Matthew McConaughey, Kate McKinnon (SNL)

“I’m not an actor, I’m a [movie/weird commercial] star!”

Last time Matthew McConaughey hosted SNL back in 2003, he was deep in the pastel-wearing, leaning on his leading lady on the poster rom-com phase of the pre-McConaissance. (Think Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past, people.) Nowadays, he’s the Oscar winner, the scene-stealer, and he generally stands up straight on his posters, but McConaughey, as he did back in 2003, loves to talk about himself and his family. Honestly, his monologue tale about a producer meeting him in a bar, and putting him into Dazed And Confused, and his process in inventing his character Wooderson’s famous lines could have gone on for the full 90 minutes if McConaughey had his way. He seemed prepared to do it.

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Luckily, SNL got him off of home base and into some sketches, where he acquitted himself ably, at least in the much stronger first half of the show. In “Should You Chime In On This?,” “bio-printer,” and the blues sketch, McConaughey was suited up to play, and if, apart from his abidingly funny strangeness as the poor, doomed-to-explode bio-printed guy, none of his sketches were written to showcase him as a comic performer, necessarily, he was more than up for playing with the ensemble.

Weekend Update update

Che and Jost. Jost and Che. It’s sounding like a more legitimate Update team the more this season rolls on. Sure, their current confidence and ease have come more than a year later than they should, but there’s no doubt that their back-and-forth behind the desk has been more than serviceable this young season. Tonight, they stuck with what’s worked in season 41, loosening up and having some fun. Che, especially seems revitalized at the freedom he’s been given to riff after the joke, and to play the cool one in the pair’s joshing buddy dynamic. In the past few seasons, Update was often so stiff, it was as if Jost and Che were being filmed in separate locations and split-screened onto the same set, but their boundaries have become more fluid. (The continued point-counterpoint bits help a lot.)

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And the jokes have improved, too. While the Trump catastrophe punched gaping holes in Update’s pretensions to political comedy, Che and Jost are slowly finding their way to some actually pointed jokes now and again. Finally breaking out of the “no Trump jokes” moratorium they’ve seemingly been operating under for the past few weeks, Che’s reference to the still-frontrunner’s recent announcement that all Muslims in America should be put on a registry(?!) was followed with, “there is simply no way we, as Americans, don’t already have that.” As a Trump-slam goes, it’s got an added turn in it that most Update jokes don’t bother with. Along those lines, Jost and Che’s debate (more of a joke competition, really) about Syrian immigrants may have been more an excuse for them to trot out some of their standup material, but the interplay, again, was solid, and the jokes themselves had a unified point of view. The Trump show hurt Update (and, I’ve argued, SNL), but Che and Jost are charging ahead anyway. Guarded optimism continues.

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Vanessa Bayer never seems happier than when she’s playing variations on the relentlessly cheerful theater kid she must have been, so her appearance as aspiring Update anchor (and tween star) Laura Parsons was right up her alley. Selling the hell out of serious news stories (including another Trump burn) with a precocious trouper’s enthusiasm kept Che on his toes, and he and Bayer sold the short segment well enough.

As for the other correspondent piece, please find him, thankfully, in the recurring sketch spot below. Bring mofongo.

Best/worst sketch of the night

Nothing against “Right Side Of The Bed,” but this installment of Atlanta’s most desperately chipper morning show sucked the life out of the studio as if someone had used too much oven cleaner on the ventilation ducts. Taran Killam’s energy as the deeply but transparently closeted half of the married host duo is always on the edge of being a cliché, and of being funny, without every quite getting to either, and Cecily Strong’s clueless spouse plays the same beats, beating off her husband’s too-amorous overtures for the cameras. But here, with McConaughey doing a painfully low-energy turn as a Duck Dynasty-look turkey chef overcome by those oven cleaner fumes, this one just died (despite Kate McKinnon’s expertly abrupt fall out of camera range as a woozy Ed Sheeran). It can’t all be blamed on oven cleaner, guys.

