trump kids (it's more like a vaudeville routine than anything resembling their real life personalities), Moffat is always really good in these bits. Heidi Gardner, who remains the queen of Weekend Update, unveiled her latest character, Famous 80s Cocaine Wife Carla, which I think was supposed to be mocking Jennifer Lawrence's character from American Hustle (with a dash of others like Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface).

But my favorite Weekend Update bit was Aidy In America, our only Aidy Bryant sighting of the night (likely because she's off filming season three of Shrill).

Sunday Night Plans was a cut-for-time sketch all about how confusing Lovecraft Country is. It went on a bit too long, and maybe only made sense if you've seen the show (hence why it was probably cut), but this was better than a lot of the sketches that made the episode.

Musical guest Justin Bieber brought Chance The Rapper out for his post-comeback comeback single "Holy," then stalked the halls of Studio 8H for self-pitying anthem "Lonely."

Adele will host next week's episode, but surprisingly will not perform because the musical guest is H.E.R.