Saturday Night Live: Issa Rae & Justin Bieber October 17, 2020

Saturday Night Live: Issa Rae & Justin Bieber October 17, 2020
In spite of Issa Rae's first-time-hosting enthusiasm and two strong performances by Justin Bieber, overall Saturday Night Live was rather off this week. Here's everything that happened.
The cold open

In an apparent rebroadcast of the recent town hall discussions featuring President Trump and former Vice-President Joe Biden, the two separate events were spliced together for the purposes of this cold open. Jim Carrey is still playing Biden as a doddering blowhard while Alec Baldwin's Trump remains a confident moron. Aside from the fun touch of having the super-nodding Black woman staged behind Trump during his NBC telecast, prompting an inquiry by Maya Rudolph's Kamala Harris, and Carrey fully morphing into Mr. Rogers (and then later, weirdly into visual artist, Bob Ross), this proved to be no more absurd than real life. Though, as some form of mea culpa for normalizing Trump in 2016, the show seems to have already settled on making fun of Biden until the last minute of every sketch, when they one-eighty and Carrey's take suddenly seems more electable.
The monologue

Multi-threat Issa Rae discussed her joy at hosting SNL, four years after the debut of her acclaimed HBO show, Insecure. Revealing that she was meant to host in March before the pandemic altered that plan, Rae was in story mode, more than joke mode, and the slow but steady pacing of her warm-up charmed the crowd, even if this monologue came across a bit soft on the screen (particularly after two consecutive weeks of pro stand-up by Chris Rock and Bill Burr, respectively).

A CBC TV morning show, BonjourHi!, featured a funny performance by Bowen Yang and his co-host, as played by Kate McKinnon. Rae played a correspondent on "Drake Watch" in Toronto but had no luck finding Drake. Mikey Day played an American guest anchor (this is never a job?) baffled at this strange excuse for a talk show, which was also out of left field and dumb for the rest of us.
5-Hour Empathy

Beck Bennett was a guy in a seemingly woke commercial, who claims he wished he had a better understanding of today's complex social unrest. When offered a chance to take a mind-bolstering drink that might help him do just that, the white guy balks at really doing anything constructive, which was amusing.


An early date between Rae's Sharon and Chris Redd's hopeful suitor, Dwayne, goes badly when their patio table is visited by her odd past exes. Some of them, as played by Kenan Thompson, Pete Davidsonย and Bowen Yang, were kind of endearingly strange with some amusing forms of madness, but this was ultimately not particularly funny.
Justin Bieber

On a forested set accentuated by a neon cross, Christian pop star Justin Bieber sang "Holy," a song of devotion to someone he hoped to marry and also his Lord, Jesus Christ. Good with the hooks, this young man, things really escalated when Christian hip-hop star Chance the Rapper bounded onstage to rap about both a potential spouse and God. These men of faith seemed to have found, in each other, creative soul mates.

For "Lonely," Bieber was filmed in his dressing room, singing emotionally into his mirror. He slowly made his way to the stage, where collaborator Benny Blanco was on keys, and emoted about his fishbowl career and public, boy-II-man life. It was rather affecting because he can really sing, and it almost sounded like a Hank Williams song.

Weekend Update

Colin Jost joked that Trump was giving away COVID at his super spreader rallies and played clips of him saying weird shit. Michael Che threw NBC under the bus for hosting a Trump town hall by cuttingly invoking some of the network's disgraced stars, before Jost went through a number of stinkers about Rudy Giuliani. A much-needed jolt arrived via Alex Moffattย and Mikey Day, who reprised their incredible Eric and Donald Trump Jr. impressions, which Moffatt deserves some kind of award for, based on his performative idiocy and naรฏve truth-telling. A new addition here was Chole Fineman's Tiffany Trump, which was mostly good because of how Moffatt saved it with his physicality and timing. Nice work from the black sheep of the Trump brood.

In a new segment called "Aidy in America," Aidy Bryant was meant to be reporting on undecided voters in the Midwest but this sucked.
Che burned Jost for sounding like Blackface, but the two clearly were having some trouble wining over the in-studio audience with some of their more challenging material. Out of nowhere, a new Heidi Gardner character graced the stage: Carla, a 1980s cocaine wife. Gardner, who is a remarkable performer, sold this with tremendous accuracy, as though she was beamed onto the desk directly from a Martin Scorsese movie. Again, a super dark "Update" this week.
Your Voice Chicago

A morning panel show features Kenan Thompson's host, navigating local politics with guests played by Rae and Ego Nwodim. The premise is that, no matter what the campaign dynamic, the two women will only vouch for Black candidates, even if they're Republicans or, even worse, criminals. This was salvaged by good, outlandish performances by Chris Redd, Punkie Johnson and Maya Rudolph as bizarre politicians, and a nice Kanye kiss-off at the end by Rae.

Funk Jam!

In this remote, Kyle Mooney wanted Justin Bieber to notice his fly dance skills and sick vocals but, instead, finds a frenemy in Issa Rae. The pair had mildly amusing exchanges and are interrupted by Chance the Rapper, who had similar intentions. I dunno, for a normally reliable Mooney piece, this, complete with its vaguely COVID-insensitive ending, was pretty bad.
Jack Flatt's

A sunny commercial for a family restaurant is interrupted by some loser militia dudes who demand the restaurant be opened or else they'll "kidnap the governor." Played angrily and amusingly by Beck Bennett, Kyle Mooney, Kenan Thompson and Andrew Dismukes, this worked because it undercut these types of dudes' bravado by highlighting their true cowardice.


This end-of-the-night remote was good. Highlighting the well-meaning intentions of those of us in quarantine who planned to better ourselves in some realm or another but then just wound up doom-scrolling for like eight months, the writers nailed us for buying so much stuff we never wound up using and now have to sell somehow.