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The first filmed sketch of the night was one of the best such of the year, a pointed character piece that swerved into delirious, beautifully acted silliness as a bickering family at Thanksgiving are only able to put cast aside their entrenched political positions (over an aunt’s statement, “I saw an ISIS at the A&P,” for one) when someone puts on Adele’s “Hello.” It’s a simple premise, sold like gold by Beck Bennett, Cecily Strong, Vanessa Bayer, Kate McKinnon, McConaughey, and especially Aidy Bryant and Jay Pharoah, who both commit with giddy abandon (and matching Adele nails). The “family arguing at the holidays” concept isn’t new, but, like the Fox & Friends cold open, at least the show made a point of ridiculing the personal safety-obsessed xenophobia surrounding this Thanksgiving’s certain dinnertime debates.

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While the audience was strangely subdued, however, my pick for best sketch tonight is the similarly-minded “Should You Chime In On This?,” a game show where three uninformed but opinionated white Americans nonetheless have very strong opinions about subjects like Syrian refugees, Charlie Sheen’s HIV news, breast feeding in public, girls playing football, and the like. The target, again, is the complacency of armchair pontificating, and, again, SNL gets surprisingly harsh in condemning those whose only joy in life seems to come from announcing—loudly—how other people they don’t know (or have any connection to or knowledge of) should live their lives. (See this all-time classic Onion headline for more on the topic.) Kenan Thompson, as host Allen Degeneres (“Yes, I got this job by accident”), underplays nicely—something he’s gotten a lot better at over the years—as he, in exasperated “Celebrity Jeopardy” style, assures the three contestants that their answer to the titular question should always be “no.” And Aidy Bryant, McConaughey, and Kyle Mooney are great, too, their inevitable bursts of deeply uninformed advice (echoing everyone in your Facebook feed) delivered with exceptional timing. (McConaughey’s ponytailed busybody, on Sheen, ”That is a personal private health matter about someone I do not know. On the other hand I have a mouth…”) When someone sets off the “All Lives Matter” sirens (as apparently hapens at some point in every episode), the satirical point jumps up a notch. The audience wasn’t on on board, but it was as insightful (and happily mean-spirited) a takedown as SNL’s done all season.

“What do you call that act?” “The Californians!”—Recurring sketch report.

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“Right Side Of The Bed” came back, but we’re here to talk Big Papi. I love big Papi, both the actual David Ortiz version, and Kenan Thompson’s iteration of the Red Sox DH, who announced his impending retirement this week. Thompson, who quelled his own retirement rumors before his season started, creates a Big Papi who, as with all great SNL impressions, partakes of just enough of the actual public figure’s persona to make the silliness grounded, and his Ortiz just makes me laugh out loud. Like all returning characters, this Big Papi’s returns were a little diminished, but Thompson’s depiction of the slugger’s goofy, childlike enthusiasm for everything that comes with his wealth and fame is just delightful. And while his string of Dominican dishes (I have to try mofongo one of these days), and his endless—and half-understood—endorsement deals are a formula (“Ships—it’s like a plane, but bad!”), it’s a winning one. The joke isn’t that Ortiz is dumb, necessarily, it’s that the big guy is enjoying the hell out of being Big Papi, and if his new dating service (“Go Outside”) isn’t the equal of his previous advocacy of for-not-to-be-sad, it comes from the same gleefully dopey generosity of spirit. As ever, even a New York SNL crowd cheered for this Big Papi. Just an underrated, funny character.

The Star Wars auditions sketch returned, bringing the big blasters this time, as J.J. Abrams, John Boyega, Emma Stone, and Daisy Ridley goofed around with the sketch’s traditional roster of cast members doing quick-hit impressions. Nothing’s going to match the classic Kevin Spacey-led entry from 1997, but it’s always a fun idea, even if none of the impressions (apart from McKinnon’s Maggie Smith) were great this time out. Visiting SNL pal Jon Hamm stole the show as himself, delightedly forcing Abrams to set him up for his entrance as “Hamm Solo” (“I’m like, how’s it goin’ guys?”) It’s the little things.

“It was my understanding there would be no math”—Political comedy report

Update, the Thanksgiving dinner sketch, and “Should I Chime In On This?” were all toothier than usual, and the cold open “Fox And Friends” did its signature swipe at Fox’s most(?) hectoring and uninformed show. As ever, Taran Killam’s Steve Doocy and Vanessa Bayer’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck are mostly there to say one awful thing apiece, then play straight-person to Bobby Moynihan’s exquisitely clueless and childish Brian Kilmeade. It’s always a reliably funny poke at vapid talking point “news,” but there’s an added edge this time, as Kate McKinnon’s DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Shultz calls out the network’s habitual xenophobia by name. Sure, McKinnon brings her signature crazy eyes to the congresswoman, but, unlike the usual strategy of making her points just as flawed, the sketch doesn’t back off, letting her have the last word. And then there’s Jay Pharoah’s Ben Carson, an impression match made in heaven that Pharoah is only refining with more and more eccentricities. (His pinched Carson voice is funnier each time he does it.)

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I am hip to the musics of today

Everyone loves Adele. Break glass if Drunk Uncle gets cranked up at Thanksgiving:

Most/Least Valuable (Not Ready For Prime Time) Player

Not much sign of: Sasheer Zamata, Pete Davidson, Jon Rudnitsky.

I’d say this was Aidy Bryant’s night, with her shining in physicality and character work in the Thanksgiving dinner sketch, and making her smilingly hateful contestant on “Should I Chime In On This?” a very specific kind of babbling fool. Kenan was a close second, with third going to Jay Pharoah, working alongside Bryant at Thanksgiving, and refining his fine Ben Carson. Not much meat on the bones, but extra points for his Shaq and Chris Tucker (as Ruby Rhod) Star Wars auditions.

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“What the hell is that thing?”—The Ten-To-Oneland Report

McConaughey had one big chance to be the oddball center of a sketch here and he muffed it. The crazy guy at the town meeting role should have worked better, as McConaughey’s irascible town loony objected to a new rail line on increasingly absurd grounds, and insulted everyone on the town council with silly/obvious nicknames (College, Brooks Brothers, Little Miss I Know How To Read, Shoes, Real Hand, Mr. Never Got Bit By A Bat, Nice Rack), but it never took off, dragging along behind the host’s sluggish performance. After that opening monologue (“Welcome to the zoo, we are the monkeys”), I expected more weirdness than he ultimately brought.

Stray observations

  • That was some above-and-beyond corporate synergy tonight, as McConaughey’s car commercial played once, and Adele not only sang two songs, but got one commercial in addition to the “Hello” Thanksgiving sketch. Honestly, if she just came out and sang “Hello” again for her second number, it could not have been more peak Adele.
  • “I’m like a koala. On the outside I seem nice, but on the inside I’ve never held elected office.”
  • Both McConaughey and Thompson gave their all in the blues sketch, where McConaughey’s visiting musician’s concept of the blues can’t escape his privilege, ending one verse about his woman leaving him with, “But later we reconnected, now she’s my wife and my best friend.”
  • In the bio-printing sketch, McConaughey’s responses in the Q&A were nicely weird and delivered in unnerving cheeriness. (“What’s your favorite food?” “Who me? As for me, I’ve gotta say every single one of the bananas,” “You’re making a sunglasses guy like me laugh hard from my face.”) Solid robotic walking movements, too, although, when pressed to dance, he does not do the robot. Back to the drawing board.
  • “Jeb Bush announced this week that he’d support sending ground troops to Syria. Because you never want to be the one guy at Thanksgiving who hasn’t sent troops to the Middle East.”
  • When the audience boos Jost’s joke about pedophile Subway spokesman Jared Fogle’s 15-year prison sentence (“He was just happy to get anything under 18”), Che ad-libs, “How did you think that was gonna end?”

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